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Documentary Episode
"Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?"
Michael Scott, after a camera crew follows him around for 148 episodes.

In some TV shows they'll take an episode and have a journalist or documentary maker make a show about, well, the show. Someone will go around interviewing all the main, and a few minor, characters, and presenting them from a view likely different than our own; presenting the demure housewife as an ice queen, the brainy kid as a Troubled Child, or the military commander as an Obstructive Bureaucrat instead of the action hero. They will likely get some things wrong, or interpret them oddly. At the very least some in universe media is looking at the setting or characters of the show, and we watch their finished in universe show.

The episode is structured around the idea that a fly-on-the-wall documentary crew or news crew is following the characters for a period of time. The footage is often shot with a handheld camera and is offset from the objective camera by other characteristics. Related to Day In The Life and/or Clip Show. A type of Show Within a Show.

The documentary crew will usually get in the way of the action somehow, often getting into a fight with the main characters. There may be "honest interviews" with characters about an incident, with two characters giving wildly different accounts of an event or circumstance.

Characters may also pretend to be nobler, better people when the camera points their way; the ones around them who know better may or may not cooperate in the illusion. Or the camera may just prove them to be a Large Ham.

Alternatively, the Documentary Episode can be the format for the entire thing, as seen in The Office (both UK and US versions) and People Like Us.

Compare Faux Documentary, Mockumentary, Who Would Want to Watch Us?, and Perspective Flip. Contrast: Documentary. Note that movies following the Mockumentary format don't belong here. See also Literary Agent Hypothesis.

Examples

Anime & Manga
  • An episode in Gintama follows the Shinsengumi.
  • The first episode of the The Idolmaster is set up as if a camera was following the idols.

Film
  • Starship Troopers opens with a live broadcast from the home planet of the arachnids, which culminates in the death of the entire news crew. The rest of the film is punctuated by brief, propaganda-ridden news clips that bear a suspicious resemblance to commercial breaks, and ends with what appears to be an armed forces recruitment ad. The entire movie has been interpreted as a futuristic parody of Cold War-era propaganda films, which would fit nicely in with the original novel's use of the Bugs as a metaphor for Communism.
  • The movie The Darwin Awards is (almost) entirely filmed in this format, with a college student filming a beginning to end documentary. His absolute insistence on staying out of all proceedings to maintain objectivity is a Running Gag and, in fact, the primary source of problems in the film. Needless to say, this is taken out on his camera all too often.
  • Man Bites Dog - a classic film about a serial killer being followed round by a camera crew, who start to get involved in the killer's activities.
  • Several horror films follow this format, such as The Blair Witch Project, or Paranormal Activity. The most notable may be Cannibal Holocaust.

Live-Action TV
  • Mash did this several times, and tried to make the episodes seem like they were archival footage, including black and white film and people sending heartfelt messages home to their loved ones via the camera.
    • The first of these, the Season 4 Finale "The Interview," was largely improvised by the actors in-character, and is widely regarded as one of the finest episodes of the series (despite the rather inexplicable nonappearance of the Margaret Houlihan character). Later episodes tried to mimic the same concept, some of them practically turning into Clip Episodes. Most ironically, many of these actually incorporated clips from the original The Interview. Watching the documentary-style episodes in-sequence is a phenomenal way to witness M*A*S*H's ongoing Seasonal Rot.
  • An episode of WKRP in Cincinnati was portrayed as an episode of the fictional show "Real Familes" featuring Herb Tarlek. The humour of the episode came from the lengths Herb went to to appear as "a hard worker, a loyal husband, and an all-around fine person". The producers caught on almost immediately.
  • ER took this approach for their Live Episode with the effect of having a built-in Lampshade Hanging should anything go wrong.
  • This plot was also used in a fifth season episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, appropriately titled "The Documentary." It had a cameo by the actual Homicide: LoTS camera crew, appearing as a production crew filming a cop show in Baltimore that the detectives run into while chasing a suspect. Brodie (a Homicide videographer) gives the cameraman verite pointers, and (mimicking real life) a petty crook surrenders to the tv cops.
  • Saved by the Bell episode "Rockumentary," chronicling the band Zack Attack.
  • Even Stevens also did a Behind the Music-style documentary, and a faux DVD "Making of" featurette for a film the characters were making.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "And Now for a Word" used this format to provide hints about the political situation back on Earth.
    • The episode "The Illusion of Truth" showed the filming of the "documentary" in the first half of the episode. The second half of the episode consisted mostly of the outrageously falsified edit that was broadcast. (In the period between the two episodes, the president of Earth's government had launched a coup and assumed dictatorial powers.)
  • The West Wing episode "Access" went so far as to add a fake PBS-style dedication sequence, thanking fictional trusts "And viewers like you", for their sponsorship.
  • The Battlestar Galactica episode "Final Cut" told a story from the perspective of the regular camera as well as a documentary camera from a reporter on board the ship.
  • The X-Files episode "X-Cops" used the real-life production crew of the long-running show Cops to follow Mulder and Scully around for a night.
  • An episode of Yes Dear was filmed as if the cast were on the TLC reality show.
  • An episode of Third Watch had a camera crew following "Doc" Parker as he won "Paramedic of the Year"; however Doc made a mistake which was caught on the tape.
  • Stargate SG-1 actually won a Hugo award for one half of the Two Parter episode they did with this premise, where a journalist is hired to film a documentary of the Stargate program for future generations. The concept is played for both laughs (various characters don't exactly like talking about their jobs to the obnoxious reporter, while some of the Bridge Bunnies are revealed to yes, have mostly pointless jobs) and drama/suspense (someone is fatally injured, and the journalist spends much of the plot trying to figure out who it was).
  • The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode, "I Like to Watch." It even engaged in a little self-mockery:
    Documentary cameraman: Do you watch our show? It's got lots of forensics."
    Grissom: There are too many shows about forensics.
    • In the same episode, Hodges lampshaded a common criticism of the series by mentioning the film crew could record a six-hour procedure and then edit it down to thirty seconds. (Cue thirty second procedural montage.)
  • "Ugly", from the fourth season of House, features a teenager with a major facial deformity. The film crew had been chronicling the teen's life for a while, and when he suffered a heart attack shortly before undergoing reconstructive surgery, they ended up recording the diagnostic process to add to the documentary. This impeded the process, since House's subordinates acted self-consciously, holding back educated guesses for fear of being wrong on camera. At the end, we see a glimpse of an early cut of the documentary, where all House's scenes have been creatively edited to create the illusion that he's a caring, sympathetic man. He's furious.
  • Just Shoot Me! had the crew from A&E's Biography make a fake biography of Nina for the show.
    • Another episode was a behind-the-scenes documentary on Dennis' film school project The Burning House.
  • Supernatural had "Ghostfacers," which was also an Affectionate Parody of Ghost Hunters.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun had an episode in which Mary made a documentary about the Solomons, describing them as the "typical American family". When Dick covered up a slip-up by explaining that Sally was a lesbian, it soon led to the others wildly inventing embarrassing secrets about each other. Through it all, Dick vainly struggled to make them come off as "an ideal family". The episode was certainly the highlight of the otherwise lame fifth season.
  • One episode of the German series Pro7 Märchenstunde (Pro7 Fairy Tail Hour) was done as The Documentary. Unfortunately, it was also an extremely unfunny Discworld-Watchmen - Ripoff-Thingy.
  • The Good Eats episode "Behind The Bird" used this: the concept is that a documentary crew was filming behind-the-scenes of the first Thanksgiving episode, only to be snowed in post-episode and the documentary host having to help Alton keep the surly teamsters from revolting.
  • The My Name Is Earl episodes "Our Cops Is On!" and "Our Other Cops Is On!".
    • As well as "Inside Probe" Part 1 and 2.
  • One episode of Monk was done in the style of a newsmagazine report of Monk solving a serial killing, with a Framing Device of the usual gang watching it- but Monk begins to realize while watching the show that he might have made a mistake. Sure enough, the host of the show turns out to be the real killer of the last victim.
  • Buffy's "Storyteller" managed to make Andrew's pre-existing inclination to fantasizing plot-relevant and use it for hilarious deconstruction of the other regulars at the same time.
  • The fourth season premiere of Entourage, "Welcome to the Jungle," is shown entirely from the point of view of a documentary camera recording the making of "Medellin: The Pablo Escobar Story."
  • Xena: Warrior Princess had that one where the cast were being followed around by a journalist from the 20th century and no one seems to mind.
  • The Community episode "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking" has Abed making one of these.
  • Bits and pieces of the Dollhouse episode "Man on the Street".
  • The 30 Rock episode "Queen of Jordan" is this, combined with Reality TV spoof (mainly of The Real Housewives) and Big Ego, Hidden Depths. It's supposedly an episode of the reality TV show which Angie Jordan (Tracy's wife) was given in a previous episode. Jack gets portrayed as an accident-prone man after tripping once and his attempt to fix this results in him being portrayed as an accident-prone gay man. Jenna starts fights with everyone to try to get on camera, but Pete finds a way to turn this on her. And Liz is apparently so unimportant in Angie's world that her byline reads "Liz, Another Person".
    • It was followed be a sequel episode, "Queen of Jordan 2: Mystery of the Phantom Pooper".
  • The Practice has an episode where a documentary crew follows the firm as they try to commute the death sentence of a client. They fail.
  • The From the Earth to the Moon episode dealing with the Apollo 7 flight, "We Have Cleared the Tower", follows a film crew making a documentary about the mission.
  • The Grey's Anatomy episode "These Arms of Mine" is presented as the finished product of a film crew documenting the doctors' recovery several weeks after the season six finale's hospital shooting.
  • The Sanctuary episode "Instinct" is filmed from the perspective of an ambitious weather girl and her cameraman, who've snuck into a warehouse to get the scoop on a mysterious animal attack which turns out to be the Monster of the Week being pursued by the Sanctuary team.
  • A two part episode of Hope And Faith was filmed as if the cast were members of the reality show Trading Spouses.
  • In the Leverage episode "The Office Job", the Leverage team's attempts to find out what sort of shady business a small greeting card company is really up to, is complicated by a crazy filmmaker shooting a documentary about the office at the same time. The episode is, of course, filmed as a documentary in the style of The Office. (Possibly the same documentary that was being filmed in the episode itself.)
  • Forever Knight did one with a vampire problem. One of Nick's vampire-power uses was caught on tape, and he had to get the tape before it was revealed. And the Enforcers were also out for the tape and Nick had to prevent a case of Killed to Uphold the Masquerade.
  • In the Castle episode Swan Song, a documentary-maker was filming a documentary about a band, when that band's lead singer is found dead in his trailer. The documentary shifts to being about solving the case - and the episode is that documentary.

Radio
  • The Adventures in Odyssey episode "It's a Wrap!", in which the KYDS Radio team follows Whit around on a fairly normal day in Odyssey.

Video Games
  • The Framing Story of the Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War single-player campaign is about an Osean journalist investigating the war ten years later. As such, it features frequent shots of (de-)classified documents and makeshift interviews, which range from orderly talks with respected professors, through visiting a wanted war criminal's hideout, to a session with a footsoldier in a ruined house in the middle of a war zone.
  • Saints Row IV began as a DLC pack for Saints Row The Third, "Enter the Dominatrix". Volition eventually released a DLC pack for SRIV showing a "director's cut" of "Enter the Dominatrix", with a few story-line missions from the game and a lot of in-character commentary from the President and his homies.

Western Animation
  • South Park episodes "Crippled Summer" and "I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining", which are repectively parodies of Intervention and I Shouldn't Be Alive. The latter episode even had a dramatic reenactment (filmed in live action) for the third act of the episode.
  • The Simpsons episode "Behind the Laughter", a parody of VH1's Behind the Music. Though unlike most on this page, this episode was a behind-the-scenes documentary of the show itself rather than being about the characters.
    • Another Simpsons episode, "Springfield Up", spoofs Michael Apted's Up documentaries.
  • One episode of The Powerpuff Girls revolved around an young independent-film maker trying to catch the girls on film.
    Brian Larsen: I realize now that it's not about what makes the girls tick, it's about the fact that once again the day is saved, thanks to the Powerpuff Girls! Woo!
  • The episode "Krusty Krab Training Video" of Sponge Bob Square Pants was presented as an informational video for a new employee at the Krusty Krab restaurant.
  • An episode of Recess featured a child psychologist filming the kids, who later found out her film advised banning recess. The main characters reorganized the film to promote recess instead.
  • The Tick episode "Heroes" features a Cops- style Day In The Life documentary where the interviewer gets kidnapped, and needs to be rescued. And there's a discussion on the benefits of spandex.
  • The Animaniacs episode "Ten Short Films about Wakko Warner". It's exactly what it says.
  • The "Blackfoot and Slim" episode of Dexter's Laboratory is like a nature documentary.
  • One episode of Beavis And Butthead is a documentary about them and showing their anti-social behavior.
  • The Godzilla: The Series episode "S.C.A.L.E." takes advantage of the Intrepid Reporter Audrey Timmons and her cameraman that show up every so often. Most of the action is seen through Animal's camera and the security cams around Monster Island with one shot coming from the team's robot N.I.G.E.L.- before he's shot. Ironically, Audrey decides to burn the tape of the documentary after the Animal Wrongs Group leader tells them the two are Not So Different, meaning she, Nick and the audience are the only ones that see it.
  • The Duck Dodgers series finale: "Bonafide Hero: Captain Duck Dodgers"
  • Home Movies - on hiatus from making movies with his friends, Brendon makes a Behind the Music-style documentary of Duane's garage band SCÄB.
  • Futurama - the Nature Documentary spoof "Naturama", featuring animal versions of all the characters.
  • The Weekenders were asked to be filmed by a student for her documentary. They try to act like their favourite characters from a TV show thinking it'll make them appear more interesting. Naturally it doesn't work.
  • The Mike, Lu & Og episode "Alfred, Lord of the Jungle" is about a nature filmmaker shooting a documentary on the island.

Diet EpisodeEpisodesFairy Tale Episode
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alternative title(s): The Documentary
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