To Catch a Predator premiered in 2004 as part of Dateline NBC’s investigational program. The concept of the show was to show crime – true crime – and, as the title indicated, to catch criminals. Chris Hansen was the host, and he narrated the show, as well as confronted the “predators” at the end of each segment. The show was devoted to catching sex offenders.
They had people impersonate underage girls and boys and went trawling through web forums, trying to find someone to take the bait. Once that was done, the “girl” would invite the predator to meet up with her at her house. In each case, the girl’s age was explicitly stated, making it clear to these men that they would be trying to commit statutory rape.
Part of what made the show so controversial was the conversations that were aired. They showed parts of the recorded messages in the chat room to the audience, and they were both disturbing and graphic. At the end of the segment, the predator would arrive and be filmed from hidden cameras. A real young girl would be waiting for him in the house, but so would a television crew, Chris Hansen, and the police.
Although the show no longer airs, it has now become a viral sensation on YouTube, and has garnered millions of views.