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Fraser: No matter what you say, you cannot base an investigation on a theory developed from the casting of a television series.
—Due South, "They Eat Horses, Don't They?"
You're watching one of the various Law & Order shows, the story is starting to pick up, and as the detectives start going through the usual Red Herring suspects, they interview the victim's mom and it's Angela Lansbury. Or their poolboy is Ian Somerhalder. Or William Mapother. Or "Trey" from The OC. Even though the detectives pass them over at first, you just know that they're going to be important in the episode, because they wouldn't have paid to cast a well-known actor in a throwaway role. It is very common that the most recognizable actor is the guilty party.
Sometimes you can narrow it down before the show actually airs due to the commercials for an upcoming episode playing up the guest star.
This can become self-subverting when watching reruns; someone high-profile now might've just been starting out when they appeared on the show. (Harrison Ford has said that, early in his career, he spent a lot of time playing "the guy that didn't do it".)
This can also happen in films. If a high-profile actor is playing a supposedly minor role (after becoming high-profile), keep a close eye on this person. Compare One-Scene Wonder, Contractual Immortality. Some better-funded productions seek to subvert this by making all of the suspects well known actors, so you know that one of them did it.
See also: Hey, It's That Guy!, Traitor Shot, Not-So-Small Role. Compare also to Chekhov's Gunman, where the viewer is made suspicious by the strange irrelevance to the story of an apparently minor character rather than by the casting of a known actor.
Contrast Dead Star Walking, where a well known actor appears to have a major role, but is doomed because they're too expensive to be a regular cast member.
Films — Live-Action
- In Hot Fuzz, all of the supporting cast are famous actors, and all of them did it. Especially well-versed Tropers will note that all of them are also known for playing villains at one point or another, according to the commentary.
- Movie instance in Twisted: Samuel L. Jackson is playing the protagonist's foster father and mentor. Naturally, given the types of role Jackson usually plays, he's the killer. One viewer was suspicious of the character in question as soon as she identified the actor, and proved correct.
- Subverted in Se7en, where Kevin Spacey's name is absent from all promotional material as well as the opening credits, so that his appearance as John Doe towards the end would be a surprise. Unless you recognized his voice when he calls the detectives before his appearance.
- Doubly subverted, in that one of the investigating team, with about three lines in total, is played by well-known character actor John C McGinley, aka Dr. Cox from Scrubs. Outside of Scrubs, McGinley is well known for playing bad guys, leading viewers (or me, at least) to suspect he might be the killer. He wasn't.
- Cleverly done in Sleepy Hollow, where the main character, already investigating a crime, is introduced to the town's most important men and the audience is already looking for the guilty among them. They are all played by "vaguely famous" actors: former Maigret (and later Dumbledore) Michael Gambon as the leader, Jeffrey Jones from Amadeus as the reverend, Ian "Palpatine" McDiarmid as the doctor; Michael Gough, formerly Batman's butler and a usual in Burtons's films, as the notary; and Richard Griffiths from Naked Gun 2 as the magistrate. The guilty party is... A conspiracy among all of them! But wait: The real villain behind the ghost is the leader's wife, played by Miranda Richardson.
- Used in character in the movie Last Action Hero. Daniel pegs a character as The Mole based solely on the fact that his actor played Salieri in Amadeus.
- Averted in the 1988 film Shoot To Kill (starring Sidney Poitier and Tom Berenger); the yet-unseen villain joins up with a group of sportsmen who're going on a trek through the wilderness. Looking at the group, the villain could have been obvious, if not for the fact that the makers of the film deliberately filled the group with actors who had played prominent villains in the past, including Clancy "The Kurgan" Brown and Andrew "Scorpio" Robinson.
- Subverted by the all-star cast (John Gielgud is credited ninth!) of the 1974 film Murder on the Orient Express. And then Double Subverted because they all did it.
- The movie P.S. I Love You. Kathy Bates, the dead guy's mother-in-law, agreed to send his letters to his wife after his death. Made somewhat obvious by the fact that she wasn't overly fond of him.
- Strangely averted in the mediocre And Then There Were None — like thriller House of 9. Nine people are locked inside a mansion, and one of them is the killer murdering the others one by one. Eight of them are played by unknown actors. The ninth person is played by Dennis Hopper. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, he ain't the killer, and gets murdered along with the others.
- In The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie the killer is the guy played by Leland Orser — a character actor whom you might have seen in several other movies (like Alien: Resurrection and Very Bad Things). This makes it easy to peg him as the killer, although his screentime before his Hannibal Lecture is probably around 20 seconds.
- In Kiss The Girls, sharper viewers probably wondered why did they bother to cast Cary Elwes in such a minor role... until the final reveal.
- The Clint Eastwood film Blood Work had this problem; Jeff Daniels got second-place billing on the box and in the posters, yet appeared to be nothing more than a minor comic relief character. It isn't very difficult to figure out that he is the killer.
- Steve Guttenberg's character turns out to be the killer in Cornered
- In Wolf (1994 movie by Mike Nichols), main character played by Jack Nicholson thinks he's the wolfman behind the murders. The real murderer was James Spader from Sex, Lies, and Videotape, in 1994 also co-starring in Stargate.
- Partially averted in State of Play (the American film): A number of characters are played by recognizable actors but Ben Affleck is too famous, too good-looking and too underused to not be important in the outcome. Also, he spends the whole plot being way-too-ready to sacrifice his career, mostly because by doing so he expects to avoid jail.
- Many viewers of the 2011 film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy guessed that the traitor was Bill Haydon on the basis that he was played by Colin Firth, while the other suspects were played merely by recognizable British character actors.
- Featured a star from the Canadian TV series The Eleventh Hour. His guest shot was overhyped in CTV commercials, making it obvious he was the killer when he failed to show up almost until the end. But then, CTV does this a lot. Cynthia Nixon's appearance on an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for another example.
- Aversion: Wil Wheaton appeared on an episode, bearded, homeless, and crazy. Not recognizable (unless you saw the guest star name at the beginning) or guilty.
- Stephen Baldwin was in the same episode as the lead suspect for the other case, about a serial rape-murderer. He had two scenes, and wasn't guilty, dismissed as a suspect halfway through the story. His first scene didn't even give him dialogue.
- Also played with in an episode that guest starred Roger Daltrey. He did it, but his character spent most of the episode disguised as several other people. The guy you would have recognized did it, but he was unrecognizable.
- Yet another episode featured Jeffrey Combs. As a coroner. He was barely even a suspect.
- Zachary Quinto was on an episode as a mechanic before Heroes or Star Trek. He didn't do it.
- CSI is very guilty of casting actors that are go-to TV bad guys as the eventual killer. It's pretty simple to pick out whodunnit if you've watched enough TV (especially 90's dramas like the X-Files). More than once they've cast two "that guy" actors in an episode, and more likely then not they both did it.
- Pretty much everyone who was in any way interested in ICarly, knew that Nathan Kress' appearance on CSI was as a bad guy.
- Averted again in "Rashomama" when Ray Wise, who has played a killer and the Devil himself was only a suspect for a short time. The same episode also had soap opera actress Rachel Miner and Big Love star Amanda Seyfried. Which, if either of them did it? Well, they both participated, with help from two others.
- Two episodes with Justin Bieber as a Mad Bomber who really likes Nick. He dies in a shootout
- CSI: Miami :
- Subverted this by having skateboarding (and video game) star Tony Hawk guest starring... as the victim (so naturally his role was in flashbacks).
- Chris Pine did an episode before he was Captain Kirk. He did it. And had a lip-ring.
- Michael Westen appears in an episode as part of a convict team fighting fire in the Everglades, while the CSI team is there investigating a different case entirely. He later takes Alexx hostage and escapes.
- Mark Pellegrino guest-stars as a helpful neighbor giving eyewitness evidence of the killer leaving the scene of the crime, in hopes of getting a reward. He did it, and framed the other guy for a past murder to boot.
- CSI: NY:
- Subverted in an episode features a case of a guy who looks like retired tennis champ John McEnroe and then brings the man himself on to clear things up.
- Another episode featured "magician" and professional poser, Criss Angel. When the team suspected him early on, it seemed obvious he wouldn't be the killer. However, by the end of the episode, he had performed almost all of his signature tricks. Oh, and killed someone.
- Also played with in an episode that had Kid Rock being suspected of killing an employee who leaked his yet-to-be-released album. He didn't do it, the leak was a Viral Marketing ploy orchestrated by him.
- "Second Chances" had 2 straight, 1 subversion, 1 aversion — It looked like Pat Monaghan from Train was the killer — it was his car that ran over the vic. It was his girlfriend and the vic's girlfriend (Kim Kardashian and Vanessa Minnillo) taking drug users off the street and insuring them for 2 years, then killing them for the life insurance, Pat was due to be the next vic they also interviewed La La Vazquez as a suspect, wasn't her.
- Numb3rs often did this.
- One episode featured two well-known actors. Of course, they had both done it.
- Exception: an episode with Wil Wheaton (again) and Christopher Lloyd. Neither did it.
- Another: Bill Nye the Science Guy getting called in as a consultant, and the criminal was someone completely unrelated.
- When Nicholas Hoult suddenly materialises halfway through episode 1 of BBC crime drama Wallander (and starts hogging all the screen time) it was only a matter of time before the bloodied axe shows up under his bed.
- Also frequently seen in Midsomer Murders.
- Sometimes subverted (one episode managed to bring it down to 'Narrowed It Down To The Person I Recognise As Playing Villains by hiring two well-known actors), and sometimes self-subverted through the Retroactive Recognition issue mentioned in the trope description (for example, in one episode Orlando Bloom showed up as 'guy who got run through with a pitchfork').
- We could fill this page entirely with Law & Order examples. It's pretty much S.O.P. for L&O shows: if the feature guest star isn't the defense attorney, the victim, or the first suspect, he's the perp. On L&O: Criminal Intent, though, it's often obvious who the killer is right from the start as the show is about how the detectives will catch them, rather than whodunnit.
- In an episode of Law And Order: Criminal Intent, Stephen Colbert plays a graphologist hired to authenticate some documents, only to find out that he forged them, and committed the original murder. This was before Colbert's show began, but he was already well-known as a reporter on The Daily Show and for Strangers with Candy.
- One episode of Special Victims Unit managed to avoid this by having three well-known guest stars (Bob Saget, Chris Sarandon and Catherine Bell) so it wasn't immediately obvious who the killer was.
- Yep... another Law & Order: Criminal Intent entry. They interview the woman who ran the prime suspect's foster home, Whoopi Goldberg (with short hair, no less). Guess who's behind the whole thing?
- A well done example is the episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit featuring Martin Short. It's never in question that he's the guilty party, and the entire episode is a battle of wits between Short and the detectives as he taunts them to prove it.
- Also, the celebrity unsubs are sometimes under so much make-up that it takes a few minutes before Hey, It's That Guy! kicks in. Prime example: Jamie Kennedy.
- A similar SVU example involved guest star Jerry Lewis. Producers must've been particularly aware of the trope this time as even the promos gave away that he did it, and indeed the crime ultimately committed by his character was done right in front of the eyes of the star detectives — the episode's plot revolved instead around tension leading up to the crime, whether or not he was justified in his actions and whether or not mental incompetence played a role.
- Just plain averted in the episode Trade with guest stars Matthew Davis and Stephen Collins. Neither one of them did it.
- Averted in an original flavour Law & Order episode, in which Kevin Smith appears — in a one-scene cameo.
- In "An Evening With Kevin Smith 2", he says that he wanted to play "the guy who leads them to the guy, who leads them to the guy, who leads them to the guy that did it". And he did.
- Also averted in an episode of SVU in which Karen Allen is the murderer's wife, but played straight in an earlier episode of the original Law & Order in which Allen is the killer.
- In a recent SVU episode, Eric McCormack played the killer's father. He confesses and everything!
- One SVU episode, in quick succession, had the detectives talking to Bobby Flay, Mark McGrath, and Jesse Palmer, all playing Expies of themselves, about halfway through the episode. However they are all past victims of a malicious female rapist that had not reported it because for some reason. While the actual rapist was played by the relatively unknown actress and Olympic bronze medalist, Estella Warren, her accomplice and mother, was played by none other than Wonder Woman herself Lynda Carter.
- Subverted: One episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent featured Brent Spiner (Lt. Cdr. Data) as one half of a pair of married psychologists. They were both arrogant twits, but neither of them was the killer.
- An inversion: One episode of SVU in which the guest star was Lewis Black as a Howard Stern like radio-DJ. He was never a suspect, but later in the episode, he gets shot in the shoulder by the culprit's mother. The jury acquits.
- The next to last episode of the 11th season of SVU has an interesting example: While the perp is known from early in the episode, his father shows up late in the episode and is played by Raymond J. Barry, who's seemingly too ubiquitous to JUST be the perp's dad. Not surprisingly, the father was abusive and conspiring with his son.
- Malcolm McDowell deserves to be far more then the average perp when he appears on CI, and indeed, not only is a Chessmaster par excellence, he gets away with his crime in the end.
- Another Criminal Intent subversion: Rip Torn guest starred in one episode as a rather cold, unfeeling, and downright unpleasant multi-millionaire who, despite being mean (and despite being portrayed by the big-name guest star), wasn't involved with the murder.
- And another: John Glover not only got to be creepy and suspicious in his appearance as Goren's forensic psychology mentor, he also got to be completely innocent. At least the first time he was on.
- A semi-subversion in a 2010 SVU had 4 famous (from 25+ years ago) guest stars: Ann-Margaret, Jaclyn Smith, Morgan Fairchild and Susan Anton. Only one of them did it. And in the show, she's no angel.
- Yet another Criminal Intent episode; it featured Dylan Baker, normally a Hey, It's That Guy! character actor as he's been in everything, including three different characters in the mothership show. However, the previews for the episode pointed out that Dylan Baker would be guest starring, somewhat unusual for a character actor to be promoted this way. And yes, he did it.
- Double Subverted in another 2010 SVU episode, where Henry Ian Cusick is not only cleared early in the episode, but doesn't even appear again...until the next episode, in which he is the culprit.
- Subverted in the SVU episode Wet which had David Krumholtz from Numb3rs and The Santa Clause as an Absent-Minded Professor who grow poisonous mushrooms and was obsessed with water right seemed like a slam dunk as a perp. Plus it also hade Rosemary Harris who played Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies as a Rich Bitch who ran the charity were victim was given the poisoned Mushrooms. Add to that the special guest ADA for the episode was played by Paula Patton from Precious and the defense attorney was played by Michael Boatman from Spin City. Yet none of them was the kill, however one of them came off as more of a Complete Monster then the actual murderess, and was responsible for her behavior.
- The SVU episode Mask, which has Jeremy Irons as a sex addict turned psychologist who specializes in treating them... turns out to be a good guy who helps the main characters after some plot dithering, and also turns out to have NOT committed the terrible crime that he thought he had 20 years ago, namely raping his daughter in a combination of alcoholic blackout and irresistible impulse (it turned out to have been her best friend, and it was consensual, but his daughter, a lesbian, was also in love with the girl and never forgave her father for breaking her heart.
- Subverted in the SVU episode Angels: Will Arnett plays one of three pedophiles involved in a sex tourism ring, but he's not the main perp.
- Played with in the Criminal Intent episode "Malignant". Hey, It's That Guy! Stephen Toblowski, a character actor who is recognizable enough to qualify for this trope, plays a pharmacist who, it turns out, has absolutely nothing to do with the drug-delivery hijacking/double-murder that opens the episode except peripherally. That said, it turns out that he's scamming his customers by watering down his drugs, thus quadrupling the money he's making on each drug shipment.
- Happens so often on Castle that lately they've taken to casting at least two familiar faces an episode, so even though you know one of them did it, they at least keep you guessing between which. For the most part it seems to enjoy zigzagging this trope.
- The first episode has the father of the kidnapped and then murdered young man played by Don S. Davis — who spent eight years on Stargate SG-1 as Gen. Hammond. He did it.
- One of the season finales had the guy who played Cameron in Ferris Bueller as a bank robber. Turns out he was being forced into it; the real baddies had his wife held hostage.
- Double subverted in a different episode guest-starring Rachael Leigh Cook as an old flame of Shawn's who agrees to go on a date with him...the same day he is taunted by a clue-leaving serial killer. Cook ends up nearly being a victim; the killer turns out to be played by Ally Sheedy, who the viewer had not seen yet, and didn't even realize until later had been hiding in nearly every scene of the episode.
- When David Naughton guest-starred in a Halloween episode themed around werewolves, it's easy to guess that he did it. Especially when his character was named after an Entertainment Weekly TV critic who doesn't particularly like the show.
- Saul Tigh recently showed up as a grizzled old fisherman and was promptly ignored by the main cast for the majority of the episode. He did it. Although, to be frank, you have to have watched Battlestar Galactica to get it. Otherwise, he's just another character actor.
- Surprisingly subverted with Joey McIntyre (yes, that Joey McIntyre) since he played a police officer new to the precinct and Shawn kept going on about how the perpetrator, a vigilante taking down members of a crime syndicate, had to be someone inside the SBPD. To be fair, though, it was a comic book themed episode and you don't have to be a fan of the genre to realize the reporter in glasses would turn out to be the superhero.
- In an episode of Strong Medicine, a flood of patients from a train derailment caused by a car on the track was followed by a frantic and confused young woman coming into the hospital. Nothing special, except that it was Delia Fisher from My So-Called Life. She did it, but she didn't know she did it.
- Cold Case:
- An episode had Daveigh Chase (Samara Morgan from The Ring) guest star as one of the suspects. Guess who the killer was?
- There were Reed Diamond he did it in the season 7 episode Forensics, Steven Culp who also did it in the episode Jurisprudence, and Loretta Devine in Soul, and yes, she did it too, among others.
- Another episode had Barry Bostwick as the killer. Also doubles as Stunt Casting, as the original murder took place after a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the late 70s.
- As soon as Daniel Baldwin showed up, you just knew he was the perp. He was so effective in this role, he stayed on for 7 episodes.
- Dylan Baker was accused of his wife's murder in an episode of The Good Wife but he was acquitted. At the end, he reveals he did do it.
- Ironically, an episode of it seems like Reed Diamond did it, but in the end Allison finds out that the 'victim' is still alive and a few years younger than in her dreams, so she understands he might do it, despite being anything but a killer to this point, and warns him so hopefully he won't do it.
- Will McCormack raped Devalos' daughter and others.
- Donna was a serial killer of sex offenders who ended up killing an undercover cop.
- "Mr. Monk and the Girl who Cried Wolf" featured Emma Caufield (the former vengeance demon Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Sharona's creative writing teacher. She hadn't "done it" yet, but she was about to.
- Subverted in a later episode in which Bradley Whitford's character is NOT the killer.
- "Mister Monk and the Kid" had a well-known actress in a minor role, and as soon as the audience heard her and said "Hey, that's Shego!" they knew who the kidnapper was.
- This troper caught the episode "Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show," where Malcolm McDowell was the guest star. In the episode, one of his models is killed. Just do the math.
- Averted in one of the series' first advertised guest stars, Willie Nelson was accused of shooting his road manager by an Eye Witness who couldn't have possibly done it because she is blind She isn't and she did it.
- An episode featured Tom Wilson (a.k.a. Biff from Back to The Future) as the victim's boss. He turned out to be the killer.
- Another had Adam Baldwin as an FBI agent looking for a mob killer and protecting Brennan from a hit man. He was the killer and the hit man.
- A third episode has a People Who Died On Buffy reunion where both major lawyers and the lead investigator were all characters who died on Buffy. I was so sure one of them was dirty!
- Subverted in a sense in one episode, where the killer was not the mildly famous person (Spencer Breslin); however, he did turn out to be the father of all those babies, including the unborn child of the victim.
- Subverted fabulously in a an episode where Robert Englund, who's famous for playing Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, played a janitor. He also did not do it. Furthermore, the first crime featured the story of a cannibal who killed his victims for their delicious flesh. Robert Englund's character offers Bones and Booth some delicious ribs.
- As opposed to the Castle ep below, Miss Farrell did do it in "The Man in the Mud" ... but the episode also had Tom Friendly, Delia Fisher, and Joey Lawrence's little brother to choose from.
- The season 5 episode "The X In the File" featured Dean Haglund, who played a recurring character on The X-Files (Langly, one of The Lone Gunmen). he did it.
- Averted in one episode, where it turns out Xander Berkeley DIDN'T do it for the first time in his career.
- A more subtle one in the second Gravedigger episode. Fans of The Wire will know Rhonda Pearlman isn't going to show up just to cameo in a couple of lawyer scenes.
- Even Battlestar Galactica is guilty of this, in a roundabout way. Lucy Lawless and Dean Stockwell both appeared as supposedly one-shot characters before being outed as Cylons.
- In the case of the 1st mentioned character, the reveal was at the end of the initial appearance. The 2nd wasn't actually revealed until a subsequent appearance.
- The West Wing had Glenn Close show up during a search for a Supreme Court Justice.
- Semi-subversion in that Close's character was up against Bill Fichtner for the job. The twist was that the White House staff found a way to hire both of them.
- One episode of Burn Notice had Lucy Lawless play a grieving woman looking for her husband. ...until about halfway through the episode when she's revealed to be a spy looking to kill the man Michael unwittingly guided her to.
- Subverted in the Season 1 cliff-hanger finale, where Richard Schiff shows up as a guest star, and is killed off after just a couple of minutes of screen time. The DVD commentary says they specifically hired a big name so the audience would see him as the ultimate bad guy--they wouldn't pay a big star like that to be just a one-shot flunky.
- When you see Leonard Nimoy in an episode of Columbo, it's only logical to assume he did it. Even before the Perp Sweating sets in.
- Especially since, like nearly all Columbo murderers, he's shown committing the crime before Columbo even appears.
- Subverted in one Columbo where we see Robert Vaughn cleaning up a murder scene after the fact, and assume he did it. He didn't.
- On Masterpiece Theatre's 2009 adaptation of Agatha Christie's "They Do It With Mirrors," the perpetrator is played by Brian Cox, otherwise known as Stryker from the second X-Men film, or Ward Abbott from The Bourne Series films, or the original Hannibal Lecter.
- NCIS had a late first season episode that guest starred Adam Baldwin, Julie Benz, and Doug Savant (albeit this was the season before the later show started). Subverted in the fact that NONE of them are guilty — the murder of the week was actually a suicide.
- In another episode, the team got a lead on their case from a bartender played by Claudia Black. Guess who did it?
- Life On Mars did this a lot; then again, the week's crime case was usually the episode's least important plot.
- Lie to Me had Beecher as the perp in the second season finale.
- Averted in The Closer, Connor Trinneer plays one of the suspects but is quickly cleared within the first scene he appears in.
- The Inside was pretty bad about this for its short run. William Mapother, Michael Bowen Jenette Goldstein, Hart Boecher and Amber Benson.... Averted in one episode, where master of scary characters Zeljko Mother Frakking Ivanek is an innocent nice guy who just doesn't know how to defend himself properly. The killer? Jeanette McCurdy.
- Castle did this once or twice, with Carla starring as the perp in one episode, and another person playing a... suspect (but not the killer) in another. (Names and ep. titles would be appreciated)
- Also been subverted quite a bit as Robert Picardo, Debi Mazar, Dan Castellaneta and Phil LaMarr have all popped up as being allies rather than killers.
- Robert Picardo was also in an episode of Pushing Daisies as a detective. He hadn't committed any crimes there either. Though Ethan Phillips also appeared and WAS the guilty party.
- "One Man's Treasure": You got Mrs. Ari and Miss Farrell over the corpse of a two-timer. So one of them did it, right? Nope, turns out to be Principal Wood, only slightly unrelated to his two-timingness.
- Lampshaded on a Silent Witness spoof on Dead Ringers. "Oh, let's just arrest the most expensive guest star, it's always them!"
- The ABC series Sleuth 101 is about comedians trying to solve murder mysteries. Dave O'Neil didn't understand any of the clues but managed to solve the first episode's case correctly by working out who the most famous cast member was.
- Furuhata Ninzaburo takes this trope Up to Eleven: the criminal is played by a famous face each time, and at least twice Furuhata faces off against actual celebrities: a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of baseball star Ichiro Suzuki (who, btw, flat out refused to have his character's name changed) and the entire J Pop band SMAP.
- Homicide: Life On the Street was usually pretty good at averting this trope... whenever a famous guest star appeared, he/she was either a relative of the victim (like Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden or Terry O'Quinn), or his identity as the killer was made intentionally clear from the beginning and the episode actually focused on the detectives' attempt to prove that he was guilty (like Elijah Wood, Steve Buscemi or Chris Rock).
- The episode "Requiem" of the not so overwhelming British series Anna Lee featured Greg Proops, who was just gaining fame in GB, as a slimy music journalist. Guess who was the bad guy. He didn't kill the victim, but drove her to suicide
- Lost loves to play around with this. One good example is the actor Doug Hutchison, most famous for his role as the sadistic guard in The Green Mile. He briefly appears in a season 3 episode. Then he briefly appears in a season 4 episode. Then he plays a central role in five episodes in season 5.
- Every single god damn episode of the The Mentalist. If the actor is familiar but playing a bit role, automatically expect them to be the murderer or the mastermind of the murder no matter how unlikely. 9 times out of 10, you'll be right.
- In the Supernatural episode "Clap Your Hands If You Believe...", a red flag went up as soon as Robert Picardo came on screen, acting all lame and insignificant. Obviously, he was the villain.
- Come on, as if you didn't knew that Alan Tudyk would play something better than just an architect on Dollhouse.
- In the pilot episode of Blue Bloods, Corey Feldman is there for 30 seconds as a doll reviewer(!) and to create the illlusion of 'they caught they bad guy real early' until we realize we've been mislead by the Stunt Casting
- Averted by an episode of the remake of Hawaii Five-O, in which D.B. Sweeney is a murder suspect. It turns out his wife did it.
- This is generally averted on Criminal Minds, which makes frequent usage of Hey, It's That Guy! actors as supporting characters, but rarely has them turn out to be the Unsub, except in the cases where a well-known actor is cast specifically to play a major villain whose identity is shown from the beginning of the episode.
- Done twice in Veronica Mars, in both case during the overarching Story Arc:
- In the first season, the murderer was the character played by Harry Hamlin, of L.A. Law and Clash of the Titans fame—only a recurrent character.
- Averted in the second season: Ambitious rich guy played by Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy, 3 Men and a Baby, Cocoon) was behind an evil deed that corrupted the real murderer behind the story arc.
- In Hot in Cleveland, Betty White is told of a murder, and when she says "Why are you telling me that?" the person telling her says that she always figures out who the killer is in CSI in the first three minutes. Betty White says that it's due to knowing who the guest stars were — you don't hire Tony Danza to play "a hotel concierge with three lines."
- William Atherton guest stars in a 1985 episode of Murder, She Wrote. Unsurprisingly, he did it.
- The Nero Wolfe series played with, or possibly completely inverted, this trope: The supporting cast stayed mostly the same from episode to episode, but the actors played different roles in different stories — so while you can nearly always recognise "the guy" (or "the gal"), it's of no use to you in jumping to the solution of the case.
- Carnivale: The plot in Babylon city involved the murder of one Carnie and the others looking for the murderer among the Babylonians. They eventually decided to exact their justice in John Hannah's character (The Mummy; Sliding Doors). Hannah then confesses.
- It was an example of this that led many to believe that WWE NXT might be rigged. Of the six rookie Divas, only two were given any kind of storyline outside of competing for NXT, Kaitlyn and Aksana (Interestingly, these two are most often considered the two worst of the six.) Aksana, who was born in Lithuania, was given an angle where she had to marry her pro Goldust to obtain a green card, and Kaitlyn was in a love triangle with her pro, Vickie Guerrero, and Vickie's boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler. Aksana stayed in the competition until her storyline marriage with Goldust was over, than was eliminated almost immediately after. This left Kaitlyn, who eventually won the competition, as the only Rookie with any type of storyline. It appeared that WWE forced Kaitlyn into becoming The Guy I Recognize, making her the only one visible outside of NXT (which is a web-only show) and thereby leading fans to vote for her (since she was the only one they probably knew anything about.)
- Johnny Young Bosch as an insignificant bumbling rookie detective? American fans of Japanese media didn't buy it. Yep, he did it.
- Lampshaded on The Simpsons:
Grampa: I say we call Matlock. He'll find the culprit. It's probably that evil Gavin MacLeod or George "Goober" Lindsay.