America's Most Wanted

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America's Most Wanted
America's Most Wanted.png
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)
Gillian Gilbert & Steve Morris (1990-1995)
Anatoly Halinkovitch (1995-1996, for America's Most Wanted: Final Justice)
The Runners (2009-2012)
Ending theme Michael 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
Distributor 20th Television
Original network Fox (1988–2011)
Lifetime (2011–2012)
Picture format 480i 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 shows The Hunt with John Walsh

America's Most Wantedis 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] where it ran until its March 28, 2013, cancellation. [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 reenactments of dangerous fugitives that 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. 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 expanded its 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 added more international stories to its predecessor. [6] The series ran until the end of its fourth season on November 19, 2017. In 2019, Walsh began hosting the Investigation Discovery series In Pursuit with John Walsh . [7]

In January 2020, Fox announced plans to revive America's Most Wanted. The network is seeking a new host. [8]


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 a fugitive John Walsh filming a segment for America's Most Wanted.jpg
John Walsh presenting a 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 didn't 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, 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. [9]

America's Most Wanted debuted as a half-hour program on February 7, 1988, on the then-seven Fox owned and operated stations, located in New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Chicago; Dallas; and Boston. Within four days of the first broadcast, FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive David James Roberts was captured as a direct result. [10] 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 until his death in 2008 was well-known 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.

Notable writers have included Peter Koper and Greg Scott.


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.

1996 cancellation and revival

The program was canceled [11] 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 canceled, 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 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. [12]

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 White House aides after the same list of men had been released to the nation two days earlier. [13] However, the first show that focused mainly on terrorism aired after the September 11 attacks and was two hours long. [14]

From Fox to Lifetime

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." [15]

During the 2010–2011 season, the show averaged an audience of five million. [15] 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. [16]

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. [17] On March 13, 2012, Lifetime ordered an additional 20 episodes. [18] However, on March 28, 2013, it was announced that Lifetime had cancelled America's Most Wanted. [19]

Hotline number facts

When America's Most Wanted debuted, the show's first toll-free hotline number was 1-800-CRIME-88, 1-800-274-6388, using a phoneword for "CRIME". The last 2 digits of the hotline number changed each year between 1989 and 1993 at the start of the new year until 1994, when 1-800-274-6388 was re-instituted permanently as the hotline number, with "88" now standing for "TV", making the final number read as 1-800-CRIME-TV. Both the hotline and the AMW website were shut down shortly after the end of production.

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 8 fugitives still wanted despite the idea of the list being John Walsh's 12 personal most wanted. The eleventh, Andre Neverson was arrested in 2018. Paul Jackson was arrested in 2015. Resort killer Beacher Ferrel Hackney was removed after his body was discovered in September 2012. [20] 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 precede his narrative of the crime with the either the terms "Police say...", "According to police...", or other such similar terms followed by a description of 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 never updated viewers on any fugitives who were later found not guilty of the crimes to which they had been profiled. [36] [37]


The Simpsons Season 1 episode "Some Enchanted Evening" featured a parody of America's Most Wanted called "America's Most Armed and Dangerous", which featured a profile of Ms. Botz, the Simpson's babysitter, who is nicknamed the Babysitter Bandit. In season six, John Walsh appeared on the hosting a fictitious version of America's Most Wanted titled Springfield's Most Wanted that was designed to serve as a lead-in to the resolution to the "Who Shot Mr. Burns? "cliffhanger from the end of season six.[ episode needed ]

In season six of The Golden Girls , the fictitious mobster The Cheese Man boasts that his most recent appearance on America's Most Wanted was the highest rated episode ever.[ episode needed ]

In the 2019 science fiction action film Terminator: Dark Fate , Sarah Connor reveals that she was featured in an entire episode of America's Most Wanted and is wanted in fifty American states, due to escaping Pescadero State Hospital, destroying Cyberdyne Systems and allegedly killing Miles Dyson twenty-five years previously.

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