Reality TV programs are an extremely popular segment of modern TV broadcasting. But in the late 1980s, the concept of TV with no scripts, no "real" actors and no plot beyond a general theme was a foreign idea.
Barbour-Langley Productions, a TV production company that focused on nonfiction programming, was looking for an opportunity to expand off its successful series of crime- and police-themed documentaries. In 1988, Fox Broadcasting bought into the production company's concept for a new kind of show: one that would follow real police as they patrolled their communities and fought crime. The show, simply titled "COPS," would go on to change the face of TV broadcasting and help launch FOX as a major TV network [source: Langley Productions].
The "COPS" formula laid the groundwork for modern reality TV: Instead of actors playing out a script, the characters were real people. The show focused on the more dramatic aspects of police work, like car chases, violent arrests and offbeat characters.
Shaky, handheld camera work, intense situations and impromptu interviews in which the subjects reflected on the incidents made "COPS" an addictive hit that, as of April 2011, has filmed more than 2,000 episodes. More significantly, the reality formula inspired a new genre of television, and critics and supporters alike admit that reality programming has changed the face of modern TV.