TV Cop Shows Are Under Fire, But Do They Still Protect and Serve in the Ratings?

A look at this season’s 22 police-based broadcast series, from “9-1-1” to “Tommy”

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As protests over police brutality continue across America this week in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, popular reality shows chronicling — and often lionizing — police activity, like “Cops” and “Live PD,” have been sent to the slammer.

Scripted series about law enforcement agents have been a mainstay on television since the black-and-white days, but they’re not exactly a dominant genre on the broadcast networks this season. (Unlike “Live PD,” which was A&E’s highest-rated show when it was sent up the river this week.)

The lone cop series in the Top 10 in broadcast ratings so far this season is Fox’s “9-1-1.” However, if you omit sports programming from the equation, NBC’s “Chicago PD” joins the Top 10. CBS’ “NCIS” makes it three in the Top 20, with or without sports.

Overall, TheWrap tallied 22 cop shows on broadcast this season — and half of them on CBS alone.

Not all of them will be returning next year. NBC scrapped any notion of a second season of “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector” on Thursday, but that could very well have just been a decision based on its lackluster Nielsen ratings. In TheWrap’s study of all the cop shows broadcast this season, only CBS’ “Tommy,” which was canceled last month, performed worse than “Lincoln Rhyme” among adults 18-49.

Also shown the door recently were two broadcast series tied for 17th place on our specific list, ABC’s “Emergence” and Fox’s “Deputy.”

“Lincoln Rhyme,” “Tommy,” “Emergence” and “Deputy” are now all one-and-done shows.

And “Criminal Minds,” which tied for fourth place among cop shows on the air, came to its natural conclusion after an impressive 15 seasons. “Hawaii 5-0,” which is tied for 12th place, will also not be back.

The lowest-rated cop shows sticking around for at least another season are NBC’s sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and CBS’ “Magnum P.I.”

“Brooklyn” has never had high ratings, but the former Fox show has been considered one of the best comedies on TV since a surprise Golden Globes win as a freshman in 2014.

It is also the lone sitcom in the genre on broadcast television.

CBS has 11 cop shows on its schedule — as many as all the other broadcast networks combined — and several of the top performers. All ratings in this story include one week of DVR viewing, and come from the key adults 18-49 demographic.

1. “9-1-1” (Fox): 2.3
2. “Chicago P.D.” (NBC): 2.0
3. “NCIS” (CBS): 1.7
4. (tie) “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC): 1.4
(tie) “Criminal Minds” (CBS): 1.4
(tie) “FBI” (CBS): 1.4
(tie) “Prodigal Son” (Fox): 1.4
8. (tie) “Blue Bloods” (CBS): 1.2
(tie) “FBI: Most Wanted” (CBS): 1.2
(tie) “S.W.A.T.” (CBS): 1.2
(tie) “The Rookie” (ABC): 1.2
12. (tie) “The Blacklist” (NBC): 1.1
(tie) “Hawaii 5-0” (CBS): 1.1
(tie) “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS): 1.1
(tie) “NCIS: New Orleans” (CBS): 1.1
(tie) “Stumptown” (ABC): 1.1
17. (tie) “Magnum P.I.” (CBS): 1.0
(tie) “Emergence” (ABC): 1.0
(tie) “Deputy” (Fox): 1.0
20. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC): 0.9
21. “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector” (NBC): 0.8
22. “Tommy” (CBS): 0.7

Defining a “cop show” is a bit harder than one might imagine. Several of the series on our list are federal or military law-enforcement shows, others are private investigator series.

“Emergence” was just a show about a cop and not necessarily about actual police work. “9-1-1,” the highest-rated police-based series this past season, follows multiple types of first responders. But Angela Bassett, who plays a policewoman on the show, is No. 1 on the call sheet.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • • Twitter: @tonymaglio


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