Any television or radio accidentally turned on during a tension-filled moment will automatically display a news story relevant to or actually about the current source of dramatic tension. Incidentally, the broadcast will either be just starting or give enough detail for the characters (and viewers) to know what's going on, even if the characters turn on the television on advice from a telephone call. From watching this broadcast, the viewer(s) will gain an insight — or a kick in the pants — which will launch the next phase of the story. They will also never start mid-word when turning on the channel.
This is also rapidly becoming a Discredited Trope considering how many sources parody this convention, even if the rise of 24-hour rolling news networks makes it much easier to Hand Wave nowadays.
Compare: Contrived Coincidence. See also: Chekhov's News. Suspiciously Specific Sermon, Crystal Ball Scheduling, Practical Voice Over, News Monopoly, and Your Television Hates You, for the gag version. Can be an example of Worst News Judgement Ever if the story doesn't merit its place in the headlines.
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Anime & Manga
A slightly different version of this trope happens in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Joseph quickly switches between different channels to get a complete message; it's justified as manipulating machinery to see the future is the power of his Stand.
Code Geass: When the Black Knights get their new RV mobile fortress, one of the first things they do is check out the TV set — which happens to be broadcasting news of the hoteljacking incident. Conveniently, it's right at the start of the incident, allowing them to move in and save the day.
Slight variation in Futari wa Pretty Cure episode 36 where the Guardian's description of a place full of flowers happens to match a newspaper article in front of them instead of a news broadcast.
In Junjou Romantica, when Hiro walks in on Nowaki and his coworker Tsumori sleeping on the floor of Hiro and Nowaki's apartment, a news broadcast about a famous married actor being caught with another woman is on the TV. It is however, Not What It Looks Like.
School Rumble. Yakumo stays the night at Harima's house when there's a black out. He turns the radio just in time to hear the DJ say that a black out is a good time to do This and That.
In Sangatsu No Lion, Rei sees a nature documentary that perfectly describes (at least in his perspective) how he's taken over the lives of his adoptive family, prompting him to set out on his own.
In My Neighbors the Yamadas, when the family turn their car around and head back to the supermarket to find the missing Nonoko, a song about a lost kitten plays on their radio.
In Dirty Sympathy, Trucy is watching the news in the background when the entertainment segment starts ten minutes early with breaking news of Klavier's "stageaccident", telling Apollo that Klavier was nearly killed. Justified that a rock star's near-deathly accident would make a headliner.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Roy Neary obsessively creates sculptures of a butte/mesa to match the image placed in his mind during a UFO encounter. A news broadcast shows Devil's Tower, Wyoming, which is an exact match for his sculptures. Neary takes the hint and leaves for Devil's Tower. Somewhat justified in that the government had planted false stories of an anthrax outbreak centered on Devil's Tower to drive people away from the area so they wouldn't see the alien spaceships arriving.
Spielberg also plays with the trope by having Neary fail to notice the TV for several minutes while it's showing footage of Devil's Tower.
This happens with an Entertainment News show early on in Tropic Thunder
Subverted in Shaun of the Dead, where Shaun switches on the news to find they're talking about the zombie plague...and promptly changes the channel.
But if you listen to the chunks of speech from the various channels, it will still make sense (even though Shaun doesn't seem to notice anyway).
Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Though no one official is prepared to comment, religious groups are calling it Judgement Day. There's - Morrissey: - Panic on the streets of London... Newsreader: - as an increasing number of reports of - Football Commentator: - serious attacks on - Newsreader: - people, who are literally being - Wildlife Documentary Narrator: - eaten alive. Jeremy Thompson: Witnesses' reports at best are sketchy, but one unifying detail seems to be that the attackers in many instances appear to be - Vernon Kaye: - dead excited to have with us here a sensational chart topping -
Done similarly in Dead Set - there are constant TV news reports in the background about growing panic and riots in the streets, but the producer's only concern is that a news bulletin might interrupt his live show.
In The Terminator, there's a news broadcast about a killed Sarah Connor. When Sarah is fetched from the restaurant, the newscaster conveniently adds "To recap:" and then repeats the entire story.
In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, while hiding in the theater from The Weasels, Eddie was about to give up on piecing together the connection Cloverleaf Industries had with Acme's murder when a news reel came on about Maroon's sellout to said company.
Babylon A.D.. this is used a bit more judiciously. There's an entire wall showing dozens of channels, which makes it easier to accept if at least one of the channels is showing something relevant.
Spoofed in Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, when the hero turns on an old monster movie, where the character therein gives him a foolproof plan for saving the day. And then gives it to him again. And then again. And then points out that he has just given the hero a GOOD IDEA ALREADY. The hero, finally realizes what he has to do, much to the relief of the guy in the old movie.
Extremely parodied in Johnny Dangerously when the villain, Vermin, needs to kill the DA. Vermin turns on the radio, which immediately (1920 era tube-warmup time notwithstanding) details that the DA will be watching a movie premier that night. After he turns the radio off, his lackey asks what theatre they will be at. Vermin turns the radio back on, and the radio gives him the theatre name and address.
In Ghostbusters the female lead sees the advert right before she opens her fridge to find a parallel universe in there.
BASEketball features a scene where the main character is depressed and driving down the road listening to the radio. At first the lyrics are vaguely inspirational, then become progressively more specific: "Even though some guy's trying to blackmail you / And your girlfriend thinks you suck / All you have to do is let 'em know / That it's all part of some rich guy's evil plan! / Look out ahead, there's a truck changing lanes / You've got some yellow crumbs on your upper lip / And those warts on your dick will never go away / Unless you start using topical cream every day!"
Justified example in The Dark Knight: Bruce Wayne has a television on in the background as he gets ready for a party. When the story about The Joker offing a fake Batman comes on, Bruce turns up the volume.
Played straight in The Osterman Weekend where a 'news article' (actually a video feed) on the illicit use of Swiss bank accounts appears on television as part of the Mind Screw tactics being used against the protagonists.
In Superman Returns Clark goes to a local bar to mull over Lois' engagement to Richard. Fortunately, the television is tuned to coverage of an experimental shuttle launch that Lois is covering, all just minutes before Luthor knocks it out of the sky.
We even get the news camera pointing at Lois as she asks a question to make sure Superman knows she's on the plane when its not normal practice for a newscamera to point at a print journalist when she's asking a question. Usually, you'd hear Lois speaking in the background with the camera still pointed at the spokeswoman.
Possible Fridge Brilliance. Being the worldwide known Superman exclusive journalist and greatest link to Superman she's certainly more well known than the person she's interviewing.
Superman II. After Clark (de-powered Superman) gets beaten up by a bully, the diner's waitress turns on the TV and there's a broadcast by the President of the U.S. surrendering the Earth to General Zod. This clues Clark into the fact that he needs to get his superpowers back ASAP.
In the Watchmen movie, Ozymandias turns on his giant wall of televisions just as President Nixon begins his statement on the events he just described to the protagonists.
In Heat this is how Breedan's wife learns of his death. Somewhat justified in that it's a major breaking news story.
Both subverted and played straight in Network. Network executive Frank Hackett gets on the phone with another network staffer, who immediately starts complaining about the content of that day's episode of The Howard Beale Show. Hackett asks his interlocutor to calm down, saying that he's in California and the other staffer is in New York, so New York's local network aired the show three hours earlier and Hackett couldn't have gotten a chance to see it yet. Meanwhile, the show is on TV in the same room where Hackett is, but he completely ignores it; in fact, he asks the hotel staff to turn down the volume so he can take the phone call. After hanging up, though, he does turn his attention to the show.
Chicken Run features a non-broadcast version, with Mrs. Tweedy declaring she's sick and tired of making minuscule profits with her husband's chicken farm, only to spot an ad in a pile of mail with the phrase "Sick and tired of making minuscule profits?" emblazoned on the front, which just happens to be for a meat pie-making machine.
Edward from Enchanted treats TV as a magic box that answers all his questions.
In They, Julia comes home and turns on the TV to hear a story about rolling blackouts in the city. She's just recently learned that the only thing that can keep her safe is the light.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure - Mickey, after picking up hitchhiking Pee-Wee, switches on the radio to the announcement "...is believed to be armed and dangerous" and promptly switches it off - as if the handcuffs weren't a giveaway.
In the '80s horror flick Trick Or Treat, Eddie turns on the TV to a news report about his favorite rock star. Unusual in that he missed the beginning, so doesn't hear the main point of the story (that the guy just died) until after the report's retrospective.
Subverted in Arlington Road Michael turns on the TV and comes in at the end of a news story about an auto accident, he goes through another channel before getting the full story.
TV news on Hancock are conveniently aired when needed for a scene.
The scene in Gone Baby Gone with Angie at the hospital after her cliff jump features TV news on the missing child case.
Averted at the beginning of King Kong vs. Godzilla. The news broadcast spends about a minute on an irrelevant earthquake in Chile before moving to discussing events that are important to the plot. Play straight for the rest of the movie.
Happens straight in the novel Layer Cake where the drug dealer protagonist who has thus far been talking about how well things are going sees a broadcast discussing the brutal murder of a Dutchman. Turns out that he was a supplier and the men who tortured him to death had drugs stolen from them by the protagonist's associates.
Justified in On A Pale Horse: the Purgatory News specifically puts together separate broadcasts for each resident.
In book 8 of the The 39 Clues, Dan Cahill happens to see the Holts, rival Clue hunters, in a TV report on the weather at Mt. Everest. Unfortunately, a Clue is hidden on Everest as well.
Averted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where none of the news sources in the opening chapters tell Harry anything (which, as Hermione tells him, is partly because he doesn't bother to pursue them carefully).
Subverted in the Stephen King short story "The Man Who Loved Flowers." A telling clue that reveals the climax of the entire story is slipped unobtrusively into a radio news report in such a way that most readers won't notice it on first reading
Live Action TV
In the next-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, Walt finally emerges from the mountain cabin where he's been hiding out and goes to a bar. What pops up on the television mounted above the bar? Naturally, a PBS interview with Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, Walt's old partners and co-founders of Gray Matter.
Mystery Science Theater 3000lampshaded this Trope during one invention exchange, with a special radio that only used channels from old movies and TV shows, including the "Incredibly Plot Specific News Station": "The Harlem Globetrotters have been missing at sea and are thought to have washed up on some uncharted desert isle."
They also lampshaded it whenever it was used in a movie, usually with some comment like, "this has been plot convenience playhouse" or "thank you for listening to K-PLOT radio"
Subverted in The Pretender episode "Meltdown", which ultimately reveals that the television in question has been rigged as part of a sting operation to receive specially tailored fake news broadcasts originating from the next room.
The same ploy was used in Mission: Impossible: "Ultimatum," Combined with "We Interrupt This Program". The target of the sting was not genre-savvy enough to question the coincidence that his music program would be repeatedly interrupted with information directly relevant to his own situation.
Played straight in the famous episode Hush: The Scoobies are all grouped around a TV showing a news broadcast from LA regarding everyone in Sunnydale losing their voices. A strong argument could be made that this example is justified: An entire freaking town losing their voices simultaneously is bound to get through at least one person's Weirdness Censor.
Also the Scoobies were already watching the TV; Xander simply calls attention to the broadcast at the appropriate point.
There's also the point that such a story might merit round-the-clock coverage, especially if it's a recent development.
In the episode "Harsh Light of Day", while everyone is at Giles' apartment to research the latest crisis in Sunnydale, Xander is shocked to discover that Giles has a TV set that had been buried under some boxes of books. He turns it on, and everyone gathers around it to watch. Giles tells them all to get back to work. "Watching television is not going to help us right now." Cue a news report that gives them a vital clue.
In the Doctor WhoMade-for-TV Movie, just as the Doctor has convinced Grace that the only way to save the planet is to gain an atomic clock from somewhere, the news reports that one is being unveiled at a nearby university.
Another Who episode, "The Lazarus Experiment", has a variation; a Coincidental Phone Call telling the characters to turn on the news.
Parodied in Dinosaurs, in which turning on the news reveals that an asteroid is about to hit the family's television, after which it immediately happens.
Subverted in the episode "August", where the title character turns on the news and has to wait a few minutes for the right news to come on.
Played straight when Olivia and Peter hear the same news on the radio, though they were already listening.
Played with on FlashForward in "A561984" where the redemption scene is playing over the final scene in the airport, with Demetri and Mark who has just been fired from the FBI. Could also be a case of Crystal Ball Scheduling, but Mark visibly turns to look at the broadcast before his line.
Subverted in the Made-for-TV MovieSpecial Bulletin, the terrorists who land in Charleston Harbor grab a TV crew who happen to be covering an unrelated story at the docks.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon act 5. Ami has been doubting the authenticity of her friendship with Usagi. She walks past a TV at an electronics store with a movie about a woman betraying and killing her friend.
Used both obviously and subtly in Sherlock; at the beginning of "The Great Game", John turns on the TV just as a news story about a Vermeer painting changes to a broadcast about the explosion that has just occurred at Baker Street. The convenient Baker Street story is of immediate relevance to John, but the Vermeer news later turns out to be just as important.
In the pilot of Sliders, the protagonists find out what happened to Rembrandt by accidentally stumbling upon his minutes-long televised trial while idly channel surfing.
Subverted on Community when Abed is telling a horror story on Halloween. The characters in his story have to wait through several minutes of boring news on the radio before hearing about the escaped serial killer in their neighborhood, because it would be implausible for the report to be playing at the exact time they turned on the radio. Unfortunately for his listeners, because Abed's Genre Savvydoesn't make him any better at telling stories, much to their frustration they have to listen to the same irrelevant information as the characters do.
This happened several times on JAG, and in it ZNN was the news network of choice.
Classic Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last manages this trope with a newspaper. Henry Bemis opens the paper to see that the top headline on the first page (which actually has a realistic layout) is "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction"... and you can guesswhat happens next
Often spoofed in the British TV comedy series The Goodies, for instance when they are trapped in their apartment and have just lost the telephone service, Tim says "well, at least we still have the television" and turns it on, whereupon the announcer says "...and now a service announcement: The BBC today announced a cutback of one hundred percent." (TV screen immediately goes blank).
Subverted on My Name Is Earl. Randy has stolen an ambulance, in an attempt to get Earl to the hospital after he got hit by a car (again). He turns on the radio to calm down, and the dispatcher implores him to return the ambulance, saying that if the patients die, it will be on him. Randy, being The Ditz responds like so:
Randy: How'd that DJ know I stole an ambulance?!
Often parodied in Bloom County, usually with Opus as the viewer. The news report is either turned on just AFTER the important information is presented, or is just lying. In both cases the information specifically pertains to the viewer. An example is when Opus, after a nap, turns on the news to catch the end of a presentation of several items known to cause fatal nose warts in penguins.
Reporter: Shouldn't have been napping.
Max Payne and the sequel. No matter how long Max waits to get to plot-specific televisions, it's always just in time to learn the next bit of broadcast news about the rampage he is currently involved in. Oddly enough, this applies to several differing television dramas that are also playing on other channels.
The news broadcasts in Starcraft 2 are always relevant in some way or another to the current or previous mission.
In The Simpsons Road Rage, in the opening cutscene the family turns on the television to the news channel in light of Burns buying Springfield's public transit, and Brockman is idly staring off-camera, then immediately stares at the camera to give his report, as if he was waiting for the Simpson's TV to turn on.
inFAMOUS has TVs spread across the city will report on your actions (sort of), but only when you happen to be nearby.
In the AGDI Fan Remake of King's Quest II, the librarian won't let you take any books, but will choose a book for you to read. She ends up picking a book about whatever place you're going to have to explore next to advance the plot.
In Fahrenheit the hero Lucas Kane is beginning to understand someone used ancient Maya magic to force him to commit a crime. He's wondering what to do next, turns on the TV, and, surprise! stumbles upon the interview of a world-famous Maya religion expert who precisely happens to be organizing an exhibition in the same city. Possibly justified, since that's the guy who did it, and he's got an entire set of plans built around Lucas.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey begins with the Schwartzwelt Joint Project, the political and military higher-ups brought together to deal with the threat the Schwartzwelt represents, receiving footage from the probes they sent into it. At the same time, they're monitoring world news to make sure their cover story is in place. Each picture from the Schwartzwelt is paired up with a news broadcast that mirrors it (for example, Antlia, which appears as a burned and battered city in the middle of a war, is paired with news of a major conflict in Eastern Europe). Understandably, the Project initially believes they've accidentally crossed their feeds when they see the probe's footage.
In a sketch from That Guy with the Glasses (GNN - Interviews the Joker), the Joker idly asks the interviewer, Lori Prince, if he was forced to choose between the life of his dog and his cat, which he would choose. After saying he would pick the cat, an explosion is heard from the Joker's end. Shortly afterward, the news ticker at the bottom of the screen starts saying things like BREAKING NEWS: Small explosion rocks upscale home of late night talk show host, Lori Prince.
During one scene of The End a notification of a recall of the headphones Brendon just bought happens to come on while he's standing in his kitchen, setting off a plot point.
Spoofed in one The Adventures of Dr. McNinja comic. The Big Bad, Frans Rayner, turns on a news broadcast for his captive Gordito that explains how Fran's plan is affecting the world. The Alt Text of the comic says "That isn't live TV. Frans tivoed it earlier that day."
This trope was lampshaded even earlier, when a convenient newscast gave the doctor necessary information after he'd spent the day investigating.
Later exploited, as Doc appeared on a talk show to sell a phony book so he could get hired at NASA.
In "Foreign Affairs," Peter is watching a piece on a new "Goat Flu" epidemic and becoming more and more afraid. The report shows people sneezing at a salad bar, licking subway turnstiles, and "a man with the flu making out with you while you sleep" (with Peter Griffin actually shown).
The Simpsons has made frequent use/spoofs of this. Half the time, the characters don't even have to actually be shown turning on the TV themselves to catch the Coincidental Broadcast;
Homer: That's it! I'll make money with a chauffeur job! Good thing you turned on that TV, Lisa. Lisa: I didn't turn it on, I thought you turned it on. Homer: No. Well, anyway, turn it off. Lisa: It is off... (cue creepy music)
Johnny: You know how we'll be sitting here and that guy on TV gives us an idea? Dukey: That is ridiculous. Hank Anchorman: So you wanna win a huge trophy?
In the "One Jem Too Many" episode of Jem, after Jerrica "Jem" Benton claims that a Jem imposter is on the loose, Kimber turns on the news and the Holograms see someone else playing Jem on live TV. The Agony Booth recap of this episode even refers to this as "the Most Coincidental TV Station Ever".
Kim Possible uses this a lot. No matter if it's revealing information about the latest villain plot, Kim's parents wondering what she was doing parachuting into their front yard at 7:45am, or after Kim has blown up the superweapon, if someone turns on a TV, it's there.
Often seen in Garfield and Friends. It was lampshaded once when Jon says something about "I wish I was more X...", immediately followed by a commercial "Do you wish YOU were more X?" and Jon says "How come my TV always knows what I'm thinking?"
In Invader Zim episode "Rise of the Zitboy", Zim develops a spot. Shortly after being told by Gir 'You've got a pimple!' an advert for 'Acne-Blast' comes on the TV.
Robin: Look, Beast Boy, Control Freak can't be on TV, he's locked up in jail where he belongs, remember?
Huge television screen behind Robin: We interrupt this program for breaking news. Authorities have just discovered that the dangerous criminal known as Control Freak has escaped from prison.
Used for one line of plot development on Daria during the Musical Episode in the song "Morning in the 'Burbs". The TV is turned on to the news just in time for the plot bit and turned off immediately after.
Helen:(singing) What's the weather like today?
[Helen turns on the TV]
Weatherman:(also singing) May be a hurricane on the way- '''
[Helen turns off the TV]
Helen: But it's such a lovely day!
Subverted in The Brave Little Toaster where the TV is actually trying as hard as he can to get the attention of the humans so they would go and rescue the protagonists.
Parodied in SpongeBob SquarePants in the "Nasty Patty" episode where they think they've killed a health inspector:
Realistic Fish Head: "We interrupt your laughter at other people's expense to bring you this news flash. The fake inspector has been captured. Here is his picture (picture is shown on the TV). If a health inspector comes to your restaurant and he's not this guy, he's real.
In American Dad!, Stan has Roger framed and sentenced to a maximum security prison in China, due to Roger's usual bout of Disproportionate Retribution leading him to try and murder the Smiths for having said incredible hurtful things to him at his birthday roast (a roast he wanted). Immediately after Stan finishes explaining Roger's no longer a threat, Terry on Action News reports "breaking news from Asia!" Steve dully states "oh no" as it cuts to a photo of Roger using a raft made out of the severed limbs of his fellow inmates.
In a Donald Duck cartoon, Donald's encounters with a gorilla named Ajax are accompanied by advice given on the radio on dealing with Ajax.
Jonny Quest episode "Attack of the Tree People". When Topper turns on the radio he and Silky hear a broadcast about Jonny and Hadji's being shipwrecked and that a reward is being offered for their return.
A Tom and Jerry short had the radio making relevant broadcasts about a white mouse that had escaped from a lab after drinking a experimental explosive. The advice isn't necessarily trustworthy.
In an episode of Doug, our title character had just legally obtained a large sum of cash after no one claimed it from the police. Doug's busy totaling up how much was in there and, when he gives the final amount, it's echoed on the TV. Turns out that the money belonged to a little old lady who was going to lose her home if she didn't have it.
Done twice in She Zow episode, "Super Sidekick". Once for the hair monster and one to reveal that Maz is in hot water.
One episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) had a justified example. The person calling the Turtles to tell them about the news broadcast (April) was the reporter delivering it.
In an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko is upset about the mess in his house and the fact that his old POS vacuum cleaner isn't working. Heffer persuades him to take a break, and Rocko reluctantly agrees, saying, "Sometimes, I believe I was destined to exist in an endless world of filth." The TV then plays a commercial with those Exact Words. And Hilarity Ensues from there.
Somewhat truth in television in that the major cable news networks repeat the same current traumatic event every 10 minutes, due to people calling friends and saying 'Did you hear about...?'
Oddly enough, the more this trope is parodied, the more the abundance of round the clock news stations make this trope a reality. Of course, that only works if the movie's events would be worthy of national news. So just make sure your female lead is blonde.
Really happened to the vice president and countless others, as reported here.
Partly real life and partly live-action TV, an episode of Dallas SWAT chronicled a SWAT officer going in to work one day, listening to the radio in his car. The radio broadcasts a report about a hijacked semi truck. Seconds later, his beeper goes off.