John Walsh Back on ‘The Hunt’: ‘Television is Still the Most Powerful Medium’

By Merrill Knox Comment

John Walsh CNNWhen John Walsh’s new CNN show, “The Hunt,” debuts Sunday night, it will be the latest chapter in Walsh’s life’s work: to catch the bad guys.

“I was on that painful journey for 27 years waiting for justice for my son. I know what it’s like. I will always be the father of a murdered child. I will always be that angry, driven guy,” the former “America’s Most Wanted” host told a group of reporters, including TVNewser, over lunch this week. “I just figured out one thing I can do really well  … I’d learn how to catch guys. I got better at it than any police agency because I had the public help.”

In the 26 years that “America’s Most Wanted” was on the air, Walsh’s profiles of fugitives led to the capture of 1,231 of the “biggest, rottenest, bastards on the planet,” as he describes them. Walsh, who has taken time off since Fox canceled “AMW,” was lured back to television by his longtime friend Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide.

“Television is still the most powerful medium. Yes, we have all kinds of digital platforms. We’re teaming up with Facebook, Twitter, all of them are so excited about the show,” Walsh said. “But the bottom line is I caught 99 percent of the guys I caught because I caught them off the television.”

“The Hunt” will not be another version of “America’s Most Wanted,” however. The show — hourlong episodes produced by Zero Point Zero, the production company behind CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” — will be an entirely new, more artistic venture, according to Walsh.

“I think it’s lusher. I think you can look at it, it’ll slow down, it’ll focus you in on what the crime is,” he said. “People always complain to me, ‘you didn’t tell us enough about the catch,’ or ‘you didn’t tell us enough about the bad guy, you didn’t tell us enough about the victims.’ Our last couple years [on ‘AMW’] were just frantic trying to get cases on. So I think you’re going to see a very different show.”

“The Hunt” is the latest original series from CNN, which under Zucker’s leadership has turned to original productions in an attempt to bring viewers to the network when there isn’t major breaking news. With Bourdain’s show in its fourth season and shows with Mike Rowe and Lisa Ling in the works, Zucker said Walsh was a natural fit because “he is a unique person in America and on American television.”

“We continue to look for great storytellers and great charismatic figures to bring to air,” Zucker said. “We are in the process of continuing the evolution of the network, and I wanted John to be part of that.”

Walsh said he was also attracted to CNN because of the network’s large digital presence. Viewers will be able to submit tips to Walsh’s team via social media and CNN’s website, something Walsh predicts will increase the chances of successful captures.

“Wherever I went, people came up to me and said, ‘you are the court of last resort,'” Walsh said. “Both of those directors, the FBI and the [US] Marshals said, ‘When are you going to saddle up and get back on the air? We’ve got cases and cases and cases for you to do.'”