America's Most Wanted

This article is about the Fox TV show. For other uses, see America's Most Wanted (disambiguation).
America's Most Wanted
Genre Reality legal programming
Presented by John Walsh
Narrated by Don LaFontaine (1988–2008)
Wes Johnson (2008–2012)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 25
No. of episodes

1,186 (as of October 12, 2012)

1,200 (as of October 12, 2012)
Executive producer(s) John Walsh
Running time 60 minutes
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
Distributor 20th Television
Original network Fox (1988–2012)
Lifetime (2011–2012)
Original release February 7, 1988 (1988-02-07) – April 21, 2012 (2012-04-21) (Fox)
Revived series:
December 2, 2011 (2011-12-02) – October 12, 2012 (2012-10-12) (Lifetime)

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, it was the longest-running program in the network's history (24 years), a mark since surpassed by the long-running animated sitcom, The Simpsons. The final episode on the network aired on June 18, 2011.

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 canceled 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 profiled cases involving the search for and apprehension of fugitives wanted for serious crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping, child molestation, white-collar crime, organized crime, armed robbery, gang violence, and terrorism, and also many of whom are currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. 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.

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.

After the program’s pilot aired, a lengthy search was conducted for a host, and John Walsh was selected. Other potential candidates included former Marine Corps Commandant General P. X. Kelly and victims' advocate Theresa Saldana. Walsh had gained publicity after his six-year-old son, Adam Walsh, was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. Walsh and others had successfully advocated Congress for the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

America's Most Wanted premiered 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.[7] 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.

The announcer heard on the show for its first two decades was voice-over artist Don LaFontaine, who died on September 1, 2008. The first new episode aired after his death was dedicated to him. He was replaced by voice actor Wes Johnson.

1996 cancellation and revival

The program was canceled[8] 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. Producers rechristened AMW with an expanded title, America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back. 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 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.[9]

Covering criminals in the War on Terrorism

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.[10]

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 canceled.[11] 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.[11] 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."[11] 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."[11]

During the 2010–2011 season, the show averaged an audience of five million.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13] On March 13, 2012, Lifetime ordered an additional 20 episodes.[14] However, on March 28, 2013, it was announced that Lifetime had cancelled America's Most Wanted.[15]

Hotline number facts

When America's Most Wanted debuted, the show's original 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, and so on) until 1995, when it was permanently changed to its current 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 apparently been deactivated. About half of the phone operators seen during the show are actors.[16]

AMW Dirty Dozen

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.[17] Alleged murderer William Joseph Greer has also been removed from Walsh's Dirty Dozen before despite him seemingly still on the run.

Presumption of innocence

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 special broadcast after the September 11 attacks, Walsh technically broke the show's own rules regarding innocence presumption when he said "Let's catch the bastards that did this!" in reference to the 9/11 masterminds.[31]

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 or updated viewers on any fugitives who were later found innocent.[32][33]

See also


  1. Mcgrath, Charles. "America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  2. New York Times
  3. ‘America’s Most Wanted’ To Live Again... On Lifetime,, 7 September 2011
  4. Andreeva, Nellie (March 28, 2013). "'America's Most Wanted' Cancelled By Lifetime". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  5. FOX Announces 2011 Fall TV Premiere Dates TV By the Numbers
  6. "The Hunt With John Walsh Premieres Sunday, July 13".
  7. Prial, Frank J. (1988-09-25). "Freeze! You're on TV". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  8. Shen, Maxine (2010-03-05). "Day 'Most Wanted' was canceled". New York Post. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  9. "(press release): "President Barack Obama Joins John Walsh For America's Most Wanted's Milestone 1000th Episode, March 6"". TV By The Numbers. March 3, 2010. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  10. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Frazier Moore (June 16, 2011). "'AMW' ending run on Fox, but John Walsh isn't done". Associated Press.
  12. Dena Potter (May 17, 2011). "5 Campaigns start to keep 'America's Most Wanted'". Associated Press'. Retrieved May 18, 2011.
  13. Barrett, Annie (2011-09-06). "Lifetime picks up America's Most Wanted". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  14. Cynthia Littleton (March 13, 2012). "Lifetime orders more 'America's Most Wanted'". Variety.
  15. Andreeva, Nellie (March 28, 2013). "'America's Most Wanted' Cancelled By Lifetime". Retrieved 2014-05-30.
  16. Managing the Hotline at ‘America’s Most Wanted’: A Job Well Done, a Phone Call Away WSJ (August 11, 2009). Retrieved on 2009-08-13
  17. U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted Fugitive’s Remains Found in Virginia U.S. Marshals Service (September 18, 2011).
  18. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  19. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  20. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  21. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  22. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  23. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  24. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  25. "". Archived from the original on December 14, 2008. Retrieved December 14, 2008.
  26. "". Retrieved 2011-10-09.
  27. "". Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  28. "". 2015-09-29. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  29. "". 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  30. "". 2015-10-02. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  31. America's Most Wanted, script reference - page 3, broadcast 12 September 2001 (retrieved 21 Jul 2015)
  32. "America's Most Wanted gunman acquitted", Toronto Sun - 9 Nov 2010
  33. "Guilty until Proven Innocent, the Controversy of America's Most Wanted", Washington Post - 12 Dec 1990

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