This Saturday at 9 pm/ET, America's Most Wanted will broadcast its 1,000th capture in 20-plus seasons. As such, the show will originate from Times Square and also highlight some of the greatest captures in the long history of what many deem TV's first "reality series." Host John Walsh previews the milestone episode.
TVGuide.com: Congratulations on capture No. 1,000.
John Walsh: Thank you. It's a big milestone for us. Beyond a milestone, actually. It's a serendipitous thing because the 1,000th capture is an NYPD case. The guy was caught in Richmond by U.S. Marshalls, so we're going to film from Times Square underneath the Jumbotron, right on "the Deuce" [42nd Street and Broadway]. It's going to be a wonderful night to celebrate 20 years and 1,000 captures.
TVGuide.com: Standing in Times Square, don't you have to figure a good half-dozen fugitives are probably in spitting distance?
Walsh: [Laughs] You're right about that. Actually, I've been there a couple times, and it's amazing, as busy as New Yorkers are, how respectful they are. They come up to you and say, "Congratulations" or "What are you doing here?" People think I never go outside the studio!
TVGuide.com: When did you first become aware you were closing in on the 1,000 mark?
Walsh: We just know. The flurry of activity is usually Saturday night after the show, all-day Sunday, and usually by Monday or Tuesday, we know who has been captured. The most bizarre thing, I think, is that we've caught someone every week for 20 years.
TVGuide.com: Averaging 50 captures a season is pretty amazing.
Walsh: Absolutely. We do about 44 or 46 shows [a season]. Some shows we catch two or three. The 1,000th capture was a tip from the Web that came in a bit before the show aired. They caught the guy an hour after. [Dwight Smith] is alleged to have murdered a good, good friend of his to whom he had lent 100 grand. The really bad thing is that in order to get this friend, he held hostage the friend's brother, pregnant wife and another guy, and scared the hell out of them. When Dwight Smith went down the stairwell to kill his friend, this brother and pregnant wife and friend jumped out the window. Fortunately, the baby was born healthy. It's a pretty big story about a pretty violent creep. He'll have his day in court.
TVGuide.com: Take us back to when you got word of AMW's very first capture.
Walsh: A lot of people don't understand how much I had riding on that first show, personally. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have a 900-channel universe. There was ABC, CBS and NBC, and Fox was brand-new and losing money. Fox didn’t really have any [hit] show — Johnny Depp was still undiscovered on 21 Jump Street.... I had said no to Fox when they asked, "Would you like to be the host of the first reality show [modeled after the BBC's Crimewatch U.K.]?" I said, "What's 'reality television?'"
What finally convinced me to do the show was this guy, David James Roberts, an FBI Top 10 fugitive who had escaped from five life sentences, raped multiple women, and while on parole a second time, killed four people. They showed me the re-creation and said, "What if they caught this guy? Your son's murderer has never been caught, and this is a child killer...." It brought tears to my eyes. I went home to my wife, told her how [the job] would change our lives. God bless her, she said, "John, this is what we’ve been doing since [our son] Adam was murdered — trying to change things, trying to change the laws. It would be great if they caught David James Roberts. Go do it." Three days after the pilot aired, they caught this creep — he was running a shelter in Staten Island. A convicted murderer/serial killer/rapist hiding in plain sight. Now it's 1,000 captures later, 45 missing kids [returned].... Everybody in the media overlooks the fact that we helped get Elizabeth Smart home. Bringing home a missing child alive is not the norm; usually they are dead like Adam. For me, it's been a phenomenal, phenomenal journey.
TVGuide.com: What has been the fastest turnaround between broadcast and capture?
Walsh: We have caught people during the show. Fifteen years ago, someone was profiled at the top of the show, and they were in custody at the half-hour mark. But another capture took 10 years. They range from immediate gratification to....
TVGuide.com: "Well worth the wait."
TVGuide.com: It's a terrific thing you do. Other shows aspire to get a few chuckles, ratings or watercooler buzz, but you're actually out there making a difference.
Walsh: I appreciate that. I think we have proved that TV can get ratings, make money and change things. It's an incredible use of TV. I say that not because I am the host but because it does change lives. It gets people justice.
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