ViacomCBS’s Chris McCarthy on canceling “Cops”, commissioning

Chris McCarthy, president of youth and entertainment brands at ViacomCBS, said the decision to pull the long-running reality series Cops off the air from Paramount Network was a “no brainer” during Variety‘s Virtual ...
June 24, 2020

Chris McCarthy, president of youth and entertainment brands at ViacomCBS, said the decision to pull the long-running reality series Cops off the air from Paramount Network was a “no brainer” during Variety‘s Virtual TV Fest Tuesday (June 23).

Paramount Network, under McCarthy’s purview, axed the series earlier this month amid escalating protests concerning police brutality across the U.S. and around the world following the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25.

McCarthy said the decision to pull Cops had already been made as part of Paramount Network’s plans to shift away from unscripted as a whole.

“That was something we decided when we brought the Paramount Network into our group. We just hadn’t been public about it,” McCarthy said in the 30-minute virtual interview. “It doesn’t matter what the loss is. We can’t be in this space and we can’t be part of the solution if we’re in this space. And so we made the hard decision to just pull it off. And we’re going to figure out what happens to the next several seasons that we’re locked in on but it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. These episodes aren’t useful and we don’t want to be in that business.”

Cops‘ 33rd season was scheduled to premiere June 8.

The series followed city police officers and county sheriff’s deputies, sometimes backed up by state troopers or other state agencies, during patrols, calls for service, and other police activities. Cops first premiered on Fox in 1989. It was later canceled by the network in 2013 and subsequently picked up by Spike TV, which relaunched as Paramount Network in 2018.

In tandem with the cancellation of Cops, ViacomCBS’s entertainment and youth group announced it was ending its relationship with Big Fish Entertainment, producers of several series in the ViacomCBS cable net roster, as well as the recently canceled A&E hit Live PD. Though the network group didn’t explicitly state the reasoning in its statement at the time, sources with knowledge of the situation said the decision was linked to the prodco’s involvement with Live PD and recent controversy stemming from reporting in the Austin American Statesman which revealed that Live PD cameras were rolling when a Black man died while in police custody in March of 2019. Javier Ambler was being arrested by Williamson County deputies for a traffic violation at the time.

The statement issued by the network group concerning the decision read: “We have decided to end our relationship with Big Fish Entertainment and will be producing our shows in house at this time. We thank Big Fish for their past contributions and wish them the best.”

“It was a hard decision but honestly it was a quick one,” McCarthy said about the move during the virtual event, adding that staying in or having an association with the “cop reality” genre at this point in time would be “irresponsible to our teams, to the talent and to our audience.”

In a statement to Realscreen, Big Fish Entertainment said: “We understand, appreciate, and support the importance of taking action during this serious moment of cultural change, so it is especially disappointing that a longtime partner would make such a definitive decision about taking our shows in-house based on misinformation and inaccurate reporting without speaking with us first.”

Following news of Live PD‘s cancellation, both A&E and series host Dan Abrams publicly took issue with reports concerning the Javier Ambler footage. On June 10, A&E issued a statement to Realscreen which read in part: “The footage never aired on Live PD per A&E’s standards and practices because it involved a fatality. Immediately after the incident, the Austin Police Department conducted an investigation using the body cam footage they had from the officers. Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded.”

During McCarthy’s conversation with Variety business editor Cynthia Littleton, the exec also discussed the network group’s approach to growing IP, cultivating content franchises and commissioning. “We’re builders, not buyers, for the most part,” he said. “We need to own the IP, we need to be able to know and work with it.”

With files from Barry Walsh

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.