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Dateline, also known as Dateline NBC, is a Prime Time News show and one of the largest, most popular, and most infamous news programs ever. It started airing in 1992 and has never entirely gone away.
The series was conceived in 1992 mainly as a cheap schedule filler and about the 73rd attempt to unseat Sixty Minutes. It was hosted by Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips. Stone Phillips would become the face of the main Dateline. The series existed mainly to fill holes in the programming schedule; during the bulk of the 1990s, Dateline was on more nights than not. Archived (rerun) Dateline crime stories are used for this same purpose on MSNBC, Investigation Discovery, and TLC during dead periods.
The series drew infamy with its constant stream of fluff stories, You Can Panic Now stories, and screw-ups — most notably, an early 1992 episode of the show got into hot water when it falsely claimed that 1973-1987 GM pickup trucks have leaky and explosive gas tanks (when in reality, the only reason they exploded for the cameras is the remote controlled explosives the NBC crew put there).
Recurring segments include The Dirty Dozen (in which it takes a critical eye to health inspection scores of various fast-food restaurants), Could This Happen to You? stories, as well as full length episodes dealing with True Crime mysteries. Many of the episodes are narrated by Keith Morrison, whose voice can be described as "Mr. Rogers as-a-creepy-old-man".
The series began to fade by the late 1990s when NBC began shoring up its late night line-up, which meant fewer nights of Dateline. Stone Phillips left the series (Jane Pauly left several years earlier) and Anne Curry and Chris Hansen took over as main anchors for the series.
The series would returned to the spotlight in 2004, when a segment Chris Hansen did with the group Perverted Justice catching men attempting to arrange sexual encounters with underage teenagers, "To Catch A Predator," garnered a huge amount of publicity. This led to a whole series of Dateline "To Catch A Predator" specials and a spin-off, "To Catch A Predator: The Raw Tapes", which shows longer versions of the confrontations between Chris Hansen and the predators. Controversy was sparked, mostly by accusations of entrapment by lawyers for the accused predators and a high profile suicide of one man caught in the sting (but who did not appear on the show, having discovered prior to his death that he had been nailed in a sting operation). The show and Chris Hansen ultimately achieved Memetic Mutation, with parodies appearing on different shows like South Park, Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Boondocks, Squidbillies, etc. Whether because of the legal controversy, the increased popularity making it harder to lure men to the houses, or because the "demographics" of the alleged predators had declined, no new TCAP segments were produced after 2007. According to a Facebook comment in 2009, it might return someday. If so, it will likely be without Chris Hansen, who recently had his own embarrassing scandal.
Dateline is still on the air in a Friday Night Death Slot (right before the local news), and also airs on Sundays opposite Sixty Minutes between season of NFL football. It has some internal infamy, as CNBC airs 60 Minutes on CNBC rather than Dateline: Business Edition because of the show's lack of any non-tabloid coverage... Though there being a Dateline: Business Edition says something.
Not to be confused with Dateline, where it took the name from.
Why don't you use these tropes over there?
- Affectionate Parody - The program is very subject to this.
- Awesome McCoolname: STONE.
- Blatant Lies: The potential predators, when they try to talk their way out. Chris always has a field day with them, especially when they say they were invited in by hot older women.
- Catch Phrase: Why don't you have a seat over there...
- Deadpan Snarker - Chris Hansen whenever predators attempt to justify themselves when the chat logs say otherwise.
- Did Not Do the Research: Many of these predators seem to have prepared excuses based on their understanding of how the law works.
- The classic If undercover law enforcement is asked "are you a cop", they must tell the truth. Otherwise it's entrapment. False.
- The bait was actually an actress or Perverted Justice agent over 18 (if not, then police would be guilty of child endangerment). This is often interpreted by a suspect to mean that he didn't break the law since no child was truly involved. Sorry, all that matters in the eyes of the law is that you "believed" they were 13 or 14 and acted accordingly.
- One predator directed Chris Hanson to a sealed envelope in his car containing a letter stating his good intentions for coming to the house. He believed a child was in danger and that he could also be in danger for coming. The police explained this as an "alibi letter" and that it gave absolutely no credence to the suspect's claims.
- "I'm assuming you need my permission to air this." The news doesn't need your permission. You choose to be there and to "have a seat over there".
- One busted Catholic School teacher, attempted to fight the charges and elected to have an evidence suppression hearing where it was his lawyer who was clueless about the methods used. "In fact, as far as you know, this has never been tested before, has it?". Actually yes, many times. Sting operations for illegal sex acts predate the internet. Fortunately for him, our school teacher ended up pleading guilty.
- Driven to Suicide: One of the men they captured with To Catch a Predator killed himself when he realized the cops were closing in. NBC "amicably resolved" his sister's lawsuit..
- Another arrested man (this one from Turkey), kept threatening "You show this, I keel myself". It remains to be seen as to whether he knows that regardless of what actually appeared in the broadcast (if any of it made the cut), his whole affair is on Youtube uncut.
- This was parodied ruthlessly on the South Park episode "La Petite Tourette," where Hansen is an Faux Affably Evil sadist who wants disgraced pedophiles to kill themselves.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: They claimed that GM's trucks were playing this trope straight, but in reality, they averted it.
- Irony: Chris has gotta be feeling pretty foolish after this
- Karma Houdini: Most of the predators on the show before Dateline began working with law enforcement - even though some of them ended up getting arrested later anyway, some even returning a repeat time.
- Even in cases where the predators were arrested, many of them got Off on a Technicality. The technicality being that Perverted Justice would not disclose their entire chat transcripts to law enforcement.
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: It is hard to fathom that a person who looks and sounds like Stone Phillips — and is named Stone Phillips — actually exists outside of a comic book.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Unfortunately, in a lot of their missing person cases, this is true.
- Oh Crap: Pretty much every guy when Chris Hansen steps in.
- Older Than They Look: The decoys.
- Parallel Porn Titles: I'm Chris Mansen from To Catch a Predator XXX.
- Product Placement: Somewhat unintentional since these are not dramatizations. It's somewhat disturbing how many predators enter the house with a case of Mike's Hard Lemonade. Is this the official drink of pedophiles?
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: To Catch A Predator.
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: An affectionate remix of some Dateline clips has become very popular on Youtube.
- Syndication Title: Many of the hourlong true-crime documentaries are rebroadcast on MSNBC under individual titles without the Dateline branding.
- (the last sting only caught 7 men, where earlier ones had ensnared dozens)
- (earlier stings caught doctors, teachers, programmers, a rabbi, etc., but later ones nabbed unemployed or menial laborers)