Investigative journalist Chris Hansen, of Dateline NBC and To Catch a Predator fame, is planning his return to television with a new Kickstarter-funded series, Hansen vs. Predator. Although his show is currently without a network, he and his crew filmed the first batch of episodes — and secured the suspects’ arrests — in Fairfield, Connecticut earlier this month.
Spencer Woodman spoke with Hansen for a feature on the new endeavor for The New Republic. In his piece, Woodman details the Fairfield sting. Hansen set up 10 arrests, with charges ranging from “attempted sexual assault to ‘impairing the morals of a minor.’” He also communicates the moral ambiguity of Hansen’s show.
Yes, he is arresting people who could be potentially dangerous to local communities, but the suicide of a Louis Conradt in 2006 brought into clear focus the side effects of publicity the show brought on those who were caught in the stings. (NBC settled out of court with his sister, Patricia Conradt, in 2008.)
Whether the outcome is good or bad, Hansen is fully committed to his efforts: “One thing I can definitely tell from speaking with him was that he absolutely loves doing this,” Woodman tells Inverse about his profile on Hansen.
“He clearly enjoys going into detail,” he continues. “When I asked about all the criticism about the show, he always engaged with those questions head on, and I think he’s been answering those questions for many years, so it makes sense. But he definitely never seemed at all put off by me asking about the criticisms. He always seemed almost excited to engage in those questions, which I found interesting.”
And the critics, as Woodman writes, have been very loud. NBC cancelled To Catch a Predator following the suicide of Conradt, who took his own life rather than face the likely charges of soliciting a child for sex. Seeing just how horribly things could go, the network was not interested in pursuing the show further.
But nearly eight years after cancellation, what’s different now? It very easily could just be the TV landscape has caught up to Hansen’s “high-stakes” show, as Woodman calls it. “There are a lot of high-stakes reality TV shows out there. I mean, Chris Hansen already has a huge name and so does his show.”
Woodman admits, “There are maybe concerns over liability, maybe concerns related to the show’s sensibility.” But it’s simply hard to resist its captivation: “It did so well before. I remember watching it when I was younger and being so blown away by it and not being able to stop watching these reruns when I would flip the channel and land on To Catch a Predator. It makes sense to me why a network would pick it up because it’s proved so well from a ratings standpoint before.”
Along with changes in TV programming, the internet has advanced drastically since 2007. During the original run, Hansen used AOL and Yahoo! chatrooms to attract potential predators. Now, there is a myriad of platforms, both mobile and desktop, to chat with absolutely anybody. Kids are more vulnerable than ever, and as Woodman tells me, “This is something that [Hansen] is very personally invested in.”
Beyond the changed landscape, however, it’s unclear how Hansen vs. Predator will differentiate from the original. He’s still tracking down creeps and we’re still watching. And although Hansen benefits morally from the show, the viewers may not necessarily be watching for the public good. Woodman suggests the show is attractive television because “it certainly gives you a very intense look at somebody who you think is a bad person having the worst day imaginable.” He wonders, “Maybe that makes some people feel better about how their day went?”
Regardless of who’s watching and why, the fact remains that in picking the title Hansen vs. Predator, the journalist chose the most intense title for his reboot.
“I mean Chris Hansen, there’s just no doubt! He’s such a bold personality and I think that name does kind of say it all,” says Woodman.
Hansen vs. Predator is a very loud statement for someone returning to the air with a questionably ethical show, but that’s appropriate for the stakes of such a comeback.”