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John Walsh has helped catch nearly 1,200 hundreds of criminals in the 23 years he’s been hosting America’s Most Wanted, but that doesn’t mean he’s become desensitized to their actions.
Case in point: Walsh, whose show makes its debut in its new home at Lifetime at 9 p.m. Friday, becomes very passionate when talking about former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse against children.
“I’ve spent 30 years since my son was murdered trying to change the system to get people to take [accusations] seriously,” Walsh — whose son Adam was killed in 1981 at age 6 — told The Hollywood Reporter. “He molested children for 15 years and set up a charity to exploit at-risk children. [Then he] was reported by a coach who saw a6’4″ guy sodomize another guy in a shower at 10:30 at night … but nobody did anything about it. The whole thing is disgusting and appalling.”
He has a theory why no one else — including recently ousted Joe Paterno, who was fired in his role as head coach last month for failing to contact authorities when he was told about possible misconduct by Sandusky nine years ago — came forward.
“Penn State makes $15 million a year off football,” Walsh said. “This [scandal] affects donations, recruitment, the football program. If they would have dealt with it in the beginning, he’d be in jail and it would be over with. But it was all about protecting the mighty football program at Penn State. They’re getting what the deserve.”
Still, he believes some good could come out of the whole thing: He hopes that it will become mandatory for college professionals to report physical and sexual abuse to police as it already is in elementary, junior high and high schools and child-care centers.
Friday marks the debut of Walsh’s America’s Most Wanted on Lifetime, where it’s moving after airing on Fox since 1988 (Walsh, who also executive produces the show, is still hosting AMW specials for Fox, with the next one set for Dec. 15).
When Fox announced that it was not renewing the show in for the 2011-12 season because it was no longer profitable for the network, Walsh — who said he was “surprised” by the news, especially considering they “caught more guys last year than in any other year” — had a few cable channels that approached him about picking it up, including Fox News and CNN. But what appealed to him about Lifetime was the fact that president Nancy Dubuc and executive vp programming Rob Sharenow shared the same sensibility about the show, which they picked up for 20 episodes.
“I was thrilled when the Lifetime people came and said, ‘Look, we understand your mission and we want to continue that mission of saving lives and finding missing children,'” he said, noting that Dubuc and Sharenow were two of the first executives to approach him. “They really get our mission.”
He also appreciated the fact that Lifetime plans to rerun the episodes throughout the week.
“It’s something that Fox never did, but I always thought they should rerun it — even on [one of their cable siblings like] FX or Nat Geo so we could catch more guys and give the show a broader base,” Walsh said.
Walsh added the show isn’t changing much in its move to the women’s-targeted network, but there might be a slight shift in the kinds of cases they cover.
“We’ll probably do more cases based around women and children, but out mission is the same: Catch dangerous fugitives before they can hurt someone else,” he said.
Walsh added the show’s producers turn down about 100 cases as potential profiles a week, which get pitched by everyone from police agencies to the FBI to victims. The ones that usually are selected for inclusion on the show are the “most dangerous or most pressing” and “always missing children because I hunted two weeks for my son. It’s saying yes to those ones that we think we can make a difference, where we can catch the guy.”
But he noted that the show’s website also plays a large part in helping catch criminal, with five nabbed over the summer while the show wasn’t airing.
Walsh — who also is developing a pilot with Lifetime but didn’t offer further details as it is still in the preliminary stages — added that he hopes to keep doing America’s Most Wanted for a long time, “as long as people keep watching and I can physically do it.”
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