With the launch of its anticipated docuseries Live PD tonight (Oct. 28), A&E is hoping to lead the cultural conversation on one of the most pressing issues facing America today — policing and, more pointedly, the perceived lack of transparency among the country’s police forces.
The Big Fish Entertainment-made series (8 x 120 minute) will pull in 30 live feeds from six cities across the country in a bid to offer an unfiltered look into a typical Friday night for men and women in blue. Those feeds will then be transmitted via 4G technology to a New York-based studio where ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams, alongside Dallas Police Department detectives Rich Emberlin and Kevin Jackson (all pictured above), will provide audiences with insight into what they’re viewing in real time, while offering an inside take on each live incident.
In the weeks leading up to showtime, the flagship channel of A+E Networks and Big Fish have been running multiple technical run throughs to safeguard against unforeseen error. The control room has spent hours rehearsing for the real deal by following the action across each city and coaching its in-studio hosts through situations to avoid editorializing or defamation.
“We’re pressure testing some of those sensitive points, like ‘How we back out of something if someone clearly doesn’t want us there?’,” Elaine Frontain Bryant, exec VP head of programming at A&E Television Networks, tells realscreen.
In the early stages of development, Big Fish brought in specialty counsel to advise the firm on how the series could be conducted. As a result, the New York-based prodco is carefully following the guidelines put forth by esteemed news organizations to make certain that the production is “portraying things as they’re alleged,” says Frontain Bryant.
Crews will be embedded with the gang unit in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Arizona Department of Public Safety, focusing on border patrol and narcotics; the Utah State Highway Patrol, battling a massive drug trafficking corridor; one of America’s most dangerous small cities in Bridgeport, Connecticut; in Walton County, Florida; and in Richland County, South Carolina, home to the South’s second largest sheriffs department that covers a broad range of areas and a diversity of crimes.
“We really wanted to look at a cross section of the country and diversity of location,” says Dan Cesareo, Big Fish president and exec producer. “It’s very easy to go into all large or mid-sized cities or the most dangerous places, but I don’t think that represents the story of policing in America.”
At the discretion of lawyers, A&E and Big Fish have implemented various measurements to ensure the potential of broadcasting intense and disturbing content across live cable television has been minimized. As such, the series will air on a fluctuating yet slight tape delay to avoid graphic or compromising content with the option of cutting to multiple angles of coverage or switching locations also available to the executive producers.
The majority of footage will be recorded through dash cams, fixed rig, handheld, and multiple producer cameras. But production teams are filming pre-recorded packages with law enforcement during the week to further ensure the live series is both entertaining and informative during each two-hour primetime block.
Cesareo, however, says that lack of live activity will not be a problem.
“The question that always came up on the A&E side was ‘What happens when nothing happens?’ and the biggest issue we’ve been wrestling with is keeping up,” he says of the technical dry runs.
The series has been more than one year in the making, with Cesareo spending close to a year figuring out how the program could be created from a technical standpoint before Big Fish settled in on the advancements of 4G tech and its cost-effective benefits.
“A year and a half ago, you could do it but probably not on this scale or with the reliability that we have now,” Cesareo says. “We were testing all sorts of [technological advancements] along the way and trying to find the right solutions, and our back-up plan was always satellite.”
However, employing satellite trucks in a demanding production like Live PD introduces a host of new costs and inefficiencies. For one, satellite trucks need to be situated in fixed locations, rather than trailing squad cars, with a clear signal to transmitting cameras. The solution to that problem lies in the hiring of helicopters, equipped with repeaters, to ensure the clear line of sight is maintained to both camera and satellite alike. But at six locations with a variant of 30 distinct feeds, employing a fleet of helicopters in a cable network environment would have been cost prohibitive, Cesareo says.
As the demand for transparency in law enforcement has come to a boiling point in recent months, both Cesareo and Frontain Bryant are hoping Live PD will further the national discussion about the story of policing in America and the dangers both officers and communities encounter on a nightly basis.
“This is about context and transparency,” Cesareo says. “We have a very serious debate in this country, and no matter where you fall in that debate, this is the most important show happening on TV right now.
“It’s raw, it’s visceral, it’s everything that TV should be and is not.”
Live PD airs Friday nights, beginning Oct. 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on A&E.