‘America’s Most Wanted’ EP on the High-Tech Reboot, the Finale’s Criminals, and More
America’s Most Wanted gets the job done: Four episodes into the reboot, — the finale of which is April 12 — and two have already resulted in criminals being caught, which means that catch counter is going up thanks to tips from viewers.
“That’s proof of concept, right? The audience needs to know that there is value in watching the show and then keeping their eyes and ears peeled as they go about their lives,” executive producer John Ferracane tells TV Insider. “A fugitive could be anywhere. A tip could come from anywhere.”
The reboot also broke a record with its capture of a fugitive in a carjacking case, which brought the count up to 1,187 at the end of March. “The original show in 1988 caught their first fugitive four days later. We beat that by one day,” the EP says.
For Ferracane, the show, hosted by Elizabeth Vargas, is “true crime 2.0. This has that ‘play at home armchair detective’ aspect. It’s got the tech. Most true crime lives in cable and is all tape, right? And now we’ve got this urgent studio where we’re able to interact with the audience in real-time. We’ve elevated the show and made it something even more groundbreaking than the original AMW was.”
The “bells and whistles in the studio” — avatars of the fugitives, map-tracking technology, and digital, augmented reality dossiers with photos and stats — provide additional information to the recreations that are part of the series, he says.
Here, Ferracane previews the season finale’s cases, looks back on the season, and more.
What went into choosing the criminals the season finale covers?
John Ferracane: Our first case is a rapper from Atlanta [Maurice Nesbitt] who was cited several times for domestic abuse. Things exploded and he killed his girlfriend. He was charged and arrested and stood trial, but he was allowed to be out on bond, which is extremely rare. But he had his attorneys argue that he had cancer and needed treatment, so they allowed him to be out on an ankle bracelet. We think that he wasn’t actually sick.
We get to the day the verdict is about to be read and all signs in the courtroom are pointing to this man being convicted. Right before sentencing, he doesn’t show up to court. He cuts off that ankle monitor and flees. The jury convicts him in absentia and he has not been seen since. That’s a really unique case.
[We] also [have] one of the biggest cases of domestic terrorism in the U.S.: [Josephine Overaker], a young woman who operated in Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon in the late ’90s and early 2000s and was part of a ring of domestic terrorists that were really into protecting the environment [and] animal rights. They caused $44 million worth of damage in explosions and firebug incidents over a handful of years and the FBI rounded up every single other person in her ring. She’s the only one still out there.
There’s also [Frederick Arias], who was a former police officer in Arizona. After he retired, he ran a scheme with an accomplice and made up this fake charity and swindled more than $9 million away from different individuals. Then he took off as well and escaped over the Canadian border. Authorities have been warning us that he’s really charismatic. He learned a lot from being an undercover detective and he is using those skills very likely now while on the run.
It’s really rare that we can get an interview with the fugitive. And on this last case, we actually interview his son and his son has a pretty incredible plea to his father.
The studio stuff really adds to the recreations.
The recreations are core to what the show always was. We wanted to do a quality job of them because if you flip around cable TV, there are channels that are just dedicated to true crime and they’re not doing as high quality of recreations.
The X factor for this reboot is no doubt the studio stuff: the avatars, the map tracker, that augmented reality. That’s what gives it that 21st-century look. It also arms the audience with even more clues than you see on other shows or than AMW was able to do in the past.
The avatars are awesome. They can show you a wound or a scar or a tattoo, or what do you look like with glasses versus without, or with a beard or without. There’s only so much life and realism you can get from a photograph or age progression rendering or a full-screen image on a TV show.
What did host Elizabeth Vargas and the experts, Paul Holes and Yodit Tewolde, bring to the show?
Elizabeth has been a wonderful partner. She has that stick-to-the-facts, journalistic integrity, which is really critical because it’s the facts that are going to catch the bad guys. Also, it’s her empathy, her heart, and her ability to connect with the victims, which is why we’re here. She’s an unbelievable studio-based television performer and just an unbelievable communicator.
Also the avatars and augmented reality, that’s really hard to pull off from a talent perspective. That’s a layer that’s added in the control room. When Elizabeth walks around those avatars, she’s looking off at a monitor off stage. It takes a ton of skill and talent to pull that off as smoothly as she does.
As far as our experts go, we were absolutely thrilled to have Paul Holes. The guy helped solve the Golden State Killer case. His instincts and his knowledge about tracking down fugitives or cracking cold cases have been unbelievable. Yodit spent years in the courtroom on both the prosecution and the criminal defense. She’s an unbelievable communicator and explainer of all things legal, and she understands the criminal justice system.
America’s Most Wanted, Season Finale, Monday, April 12, 9/8c, Fox