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April 14th, 2009:

#11. Televised police chases

Police Helicopter Chase

The great men’s entertainment network SPIKE TV made news yesterday when they announced that they had partnered with the U.S. Navy (yes, the one we taxpayers foot the bill for) to create a new TV show called Pirate Hunters.

While SPIKE TV’s announcement was another great example of American capitalism and marketing at work, it was not an all-together novel idea. After all, in the land of HBO onDemand and American Idol, one TV event is still king: the televised police chase.

There is no TV event we Americans love more than a police chase. There is no event we won’t step away from to watch a police chase on TV.

Busy at work? Turn on the TV!

At the dentist? Hold the cleaning Doc. There’s a chase on TV!

Paying your respects? The departed will be there in 15 minutes, where is the nearest TV!

The whole Police Chase genre started in 1994 with the O.J. Simpson “low-speed” police chase. The chase, which progressed at about 35 miles an hour down the interstate, was so slow that people who heard about it on the news had time to line overpasses to watch, as if it were some sort of parade. In fact, what it was, was a late model SUV driving under the speed limit for over 50 miles, pursued by scores of police at as many as twelve TV helicopters.

But the multi-hour, dull spectacle of it all won us Americans over. According to Wikipedia (I didn’t bother following the internal references) over 94 million people tuned in to watch the O.J. Simpson chase on TV.

Let no one say that Americans’ have a short attention span or that we only like shows with fast cars and explosions. We might like explosions and spectacle well enough, but what we really love watching are slow-moving white trucks.

O.J.’s Sunday drive paved the way for a completely new genre of TV. Now, whenever there is the hint of a police chase, all the networks need to do is make sure there is a helicopter on the scene and we Americans will watch transfixed. Only in the end, that it was domestic dispute that consumed the resources of 3 police departments, 5 regional news agencies and wasted countless man hours of TV watching.

But at least we got to see the police do their job: entertain us.

God Bless America!

[Photo courtesy of Craig O’Neil]

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