|America's Most Wanted|
|Genre||Reality legal programming|
|Created by||Michael Linder, Stephen Chao|
|Presented by||John Walsh|
|Narrated by||John Walsh (1988–1990)
Ron David (1990–1996)
Don LaFontaine (1996–2008)
Wes Johnson (2008–2012)
|Opening theme||Michael Shamberg (1988–1996)|
|Ending theme||Michael Shamberg (1988–1996)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||25|
|No. of episodes||
1,186 (as of October 12, 2012[update])Captures
1,200 (as of October 12, 2012[update])
|Executive producer(s)||John Walsh
Michael Linder (1988–1990)
Lance Heflin (1990–2012)
30 minutes (1988–1990, 1995–1996),60 minutes (1990–1995, 1996–2012)
|Production company(s)||20th Century Fox Television, Walsh Productions|
|Original network||Fox (1988–2012)
|Picture format||480i SD, 1020i HDTV|
|Original release||February 7, 1988
– April 21, 2012 (Fox)|
December 2, 2011 – October 12, 2012 (Lifetime)
America's Most Wanted is an American television program that was produced by 20th Television. At the time of its cancellation by the Fox television network in June 2011, it was the longest-running program in the network's history (25 seasons), a mark since surpassed by the long-running animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The show started off as a half-hour program on February 7, 1988. In 1990, the show's format was changed from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. The show's format was reverted to 30 minutes in 1995, and then, to 60 minutes in 1996. A short-lived syndicated spinoff titled America's Most Wanted: Final Justice aired from 1995 to 1996.
The following September, the show's host, John Walsh, announced that it would resume later that year on the cable network Lifetime. After a brief run on Lifetime, however, on March 28, 2013 the show was canceled again. This was reportedly due to low ratings and the level of royalty payments to Fox which holds the trademark and copyright. It was succeeded by John Walsh Investigates, a one-off special on Lifetime.
The show featured reenactments of dangerous fugitives that are portrayed by actors, interspersed with on-camera interviews, with Walsh in a voiceover narration. There was a toll-free hotline number where viewers could give information at 1-800-CRIME-TV. On May 2, 2008, the program's website announced its 1,000th capture; as of March 30, 2013, 1,202 people have been captured because of AMW. Many of the series' cases have some connection outside the United States or have not taken place in the United States at all. The series' first international capture was in Nova Scotia in 1989. With Walsh at the helm, America's Most Wanted began to broaden its scope. In addition to the regular segments narrated by Walsh, the show began to make room for more segments and correspondents.
The first two-hour quarterly special aired on Saturday, October 29, 2011 on FOX. The second two-hour special aired on Saturday, December 17, 2011, the third two-hour special aired on Saturday, February 11, 2012, and the fourth and final two-hour special aired on Saturday, April 21, 2012.
The concept for America's Most Wanted originally came from a German show, Aktenzeichen XY ... ungelöst (German for File Reference XY ... Unsolved), that first aired in 1967, and the British show Crimewatch, first aired in 1984, with the US version conceived by Fox executive Stephen Chao and Executive Producer Michael Linder in the summer of 1987. Even earlier, however, CBS aired a three-month half-hour similar series hosted by Walter McGraw in the 1955-1956 season entitled Wanted.
While Linder was shooting the pilot episode in Indiana, Chao and Fox attorney Tom Herwitz conducted a hurried search for a host. Chao's first choice was former police officer and best-selling author Joseph Wambaugh, but Wambaugh refused, saying he didn't believe a national dragnet would work in the United States. Chao also considered asking recently resigned U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, former Virginia governor Chuck Robb and former Oklahoma governor Bob Curry before deciding a politician might use the show as a platform for personal political ambitions. Other potential candidates included former Marine Corps Commandant General P. X. Kelly, journalists Linda Ellerbee and Bob Woodward, and victims' advocate Theresa Saldana. Then, during a marathon telephone conference call, Herwitz suggested John Walsh. Walsh had gained publicity after his six-year-old son, Adam Walsh, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. The crime had been the subject of the 1983 television film Adam, and Walsh's later advocacy had resulted in new legislation to protect missing children, as well as the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After lengthy discussions, Walsh agreed to host the pilot episode.
America's Most Wanted debuted as a half-hour program on February 7, 1988 on seven Fox-owned stations. Within four days of the first broadcast, FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive David James Roberts was captured as a direct result. He was a convicted killer who had recently escaped from prison by digging his way out with a small axe. This demonstrated the effectiveness of the show's "Watch Television, Catch Criminals" premise to skeptical law enforcement agencies. Ten weeks later, the program premiered nationwide on the Fox network and became the fledgling network's first hit series. In 1990, the show's format was changed from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. The show was cut back to 30 minutes in 1995, and back to 60 minutes in 1996. From 1995 to 1996, a short-lived syndicated spinoff titled America's Most Wanted: Final Justice aired.
The announcer heard on the show from 1996 to 2008 was the late voice-over artist Don LaFontaine. The first new episode aired after his death was dedicated to him. He was replaced by voice actor Wes Johnson, who served in the role until end of the show's run.
The show's first logo ran from 1988 to 1990, which consisted of an eagle sitting on a tree branch in a circle, with lines, stars, and zigzags below, and it has "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED" written on it. The show's second and final logo ran from 1990 to 2012, which would be used for the rest of the show's run. In 1996, the show was retitled America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back, which ran until 2003.
The program was canceled for a month and a half in the fall of 1996, per a decision made the previous spring in the wake of high production costs. In its place, Fox moved Married... with Children (then entering what soon became its final season) to 9/8c, with the new sitcom Love and Marriage following it at 9:30. Cops remained in its hour-long 8/7c block. However, protests from the public, law enforcement, and government officials, including the governors of 37 states, as well as low ratings for the shows replacing AMW encouraged Fox to bring the show back. Love and Marriage was canceled, and Married… with Children was moved back to Sundays. In 1996, the show was retitled America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back, which ran until 2003. For the next 15 years afterward, the America's Most Wanted/COPS combination made Saturday evening Fox’s most stable night, along with the longest unchanged primetime schedule on American television as of 2011.
On March 6, 2010, Fox aired the 1000th episode of America's Most Wanted, and Walsh interviewed then President Barack Obama at the White House. In the interview, they discussed the Obama Administration's crime-fighting initiatives, as well as the impact the show has had on law enforcement and crime prevention.
The show expanded its focus to also cover criminals in the War on Terrorism when, on October 12, 2001 an episode aired featuring 22 most-wanted al-Qaeda operatives. The show was put together due to a request by President George W. Bush, who had presented the same list of men to the nation two days earlier. However, the first show that focused mainly on terrorism aired after the September 11 attacks and was two hours long.
On May 16, 2011, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announced that after 23 years, America's Most Wanted, in its weekly format, would be canceled. The final weekly episode aired on June 18, 2011, though Reilly said four two-hour specials would air on Fox in the fall 2011 television season. However, Walsh said he was looking to other networks to keep the show going, saying he had "many, many offers" from other networks. Fox News Channel confirmed that its chairman Roger Ailes had been in preliminary discussions with Walsh about bringing the show to Fox News, but said "nothing has been decided." On the final Fox episode, Walsh promised to continue the show elsewhere and told the Associated Press: "I want to catch bad guys and find missing children—and we’re not done."
During the 2010–2011 season, the show averaged an audience of five million. Within hours of Fox's announcement of the show's cancellation, campaigns to save the show were started by fans through Facebook and Twitter, among other social networking sites.
In September 2011, it was announced that Lifetime had picked up America's Most Wanted from Fox and it began airing on the former on December 2, 2011. On March 13, 2012, Lifetime ordered an additional 20 episodes. However, on March 28, 2013, it was announced that Lifetime had cancelled America's Most Wanted.
When America's Most Wanted debuted, the show's first toll-free hotline number was 1-800-CRIME-88, 1-800-274-6388. The last 2 digits of the hotline number changed each year 1-800-CRIME-89, 1-800-CRIME-90, 1-800-CRIME-91, 1-800-CRIME-92, and finally, 1-800-CRIME-93 until 1994, when it was permanently changed to its final number, which is 1-800-CRIME-TV, 1-800-274-6388, which, coincidentally, was what the number had originally been in 1988. As of June 2014, the hotline has shut down and the show's website has also been deactivated. About half of the phone operators seen during the show are actors.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (December 2016)
The AMW Dirty Dozen was John Walsh's list of notorious fugitives who had been profiled on the show who were at that time at large. It was similar in function, though not identical with, the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list; four of the Dirty Dozen were on the FBI's list.
These are the Dirty Dozen, as of January 8, 2013. Currently, there are 9 fugitives still wanted despite the idea of the list being John Walsh's 12 personal most wanted. The tenth, Paul Jackson, was arrested in 2015. Resort killer Beacher Ferrel Hackney was removed after his body was discovered in September 2012. Alleged murderer William Joseph Greer has also been removed from Walsh's Dirty Dozen before despite him seemingly still on the run.
Given that a significant number of the fugitives on America's Most Wanted had yet to face trial in a criminal court, the show adhered to the presumption of innocence as afforded under the law. For this reason, in the cases where fugitives had not yet been convicted, John Walsh would always proceed his narrative of the crime with the term "Police say ..." and then state the crime to which the person had allegedly committed.
In a handful of rare cases, America's Most Wanted profiled persons who were involved in controversial cases or who had fled to avoid prosecution on what they believed to be unfair or even framed charges. One female fugitive, who had fled to Canada, later had charges against her dismissed even after being profiled on the show. In another case, a judge ordered a change of venue for a suspected child murderer after learning that nearly the entire county had seen the suspect profiled on America's Most Wanted and believed him guilty. During its entire run, Walsh refused to ever issue a retraction, and updated viewers on any fugitives who were later found not guilty.
The Simpsons Season 1 episode "Some Enchanted Evening" featured a parody of America's Most Wanted called "America's Most Armed and Dangerous". At the time, the Simpson kids were watching a profile of Ms. Botz, their babysitter, airs on the program and includes a hotline similar to America's Most Wanted. Ms. Botz is profiled as the Babysitter Bandit.
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