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Cops features cameras following real-life police officers around their headquarters, on street patrols and raids, at stakeouts, and sometimes even in their homes.

The show’s formula follows the cinéma vérité convention, with no narration or scripted dialogue, depending entirely on the commentary of the officers and on the actions of the people with whom they come into contact.

When the show first began in 1989 it was filmed in Broward County, Florida. Eventually, it was filmed at various locations throughout the US, including Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and even Anchorage, Alaska. One episode was filmed in Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia, while other episodes have been filmed in London, Hong Kong and Central America.

Each episode begins with the theme song Bad Boys, performed by reggae group Inner Circle. The show ends with a recorded communication between a dispatcher and police officer before playing the closing credit music.

The success of Cops has led to several imitations, none of which enjoyed the success or longevity of Cops, one of the earliest examples of a contemporary reality TV show.

It is one of the longest-running television programmes in the United States and in May 2011 became the longest-running show on Fox with the announcement that America’s Most Wanted was being cancelled after 23 years.

An audio technician from the Cops film crew was shot and killed in a gunfight between local police and an armed robbery suspect while shooting footage for the show in August 2014 in Omaha.