Dan Abrams teases On Patrol: Live, talks tape retention policy: 'We're going to make more exceptions'
On June 10, 2020, Live PD — A&E's long-running law enforcement docuseries — was canceled in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. On June 9, 2022, Dan Abrams — Live PD's co-host and vocal champion — made the announcement he'd been hoping to make for nearly two years. The Live PD team was coming back to TV — this time with a new show, On Patrol: Live, on Reelz.
"I was very proud of Live PD. I was very proud of the show we did," Abrams tells EW. "I've been working on either getting [Live PD] or a new show off the ground since the day it was canceled."
On Patrol: Live reunites Abrams with Live PD executive producer John Zito, and co-host Sean "Sticks" Larkin, a retired Tulsa Police Department lieutenant. Much like their previous series, On Patrol: Live will follow seven police departments across the country — Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, Moncks Corner, S.C.; Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, Albuquerque, N.M.; Kanawha County Sheriff's Office, Charleston, W.Va.; Marion County Sheriff's Office, Ocala, Fla.; Nye County Sheriff's Office, Pahrump, Nev.; Paterson Police Dept., Paterson, N.J.; and Richland County Sheriff's Office, Columbia, S.C. — as they work their beats live for three hours every Friday and Saturday night. (Like Live PD and most live programming, OPL will operate on a delay, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, to accommodate network standards and practices.)
New features include "Citizen Ride-Along" segments, which Reelz says "will give local residents within the communities of the departments appearing on the show a first-hand perspective as they ride along with officers followed by On Patrol: Live cameras on live nights." Abrams and Larkin will also be joined in studio by a new co-host, Deputy Sheriff Curtis Wilson, Division Commander with the Richland County Sheriff's Department in Columbia, SC.
Ahead of the On Patrol: Live premiere this Friday, EW interrogated Abrams about the new law enforcement docuseries and how it differs from Live PD. Abrams also talked openly about what he and producers learned from the controversy surrounding Live PD's failure to retain footage of an Austin man's death in police custody in 2019.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long ago did the conversations with networks start, and were you talking to multiple networks before choosing Reelz?
DAN ABRAMS: I can tell you that I had incoming [interest] from at least three different networks about the show. And I would then have an initial conversation and then I would pass it along to [the production company], Big Fish, to have follow-up [conversations]. And that's literally just the people who came to me… There has absolutely been interest in bringing this kind of show back. It was just a question of making it work with the right partner.
What made Reelz the right partner for you and the team?
Well, they love the show. They're committing a big part of their network to this series and putting the full force of their programming and marketing muscle behind it. And that's what we wanted.
You and Sticks will have a new co-host, Curtis Wilson, in the studio with you. Was your original Live PD co-host, Tom Morris Jr., asked to come back?
Yeah. Tom is working on other projects, and as you can imagine, coming into something two years later, you've gotta hope that people are available. I've always left a hole in my [schedule] in case the show comes back. Sean was able to do it. Unfortunately, Tom has go a bunch of productions he's working on, but he is a great friend of the show and we love Tom. I'm still in touch with him. It just didn't work out, unfortunately.
Tell us a little bit more about the "Citizen Ride-Along" segments.
Those are gonna be people who probably watch the show and who [are in] the community where one of the departments is riding with us. They'll go and report back to us. I don't know that we've completely figured out exactly sort of what that segment will look like, but the point is for them to ride with the police and then come back and talk to us about that experience.
Would you say this new segment is a response to the scrutiny and demands for transparency that were on Live PD and COPS when they went off the air?
I don't think it was a reaction. I would describe it as just a way to upgrade the show. When you get to start from scratch, you want to figure out, "How do we make a better show? How do we make a different show?" That was the goal here.
Law enforcement is of course a serious subject, but as we saw on Live PD, police officers also encounter some pretty funny situations — like mediating a spat between a husband and wife over a clogged toilet or dealing with the infamous "doorbell licker." You, Sean, and Tom used to have a lot of fun with those segments on Live PD. Are you hoping to bring some of that humor to On Patrol: Live as well?
Absolutely. Sean and I have done a lot of projects together since Live PD. We've stayed good friends. Sean has been on my News Nation show a bunch of times, and some of the reaction has been from people, "OMG, I feel like I'm watching Live PD!" because Sean and I will make jokes or I'll tease Sean about something, et cetera. I think Curtis is going to be a great addition. We've already spent some, real time with him and he's fun and lighthearted, and I think it's going to be a nice mix.
If you had to put money down, how long do you think it will take on premiere night before someone stopped by police says, "These aren't my pants"?
[Laughs] For the Live PD nation, it will be a warm welcome if we have someone who gets pulled over and says, "They're not my pants." We had multiple instances of that [on Live PD]. I would expect that we will certainly have someone in the first few episodes who will deny that the pants, where [the officers] found some piece of incriminating evidence, belong to them.
Right before it was canceled, Live PD came under fire for not retaining footage of the death of 40-year-old Javier Ambler, who died in police custody in 2019. What will On Patrol: Live's policy be about retaining tape?
We're going to make more exceptions. The general rule is still going to be that we're not going to retain tape for more than 30 days. We don't want to become an arm of law enforcement. When I say that, I mean we don't want to serve as a repository for either law enforcement or defense attorneys to be able to just use the footage. Now, if we get a request in the window, we're going to hold [the footage]. But I think the difference is, if there is any other incident like that one, of course the tape is going to be retained.
I think that the previous rule was far too doctrinaire and too strict — it was 30 days, and unless we have a subpoena, we destroyed the tape. This time around we are going to be cautious about that, when there's something where we think, "This is an exceptional event," even though we didn't air it, the producers are going to keep it.
To clarify, Live PD did not air the footage of Ambler's death — and the show's general rule was that it wouldn't air footage where there was a fatality of any kind. Will On Patrol: Live have the same policy?
There was violence on the old show. Being a police officer can be a violent job. There had been a policy in place about not showing someone dying on camera, and that was certainly a factor as to why it didn't air.
If we have another incident like that, I would expect that we would air it — we just wouldn't air the moment [of death] itself. [With the 2019 incident], I think there were two mistakes that were made. Number one is, I think it should have been aired, just obviously not the final moments, so people could see for themselves [what happened]. And number two, that the tape should have been retained. I think that this new show would adhere to both of those.
I want to be very careful here because I didn't know about this tape [in 2019]. I don't want to make it seem like, "I will make a different call this time," because it wasn't my call last time. I'm certain that if something else like this happens [with On Patrol: Live], that they will consult with me, but that is also a question for the [producers]. But I feel confident that they would share my perspective on this.
Is there anything you'd like to say to critics of Live PD and people who feel that shows like it are "copaganda"?
I would say that a lot of the critics of the show never watched it. I did one interview after the show was taken off the air, and it was clear to me that the woman interviewing me had never seen the show. To the critics of the show, I would say if there are specific criticisms of the show, I'm all ears.
Okay, now for the most important question, Dan. The premiere is on Friday — have you chosen your night-one polo shirt?
I have not, but it is going to be a polo. I will be going with the polo shirts in the warmer weather, and I will go back to the infamous sweaters when it gets colder.
Will you and Sticks be coordinating your polo selection, so you don't end up looking like twins?
What we usually would do is we'd each bring in a couple of polo shirts and we would figure it out from there. There has to be some level of coordination so we're not like wearing the exact same color shirt. The good news is that we will never get our shirts mixed up. We are definitely different sizes. Sticks wore one of my shirts around once as a joke, and I can tell you that it seemed like there was no blood [getting to] his arms, because it was so tight on him.
Is there anything else you wanted to tease about what people can expect from On Patrol: Live?
The community, the people who love the show are a part of the show. We incorporate them into the show. They are part of what we think about every day. When thinking about this show, we're thinking about the OP Nation, in terms of how they respond. We'll maybe read some comments from people on [air]. It's really important to me that the fans of the show and the people who enjoy the show know we are following very closely what they're saying on social media.
On Patrol: Live premieres Friday, July 22 at 9 p.m. on Reelz.
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