- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You didn’t have to watch “America’s Most Wanted” to be grateful it’s there. It has resided on Fox for 23 years, rallying its audience into a nationwide crime watch from which everyone benefited.

The viewership was not insignificant: 5 million viewers, on average, this season. But other numbers are more impressive, such as the 1,151-and-counting worldwide captures it claimed.

No wonder the public was shaken by the news on Monday that Fox has canceled “AMW.”

Too expensive, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly explained when making the announcement. Instead of “AMW,” Fox will air weekly repeats of its prime-time entertainment series. He said there would be four two-hour “AMW” specials next season.

John Walsh got the bad news on Sunday.

Mr. Walsh, of course, is the host of “AMW” and its driving force, a man who led a crime-busting crusade in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of his 6-year-old son, Adam, in 1981.

“I was quite surprised,” he said by phone Monday afternoon from backstage at Fox’s presentation for advertisers in Manhattan. He said he told Mr. Reilly, “We performed hard for you and we had a good year. We caught more guys than we’ve ever caught.”

But that wasn’t the metric that mattered to the network.

Set aside for a moment the public good “AMW” has provided. It’s also been a remarkable TV institution. It premiered in April 1988 on the fledgling Fox network during a season when other freshman Fox shows included such long-forgotten fare as “The New Adventures of Beans Baxter” and “Second Chance.”

It was billed as “a weekly nationwide criminal manhunt.” Mr. Walsh, a former hotel executive with no TV experience, was its host, with a simple message for the law-abiding public that he deputized to help flush out the bad guys: It’s us or them.

“AMW” caught on while most of Fox’s lineup failed. It’s been a fixture on the network ever since and, since 1994, has been planted at 9 p.m. Saturdays - except for a couple of months in 1996 after Fox canceled it the first time.

“The public went bananas,” Mr. Walsh recalled. So did government and police officials, who regarded the show as an invaluable law enforcement resource. The network swiftly reconsidered, and “AMW” carried on.

“It’s a show that seems like it was always there,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst for the firm Horizon Media. And innovative: “It harnessed the wisdom of crowds long before social media.”



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