Why did To Catch A Predator end? The tragedy behind its cancelation

By Chege Karomo — ON Jan 26, 2023
To Catch A Predator

Chris Hansen was a reasonably successful broadcast journalist before To Catch A Predator. However, the NBC series brought him national fame and revived interest in the outlet’s Dateline show. 

In To Catch A Predator, people from the watchdog group Perverted-Justice would pose as minors on internet platforms to attract potential sex predators. Any adult communicating with the fake account would get lured to a ‘sting house’, where NBC cameras would film the confrontation with Hansen and the person’s arrest. 

To Catch A Predator was and still is immensely popular. Why, then, did NBC cancel a show that was such a ratings success?

To Catch A Predator ended after the suicide of a prosecutor during filming

In November 2006, NBC’s sting operation nabbed prosecutor Louis Conradt Jr., who thought he was speaking to a 13-year-old boy. Conradt Jr. didn’t show up to the ‘sting house’, so police and the NBC crew went to his house to arrest him. 

Conradt lived alone and refused to open the door to authorities. Eventually, officers forced their way in and found the retired assistant district attorney nursing a fatal gunshot wound to the head. 

Conradt’ sister, Patricia, filed a lawsuit against NBC’s Dateline, claiming the media house pressured the police into arresting Conradt. The suit, which petitioned for $105 million, read:

“Both police officers and other members of the party were wearing cameras… very large cameras, on the cutting edge of technology. They were met by [Conradt]. He told them ‘I’m not gonna hurt anyone’ and shot himself. Then a police officer said to a Dateline producer, ‘That’ll make good TV.’”

After Conradt’s death, Allison Gollust, an NBC News spokeswoman, suggested to The New York Times that Conradt wouldn’t have noticed the TV crew. “There’s absolutely no evidence that would suggest that he was aware of us,” Gollust said. 

A judge dismissed some parts of the suit but found that a jury ‘could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement’. NBC settled the case for an undisclosed amount before the trial began. 

Hansen said on VLADTV that Conradt’s death, though tragic, didn’t affect him personally. Hansen opined that Conradt shot himself to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. He said:

“On his laptop were at least ten images of child pornography for which he knew as an assistant district attorney he would face in Texas ten years in prison per image. While you don’t want to say anything like that happen to a guy – suicide – you could assume he didn’t want to face the music.”

NBC canceled To Catch A Predator due to the fallout from Conradt’s suicide. 

Chris Hansen continues catching predators with or without the involvement of law enforcement

“There is a pent-up demand from viewers for another investigation,” Hansen told The Los Angeles Times. “And from a technology standpoint, the landscape has really changed since we did the last one.”

Hansen decided to revive the Predator series without the backing of a broadcast network. Through crowd-funding, Hansen raised over $89,000 to finance his project. Hansen vs. Predator shared a similar format with its predecessor, To Catch A Predator, and was just as popular. 

The New Republic reports that Hansen informs authorities of his sting operations but doesn’t request their involvement. Fairfield’s deputy police chief Christopher Lyddy told the outlet that the police had concerns about a planned Predator operation in the area but knew they could do nothing to stop it. 

“We thought long and hard about this, but at the end of the day we completely understood that this was going to happen no matter what, and that we really had a responsibility to become involved and to ensure this neighborhood was safe,” Lyddy said. 

Much to Lyddy’s relief, the Fairfield operation was successful, but as she discovered and critics point out, the potential for calamity looms. Hansen told the outlet that one man came to the sting house armed. 

“We see situations that in a second can turn volatile,” James Drylie, a professor of criminal justice who studied violent responses to arrests, said. Hansen said it would be ‘socially irresponsible’ to conduct sting operations without the police but didn’t rule it out. 

Hansen continues catching predators on camera in a show dubbed Takedown with Chris Hansen. The series synopsis on Tru Blu reads:

“Over the past two decades, Chris Hansen’s investigations have led to hundreds of would-be sex criminals being stopped in their tracks. Amazingly, after 500 arrests and hundreds of millions of video views, men continue to try to meet children online. So his mission continues.”

Despite the controversial nature of his operation, many view Hansen as a vigilante working within the law to clean up the streets. 

In the wake of a sting, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson told NBC 25: “We worked with Chris Hansen to use his platform to reignite the awareness and the enforcement of what’s happening here and to duplicate it around the nation.”