After 25 years with 'America's Most Wanted,' John Walsh has a new show, 'The Hunt,' on CNN. It debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday. (Jeremy Freeman/CNN / July 11, 2014)
"It's going to be the same mission to get the worst of the worst off the street," Walsh said in a phone interview. "It's not going to be as frantic as 'America's Most Wanted.' We did 'America's Most Wanted' for 25 years. It got kind of frantic at the end."
"The Hunt" debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday and examines ongoing investigations of fugitives. The premiere tells one story: Shane Miller is on the U.S. Marshals Service's most wanted list after his wife and two daughters were murdered last year in their California home.
Walsh acknowledges he was a little reluctant to give up control after being executive producer on "America's Most Wanted." This time around, he is working with Zero Point Zero (ZPZ) Production, which is also behind "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown."
"They're fantastic. The show will have such a different look," Walsh said. "It's a lush show. Now we're teamed with CNN. It's going to be a real departure for me. It's not my production company."
He is shooting eight episodes, and two are done. "They have to be topical," Walsh said. "I'm trying to slow it down and focus on two fugitives at most" per episode.
"America's Most Wanted" ran 24 years on Fox, then a year on Lifetime, which canceled the series last year. After that, Walsh said he thought he would enjoy his home in Florida and a new granddaughter.
"I couldn't stop thinking about fugitives," Walsh said. "We caught 17 on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. The FBI kept coming back and asking, 'Are you going to saddle up?' "
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide and a longtime friend, put the same question to Walsh. So did Walsh's wife, Reve.
"My wife said, 'John, this is what you've gotten good at,' " Walsh said. "My wife said there are so many people looking for justice and there's so much violence in America. I'm going back, getting back in the saddle. CNN has a phenomenal worldwide reach. I hope people will embrace the show."
He became an advocate for crime victims after the 1981 abduction and murder of his 6-year-old son Adam in Hollywood, Fla. Walsh credits his wife with pushing the Hollywood police to reopen Adam's case. In 2008, the police announced that a serial killer, then dead for more than a decade, had murdered the boy.
Walsh said he used "America's Most Wanted" as his bully pulpit. In the CNN show, his focus will be more on the victims.
"I used to feel we didn't do enough with the victims. We had to get as many guys as we could," Walsh said. "I'll continue my activism through CNN platforms. Fox never repeated 'America's Most Wanted.' CNN will, and it has worldwide reach. We'll still be able to do the hotline, and now I've got this giant social media platform. Facebook is going hard, and Twitter reached out to me."
Walsh said "America's Most Wanted" caught 1,231 suspects in all. Three years ago, he estimated that 30 percent were caught in Florida and said then that the Sunshine State "has a big share of creeps."
A future "Hunt" episode will focus on Christopher Ponce of Tampa. CNN supplied this preview: "Out on bond after allegedly striking and killing another person while drunk, 22-year-old Christopher Ponce cuts off his electronic monitor and vanishes."
Walsh's new show may be different, but he won't be.
"I still walk the halls of Congress and go to state capitals," he said. "I've been a talking head and appeared on so many CNN shows. I don't think you'll see a new John Walsh. I'm trying to make America realize we're a violent country. ... Americans have to saddle up and not put up with the violence. You'll see that side of me. I'll still talk about issues important to me."
The mayhem troubles him most. "To have this level of violence, how could Americans not stand up and say: Congress you've got to put an end to the exploitation of women and children?" Walsh asked.
Walsh, a gun owner, made headlines recently with comments about gun control. "I am a strict gun control person," Walsh said. "Congress is totally terrified by the NRA. Capitol Hill knows the NRA will target anyone who votes for reasonable gun control. The NRA has used money to paralyze Congress."
He will continue to sound off on current headline-making cases, such as the Georgia father who left his son to die in a hot car.
"It is just beyond comprehension what the guy did during the day," Walsh said. "How do you leave a child in a car when you're in and out of the car? My opinion: This guy did something horrible. I hope he gets brought to trial, and the little boy gets justice. It's a tough case."