In movies and TV, the primary method for showing that something has become the
news item of the moment is to have somebody flick through the channels on TV and find that every single channel is covering the same story simultaneously. To make things more convenient, sometimes every time they switch channels they find a new aspect of the story being covered, so that this random succession of sound bites adds up to a fairly cohesive television article.
For example, Bob the jewel thief watches the news triumphantly:
Reporter: "Russian Police are baffled after the mysterious disappearance of the Hungarian crown jewels."
Bob switches channels.
New reporter: "The jewels, on loan to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, were supposedly protected by a five-million-ruble security system."
Bob switches again.
Yet another reporter: "However, at nine o'clock this morning, museum curator Dmitri Chukraj was alarmed to discover that the entire display had somehow been replaced with some Reese's Pieces and a rubber chicken."
And so forth. It's sometimes parodied by having him turn to a channel that normally wouldn't have the news - a cartoon channel, or MTV
- and yet it's still talking about it. Another common gag is to have the different reports literally Finishing Each Other's Sentences
or answering each other's questions
. Expect a news-phobic Apathetic Citizen
to stop flipping immediately if they do manage to find anything else on.
Makes varying degrees of sense; when the story is about, say, a nuclear threat on the White House, you'd expect nothing less. But when it's something like a chimp loose on the freeway, it starts to get dubious. And even if it is important, flipping through channels never gives repeat information, even though it's highly unlikely that each broadcast started at the exact same time and covered all the points in the exact same order. Plus eventually you have to get to some shopping channel or college/school billboard or public access channel which would never break their format (or even have the ability) to report anything at all. Nevermind the fact that the various news channels are watching each other's broadcasts, and therefore information on breaking developments doesn't stay exclusive for long.
This trope has for all intents and purposes replaced the Spinning Paper
montage, which in movies of the thirties, forties and fifties was used to this effect by having the story appear as the front page of every major newspaper.
See also Coincidental Broadcast
, Worst News Judgment Ever
, or Your Television Hates You
for the non-news version. See Do Not Adjust Your Set
if some interloper is replacing normal broadcasts with its message. The basic idea is Truth in Television
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Anime and Manga
- Justified in Black Cat, after the Big Bad kills more or less every major world leader in one day. No one is talking about anything else, obviously.
- The third part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has an interesting variant that combines this trope with Coincidental Broadcast. Joseph's stand gives him a clairvoyant ability when used in conjunction with certain objects: when he uses this on a television, the channel begins flipping rapidly, and the resultant melding of words from different speakers ends up spelling out a new message that gives the information he wants.
- While not an exact montage, in Watchmen, Ozymandias sees the effect of a disaster by watching multiple news channels simultaneously and getting the message that has been sent.
- Same thing in Kingdom Come, with Superman watching multiple reports of the Kansas disaster in the Fortress of Solitude.
- Sent up in Shaun of the Dead. Mildly subverted in that only every other channel was showing the news and covering the story, while the other channels conveniently filled in the blanks in the sentences with unrelated statements. Eg:
Channel 4 News Anchor: Though no one official is prepared to comment, religious groups are calling it Judgement Day. There's...
ITV News Anchor: ...as an increasing number of reports of...
Football Commentator: ...serious attacks on...
Channel Five News Anchor: ...people, who are literally being...
Narrator of a Wildlife Documentary: ...eaten alive.
- A much creepier variation occurs later in Shaun of the Dead: the characters turn on a TV to find out the news, and every single channel is only showing a Technical Difficulties card.
- At the end of the film, the same sort of montage selects various programmes showing the uses tamed zombies are put to once the apocalypse wears off. The Sky News anchor is shown giving his horrified reaction to breaking the news and telling people what to do if attacked by zombies.
- Several times in Scream (1996)
- The trope appears in Speed, when Dennis Hopper's character is watching several news channels at once, all covering the runaway bus. He muses, after detonating a secondary bomb and watching the reactions, "Interactive TV, Jack! The wave of the future, eh?"
- Also done in The People Vs Larry Flynt. Flynt, with multiple TVs, turns them all on to different channels, and when he finds out they're all focused on what's going on at his house, lets out a war whoop of joy.
- Another based-on-fact film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, has this when he is suffering his infamous octuple heart attack in Los Angeles in 1964; back in England his mother is delighted to find out that he is sufficiently famous that there are reports on his condition on both the BBC and ITV at once.
- Cars has a montage covering Lightning McQueen's disappearance, including a tiny Kei car with huge anime-esque eyes jabbering in Japanese, and an appearance by "Jay Limo".
- Crocodile Dundee 3 has this straight up. Mick is on the freeway when he spots a "cat" next to the road. He stops to pick it up, causing traffic to stop. Then people start speculating what is happening, until someone misunderstands and thinks its a bomb. The police and bomb squad show up, only to find Mick carrying a skunk towards them. When he gets home, he turns on the TV to find himself the news. Desperately trying to hide his guilt, he turns half a dozen TV channels, all covering this same story. Finally, he turns off the TV, exclaiming nothing good is on.
- In Ben Elton's book Popcorn, a set of serial killers reveal to their hostages that their situation is on every channel on TV. Except for one channel showing The Simpsons, which is seamlessly dropped in.
Live Action TV
- This happens frequently on the new Doctor Who series. During episodes where aliens or creatures attempt to invade Earth, fictional news broadcasts (usually BBC News) will be shown explaining the situation and worldwide reaction to the event. In the episode "Army of Ghosts", the Doctor is shown at one point flipping through TV channels, which are all devoted in some way to the regular appearances of the ghosts — not just on the news, but on talk shows, T-shirts, and even Eastenders. Similarly, in "Aliens of London", the crashed spaceship is the hot topic on all news channels, and also Blue Peter (which is showing kids how to make a model of it). This happened as recently as the episode "The Sontaran Strategem".
- Subverted in the episode "The Sound of Drums", where Mr Saxon flicks through various channels reporting on the upcoming First Contact, before finally settling down to watch Teletubbies.
- Played for laughs in Saturday Night Live, in a skit where Bill Clinton, in bed with Hillary, tries desperately to find a news channel that is not discussing his sex scandal. No hope for him though, as even the weather report manages to weasel it in.
- Used in the pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where every news channel is covering the show's producer's outburst on live TV about the crappy state of today's television landscape. It actually uses this to mock the quick formation of memes as every single reporter independently latches onto an analogy to the famous "I'm mad as hell" scene from Network.
- Inverted in the British comedy Broken News, which is based on someone supposedly flipping between 24-hour news channels, all of which are showing different stories, and the amusement comes from the start of one story feeding into a different one as the channel is changed.
- Subverted in Being Human: Cutler tries to do this to show the elder vampires how the world is scared about werewolves. Sadly for him, it's been covered up, leading to flipping through a variety of unrelated TV shows to his annoyance and frustration.
- In a FoxTrot comic from the mid-1990s, every channel is covering the O. J. Simpson trial, except for one that briefly diverts to mention a UFO landing on the White House lawn.
- In the strip from the day of the 1992 election, Jason is watching TV and every channel is about to say who the winner of the election is. Jason panics and keeps flipping until he finds a channel showing an episode of Star Trek, and breathes a sigh of relief.
- In Starcraft II, this is the method Matt Horner uses to bring Jim Raynor up to speed on the Zerg invasion. Of course, when you have an event like this where billions of people are being killed, it ought to be on every station. The flipping itself is justified in at least one case, where a sudden explosion kills the news crew and cuts off the signal.
- This brilliant promo for a Bob Dylan compilation lets you flip through 16 channels at your leisure, from news to reality TV to fake movies, and on every show the performers are simultaneously miming along to "Like A Rolling Stone".
- Was sent up in The Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man", where the channel breaks occur every syllable: "Ev"-"er"-"y"-"one"-"is"-"tal"-"king"-"a"-"bout"-"Ra"-"di"-"o"-"act"-"ive"-"man"-"y'all."
- Used also in "Homer Bad Man" where, inexplicably, Homer allegedly touching a babysitter's butt is national news on every channel and Movie Of The Week fodder. You know things are bad when even Channel Ocho is having a field day at your expense.
- A version of this was seen on The Weekenders, where Tish, angry that her friends have started using her name as a slang word, flips through the channels and discovers that every channel has some reference to "Tishing". (An advertiser is heard to say "It's Tishtastic!")
- Garfield and Friends had an episode where Jon was trying to watch TV, and every single channel was showing the movie Kung Fu Creatures On The Rampage 2.
- The Powerpuff Girls Movie: While walking home from school, the titular girls stop in front of an electronics store and see several TVs, each on a different channel but all covering similar stories about them destroying Townsville. Shortly after they walk away, every TV switches to the same emergency broadcast of Professor Utonium being thrown in jail.
- Events such as the 1991 Gulf War, the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the transit bombings in London, England on July 7th, 2005, or the OJ Simpson trial - just try finding a channel that isn't covering it, and for hours on end at that.
- The July 7th bomb attacks on the London Underground (and one bus) provided an especially evocative example: Matrix signs over the motorways heading into the city simply stated, "PULL OVER. TURN ON RADIO".
- In fact, the afternoon after the 9/11 attacks, parents were warned not to let their children watch TV because of how widespread the coverage was. To be fair, this was back when the major networks used to actually have children's programming blocks on weekday afternoons (and of course, much of PBS's normal daytime programming is comprised of educational, children's programming of the likes of Sesame Street and Barney & Friends - as described under No-Hoper Repeat, most of PBS' affiliates switched to 24/7 kids' shows for the week after the attacks).
- The same goes for a Presidential address (shown live) in the US.
- Also watch in your own city in the event of severe weather. You'll notice every local station with a newscast in your city broadcasting continuous information about the ongoing tornado, hurricane, etc...
- In a few rare cases, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, it can be a national story as well.
- Also played straight after the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013: all of Boston's major network affiliates preempted a large amount of programming to provide local coverage of the aftermath. It went even further during the manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, when the networks offered national coverage throughout the day, including the final moments of the manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (which conveniently took place in primetime).
- It also had side effects in Canada, as several television providers (particularly Bell) source their U.S. east coast network feeds from Boston (some providers alternatively use Buffalo, Detroit, and/or Rochester instead)—but rights to 75% of U.S. network shows are also held by Canadian networks, and they will typically play along with U.S. preemptions to ensure they can get the valuable "simsubs" that keep them afloat.
- There are plenty of less-than-important stories that get wall-to-wall coverage as well. In fact, less-than-important stories seem to get more wall-to-wall coverage than important ones.
- This came with the rise of round-the-clock news coverage. They have hours of news to fill, so they tend to repeat themselves quite a bit. Shows with sensationalist leanings, such as Nancy Grace, are even worse; that woman can get a solid six month's worth of shows out of one news event.
- Supposedly, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal literally took up about 1.5 times as much screen time as every other news story combined when it was the big story.
- Michael Jackson's death has become a "too true" example of a single story dominating several stations at once, and far beyond the expected 24-Hour News Networks. The night of his death, NBC, ABC, and CBS scrapped most of their prime time schedules for tribute shows/news coverage. (Fox stuck with a So You Think You Can Dance live show, but there was a tribute to him at the top of the program. A few days later, Fox aired a rerun of an American Idol episode from the past season that was themed around Michael Jackson songs.) Music video channels, even Network Decay victims like MTV, flooded the airwaves with loops of his videos. All in all, the coverage of his death, memorial service, etc. took up almost a month of round the clock coverage, even ignoring major global events like the revolts in Iran and a coup in Latin America.
- The deaths of Princess Diana and most recently Robin Williams also come to mind.
- At least in the United States, there will always be some channels which probably wouldn't change their programming even at The End of the World as We Know It. The Cartoon Network is going to show their cartoons, the Food Channel is going to be baking a cake, and Sesame Street is going to sing a song about sharing. That said, if something really serious goes down, the Emergency Alert System would take over all the TVs. That said, the 9/11 attacks proved a rare exception; the coverage was so widespread in fact, that a lot of the kids' networks such as CN deliberately didn't change their schedules so kids would have something safe to watch. Meanwhile, the Food Network broadcast a memorial graphic and nothing else. The attacks didn't alter the Street, but a storyline was aired about a fire at Hooper's Store about a year afterward. (Arthur had a similar storyline.) A lot of networks (especially networks that broadcast nothing but pre-recorded shows) were operated completely automatically back then. The only person on site might have been a lone security guard. It never occurred to the owners that there could be a national emergency serious enough to affect broadcasting but not serious enough for broadcasting not to matter. Nowadays most networks have at least one operator on duty in Master Control whenever they're on air for this exact reason.
- Speaking of emergency broadcasting, while a national emergency such as September 11 was the kind of event — short of a nuclear war — that the Emergency Alert/Broadcast System was created for, the EAS administrators decided not to issue an Emergency Action Alert (which would have compelled all broadcasters to transmit important news and information on the emergency at the demand of the government) because they quickly realized they would be redundant and counter-productive — the broadcast networks and nearly every TV station of any type (as mentioned above, barring some kids' channels) had all already shifted to a round-the clock coverage of the attacks, and the EAS system could only carry audio simulcast from a radio station (thus, making it easier for the President to speak directly to the media instead)
- Anything to do with the Pope is serious business due to their international prominence as leader of the Catholic faith, and anything significant that happens to the Pope—especially if they step down (Pope Benedict XVI) or die (Pope John Paul II), gets coverage everywhere. If the Pope dies, every channel will cover the reaction and the funeral. Then the news channels begin to hype up the conclave by profiling every papal candidate, putting up a picture-in-picture cam of the smoke stack on the Sistine Chapel, and debate over what color the smoke is. When the decision is made, every network promptly drops everything.