Series / Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction

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Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction? (usually shortened to simply Beyond Belief) was an anthology TV show that ran for four seasons on FOX from the years 1997-2002. Each episode featured five short stories that involved unbelievable coincidences or the paranormal, and viewers were challenged to judge which were Inspired by... real events and which were entirely fictional. The show was hosted by James Brolin for the first season and by Star Trek: The Next Generation alumnus Jonathan Frakes thereafter with Don LaFontaine as the announcer. (And yes, he does say "In a world.") Although some of the stories, even factual ones, were extremely far-fetched, it remains a cult favorite and a great source of nostalgia for anyone who watched it during its original run.

This series provides examples of:

  • All for Nothing: From the tale of "The Wealthy Widow". Dirk marries Cassie, the titular widow, because her deceased husband didn't trust banks and hid a chest full of money on their property and planned on finding it. Not only is Dirk killed by Cassie's husband's ghost tricking him into shooting blindly and making the chest fall on his head, Cassie had already found the chest. Unlike her husband, she trusted the bank and deposited all of it, meaning Dirk's plans were ruined before he even formed them.
  • Ambiguously Human: Due to the stories and their settings, tales featuring a mysterious character will leave it questionable if said character was a ghost, angel or some other entity who either rewards the good or punishes the bad.
  • Asshole Victim: If someone dies in these stories, chances are they deserved it. Stories like "Used Car Salesman" and "Anatole" are good examples.
  • Badass Normal: "Second Story Murder" is an interesting example, as it features a somewhat more normal event than suggest anything supernatural happened. Three circus performers do a human tower to murder their sister's abusive husband after he got away with her murder.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: "Creepy Comics", Kip Sherman, an offensive comic publisher, threatens to fire his artist, Izzy Wilson, for not making his comics scary enough. He demands Izzy make something to "scare him to death". Izzy commits suicide after Kip's harassment and comes back as a ghost to do just that.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Napoleon Bonaparte sat in The Hooded Chair before he lost at Waterloo.
  • Blessed with Suck: There was one story about a guy who could kill people by painting their portrait. He tried to make it at least somewhat useful by only painting portraits of patrons who were either in great suffering or very near death. Until he learned his last subject was a perfectly healthy young woman who was depressed after her boyfriend left her, which he did not know. He then paints his own portrait and kills himself.
  • Broken Aesop: So the moral of "Couch Potato" is to... love your TV as if it were a real person?
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The prisoner in "The Escape".
  • Cassandra Truth: Naturally, nobody believes the main child from "The Kid in the Closet" over his titular closet having a monster in it.
  • Changed My Jumper: "Ghost Town": A photographer wearing a T-shirt, khaki shorts, and boots finds himself in the Wild West, 1848. The locals harass him and ask why he's walking around in his underpants.
  • Crazy-Prepared: A security guard teaches himself to use telekinesis just in case of a robbery during "The Perfect Record", and it works.
  • Dan Browned:
    • One episode presents the "Bride-to-be steals wedding gown from corpse, dies from toxic embalming fluid soaking into her skin" story, an urban legend dating back over half a century, as fact.
    • There was another one about a woman's mother disappearing from a hospital room. According to Snopes, its centuries-old, but again Beyond Belief presented it as fact.
  • Death by Materialism: One segment revolves around a crooked accountant who had a Voodoo curse placed upon him by an angry (former) client. To hide some of the money he's not reporting to his clients (or the government) he installs a wall safe to keep it hidden from view, but would keep it open when he was alone, because of the money's mysterious green aura. Suddenly he starts loosing his hair in clumps, and even teeth, because by installing his wall safe, he stripped the wall's lead shielding that protected him from X-ray lab next door, and he died from radiation poisoning.
  • Dies Wide Open: The hairdresser from "The Ring".
  • Downer Ending: A good many, such as "The Wrestler", "Blind Man's Dog", "Bon Voyage", etc.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: A couple of the stories during the first season were simply narrated by James Brolin like a campfire tale instead of being filmed for us to see ourselves. Perhaps this was due a lack of budget.
  • Every Episode Ending: Jonathan Frakes always delivered a pun at the end of every story with a grin, which always related to the story's theme or content. The only time he didn't do this was in the case of a woman and her daughter being reunited with the woman's long-lost mother, a Holocaust survivor.
  • Evil Old Folks: Alan Young and Marjorie Lovett in "The Diner" that own a diner who kill homeless people by poison, accidentally killing their son believed to been killed during war.
  • Gainax Ending: "Town Of Remembrance", "Room 245", and "Anatole" spring to mind.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "For the Record", a man tells his girlfriend, "You're definitely a girl, I can vouch for that."
  • The Grim Reaper: "Halloween" has a mysterious stranger dressed in a Grim Reaper costume, terrorizing the main character on Halloween night.
  • Guardian Angel: A pretty common trope in these stories.
    • The most obvious story would be "The Guardian", where a teenager is threatened by two hoodlums with a knife before a man named Big Al stops them and lets the main character go. When the main character returns to thank him, Big Al claims he never saved him and his work records prove that he wasn't there. The story suggests that perhaps a guardian angel taking Big Al's shape was sent to protect him.
    • "The Prescription" had a pharmacy with a grandson and grandfather team. A prescription for a customer that the grandfather tacked on the board vanishes and the grandson tries to find it to no avail. The grandfather calls the doctor and discovers that the prescription called for 1 milligram and not 10 milligrams as the note said. After it's corrected, the note reappears on the board. Although not stated in the story, Frakes suggests that an angelic spirit could have caused this phenomenon.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The story of "The Weatherman", the titular weatherman named Brent Phillie is a rude jerk with a massive ego, but there are two points where he's actually in the right to defend himself. He's told he's going to lose his job because viewers find his weather reports repetitive, he states that he just reports the weather, not change it. A woman harasses him because her father died of a heart attack while weatherproofing their home from a tornado he makes up and while Brent is unsympathetic to her, he also points out he didn't cause the man's heart attack or tell him to weatherproof their home.
  • Kick the Dog: Anyone who exhibits any meanness will surely get what's coming to them. In contrast, sympathetic protagonists usually receive a happy ending.
  • Killer Cop: The protagonist of one story is a cop who discovers that he killed a young woman while sleepwalking. He is completely unaware of this until he compares the bullet found at the scene to one in his gun.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Most stories will end with a segment where the host, either Brolin or Frakes, suggesting there might have been some logic explanation to the supernatural events that occur. Although sometimes, the host will point out one situation that doesn't seem to have a real world solution.
  • Mistaken for Pregnant: In "Morning Sickness", a girl named Marissa seems to have symptoms of pregnancy, but states she's still a virgin. The doctors say she has a cyst in her intestines. During surgery, they discover a baby octopus. Frakes has to tell the audience at the end, just to be clear, Marissa didn't give birth to an octopus.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The end of "Mirror of Truth" where the protagonist looks in the mirror to see her hideously deformed face, but when the mirror is set down, her face actually looks fine. The curse she may have only shows her inner beauty or lack thereof.
  • Mercy Kill: The elderly couple's "master plan" from the segment "the Diner" is based on the belief that they are doing the local homeless population a favor by killing them so they don't have to continue living on the street anymore.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: The couple from "The Diner" justify their awful murders of homeless people by thinking it will end their suffering.
    • Numerous other entries also revolve around either the consequences of a character enforcing this this trope, or end with this trope.
  • Mugging the Monster: There was one story called "The Gathering" where a guy tries to rob a bunch of little old ladies playing cards... who turn out to be a coven of evil witches.
  • Never My Fault: "Used Car Salesman": Sonny Rhodes, a swindling car salesman who rips off customers, sells a van with broken brakes to a group of musicians, who die on their way to Vegas for a show. He denies any responsibility selling a car he knew wasn't safe, stating that the guy was in a hurry, saying this is fate's doing. Guess what happens to him? It involves cars coming to life and Sonny never ripping off another customer again.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The recently deceased hero of the segment, "Where Have All The Heroes Gone" is a western actor named Lash Connors. However, several details about his life, IE a death by gunshot ruled suicide but believed by many to be murder, the fact that he died right before slated to make a comeback in a new TV show, and that he played a beloved character that stood for justice, seem to indicate that he was actually based on George Reeves, who reportedly does still haunt the house where he died. Not unlike Lash, his spirit has also been seen in full costume. Since the segment was labeled true, it would indicate that the real story was about Reeves and the writers tweaked the details to avoid any legal issues.
  • Offing the Offspring: At the end of "the Diner," it's revealed that one of the elderly couple's homeless "master plan" victim was their son, who the husband believed to have been killed in Vietnam.
  • Parental Abandonment: "The Caller" features a radio talk show host who frequently insults his viewers being harassed by the titular caller, who appears to be the son he abandoned. Said son died last summer.
  • Pet the Dog: "Mysterious Strangers" which has Frank and Jesse James helping out an old woman pay her mortgage. Also may double as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
  • The Reveal: Many of the stories that have a supernatural element will end with a variation of "Oh my god, I just talked to someone who looks just like the deceased person before us now," there "lucky you saw/heard what you did when you did, even if no else did, or you may have gotten injured/killed by the disaster that left so many casualties."
  • Shout-Out: In one episode, a character is reading aloud from a Goosebumps book.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: The main character from "Mirror of Truth" actually tells her hairdresser that her looks have always been a handicap because "no-one has ever truly appreciated her."
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: In the "Kid in the Closet" episode, the bullying sibling of a child who is terrified of a monster in his closet lets himself get locked in the closet in order to show his friends what a baby his brother was being, and when they open it up, he was gone, leaving just a pile of clothes behind. It turned out to be a Fact. According to Word of God from the man who collected the true stories though, in Real Life it turned out the child had escaped through a hidden panel and was found living in his friend's attic two weeks later.
  • Twin Telepathy: A set of identical twins (both played by Jewel Staite) were able to sense the other's pain, and one was able to use this sense to save the other's life when she was in a serious car accident.
  • Urban Legends: A number of stories are based on popular urban legends, such as "killer in the backseat" and "the vanishing hitchhiker". The show shares several stories with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, another compendium of urban legends.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The show's premise. When a story is revealed to be "true", we are seldom told anything more than something like "according to our research, yes, a similar event did happen," so frankly, any of the stories could be true given how liberal of a definition of "similar" they used. The host would sometimes provide some vague information as to the location or time period in which the event supposedly occurred, such as "in the New York area in the 1950s," but they often they didn't even bother with that, usually just stating something along the lines of "according to our research, yes, it happened" while providing no further information.
    • The show would often cite author Robert Tralins as a reference for many of the FACT stories.
    • One of the better segments, "Titan", subverts this trope. The story was about a guy who wrote a book detailing the events of a ship called the ''Titan'' crashing and sinking due to an iceberg fourteen years before the actual Titanic sank. The actual book, which is available through Amazon, more or less is eerily similar to the events of Titanic.
  • Wrong Guy First: A story has a young woman going to a match-making service. The elderly woman running the business has a son who she feels the woman may be interested in, but she ends up with a seemingly charming man, who one day as they're out driving and ostensibly run into some car trouble, decides to rape and murder her. After attempting to flee from him on foot, he catches up with her, only for the son to almost materialize out of nowhere, find them and fight off the attacker. They end up together after that.

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