There’s a reason that “Live PD” has been renewed for another 150 episodes only two years into its run on A&E.
“The thing that makes ‘Live PD’ unique is all the moments that would never be in an edited television show,” says executive producer Dan Cesareo. “In [an edited show] you become hyper-focused on only using content that furthers the story you’re telling.
“The goal of ‘Live PD’ is to have you ride shotgun on a shift with a police officer or a deputy in one of these cities or counties across the country. What you get is all these moments that … reflects the fabric of America.”
And it’s worked. Since premiering in October 2016, “Live PD” has averaged around 2 million viewers per episode (Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m.) as camera crews ride along with local police departments in states including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina and Rhode Island. Back in a midtown Manhattan studio, series host Dan Abrams comments on the action with former Washington, DC, special police officer Tom Morris Jr. and Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin from the Tulsa (Oklahoma) PD Gang Unit.
As a result, the show is “a little raw,” says Abrams. But as exciting as that is for viewers, it’s challenging on the production side. For instance, how is “Live PD” able to show people’s faces without blurring them out?
It turns out the show uses the same guidelines as news organizations.
“There are people that complain when we’re out in the field,” says Abrams, who’s also the chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News. “Having been accused of doing something bad [some people] will say, ‘Why is the camera here?’ But that’s something we face in the news world as well.”
Abrams and Cesareo say the main issue they’re concerned with is not showing faces of potential perps, but omitting personal information such as people’s addresses — and deciding whether or not to show minors. To control this, while the show isn’t edited, it does have a delay, which varies with each episode.
“If there’s a child in the show, if there’s an undercover police officer … this is real life,” Abrams says. “Police work can be sensitive at times, and we take very seriously the obligation that comes with that.
“There’s no way to do that without a delay,” he says. “For example, if there is an event where there’s a child that suddenly went on camera … we’ll use that delay to make sure that child doesn’t make it on the air.”
But Abrams and Cesareo say there isn’t a hard and fast rulebook for what to show on “Live PD.”
“Every night there’s something new that we hadn’t even imagined before coming up,” says Abrams. “We showed a kid [recently] on our air, live. Why? Because he’d handcuffed himself by accident and his dad called the police because they didn’t have the key. That was fine. The reason I give that example is to say there’s not a hard and fast rule that says, ‘No child will ever be seen.’ ”
They also use the delay to control for not showing anything too violent. If a situation escalates, the camera crews are given strict instructions to back away. To date, no field crew member has been injured, save for twisted ankles and a dog bite.
“Dan [Abrams] has the hardest job in television because he has to pivot often at the last second,” Cesareo says. “He’s usually talking while we’re trying to feed into his ear where we’re going. He’s gotta process that information, spit it back out, and be the guide for the viewer.”
As far as working with local police departments, that’s also done on a case-by-case basis, Cesareo says.
“It is a big commitment for department … It’s also a commitment from the community, because when these departments decide to sign up for ‘Live PD,’ it’s not just a chief and his senior staff deciding they want to do the show,” he says. “It involves city managers and mayors and town councils. So it’s a process. For all of the sheriffs and chiefs and mayors who agree to do it — it’s very forward-thinking. They step back and look at the world and they want that level of transparency to provide to their communities.
“But not everyone wants to do it.”
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