Oh, Florida! Can any reality show capture life in Florida?
Posted September 30, 2018 6:06 p.m. EDT
For a state that has so much invested in promoting fantasy -- with our theme parks as well as our real estate promises of ever-growing sales -- Florida is the setting for a lot of reality shows.
Despite our image as a haven for retirees, two of our reality shows are about young people in skimpy outfits. Siesta Key features rich youngsters boozing and bedding each other. The country mouse to its city mouse is FloriBama Shore, which features rich youngsters boozing and bedding each other.
We've also been the setting for reality shows about music (Love and Hip-Hop: Miami) and pro wrestlers (Hogan Knows Best) and gator-wrestlers (Swamp People). I eagerly await the one that combines all three into a show about a pro wrestler tackling alligators while rapping. Don't get me started on the one about the real estate agent who specializes in selling houses to nudists.
The show that started all this "reality" in Florida is the one that birthed all subsequent reality shows. In 1989, Cops spent its first season following deputies around Broward County as they dealt with all the criminal craziness of South Florida.
Unlike other TV documentaries, this show had no narrator, no one to tell the audience what to think about what they were seeing. It gave the show an air of authenticity, as if viewers were actually right there with the cops, watching everything going down in real time.
Of course, what the viewers didn't realize is that the "reality" is often not as real as it seems. For instance, in 2002 a Cops camera crew tagging along with a Tampa police officer persuaded him to dress up as a clown for a prostitution sting. He drove around in a white van with a sign on the side advertising that "Coco the Clown" was available for kiddie parties. He shot Silly String at one suspect before she was busted. When another got arrested, he took a hit of helium from a balloon and then said in a squeaky voice, "There's nothing funny about what you did."
You never saw the producers manipulating the cops' behavior from behind the camera. The other thing you never saw: Cops having sex while on duty. Cops planting evidence. Cops stealing from the evidence room.
Those are all things that have been done by real Florida cops. For instance, in September the former police chief of the South Florida town of Biscayne Park pleaded guilty to framing an innocent black man just to make his case-clearance statistics look good.
Cops spawned a whole host of police-related reality shows, one of which is Live PD on A&E. Unlike Cops, which is filmed live and then edited in a studio, Live PD features live feeds of police officers from around the country doing their jobs.
The goal is to "document a genuine cross-section of what policing looks like across America," Dan Cesareo, creator and executive producer of Live PD, told the Times earlier this year.
One of the police agencies they follow is the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which (among other things) in a recent episode showed deputies encountering a woman who said her significant other had thrown a piece of chicken at her.
Some Pasco government and business leaders have worried aloud that the show is hurting their county's reputation. Bear in mind that Pasco is the county where the mafia once ran a night club, where the Klan offered to sponsor a highway and where there's an annual nude 5K run.
I think the show has been bad for Pasco, but maybe not in the way the county leaders are thinking.
In March, a Pasco deputy got fired after he was charged with what this newspaper called "a lewd act" and a TV station referred to as a "bizarre sexual encounter." He was later charged with tampering with evidence in an unrelated case. Then, in September, another Pasco deputy was busted and fired, this time for allegedly driving drunk and crashing into a parked car.
Both deputies had been featured on episodes of Live PD last year. Coincidence? Or is the spotlight of TV stardom a curse? I almost want to tune in to the show when it airs again to see which Pasco cop is next.
Live PD probably won't ever show you the footage of those cops being arrested, which is a real shame. You can't get the full picture of what's happening with Florida law enforcement if you don't look at all the bad apples spoiling this barrel.
But it's just another sign that the reality of daily life in Florida is just too wild to be captured on "reality" TV.
Contact Craig Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @craigtimes.