By his count, Duane “Dog” Chapman has spent 41 years as a bounty hunter, catching 8,000 fleet-footed bail-jumping men and women — then dispensing a measured mix of derision and compassion on shows like Dog the Bounty Hunter, as he urges the criminals to change their lives for the better. He has pursued a perp over volcanic mountains and hunted down a court-skipper amid trick-or-treaters. But until he began filming Dog’s Most Wanted on WGN America, he had not seen or done it all.
Dog’s Most Wanted finds Chapman taking things to the next level. Higher-profile fugitives, attempted murderers and sexual assault criminals are targeted throughout the 10 episodes. But he’s really concerned about the victims of their crimes.
“If [their story] touches my heart, it’s ‘Dog’s most wanted,'” Chapman says. And while his crack team of cohorts includes the family members and “Dirty Dozen” hunters fans are familiar with from previous series Dog the Bounty Hunter and Dog and Beth: On the Hunt, “We have a lot of new, modern equipment we never had before,” Chapman says. As examples, he cites the night vision, drones and other nonlethal weapons that caused one caught perp to complain, “Dog, you’re cheating!”
However, in this series, Chapman must also deal with a wrenching reality so unjust that it leaves him, in a sense, defenseless: the death of Beth Chapman — his beloved wife of 13 years and longtime partner in crime-fighting — from throat cancer on June 26, 2019. True to Beth’s tough-as-nails demeanor, her final battle plays out onscreen, in visuals that pull no punches, from her hair loss to hospital vigils that were too difficult for Chapman to watch during the editing process.
“I always did this job to make her proud,” Chapman says, his steely composure breaking. “I just thought on every arrest how proud she would be.”
Fans can also expect a heightened sense of intensity throughout the proceedings. “Beth and I noticed it was more exciting and dangerous and gratifying to take out these kinds of fugitives,” he says. “So this [show] is a lot crazier.”
Beth’s presence, both in the field and, later, in spirit, became a therapeutic touch point. In one instance, Dog and his team lost a felon in an unfamiliar neighborhood, “and I stopped for a second as I was running and said, ‘Beth, please. Where is he?’ All of a sudden, I heard [fellow hunter] David and [Chapman’s son] Leland yell, ‘We’re on him again, boss.’ I told David, ‘Oh my God, she’s watching.’ David said, ‘We have an angelic drone.’ I feel her all the time.”
It is a gift for Chapman that his family takes on these crimes and crises together, including Leland, who is a bail bondsman. Later this season, a harsh injury leaves Leland broken but hardly unbowed. “Man, if it were me, I’d lay up and take all the pity,” Chapman jokes. “But he’s like, ‘Dad, I can still hunt.'”
And for Chapman, the presence of his grandkids acts as a balm in the middle of sadness. “There are no words to explain how you can feel so proud that they’re so proud of you,” he says.
Still, it is the love and loss of Beth that ties all the action together, from her emotional memorial service to Dog’s accelerated determination to catch the bad guys. “I’m not afraid to die anymore,” he says, adding that, when he prepares to knock down a door in a bust, he now says to himself, “Here I come, Bethy,” and pictures his wife in a garden in Heaven, saying, “Big Daddy, it took you a long time.”
“I told my camera crew after she [passed], ‘If something happens to me, you’d better get that shot.’ They’re like, ‘Boss, we will.’ I’m not afraid to die now, because I know where I’m going and who I’ll get to see again.”
Dog’s Most Wanted, Series Premiere Wednesday, Sept. 4, 9/8c, WGN America