The opening sequence of the long-running reality show Cops used to call up images of men and women in badges going after criminals as a reggae group sang, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?” Now, in the wake of several high-profile deaths of African Americans involving police officers, activists are coming for shows that focus on law enforcement.
Executives at the Paramount Network have canceled Cops, which pioneered the police ride-along genre and aired for more than 30 years. That show’s audience dwindled in recent years, but another police series that got axed last week ranked as one of the most popular on cable and the highest-rated show on A&E.
Live PD had been involved in controversy before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked recent protests. In 2019, the series filmed part of a police chase in Austin, Texas, that ended with Javier Ambler, a black man, dying of heart failure while in police custody.
Some activists complain that any depiction of the “good cop” trope in entertainment shields police officers from accountability. A writer for Rolling Stone argued for the cancellation of Law and Order: SVU, calling the main character, Capt. Olivia Benson, a fantasy that reinforces the idea that good police officers exist. Some Twitter users even joked that the kids’ show Paw Patrol needed to go because of the heroism of its cartoon canine cop, Chase. Others took the idea more seriously, including a critic at The New York Times.
Portrayals of the police aren’t the only shows coming under scrutiny from activists. Last week, HBO Max removed 1939’s Gone With the Wind, a romantic epic set during the Civil War, because of its depictions of race and its glorification of Southern slaveholders. The movie holds the record for inflation-adjusted box-office receipts, and it won eight Academy Awards, one of which went to Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar.
Similarly, Vulture reported that Amazon is thinking about removing The Dukes of Hazzard from its ad-supported IMDb TV streaming service. The scripts of the popular comedy from the early 1980s don’t contain racially insensitive material, but the Confederate flag painted atop its iconic car named “The General Lee” remains controversial.
Protests in the United States have sparked similar conversations about race in Britain. Netflix has dropped three British comedies—Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh, and The League of Gentlemen—because of instances of blackface, The Guardian reported. The streaming service BritBox also pulled Little Britain from its lineup.
The BBC streaming service UKTV also removed an episode of Fawlty Towers because it “contains racial slurs.” However, after John Cleese, the 1970s comedy series’ star and co-writer, penned a series of tweets calling the BBC “cowardly and gutless and contemptible,” the company promised to reinstate the episode with a content warning. In an interview, Cleese defended his satirical use of a racial slur: “If you put nonsense words into the mouth of someone you want to make fun of you’re not broadcasting their views, you’re making fun of them.”
Meanwhile, Gone With the Wind is looking to make a comeback of its own. After HBO Max’s announcement, the movie has spent the last week at the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists for both DVD and Blu-ray movies. Jacqueline Stewart, an African American film professor and a Turner Classic Movies host, said HBO Max planned to bring back the movie with a historical introduction from her.
No word yet on whether any other networks will ride along with Cops in the future or pick up any of the other canceled shows.