America's Most Wanted

America's Most Wanted
America's Most Wanted.png
GenreReality legal programming
Created byMichael Linder, Stephen Chao
Presented byJohn Walsh
Narrated byJohn Walsh (1988–1990)
Ron David (1990–1996)
Don LaFontaine (1996–2008)
Wes Johnson (2008–2012)
Opening themeMichael Shamberg (1988–1996)
Ending themeMichael Shamberg (1988–1996)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons25
No. of episodes1,186 (as of October 12, 2012)Captures
1,200 (as of October 12, 2012)
Executive producer(s)John Walsh
Michael Linder (1988–1990)
Lance Heflin (1990–2012)
Running time30 minutes (1988–1990, 1995–1996),60 minutes (1990–1995, 1996–2012)
Production company(s)20th Century Fox Television
Walsh Productions
Michael Linder Productions
Fox Television Stations Productions
Distributor20th Television
Original networkFox (1988–2011)
Lifetime (2011–2012)
Picture format480i SD, 1020i HDTV
Original releaseFebruary 7, 1988 (1988-02-07) – June 18, 2011 (2011-06-18) (Fox)
Revived series:
December 2, 2011 (2011-12-02) – October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (Lifetime)
Related showsThe Hunt with John Walsh

America's Most Wanted is an American television program[1][2] 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 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 back to 60 minutes in 1996. A short-lived syndicated spinoff titled America's Most Wanted: Final Justice aired during the 1995-96 season.

The following September, the show's host, John Walsh, announced that it would resume later that year on the cable network Lifetime.[3] After a brief run on Lifetime, however, on March 28, 2013, the show was cancelled again.[4] 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 re-enactments of dangerous fugitives who are portrayed by actors, interspersed with on-camera interviews, with Walsh in a voiceover narration. Each episode also featured photographs of dangerous fugitives, as well 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.[5] 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.

On July 13, 2014, a successor premiered on CNN called The Hunt with John Walsh, which adds more international stories to its predecessor.[6]


Conception and early airing

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.

John Walsh presenting another fugitive

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 did not believe a national dragnet would work in the United States. Chao also considered asking then-recently resigned U.S. Attorney (and future New York City mayor) 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.[7]

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.[8] 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 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 voiceover 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.

Notable writers have included Peter Koper and Greg Scott.

Logos 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 was 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.

1996 cancellation and revival

The program was cancelled[9] 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, encouraged Fox to bring the show back, though low ratings for Married... and Love and Marriage ultimately sealed the return of AMW. Love and Marriage was cancelled, and Married... was moved back to Sundays. In 1996, the show was retitled America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back, which ran until 2003. For the 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, and the impact the show has had on law enforcement and crime prevention.[10]

Covering criminals in the war on terrorism

The show expanded its focus to also cover criminals in the War on Terror when, on October 12, 2001, an episode aired featuring 22 most-wanted terrorists. The show was put together due to a request by White House aides after the same list of men had been released to the nation two days earlier.[11] However, the first show that focused mainly on terrorism aired after the September 11 attacks and was two hours long.[12]

2011 Fox cancellation, network change, and eventual Lifetime cancellation

On May 16, 2011, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announced that after 23 years, America's Most Wanted, in its weekly format, would be cancelled.[13] The final weekly episode aired on June 18, 2011, though Reilly said four 2-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.[13] 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."[13] 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."[13]

During the 2010–2011 season, the show averaged an audience of five million.[13] 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.[14]

In September 2011, Lifetime was announced to have picked up America's Most Wanted from Fox and it began airing on the former on December 2, 2011.[15] On March 13, 2012, Lifetime ordered an additional 20 episodes.[16] However, on March 28, 2013, Lifetime announced it had cancelled America's Most Wanted.[17]