John Langley, who helped introduce the world to reality television with his show Cops, died Saturday while competing in an off-road race in Baja, Mexico. The 78-year-old suffered an apparent heart attack, Variety reports. It took Langley years to find a network for his fledgling show before it landed at Fox in 1989; it ran for 32 seasons before being canceled in 2020 as racial justice protests swept the US in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police. Fox had canceled it in 2013, but it moved to Spike. The series had already become controversial after a podcast revealed police officers were able to get segments that portrayed them negatively edited out, and alleged that some of the people shown being arrested were coerced into signing waivers. Crew members were also alleged to have carried weapons and helped police, per the Hollywood Reporter.
Langley, who served in the US Army's intelligence unit in the early '60s, once said he was "sort of anti-authoritarian by nature" and couldn't have predicted he'd find success with a show about the police. He first wrote and co-directed a 1983 documentary, Cocaine Blues, featuring drug raid footage before getting into reality TV in 1986 with a primetime special, American Vice, showing drug arrests. He later produced series including Inside American Jail, Las Vegas Jailhouse, Street Patrol, Video Justice, Vegas Strip, Road Warriors, and Undercover Stings. He was also behind the documentaries Terrorism: Target USA, Anatomy of a Crime, and Who Killed JFK?, and produced the crime drama Brooklyn's Finest, which starred Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, and Ethan Hawke. (Read more obituary stories.)