America's Most Wanted is an American television program that was first test-run on seven FOX affiliates in 1988, and ran on the whole FOX network a few months later; it's been going strong ever since. Its premise is simple: by informing the public about where exceedingly dangerous criminals have been sited and about what they've done, it's possible to bring those people to stand trial for their crimes. If you're worried about the big-brotherish nature of this program, don't - unless you're in the FBI's ten most wanted or have, say, been raping women nightly in and around Reno, Nevada, you really don't have much to worry about. It's pretty good at it, too - The show is responsible, in one way or another, for the capture of over 900 fugitives since its inception.

AMW (which is how they brand themselves nowadays, and their logo is a sight to see - it looks like something out of the pro wrestling circuit and, thanks to computer animation, does this rotational, transformer-like thing that has to be seen to be believed) couples witness testimony with reenactments of the crimes and provides a contact number for anonymous tips, allowing the public to help capture these people. It stands in the television pantheon as one of the first modern reality shows, albeit one with a purpose greater than the handing out of new cars, especially from a financial standpoint - an episode of AMW initially cost about $115,000US to produce in an era of when prime time television averaged around a million dollars an hour.

The show is hosted by John Walsh, a man with a decidedly personal (and some would say disturbing) stake in the matter - Walsh's young son was kidnapped and murdered in 1981. While it's good to see him channeling his energies to helpful places, it's kinda difficult to look at him talking about his son without thinking, "I feel your pain man, but...it happened 25 years ago. Why don't you take up gardening or somethin'?" It's good for people to have a cause, but there's a limit.

That doesn't seem to bother people, though. What bothers people, when it bothers them at all, is the self-aggrandizing swagger the show has acquired. Regardless of this, law enforcement loves the show, and complained vociferously when it was temporarily cancelled to give up its fairly prominent time slot for the more standard sitcom fare.

The producers of AMW are extremely careful about labeling the fugitives as 'alleged' criminals, but the finished product makes it hard to think these people are anything other than guilty. That's a totally different problem.

What bothers the hell out of me (if I can editorialize for a second, and hell, why not?) is the product placement that has popped up in the show over the years. I don't mind the stuff in general and I'm certainly not talking about helpful facts that could lead to an arrest (makes and models of cars, brands of coolers or handbags where dismembered bodies were discovered, things like that) but about actual, hollywood-style product placements in the show's reenactment segments that make me wonder what companies, exactly, wish to be associated with murders, rapists and child molesters? The reenacted footage from a video tape hidden by a high school swim teacher in the girls' locker room is one thing, but did we really need to know that it was a Sony camcorder? Did we need to see the prominently displayed 'Speedo' banner on the film? It's not disturbing so much as it's in bad taste for a production claiming to be in the public service. And the Wal*Mart-sponsored child safety segments are just...creepy.

The show airs on Saturdays, immediately following two episodes of Cops to, I dunno, get the viewership in the mood for some good ol' fashioned armchair crime fightin'! ...or some such.



Sources:
http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/A/htmlA/americasmos/americasmos.htm (for facts)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America's_Most_Wanted (for figures)

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