John Langley was interviewed in North Hollywood, CA on May 22, 2009; Karen Herman conducted the two-hour interview.
John Langley says of his background: “I’m a kid of the 60’s. I’m sort of anti-authoritarian by nature. If you told me I was going to do a show about cops, I would have said, what am I going to call it, Pigs?” John Langley produced a string of documentary specials in the 1980s, leading up to the series he’s most-associated with, the long-running reality series Cops. In his Archive interview, John Langley talks about his early years in the armed forces and in a string of different jobs, including motion picture marketing and advertising. He chronicles the making and selling of the feature documentary Cocaine Blues, and the creation of his company Barbour/Langley Productions. He recounts how his initial idea for Cops led to the documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, a program that featured live on-the-air drug busts. Langley lists his many subsequent specials, several of which were hosted by Geraldo Rivera. He discusses the subject matter of two other documentaries: Terrorism: Target USA (which predicted a terrorist attack on US soil) and Who Killed JFK? (which suggested that Oswald was not the lone assassin of President Kennedy: a theory that Langley himself rejects, despite having produced the show). Langley then describes the process of selling Cops, eventually to the then-still-fledgling FOX network. He comments on the rawness of the pilot and the show’s cinema verité style. On the show’s format, Langley defines the three-segment structure as following a pattern of an action piece, an emotional piece, and a thought piece. He speaks about the process of producing the show from working with the various police departments, getting releases signed, and training the crews. He then talks about how Cops has become a part of pop culture during its long run. On why the series has remained popular, Langley says: “it’s immediate, it keeps you in the moment. It’s unpredictable…. It’s the only show I know of on television that has no music within the show itself, no narrator, no host, no reenactments, no script. Show me any other show like that. You know, there aren’t a lot of them, if there are. You go along literally for a ride. You see a world you’re not likely to see. And even though I think I’ve seen it all on Cops, I’m still surprised.” Lastly he touches on his feature film work and other series TV series, including Jail and Street Patrol.