Weasel Out of a Ticket & More: Life Lessons from the Creator of COPS

Life Lessons from the Creator of COPS

In 1988, John Langley created COPS for the fledgling FOX network. 23 years later, the show is still running. It is the Energizer bunny of prime time television. Since John has followed more police officers and witnessed more crime than any human being on earth (absolutely no question), I had to ask some advice for hypothetical unwanted encounters with the men in blue.

John has documented stabbings, shootings, off-camera "tune-ups", addicts shooting up Kiwi shoe polish in Russia, white teenagers sniffing Sherwin Williams paint in Oregon, and honor code fist fights between the criminal and the policeman. And thus, no one on earth knows better the probabilities of weaseling out of tickets than the man who has seen it all.

Say I'm going 90 in a 65 mph speed limit. What do I say?
The most disarming thing you can say or do, is tell the truth. That is really the only circumstance where you might get off. They have radar guns, so fighting is usually useless. And lying is offensive. More to the point, cops get lied to all day long. An honest person has a better chance of getting off than anyone else. Truth works, sometimes.

Say, I'm drunk and I want to avoid a DUI. What do you recommend?
Well, the absolute stupidest thing to say is, "I have only had a couple beers". To a police officer, that is code for "I am wasted." It is a squirrelly answer and a sure invitation for a breathalizer. If you are going to lie, it is probably better to say you had a joint earlier in the morning. That will not likely insult their intelligence as much as "I have only had a couple beers (and I am over the legal limit)." Cops want to find a reason to be nice to you, so it is a mistake when you challenge their common sense and dignity.

Is there ever a right time to "tip" a cop?

That is just plain ignorant. I certainly videotaped a woman saying, 'I'll give you anything to stay out of jail. Please!' The handcuffs snapped on within seconds. Try Mexico if you need to tip.

Say I'm a hot girl. Like Jennifer Lopez. Will batting my eyelashes at a male officer get me off, like in the movies?
No...unless you are polite and are only guilty of a minor traffic infraction.

Say I'm a hot guy. Like Ricky Martin. Will batting my eyelashes at a male officer get me off?
If Jennifer Lopez isn't getting out of jail for batting her eyelashes, why would Ricky Martin?

When did you pitch COPS?
I was a late bloomer. I was broke and in my 40's when I pitched COPS. And I wasn't exactly a big time producer. I had done a lot of jobs chasing things that interested me. And along the way, I lost my house and went bankrupt. It is really important to chase whatever interests you. And don't get hung up on labels. I've done everything from being a Publisher (weekly newspaper) to Publicist (a movie hack) to selling Peanuts on the highway (as a graduate student). You could perhaps say, I was caught up in professions that began with a "P" for quite some time, including almost becoming a Professor as I did postgraduate studies at University of California Irvine and taught English literature courses. Then I shifted careers overnight, realizing academia wasn't for me. It's noble, but not for me. I needed to use my ADD talents in another arena, and TV was perfect.

Now that you have a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star with your name, do you hobnob with movie stars?
Hollywood is filled with backstabbers and the nightmares and those who dream them. If you happen to have success in Hollywood, stay away from the social scenes. They are toxic. A crime scene has more integrity.

That song: Bad Boys. Who chose it?
Back in 1988, we were shooting the pilot of COPS in Broward County, Florida, and I wanted a theme song that had a local flavor and made sense to the cinema verite pilot I was making. So, we collected every tape from every local band. There really was not a lot of talent to choose from. One band was called Inner Circle and their song stood out. We actually used to run into them on the streets of Broward after we met first them. I remember these scruffy, good-natured guys crammed into a beaten up rusty 1977 Impala. They really wanted us to choose their song. Like me, they were broke, and just wanted a break. I just liked the song and the point of view that was told.

However, the Fox network execs hated it. It wasn't "mainstream" enough, as one Fox exec told me in no uncertain terms. I smiled and nodded, then completely ignored his notes as I put the show together. I remember these painful meetings at the network, where they would try to logically explain why the song was inappropriate. Sometimes you just have to nod and be polite.

Has the creator of COPS ever landed in the slammer?
I've been to jail for parking tickets back in the early '80s. I was polite and apologetic for putting the officers out when they could be doing more serious work. They gave me a choice between a drunk, who was throwing up in one cell, and a murderer, who was shackled in the other cell. I took the murderer who was a little surly but smelled a lot better.

What advice do you have for when I get pulled over and I don't know the infraction?

Like I've always told my kids, don't be disrespectful to a cop. He has the gun. It might be wise to be polite since you will definitely lose an argument. Most cops are decent people who do a difficult job. If you make it harder, they'll make it harder on you. Tit for tat, quid pro quo, you lose, they win. 

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