A&E canceling 'Live PD' following ongoing protests against police brutality

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By Variety

A&E has pulled the plug on “Live PD,” in the wake of ongoing protests against police brutality and concerns over coverage of police activity following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD. Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments,” A&E said in a statement.

The news also comes following revelations that a camera crew from “Live PD” last year filmed the death of a black man in custody by Austin law enforcement — and that the video had been destroyed. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Javier Ambler died in March 2019 while being arrested by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies in connection with a traffic violation.

The newspaper reported this week that 28 minutes after Ambler was pulled over for failing to dim the headlights of his SUV to oncoming traffic, “the 40-year-old black father of two sons lay dying on a North Austin street after deputies held him down and used Tasers on him four times while a crew from A&E’s show ‘Live PD’ filmed. The former postal worker repeatedly pleaded for mercy, telling deputies he had congestive heart failure and couldn’t breathe. He cried, ‘Save me,’ before deputies deployed a final shock.”

A&E had opted not to air new episodes of “Live PD” last weekend in the wake of worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations against systemic police brutality against African Americans.

“Out of respect for the families of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives, in consultation with the departments we follow, and in consideration for the safety of all involved, we have made the decision not to broadcast ‘Live PD’ this weekend,” A&E said in a statement last Friday.

At the same time, Paramount Network revealed that it had already pulled episodes of “Cops” from its air. After opting not to move forward with Season 33 of “Cops” on Monday, Paramount confirmed that it had canceled the show for good. (“Cops” producer Langley Prods. has not responded to requests for comment.)

Meanwhile, despite the fact that A&E had not determined the fate of “Live PD” earlier this week, host and executive producer Dan Abrams went ahead and posted Tuesday on Twitter that “to all of you asking whether #LivePD coming back… The answer is yes. All of us associated with the show are as committed to it as ever. We are still discussing some specifics but I want to assure the #LivePDNation that we are not abandoning you.”

Insiders suggested that Abrams had posted that tweet, however, on his own volition, and without the network’s knowledge.

“Shocked & beyond disappointed about this. To the loyal #LivePDNation please know I, we, did everything we could to fight for you, and for our continuing effort at transparency in policing. I was convinced the show would go on… More to come,” Abrams wrote on Twitter after the announcement of the cancelation.

Canceling “Live PD” was likely a tough call for A&E, as it had become one of its signature shows since launching in October 2016. Just two months ago, A&E had renewed the series for another 160 episodes. The program, from Big Fish Entertainment, followed cops and sheriffs — live, in real time, as they patrol various cities and counties across the country. As it turned into a sensation, A&E kept expanding the show’s footprint; it’s now the No. 1 series on cable on Friday and Saturday nights. A&E had also relied on repeats of the show, which have also been pulled from the network.

The current controversy in Austin likely didn’t help the status of “Live PD” either. The Statesman and KVUE reported that A&E had confirmed that the “Live PD” video no longer exists, but the newspaper and TV station obtained video of Ambler’s final moments from an Austin police officer’s bodycam. They report that dashcam video from Williamson County deputies has not been released.

As a result of Ambler’s death, and a failure to provide evidence to investigators, the newspaper said three of four Williamson County commissioners Tuesday called for Sheriff Robert Chody to resign.

Via several tweets, Abrams defended “Live PD” and took on the Statesman, posting that the newspaper “should really focus on the death of Javier Ambler and on the fact that DA @ElectMargaret (note the twitter handle) is suddenly focused on this now even though she had the body cam footage for over a year? Their reporting on #LivePd has been a journalistic disaster.”

Abrams also posted his statement on the matter, arguing that “Live PD” destroys unused footage so that it can’t be used by authorities against civilians: “Video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of ‘Live PD’ who were riding with certain officers involved. The incident did not occur while ‘Live PD’ was on the air but rather during the show’s hiatus when producers are regularly out in the field gathering footage. 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 bodycam 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. As with all calls we follow, we are not there to be an arm of the police or law enforcement but rather to chronicle what they do and air some of that footage and our policies were in place to avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens.”

Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnart, meanwhile, has spent time reviewing copies of “Live PD” contracts with local police departments (obtained by several news outlets), and shared that officers are “able to stop filming at their discretion at all times,” that police departments have “the ability to review and prevent footage from airing,” and that the live show airs with 10 to 25 minute time delay that “will allow us to eliminate or blur sensitive material and address any legal concerns prior to broadcast.” At least one municipality, Tulsa, had already announced that it will not renew their contract with “Live PD” when it expires.

A&E has weathered controversy several times in its history. In 2016, the Ku Klux Klan-centric docuseries “Generation KKK” (later renamed “Escaping the KKK”) was yanked before launch after A&E execs discovered that participants on the show, including Klan members, were paid to participate. In 2013, A&E suspended – and then unsuspended – “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson over homophobic remarks.