On Patrol: Live EP previews show's first-ever 'Citizen Ride-Along' segment

On Patrol Live
On Patrol Live

Reelz Dan Abrams, Sean Larkin, and Curtis Wilson on 'On Patrol: Live'

Sometimes live TV producers plan, and Mother Nature just laughs.

Earlier this fall, On Patrol: Live exec producer John Zito and his team were excited to launch a new segment on the law-enforcement docuseries, which premiered on Reelz in July. But "Citizen Ride-Along" — in which a civilian joins one of the officers who appears on the show for a Friday night shift while cameras roll — ran into two major obstacles, one of which was a literal force of nature.

"It was originally scheduled back for September 30th, and that coincided with Hurricane Ian," explains Zito. Ian swept through the Southeast, including Richland County, S.C. — where fan-favorite officer Captain Danny Brown was scheduled to take a member of his community on a ride-along for the show. "We had to stand down because of the hurricane," continues Zito. "And Captain Danny Brown is also a U.S. Army Reserve officer. Unfortunately, we could not quickly pick up and do [the segment] the following weekend, because Captain Brown then had to go and do his U.S. Army Reserve duty in California."

Seven weeks later — and barring any natural disasters — "Citizen Ride-Along" will finally debut tonight in the new episode of On Patrol: Live. It will be followed by an in-studio debrief with Brown and his civilian passenger on Saturday night's show. EW talked to Zito about what fans can expect from the new segment, how those citizen riders get chosen, and where the next ride-along may take place. (Zito declined to comment on the ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit filed by A&E against Reelz over OPL.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why was Richland County the department you chose to start with for this segment — besides the fact that everyone loves Captain Danny Brown?

JOHN ZITO: [Laughs] It's not just because people love Danny Brown. In talking to the various departments and the comfort level of everybody, Richland County, I think initially they were the most comfortable with it. Everyone we spoke to were all interested in doing it, it just seemed that Richland County was more primed and ready to go first.

The ride-along participant is named Alexa Dean. How did she get chosen? Is there some kind of OPL lottery or something?  

No, it's absolutely not a lottery system. The ride along follows the existing protocols of the departments. There are no rules that are written by On Patrol: Live. We do not have any hand in the selection of the person [who does the ride-along]. Any one of these police departments do ride-alongs all the time, and this happened to be the one that was selected by the Richland County Sheriff's Department to overlap with the one we're going to do on the show. There was solicitation [on the show], host Dan Abrams mentioned it on the air, but we directed anyone who was interested to an email the department gave us for their ride-along program. The county then received all of the requests, and I think close to 3,000 people submitted.

This is very much in keeping with the premise of the show. We are there to document what's going on with these officers and these deputies and the communities they serve. And now we are witnessing a ride-along with a member of the community, and we are documenting that.

As you mentioned, Alexa will be following the guidelines and protocols required by the Richmond County Sheriff's Department as she gets ready for her ride-along — do you think we'll see any of that preparation on the air?

From 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., there's a show called On Patrol: First Shift. The majority of that hour is just re-airs of earlier episodes. But at the top of the show, hosts Dan Abrams, Sean Larkin, and Curtis Wilson do a little preview of what's coming up for the night and they have some updates. And the plan right now is to have both Captain Brown and Alexa Dean on during First Shift, so there would probably be a little back and forth there about how they prepped, how they're getting ready, what they've been discussing. That's probably where we'd see that first.

[In a statement, the Richmond County Sheriff's Department told EW, "The Richland County Sheriff's department is excited for the opportunity to participate in the first OPL Citizen Ride-Along. We look forward to allowing the public this unique opportunity to gain increased insight into the Richland County Sheriff's Department. Our primary concern is always safety. RCSD will have a safety and awareness briefing beforehand and do an overview of the vehicle and safety equipment installed and its use. The citizen will also be asked to wear body armor for her protection and given guidelines for everyone to have a fun and safe experience."]

On Saturday night, you'll follow up the "Citizen Ride Along" segment with "Citizen on Set," when Alexa and Captain Brown will be in studio to talk about the ride-along. What can you preview about that?

We're hoping just to have them come in and share their experiences. We have no idea what we're going to witness them witnessing tomorrow night, but whatever it is, we just love to bring them onto the set and share their thoughts. We're not expecting nor should we want them in any way to be playing to the cameras. We're there to document Alexa's interaction with Captain Brown, and we're a fly on the wall for that.

We see "Citizen on Set" as the opportunity to have that debrief. Normally you would go home and tell your family and their friends — come and tell us what it was like. We saw from our perspective, but now come and share with us what the experience was like, after we give them a day or so to have it sink in.

Are there any limits to what Alexa can discuss during that segment?

There are no conditions on what she wants to discuss. The only thing that would be be off-limits would be something that could potentially be requested by the department, if, say, she witnessed a confidential informant or something that could compromise an investigation. But no, for us as the production company, there's absolutely no limit on what she's able to share.

On the one hand, you must want something super exciting to happen during Captain Brown's shift while Alexa is doing the ride-along — but on the other hand, it might also be pretty stressful if she ends up in a dangerous situation. Have you thought about what your ideal situation would be — and what would terrify you the most?

Not really. Again, the safety and security, that's all going to fall within the existing guidelines of the department. They're going to adhere to that if our cameras are there or not. Captain Brown is going to be operating the same way no matter what. And some nights may not be quote-unquote exciting necessarily.

But when you have the ability to show three hours a night, you see the full spectrum of law enforcement activity and interaction with the community. And some of that stuff can be somewhat quote-unquote mundane, some of it's more exciting, but the audience likes to be part of that experience, and to see it all. So as far as what's going to happen, what I want to happen, I'm not predicting or demanding or wanting or expecting anything to happen. It's going to be what it is and that's what it is every single weekend. Of course, we do have safety and security concerns and it will always be at Captain Brown's discretion as to how to manage the interactions, or if Alexa will be allowed to get out of the car or not. That will all be at Captain Brown's discretion.

Once you have this first "Citizen Ride-Along" under your belt, how often do you hope to do these segments going forward?

Barring any hurricanes and circumstances beyond our control, I think we'd like to see one every six weeks or so.

Can you tell us where you'll go next?

We're not sure yet. All of our departments are interested in it, but we're not sure yet. I think there's a really good chance that after this segment wraps up on Saturday, there'll be some announcement as to when you can expect this to happen again. We'll won't [reveal] the location but we'll give the audience something to look forward to.

Finally, I just have to ask about the major technical issues you all faced during On Patrol: Live's series premiere on July 22. On a scale of 1 to 10 — 1 being "totally Zen" and 10 being "heart palpitations" — where were you emotionally during that 75-minute delay?

[Laughs] I have to give that a number grade? Here's what I'll say: It is without a doubt the hardest live show I've ever produced. And I would actually put out there that it's probably it's more difficult than anything else being produced on TV. We have such an amazing team, and there are so many different factors out there with how we produce the show, which is why we're the only ones who can do it.

My heart was racing. Absolutely, it was. We did great numbers that night, by the way. Even with the technical difficulties. Yeah, it was nerve-wracking. But we took it in stride. It was all such a blur, by the time we were up and running again, it just felt like a long commercial break.

On Patrol: Live airs Friday and Saturday nights at 9 p.m. on Reelz.

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