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Taught by Television
"In the Mushroom Kingdom
I'm the finest Doc by far
I got my degree by watching
House and Scrubs and ER"
Brentalfloss, "Dr. Mario With Lyrics"

Some people learn by staring at text. Some people learn through trial and error. And then there are those who just have to watch television...

A character who you wouldn't normally expect to be a source of knowledge reveals, often in excruciating detail, important facts that help your group achieve their aims. Perhaps he can identify lethal plants in the the wild, or can tell an odd symptom of disease that throws light on a murder mystery. Everyone's impressed, but skeptical of where he gained this new-found logic.

Easy: he saw it on Discovery Channel once.

A common way to add information to a scene, while letting the designated idiot play The Smart Guy for a change. Plus it delivers the important message that watching TV is good. It's not always documentaries, of course, and they can still make mistakes if they copy near realistic TV shows, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, when they aren't as realistic as they appear.

Naturally, this is Truth in Television, in more ways than one.

In the event that the character learned what they know from television through repeated viewings, see Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times.

Compare Suddenly Always Knew That, I Know Mortal Kombat, Some Day This Will Come In Handy.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comicbooks 
  • In Creature Tech, after Dr. Ong gets an alien symbiont attached to him, he falls asleep watching an old kung-fu film—while the symbiont stays awake for the entire thing. The next time Ong finds himself in a fight, the symbiont takes control of his body and uses the moves from the film to open a can of kung-fu whoopass.

    Fanfiction 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dude Wheres My Car: The pair is saved from the mad French Ostrich farmer because Chester saw a documentary on ostriches on Animal Planet. The question the farmer asked was a homage to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
    • Later, Chester's knowledge comes in handy again in the climax when they need to push a tiny button on the Continuum Transfunctioner. Remembering a documentary on how chimps use sticks as tools give him the idea to use a straw to push the button.
  • Perhaps a more literal example: Jim Carrey's character in The Cable Guy is a man whose mother was a prostitute who was never around to teach him anything, and as a result he learned everything he ever knew from television in general (and sitcoms in particular). The plot revolves his brutally extreme measures to keep his life working exactly as he thinks it should be, following literal TV Tropes, even at the expense of others' safety and privacy.
  • Oldboy.
    Dae-Su Oh: The TV is both a clock and a calendar. It's your school, your home, your church, your friend... and your lover. But... my lover's song is too short.
  • An inversion forms the basic plot of Galaxy Quest: aliens intercepted the broadcast signal for a really cheesy sci-fi TV show, thought it was real, and based their (actually real) military on this "documentary." Also played straight when the fans save the day with their knowledge of the show.
  • In Chocolate, an autistic girl has a Disability Superpower allowing her to flawlessly imitate any movements she observes. She becomes an invincible fighter from watching action films.
  • Splash: Madison learns to speak English after watching television for a whole day.
  • At multiple points in Big Trouble, one of the two FBI agents comes up with totally obscure information about the topic at hand. When everyone else in the scene looks at him in amazement, he shrugs and says either "Discovery Channel" or "Travel Channel". Justified because it was implied that the agents spent a lot of time in hotel rooms with nothing else to do except watch television.
  • Bullet Proof Monk: the sidekick learned martial arts by working at a theater and imitating the moves he watched in old kung fu flicks.
  • In Days Of Thunder, Cole Trickle admits to learning how to drive stock cars from TV.
    Harry Hogge: "What do you know about stock car racing?"
    Cole Trickle: "Well... watched it on television, of course."
    Harry Hogge: "You've seen it on television?"
    Cole Trickle: "ESPN. The coverage is excellent. You'd be surprised at how much you can pick up."
    Harry Hogge: "I'm sure I would."
  • In Explorers the aliens have learned English from watching Earth's television satellites.
  • In The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner studies Portuguese by watching the local version of Sesame Street with a Portuguese/English Dictionary in his lap, in addition to making a living working in Brazil.
    • This is fairly common for learners of a new language: children's shows and books are often designed to teach kids language skills and have simplified dialogue, making them good practice material for an adult beginner in the language.
  • In Lone Star State of Mind, Earl and Jimbo watch an action movie where the hero throws an object up and rushes his opponents when they look up. Later, they imitate this trick.
  • Thelma & Louise: "Where'd you learn to shoot like that?" "Oh, off the TV!"

    Literature 
  • Animorphs
    • There was a book where Rachel knows something about volcanoes. Everyone stares, and she explains that she saw an episode of The Magic School Bus. She was somewhat embarrassed about that.
    • And then there was the time Marco drove a tank... using his Playstation experience. And knew he could drive off a flatbed car onto the (raised) ground alongside the tracks because he saw it on the Discovery channel. Lampshaded by Tobias: "Ah. Video games and cable. How reassuring." To be fair, his skill at driving is about as good as you'd expect someone taught by video games to be.
    "Do you just hate trash cans?!"
  • In the Maximum Ride series, the first book explains how the protagonists can function normally in a human society after spending their childhood being treated like animals - to the point of sleeping in dog crates - by... saying that they watched a lot of TV in the two years since they escaped the laboratory where they were imprisoned. Uh, okay.
  • A rather hilarious Older Than Radio example in Frankenstein : The creature learns to speak English by sitting outside the tent of a Frenchman who's trying to teach English to his Arab-speaking girlfriend. By reading Paradise Lost.
  • In Petals On The Wind, the sequel to Flowers in the Attic, Cathy learns French from records while she's living and ballet-dancing in Paris.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Friends, Joey knew how to deal with a jellyfish sting (you pee on it) because he saw it on the Discovery Channel. This is an example of such information being wrong (whether on the part of Discovery Channel or Friends). Urine actually makes jellyfish stings worse.
  • Nick Stokes in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation complains that when Grissom talks about insects, he's a genius, but when Nick mentions an obscure fact about birds, everybody assumes he got it from the Discovery channel... even though Grissom is an entomologist while Nick really did get his information from TV.
  • In the House episode "Frozen", Kal Penn's character explains his knowledge of Antarctic ice-breaking equipment this way.
  • Scrubs
    • There was an episode where J.D. diagnosed a patient with Necrotizing Fasciitis based on a documentary he'd seen the night before. Cox mocked him, but he turned out to be right.
    • In another episode, Cox gets annoyed with the new interns for getting their information from House. See the Real Life section.
  • Subverted hilariously in the Cousin Skeeter TV movie New Kids on the Planet, where Skeeter tries to show of his "Kung Fu Skills" from watching tons of martial films to aliens. The aliens then pulled an Indiana Jones, and just shot near him. Skeeter surrenders immediately.
    • However, Bobby did manage to fly a NASA rocket ship thanks to a flight simulator video game.
  • In an episode of Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe rattled off some trivial knowledge about farm animals, then pointed to his temple and said "Discovery Channel." Clearly, even Discovery Channel hosts can learn from the Discovery Channel.
  • Keith Miller from EastEnders embodies this trope. This is a case of the actor adding a little of themselves to their character. David Spinx is well known to compete in Pub Quizzes at his local, so naturally his head will be filled with random knowledge.
  • In My Family, a Charity store owner identifies a highly valuable teddy bear because "we all watch Antiques road show".
  • In Masked Rider, Albee and Molly tell Dex to learn how to talk like a human from watching television- which he does all night. The trope ends up being subverted-Dex instead memorises tv commercials!
  • Rose on The Golden Girls stuns everyone by correctly answering a Trivial Pursuit question about Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." She explains that she learned it from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.
  • Ned the piemaker from Pushing Daisies is capable of competently fending off a skilled swordsman due to his childhood desire to be a Jedi.
  • A character on Heroes actually had this as her power — anything she saw on TV, she would instantly be able to do perfectly. For that matter, anything she saw, period. TV was just the easiest way to get relevant skill sets, since you don't see a lot of kung fu, parkour, and wrestling being practiced in the slums.
  • Sawyer from LOST claimed that anyone who watches TV knows how to improvise a slow fuse with a cigarette.
  • One episode of The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon threaten Howard with a throwing star (Shuriken), claiming he had learned how to use it from watching movies.
  • Castle explains he can speak Chinese because of a show he used to love.

    Video Games 
  • Travis Touchdown in No More Heroes learns new wrestling moves by watching old videos.
  • In World Mosaics 4 the main character went back to various time periods to acquire exhibits for the Atlantis museum. One of the diary entries concerning a totem pole stated that the villagers were pressing them to earn their keep and that it looked like all those years spent watching the Discovery Channel were finally about to pay off.
  • Milla of Tales of Xillia learned everything she knows about human interaction from books, and often applies it amusingly out of context. Such as noticing Jude (who she's known for maybe twenty minutes) feeling depressed and hugging him uninvited, something she learned from a book she didn't realize was about motherhood (although Jude does admit he feels a little better).

    Web Comics 
  • In Homestuck, Karkat's interest in romantic comedy films earns him some mockery from his friends, but also gives him insight into troll psychology and romance that none of his peers could match. When other trolls need advice regarding their love life, Karkat is almost invariably the one they go to.
  • Subverted in Melonpool: at one point the crew encounter a giant space amoeba. At first they relax, thinking Mayberry knows what to do, since he is a Star Trek fanatic and can simply do what the Enterprise crew did when they encountered such an amoeba in "The Immunity Syndrome". However, one of the comic's running gags is the fact that Mayberry has seen all episodes of the Original Series EXCEPT "the one with the giant space amoeba", and is eternally prevented from completing his education.
  • Ménage à 3 parodies the trope, and its spinoff Sticky Dilly Buns repeats and reinforces the parody; lead character Dillon gets some of his ideas about straight men and gay sex third-hand from Oprah. Misquoted Oprah, to be fair to her.
  • The Whiteboard: Sandy, who had no prior experience with paintballing, is shown repairing a marker at Doc's shop after months of reading the shop's e-mail, and says she figures she could probably build a whole nuclear reactor because of that experience.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Summer of 4-Foot-2", while on vacation Lisa pretends to be average since being brainy left her with no friends; when she accidentally mentions a scientific fact about hermit crabs around her new friends, she quickly passes is off by saying she heard it on Baywatch.
    • Bart hides from a Shelbyville gang in the tiger-handler area of the zoo (It Makes Sense in Context) and finds a note that the only way out (i.e. without any tigers) is door number 7, only the doors are labeled with roman numerals, which Bart doesn't know. Until he remembers the Rocky sequels and pieces it together just in time. The real joke there, though, was that they had studied roman numerals in his class, that same day (a.k.a. earlier in the episode), but he didn't pay attention.
    • Doctor Nick Riviera, Springfield's leading quack, tries to perform open heart surgery on Homer guided by a videotaped tv show. Of course, something went wrong when setting the recorder...
    • Bart was once caught shoplifting and Homer was disappointed Bart wouldn't have known better after watching Police Academy movies.
  • Futurama
    • In one episode, the shrunken-down cast flies through Fry's nose. Dr. Zoidberg points out a nasal capillary they can fly through, and Hermes asks how he knew about that, as Zoidberg generally knows nothing of human anatomy. Zoidberg mentions his medical training, but admits that this he learned from a commercial for allergy medicine.
    • Fry has several moments where he tries to solve problems that he watched on TV. He tries to figure out how to fake being the boyfriend of Amy and Leela at the same time by watching Three's Company and uses TV clichés in the reenactment of the last episode of Single Female Lawyer to prevent Aliens from destroying mankind because they couldn't watch said episode.
  • A variation of this is used in Duck Dodgers, "The Queen is Wild", wherein Dodgers claims to have "learned all [his] hard sciences from reading comic books". The scary thing: His idea worked.
  • During the episode "The Ci-Kat-A" on SWAT Kats, Razor seemed to know exactly what the alien bug monster was going to eat and where it was going to go. When T-Bone asked him how he knew all that stuff, Razor replied: "Horror movies, where else?"
  • Averted in a episode of Pinky and the Brain, where the Brain realizes too late that Pinky had the answer to a TV trivia question he needs to win a game show, after he has already knocked Pinky out for being annoying. Which is, of course, a reference to The Honeymooners.
    • Played straight in another episode where the two find themselves on an alien ship. Pinky knows how to pilot it due to it being identical to the one shown in "The Z-Files", which Brain had earlier berated Pinky for wasting time with.
  • On The Fairly Oddparents, Poof learns kung fu from television.
    • In the storybook Time Out!, Timmy is able to answer a teeth-themed riddle thanks to his favorite episode of a TV show he watches.
  • In American Dad!, Roger wants to become a police officer: "Do you know how many Police Academy movies I watched in preparation for this? NONE, because I knew it would only give me bad habits!"
    • When the Smiths are stranded in a desert. Stan uses their urine soaked clothing to wear on their heads because he saw it on Man vs. Wild. Shortly, their heads are freezing at night. Stan gets them to huddle together for warmth which he also saw on Man Vs Wild.
  • South Park: When Hell's Pass Hospital was understaffed, Chef was accepted as a replacement just because he once watched an episode of ER.
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, when Fred fakes an injury, the doctor diagnosing him has no idea what he's doing, admitting that he "saw a doctor do it on a TV show once."
    "I got to hurry now."
    "What is it, Doctor? An emergency?"
    "What emergency? I got to go home and watch TV."
  • In the first episode of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, April O'Neil is unsure about letting her new Turtle friends up to the surface with her. The Turtles assure her that they knew all about human culture. When April asks what they learned from, Michelangelo responds, "We watch a lot of TV." "We're in big trouble!" April moans.

    Real Life 
  • CPR was a fairly rare skill set and not commonly taught to the general public until emergency workers started seeing it being used in the 1970s by civilians (mostly wrong, but they had the basic concept) with no training. They'd seen it being used, and knew what it was for, on Emergency!
  • Medical students often learn a lot about diagnosing patients by watching House. To the show's credit, it raises awareness about rare conditions that are often under-diagnosed or missed by younger doctors who have no personal experience with that particular condition. The show has also helped raise Lupus awareness, which is good news for Lupus patients in general. The form of diagnosis that House employs is sound. Med students would learn to watch for little details, not to take everything a patient says at face value, and to consider symptoms that might not be seen as symptoms. All of this is a good thing if it helps prevent someone from being misdiagnosed.
    • Although some doctors blame the show (along with others like Grey's Anatomy) for making new doctors immediately jump to obscure and deadly diseases before ruling out the more obvious options first and spooking the patients. But a few good snarks from the attending doctor usually takes care of that.
      • What they forget about House is that he specializes in rare and unusual diagnostics, so for him to even see the patient means that the obvious and most likely have already been eliminated as options.
  • One teaching doctor would record episodes of Casualty, label them by injury and use the make-up work to show his students what the injuries looked like.
  • Ken Jennings, who won 75 games of Jeopardy! in 2004, admitted on Television Without Pity that he'd correctly answered a question about the Olmecs thanks to an episode of The Simpsons.
  • A mother reportedly saved herself and her son after their car dove into the drink by following the advice she saw on Mythbusters. As of the "Turning Turtle" revisit, Adam has mentioned at least four people who've contacted the Mythbusters to credit that same episode with helping them in similar circumstances.
  • An 8-year old kid saved his 5-year old neighbor from drowning in a nearby lake using lifeguard swimming moves he saw on an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.
  • From 1989 to 1996, Rescue 911 was responsible for having many lives saved by people who saw the show. In fact, the show aired two episodes, called "100 Lives Saved" and "200 Lives Saved," showcasing stories of people who saved lives thanks to what they saw on Rescue 911.
  • Episode 5 of Season 6 of Canada's Worst Driver had a guest appearance by a viewer who escaped a dangerous situation using the Swerve-and-Avoid technique taught on the show.
  • On at least one occasion, a elementary-school child has saved a friend by using the Heimlich Maneuver. Which they learned, it should be noted, by watching The Simpsons.
  • This is supposed to be the purpose of Baby Einstein videos. Although, at least one study showed that they had the opposite effect.
    • In the case of babies, this is thought to be because at that age, babies learn much more by exploring their environments, developing motor skill, spatial awareness, emotional awareness (from interacting with others as opposed to staring at a TV screen) figuring out what things feel, smell and taste like, and so on. For a baby, there's far more to be learned just playing with you in the living room than any video can teach. When they get that stuff figured out, then TV can potentially contribute.
  • Beginning in the Nineties, school systems in America began to really tighten in on Math and Sciences, usually coming at the expense of other subjects. For a lot of kids, their only really in depth knowledge of History, Geography, and the arts likely came from an Edutainment Show such as Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? or Young Indiana Jones.
  • It's very common for people to learn a foreign language by watching television.
  • For Sesame Street and shows like it, this is the Raison d'être: educating young children through public television.
  • The Mythbusters and their spiritual predecessor Bill Nye the Science Guy, along with similar shows, have probably succeeded in teaching the last 20-odd years' worth of young people more about science than 12 years (give or take) of school ever did.
  • Though sport programs like WWE and UFC have told the audience never to try the stunts at home due to the dangers and the people behind are trained, this rule does get discarded which can end in disaster or has no other options to escape danger.
  • In at least two recorded cases, thallium poisoning was diagnosed thanks to Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse.


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alternative title(s): Taught By TV
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