A character, group of characters or organization wants to solve a mystery or put a controversy to rest, and they decide the only way to solve it is to pack up and set up camp at a location where they believe something of interest will occur, such as their opponent's headquarters, in hope of finding some critical clue. Often they will go to rather extreme lengths to find just one critical clue. Almost invariably, there's a risk that someone will find out about the operation and blow the observers' cover, and all their efforts will be ruined... or worse.

Usually, it's TheHero's TrueCompanions who are doing this, but occasionally a {{villain}} will use a stakeout, often to find a weakness in their intended victim's security, or reveal their SecretIdentity. And it almost certainly happens in RealLife, though probably not as often as in fiction.

Generally, to be a stakeout, the following conditions must be met:
* The characters are watching one or more locations.
* The characters involved in the operation must hide the fact that they are doing it from someone (or something) else.
* The purpose of a stakeout is to gather intelligence. If the purpose is to surprise someone, that's an ambush. If the purpose is to trick someone into revealing something he wouldn't have otherwise, it's a sting. Of course, there's no reason a stakeout can't become a starting point for a sting or ambush operation.

Supertrope of SpiesInAVan. Often leads to RearWindowInvestigation, WeWait.
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Stakeouts are a fairly universal trope. Common in DetectiveDrama, they are also found in many other genres including {{adventure}}, {{comedy}}, and even {{fantasy}}. TV shows almost always include this trope during an episode that parodies a cop or detective show. Since it can be a case of TruthInTelevision,it's an appropriate plot point for shows that are on the realistic end of the SlidingScaleOfRealisticVersusFantastic - but it's also a strategy that might believably still work even in {{Cloudcuckooland}}. It's simply applying the idea of being in the right place at the right time in a systematic way. Any character with the patience and self control, and sometimes the stealth and courage, has at least a small chance of being able to pull off a stakeout caper successfully.

It's also easily PlayedForDrama or PlayedForLaughs. Usually the question of importance to the plot is not the morality of subjecting someone to such scrutiny, but whether the team will be able to get anything useful before they're stopped by the opposing side, the press, the neighbors, or their own superiors. At any moment, they might find or miss something important or their cover might be blown. The characters' lives, careers, and reputations, or the lives of innocents, might be on the line if they're caught or the stakeout proves useless. Having a group of characters stuck in one spot maintaining TheMasquerade that nothing unusual is going on is a great opportunity for dialog, character introduction, or character development. It's also a great opportunity for a moment of subtle humor to relieve the tension.

This trope provides plenty of opportunities for the writers to prolong the drama with dramatic or humorous sidestories. Amung the more commonly seen:
* If the stakeout lasts for more than a couple days, the group will often add more personnel or equipment as time goes by. If a well-funded agency, that will often include wiretaps, hidden cameras, telescopes, laser-triggered alarms, etc., all to watch their "opponent".
* They start snacking, and run out of food, so one character is sent to get more. The others complain about the food.
* They get into a debate over something. It's at that moment one of them notices that for once something is happening and tells the others to be quiet.
* They temporarily [[DistractedByTheSexy end up spying on]] someone involved in something [[{{fanservice}} titillating]] but either [[RedHerring completely unrelated]] or only peripherally related to the overall mission. If TheHero is spying on a particularly sympathetic relatively innocent person or AntiVillain, it's likely they'll end up working together later, or else their "victim" will turn out to be a NotSoHarmlessVillain.
* The group decides that just watching isn't enough, resulting in a RearWindowInvestigation.
* Another common result is for one or more of the heroes to be discovered and captured by the villains they are spying on, precipitating the crisis that was delayed during the stakeout.
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!!Examples:

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[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* In ''Anime/FullMetalPanicFumoffu'', Sousuke, with the help of Kyoko, calls for a stakeout when Kaname goes on a date with an old classmate.
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[[folder:Film]]
* Matt Helm movie ''The Wrecking Crew''. An ICE agent is sent to watch Count Contini's mansion to determine whether he was involved in the gold heist.
* ''{{Sneakers}}''. The protagonists do this at least twice: when trying to find out where Dr. Janek keeps his black box decoder, and when trying to find out where the decoder is being kept in the toy company.
* The film titled ''Film/{{Stakeout}}'', [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin of course]].
* In ''Film/ThatDarnCat'', police end up setting up a secret base in a suburban attic and bugging a housecat in their desperation for a clue.
* In Creator/TomClancy's ''Film/ClearAndPresentDanger'', the CIA rents a flat in downtown Bogota, Columbia to use an eavesdropping device.
* All the police do in ''Theatre/{{Oscar}}'' until the climax.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* The beginning of Creator/FrankHerbert's ''Hellstrom's Hive'' has a secret agent staking out the title location while posing as a bird watcher. He's hunted down and killed by hive members.
* Harry and Murphy of ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'' do this at one point. Given the work, it almost goes without saying that it's played for laughs. Harry, due to total lack of practicing this skill, is bad at it.
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[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/BurnNotice'' does this often... makes sense, as it's a Spy Show.
* Common in ''Series/TheWire'', where the cops lurk in both unmarked cars and abandoned buildings. This is especially the case in the earlier seasons, before the drug dealers wise up and stop using pay phones; if the police are wiretapping a pay phone, they need someone staking out the phone to see who's actually making the call.
* ''Series/PushingDaisies'' has a stakeout interrupted by a [[BananaInTheTailpipe potato in the tailpipe]].
* ''Series/{{NCIS}}'' has had stakeouts on several occasions.
** At least once, Tony has made a reference to the film ''Film/{{Stakeout}}''.
** On another occasion, they did a stakeout of what turned out to be [[FlockOfWolves another stakeout]].
* ''TheRockfordFiles'' featured many stakeouts over it's run, but the most unconventional was when the stakeout was completely unrelated to the case the main character was investigating. He simply happens to run into his FriendOnTheForce disguised as a food vendor. At the end of the episode, he saves himself from the criminals chasing him by leading them through said stakeout.
* ''Series/YoungBlades'': King Louis joins the Musketeers on a stakeout in "The Chameleon." When he asks what you're supposed to do during one, [[BigEater Ramon]] produces a tray of [[DonutMessWithACop beignets]].
* Showed up from time to time on ''Franchise/{{Dragnet}}''. It was once played for laughs when Officer Gannon started talking about the physical effects he always got with stakeouts - headaches, upset stomach, etc.
* Mulder and Scully and other FBI agents on ''Series/TheXFiles'' sometimes were on a stake-out duty. The examples include "Squeeze" when the FBI do stakeouts of the murder sites where a serial killer might re-appear, and then Mulder orders a stake-out of Tooms's building. In its sequel "Tooms", Mulder follows the eponymous mutant serial killer; the episode has a very sweet bonding scene between the agents in their car. "Eve" had Mulder keeping an eye on one of the girls, as they were expecting her abduction.
* ''Series/{{Monk}}'' played it for laughs in "Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa" when Natalie complains about how long they'd been on a stakeout. Monk tells her that is what makes it fun; you never know how long it will take.
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[[folder:Pinball]]
* This occurs as a mode in ''Pinball/JudgeDredd
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[[folder:Video Games]]
* One dispatch mission in ''VideoGame/MySims Agents'' involves this. What happens depends partially on who you send.
* ''VideoGame/{{Persona 4}}'': When investigating chances that Kanji is about to be the next victim of the Midnight Channel, the Investigation Team decided to have one stakeout.
** '''[[Webcomic/{{Hiimdaisy}} WHO SAID STEAK]]'''
* [[VideoGame/TeamFortress2 Meet the Sniper]] has a fast-forward montage of the Sniper on one, downing thermos bottles of coffee and filling jars of piss.
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[[folder:Web Original]]
* Battlecat and Minx (Battlecat's daughter) had a lot of rooftop stake-outs in the ''GlobalGuardiansPBEMUniverse''. They'd inevitably descend into discussions about whatever guy she was seeing that week and how Battlecat doesn't think he's good enough for her.
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[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/JusticeLeagueUnlimited'', Franchise/WonderWoman starts hitting on Franchise/{{Batman}} while the two are on a stakeout, and she receives a laundry list of reasons why a romance would never work between them.
** And then is in the [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w6khbl-uXw process of refuting them]] when they're interrupted.
* Some episodes of ''WesternAnimation/{{Recess}}'' have TJ and the gang doing this trope, whether its regarding the teachers or even one of their own (the latter only in extreme cases).
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