Cops and Little Britain Cut After Protests Put Spotlight on TV

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The long-running police reality show “Cops” was canceled by the Paramount Network this week, and reruns of a popular British comedy have been cut from Netflix Inc. — the latest signs of how the media industry is grappling with portrayals of race and policing.

After pulling “Cops” from its schedule, ViacomCBS Inc. confirmed on Tuesday that the show was canceled. “‘Cops’ is not on the Paramount Network and we don’t have any current or future plans for it to return,” the network said in a statement. The reality show, which had aired on various networks for three decades, billed itself as a “raw and realistic series” with “unprecedented access into the daily lives and work of police” across the U.S.

The British comedy “Little Britain” was removed from several streaming services, including Netflix, the BBC’s iPlayer and BritBox, over its repeated use of blackface, according to multiple reports. A BBC spokesperson told the Telegraph newspaper that “times have changed” since the sketch comedy program first aired in the mid-2000s. But other shows with blackface portrayals or white actors caricaturing people of color are still available on streaming services, the Daily Mail reported.

Global protests against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd have put TV shows under scrutiny. And the cancellations highlight the liabilities that streaming companies face with their historical libraries, which often contain rights to shows featuring insensitive or outright racist scenes and themes that couldn’t possibly be greenlighted by a major studio today.

AT&T’s HBO Max removed Gone With the Wind, the 1939 Oscar-winning epic drama often criticized as having glorified the South during and after the Civil War. HBO Max in a statement saidthe movie “is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society.”

HBO Max plans to return the film “with a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions,” however it will be presented as originally created, the network said, “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

Disney has refused to run 1946 film “Song of the South,” which features racial stereotypes, on the company’s Disney+ streaming service. Executive Chairman Bob Iger told a shareholder who asked about the film earlier this year that, “It was just not appropriate in today’s world.”

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