An NBC News spokeswoman confirmed Friday that Hansen's contract was not being renewed. "Chris has been a valued member of the team and we thank him for his many contributions to Dateline and NBC News over the last 20 years," the network tells TV Guide Magazine in a statement. "We wish him the very best."
Hansen apparently became expendable after Dateline's increased reliance on narrative-driven, long-form stories, most of them murder mysteries. He had most recently been specializing in investigations into online-related crime and fraud. In a statement, Hansen said he is pursuing "hosting and executive producing projects that will be announced in the coming months."
A seven-time Emmy winner, Hansen reported on a number of major stories for NBC News after joining the network in 1993, including the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. But starting in 2004 he became a major television personality through "To Catch a Predator," a series of investigations that teamed NBC News with a civilian watchdog group called Perverted-Justice.
Members of P-J presented themselves as teenagers online to target men who sought sex from underage partners through online chat rooms. Potential predators were lured to locations throughout the country where they were confronted by Hansen, with camera crew in tow, and arrested by local police. The sting operations, typically run over three days, drew as many as 50 men. "To Catch a Predator" segments not only raised awareness of an emerging crime during the rise of the Internet, they became immensely popular with Dateline viewers, lifting the newsmagazine's ratings. "Predator" repeats were consistently strong performers on MSNBC as well. Hansen's signature sit-downs with surprised suspects became such a TV fixture he played himself in a "Predator" parody in the opening of the 2006 Emmy Awards.
Despite continued strong ratings, Dateline pulled away from the segments in 2007. The approach used in the operation had drawn criticism in the press — and a lawsuit — after one suspect drawn into the sting, an assistant district attorney in Rockland County, Texas, killed himself when police showed up at his home while NBC News cameras rolled. NBC settled the lawsuit. But advertisers also became skittish about running their commercials in the Dateline episodes that carried the reports. Hansen's aggressive investigative style also made him a target of supermarket tabloid journalists, who started trailing him and covering his own personal life in recent years.