March-April 2018 | RAREFIED AIR

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After nearly two decades on America’s Most Wanted, Maryland’s Tom Morris Jr. is flying high again as an analyst on A&E’s smash-hit, Live PD

Written By: Jonathan Westman | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

Chances are, you’ve seen his face, have heard his voice or know of his work. Maryland’s Tom Morris Jr. has been a staple on prime-time television for 20 years and his role as a correspondent on the iconic show America’s Most Wanted not only propelled him to stardom, it resulted in the arrests of hundreds of criminals on the run from justice. Now, the Takoma Park resident is back in the spotlight as an analyst on A&E’s smash reality/documentary hit, Live PD — the No. 1 unscripted crime series on cable in 2017*.


“It’s a tremendous blessing,” Tom said during a recent visit to Ocean City. “I’m still in awe of it, really. I was working for the government as a declassification analyst eight months ago. I had kind of put TV in my rearview mirror. My attitude about it was if God wanted me to be on TV again, I would, and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t. I left it at that.”  


A call in late 2016 from Live PD executive producer and friend Kara Kurcz led to an audition in New York. Soon after, Tom was offered a contract and was back on the air as host Dan Abrams’ analyst on set. The show, which airs Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m., follows six police departments across the country during their nightly patrols and broadcasts the events of select calls with the public live. The interactions span the spectrum of community policing in America today, from lighter, and sometimes comical, communications to officers’ nightly encounters with DWI subjects, substance abusers and mid-level crimes. Scenes also detail the incredibly dangerous elements of law enforcement, including felony warrant executions, high-speed pursuits and criminal apprehensions.


Currently in its second season,  Live PD will eclipse 100 shows in March and consistently leads all other shows in ratings during its time slot — topping two million total viewers on a weekly basis.**


“To put that in perspective, if you have a cable show with one million viewers, the executives and network heads start popping corks,” Tom said. “One million viewers on cable is a substantial audience. The next thing to consider is the demographic. If you’re getting a huge percentage of that 18-to-49 demographic, people are really happy. When you get to two million viewers with that demographic,*** now you’re heading into that rarefied air on cable with Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty — the shows that have become cultural icons on cable. And Live PD has actually moved into that space and done so quickly. As we speak today, we’ve just finished 92 episodes in roughly 15 months.”


The show, which also regularly features Tulsa Police Department’s Sean “Sticks” Larkin, additionally includes “Wanted” and “Missing” segments in each episode — ideas advanced by Tom to show executives that have made genuine societal impacts.


“In 2017, we caught eight fugitives,” Tom said, “and we recovered our first missing child in December, as well.”  


Born and raised along the waters of the Tidewater region of Eastern Virginia, he once wrote a letter to J. Edgar Hoover expressing his interest in becoming an FBI agent. Hoover actually wrote back, telling Tom he needed a college degree before he could be considered for work at the Bureau. Tom would later major in mass communications and journalism at Norfolk State University, and after earning his degree, went straight to Washington, DC — not to join the Bureau but to obtain a job, any job, working for the media in the most politically influential town in the world.


He got his foot in the door as a courier for Independent Network News, running tapes from various locations around the Capitol back to its studios, and quickly rose the ranks to audio engineer, cameraman and field producer. Tom, however, yearned for a greater challenge and was hired as a contract employee for the U.S. State Department’s antiterrorism Embassy Task Group — becoming the first person without a military or law-enforcement background accepted into the unit. He was sent to Somalia to guard the U.S. Embassy as it was being built. He arrived in the Mogadishu, the capital city of the world’s second-poorest country, three weeks before a civil war erupted. He returned stateside after his assignment and continued working for the government, this time as an armed security specialist at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, before his broadcast career resumed.


During its 23 record-breaking seasons on FOX, Tom was on the case for the hit show America’s Most Wanted for 18 of them.


Every Saturday night, millions of viewers watched to see who was wanted that week, and with their assistance, which fugitives were captured since its last episode. Tom began his AMW career as a segment producer before earning his opportunity on-air three years later — one that put him in front of the camera for the very first time in his life and an average of four million viewers. 


He traveled the world to profile stories of homicides, missing children and violent crimes — each time with the belief that with the help of the American public, his work would play a vital role in bringing a criminal to justice and a sense of peace to the family of the victim.


“My father was a minister, and he always said that our work at America’s Most Wanted was a ministry,” Tom said. “And it really was. We were helping people. I’m a fan of Edward R. Murrow, who demonstrated that you could use television to actually affect change. On America’s Most Wanted, I always felt like I was in a Murrow-esque role, to use the power of television and the power of our audience to make our society a safer place, one fugitive at a time.


“I can’t even tell you how hard it is to interview a 12-year-old girl who had just… just [becoming emotional] witnessed her mother’s and grandmother’s throats slit on Christmas Eve… and I am there three weeks later to interview this girl to try to catch her father, who did it,” Tom continued. “I had the ability to commiserate with them, cry with them, be genuine and sincere with them and to offer them the hope that putting their story on television would give them a chance at justice. And with the help of my colleagues in prime-time television and the public, we were able to do that a great number of times.”


Remarkably, 98 percent of the criminals profiled by Tom during his 18 years on America’s Most Wanted were captured. In all, 1,186 wanted individuals were apprehended during the 1,200 episodes of AMW, which aired on FOX and Lifetime for 25 seasons total. Even now, Tom can seemingly recall a case, its circumstances, the name of the victim and the detailsof the fugitive’s arrest from any point during the show’s history. 


In addition to his America’s Most Wanted duties, Tom has appeared on numerous shows, including CNN’s Showbiz Tonight, Nancy Grace, Fox & Friends and Entertainment Tonight, and he has contributed his opinions as a versatile host on XM Satellite Radio’s popular series, The Capital Hill Blues. He also holds the distinction of being the first journalist trained in practical advanced homicide investigation by renowned pathologist Dr. Henry Lee and NYPD homicide detective Vernon Geberth. 


Tom is a man of God and family. He’s a husband, father and grandfather whose multifaceted talents include being an accomplished musician, hip-hop DJ, columnist and award-winning poet. Tom’s also a workout warrior, avid sports fan and exceptionally cerebral in the details of world history, politics and current events. He’s also a great follow on Twitter and Instagram, as the members of Live PD nation will attest.


Tom has enjoyed the Eastern Shore for decades — first visiting Ocean City in 1984 and frequently spending time was his wife, Sandy, and children in Rehoboth with a family friend/owner of the popular restaurant Sir Guys.


“My wife and kids come to Ocean City every summer, too,” Tom said. “A lot of times, I’ll be working, and they’ll come down on a weekday in the spur of the moment. Ocean City has been a destination for our family for years. My ‘must-see’ is the ocean. My grandfather was a waterman, a crabber and deep-sea fisherman on commercial boats. So, I grew up going out on the water with him for oysters and crabs. I’ve always had this love for the water; it’s part of our family heritage. My grandfather also had a skipjack boat, so I will always feel connected to the bay and the ocean.”


*Among Adults 25-54 / **People 2+ Live +7 / ***Based on Live +7 across total viewers

Janet BeCraft
Posted On: 5/2/18 4:12 pm
I have been a LIVE PD Fan since it's first debut on Oct. 28th, 2016 and Tom Morris Jr is doing a fantastic job. LIVEPDNATION
Kris Vollrath
Posted On: 5/2/18 10:23 am
I remember Tom from AMW. Was super excited when I started watching Live P.D & there he was. I love hi s comments. He cracks me up do often during the show. Thanks Tom your input is ALWAYS appreciated. God Bless you Tom.
Johnny
Posted On: 3/7/18 11:13 pm
Tom is the man! Great insight into Tom’s path. Thanks to TMjr, I’ve become a fan of Sounds From Beyond. Livepdnation