They raid rock houses. They catch drug dealers. They interrupt cocaine buys. They chase the guilty. They recover a body. They talk tough to hookers. But in their private moments they're like the rest of us. And. . . .
After revealing the identities of "America's Most Wanted," Fox Broadcasting now goes out and gets 'em in "Cops," a new series that documents the activities of the Broward County Sheriff's Department in high-crime Southern Florida.
The one-hour premiere roars in like a high-speed car chase at 9 tonight on KTTV Channel 11 in advance of the regular half-hour series, whose air dates have not been announced.
Actually, it's not America's, but Broward County's "most wanted" you see here, although the show's crime metaphor extends to the entire nation.
This is not Dade County. And this is not "Miami Vice."
There is no script. No narrator. No professional actors. What you get are real cops pursuing and busting real alleged criminals, all of it captured by the minicam multitudes of executive producers John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, the team behind some of the rambunctious TV specials fronted by RoboCop himself, Geraldo Rivera.
"Cops" has a dual personality.
On the one hand, it's absolutely captivating, raw and unpredictable, a bubbling boiler of excitement rendered in the style of CBS' "48 Hours" and unrivaled by conventional cop dramas in prime time.
On the other hand, the camera assumes the disgusting role of hanging judge by prematurely filling the screen with the faces of numerous suspects swept up in drug busts, some of whom may turn out to be innocent or may even go uncharged, for all we know.
You feel like a co-predator yourself in one extended sequence when the camera witnesses a young man being taken into custody at the airport by members of a drug interdiction unit. "Would you get out of here, please!" he tells the camera prior to scuffling with police.
The camera is present when they pull six ounces of cocaine and a gun from his boots, and when he calls his mother to explain what has happened, and when he calls his girlfriend, and when a picture of his girlfriend is displayed. Oh, great, get her mug on camera, too, even though there's no evidence that she's connected.
Although Burt Lancaster opens the hour with a disclaimer ("Suspects are presumed innocent until proved guilty in a court of law"), those words fade when the pictures take over.
When it comes to entertainment, though, "Cops" crackles:
--There is rookie Deputy Jerry Wurma making a drug bust in a crime-ridden Ft. Lauderdale neighborhood. When he briefly turns away from a suspect, the man takes off down the street. The shouting Wurma runs after him, and the camera pursues Wurma. "Very, very bad procedure," his supervisor admonishes him afterward.
--There is Wurma's girlfriend, Deputy Linda Canada, getting tough with suspected prostitutes near (Florida) Highway 1: "Get off my streets!"
--There is Sheriff Nick Navarro crashing a rock house. ("This is one of the most disgusting sights.") There is a drug raid, and another, and another ("I need the sledge hammer"), culminating in a massive coordinated raid of the homes of 30 suspected drug dealers. It's incredible TV.
Much of this happens in a blur, with cameras mirroring the sheer pandemonium as shouting cops hit fast, burst in, round up suspects and confiscate coke and cash. The action, movement and aggression themselves are amazingly seductive, for even when you don't quite understand what's happening in this chaotic fog of cops and alleged crooks, you're energized by their energy.
Where "Cops" falters is on the home front, failing badly in the role of domestic voyeur. When Navarro kisses his wife after a day at the office, the camera is in their faces. And "Cops" makes extended detours to the home of Capt. Ron Cacciatore, where his wife berates him for seeming to prefer TV to her. He listens stoically and nods, then adds: "Well, let's go watch TV, OK?"
Will the squabbling Cacciatores be a continuing soap on "Cops"? One hopes not, for these domestic sessions are quite labored. Are we really to believe that these people are so unaware of the camera aimed at their faces they are actually sharing their intimate moments with the rest of the nation?
The bigger question is what comes next for Rupert Murdoch's crime-patrolling Fox network. Anyone for "Crooks"?