“America’s Most Wanted” was an effective training ground for many entering the broadcast television news field and provided valuable experience from internships for those wanting to work behind the scenes on a high-profile national show.

In that perfection-driven environment, reporters and interns learned “how to get it right,” how to treat victims of crime, and how to work with all levels of law enforcement ranging from the FBI to small-town police departments.

Denise Zarrella, an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter for Channel 19 WOIO-TV in Cleveland, interned as a production assistant for “America’s Most Wanted” in 1993 and returned as a freelance production assistant for the show the following year.

Zarrella, who also worked for CNN, told the Tribune that she is sad to see the show canceled. She said the experience she had working there was valuable, and as far as a job in television, “It didn’t get any better.”

“Once you turned the show on Saturday night, it was something that you didn’t want to get up off the couch in the middle of,” said Zarrella, who often called victims of crimes to convince them to be interviewed for the program, contacted law enforcement agencies, researched cases and helped with crime scene re-enactments performed by professional actors. “It was very exciting and the best blend of criminology, psychology and television people could hope for,” she said. “I’m sad to hear that it’s cancelled. It did so much good.”

“The power of the show was enormous,” Zarrella said. “The potential of someone seeing a fugitive or a missing child was great. Law enforcement loved us because once we showed the face of a fugitive on a national show that had maybe been on the run for years, the chances of someone recognizing them were pretty good. It was always interesting to go into the office on Monday because sometimes, we would’ve aired a show on Saturday, and maybe a hotel clerk would have called to tell us he had watched our show and recognized a fugitive that just checked into the hotel.”

“America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh was passionate about the show and making sure the show’s staff did everything to perfection. It wasn’t unusual to do dozens of takes just for a crime re-enactment, Zarrella said.     

“No 1, the show taught me how to get the facts straight,” Zarrella said. “The show also taught me how to talk to people and treat people who were victims of crime. It taught me compassion. The show also would get some kind of justice for people who had been waiting for it for a long time. What could be better?”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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