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Shown Their Work: Live-Action TV

  • Adam-12: Produced by Jack Webb's company, depicted police procedures so accurately that episodes were used as instructional films in police academies.
  • Air Crash Investigation: In the episode "Deadly Crossroads," which documented the mid-air collision between a Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev Tu-254 and a DHL Boeing 757 over Uberlingen, Gemany in 2002, the Bashkirian pilots are shown looking toward their right side for the DHL, which is actually approaching from the left. In the uncensored version (you can see it in the censored version too, it's just less clear), it is clearly seen that all the heads in the cockpit turn when a flight crew member yells "There on the left!" The reason for this (which wasn't said in the episode) was that controller Peter Nielsen had actually reported the position of the DHL mistakenly at the Bashkirian's 2 o'clock position when in reality it was at their 10 o'clock. It was probably omitted to keep the sympathy level for Nielsen higher among the viewers ,as if him getting murdered by Vitaly Kaloyev, who was hailed as a hero in his hometown, wasn't enough.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Being a show about three extremely nerdy scientists (and an engineer), pays unusual amounts of attention to getting scientific jargon and such correct. All of the equations seen in the background are accurate and scientifically provable and written up by a professor of physics and astronomy who makes sure everything's scientifically accutate.
  • The Bill: Early episodes were extremely accurate in their depiction of the various aspects of police work. One in particular, featuring by-the-book DS Alistair Greig questioning a local hard case with a reputation for being uncrackable and getting him to crack without a threat or a harsh word spoken, was so accurate with regard to suspect questioning techniques that for many years it was used to teach them.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie: This show was very good about being accurate about details in even the most absurd sketches, for instance, Laurie walks into a model shop in the "Dalliard/Models" sketch and asks for a Messerschmitt 109E, whereupon the clerk hands him... a fully assembled 109E. In the same episode, Fry begins to complain about the show Top Gear trying to be funny, while you never see comedy shows reviewing Nissan Micras, whereupon Laurie immediately gets up and begins reviewing a Nissan Micra parked in the studio, accurately listing the powertrain options and door layouts available. In the "Major Donaldson" sketch, Fry reads out Laurie's character's rank as "Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Freidrich von Stilch," which accurately reflects the rank on Laurie's collar tab. Also, Laurie wears the field-gray SS uniform, correct as the black Allgemaine uniform had been phased out in 1939.
  • Blue Heelers: Does this to an impressive degree, from procedure in the event of a shooting to the actors playing the role of an officer go through the academy.
  • Boardwalk Empire: Does a painstaking job of accurately recreating the look of 1920's Atlantic City with the sets and costumes designed to reflect the time period. The creators have also done thorough research on their subjects and make sure that the personalities seen onscreen reflect the ones in real life, most notably with Arnold Rothstein. Many of the automobiles used on the show are actually vintage 1920 cars that were bought and restored for use on the show.
    • On the audio commentary for the DVD set, writer Terence Winter recalls how during the filming of the first episode he had to ask Martin Scorsese to reshoot a scene because one of the male characters was wearing a cap in a room full of women. In the 1920s a man who entered a room with women present would take off his cap.
  • Breaking Bad: Pays careful attention to the authenticity of its Albuquerque setting, often to the level only a resident would notice. The geography is accurate, and the stores mentioned (save the fictional Los Pollos Hermanos) all exist in Albuquerque. In one good example, the 5th season opens inside a Denny's, then cuts to the exterior. Although the exterior shot never actually shows the Denny's, viewers familiar with the University area will recognize that it truly is in front of a Denny's.
    • You can tell the writers do tons of research on other things as well, for example the they got the differences between the zombies in Nazi zombies, Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead. The gun laws of New Mexico were shown accurately. Also, the "crawling along the ground in Mexico" was based on local folklore.
  • Burn Notice: Based its main character Michael Westen on the technical advisor for the show, retired espionage expert Michael Wilson. All the MacGyvering gadgets and explosives are accurate as can reasonably be (They aren't going to give all the ingredients and steps in making thermite on the show, 'cause everyone knows that one mixes rust and aluminum dust, the ratios are somewhat obscure though). And then when you get into items that might be outside Wilson's expertise they call in others. They consulted a radiology expert on how he could make a one-time use x-ray machine in the trunk of his car. Fans love that every explosion comes with a line that justifies it: they taped acetone to a gas tank so it actually would explode when you shoot it; Michael used incendiary ammo on barrels with inflammable water sealant, etc.
  • Call the Midwife: Has drawn critical praise for its attention to detail in building the world of the 1950s' East End, and for their accuracy during birthing scenes. The latter in particular are closely supervised by a trained midwife who actually worked with Jennifer Worth, the author of the memoirs the programme was based on.
  • Carnivāle: Demonstrates extensive knowledge of Tarot as well as biblical mythology, and the plot tends to hinge on obscure symbolism that the viewer is supposed to figure out themselves with little guidance.
  • Charmed: The auction house where Prue works is named Buckland's. Raymond Buckland is credited with introducing Wicca to North America.
  • The Closer: This show is a Police Procedural with a surprising number of accurate details. Established in the opening scene when the titular character, Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, insists on a separate search warrant for the garage as it is a "stand alone structure." She goes on to be careful about legal and procedural minutiae. Over the years, when her tactics slide into Cowboy Cop-y occasionally, she gets called out on it in a massive lawsuit—just like real life.
  • Criminal Minds: In one episode, the unsub thinks he is the Fisher King of Arthurian legend. In the story's climax, he demands that Spencer Reid (whom the unsub thinks is Sir Percival) "ask the question." Reid refuses, as doing so would deepen the unsub's belief in his delusions. The episode never mentions what question the unsub had in mind, but given that those interested in Arthurian tales know exactly what it was, it's evident that the writers did their mythology homework.
    • For the uninitiated, the question is "Whom does the Grail serve?" and the fact that Reid refuses to ask it takes the research one step further — in most renditions, Percival reaches the Fisher King but fails to ask the correct question.
    • The characters frequently cite cases of real-life serial killers by way of comparison with the caes they're investigating.
    • Generally speaking, any time Reid goes on a statistic- or fact-fueled ramble, it's the writers Showing Their Work. His eidetic memory is tied explicitly to things he reads, which leads to information dump recitations straight out of the research itself. This is lampshaded regularly.
  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Similarly, this show has a reputation for Hollywood Science, but in a snippet of CSI: New York a tech taking out a hard drive for evaluation was shown switching the jumper before putting it in the external enclosure, a small detail anyone not in the know would not likely catch. Especially surprising given the sad prevalence of Hollywood Hacking on the show.
    • Often the writers on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation do actually do the research and try to show it, but the compression required for a 40-minute episode makes it Hollywood Science anyway.
    • The sheer number of ways people have died in the CSI franchise makes this trope almost mandatory for the autopsy scenes, as the writers have to do a fair bit of research simply to come up with a cause of death we haven't seen before.
  • The Devil's Whore: This show is pretty good with these. It even features Prince Rupert of the Rhine's war poodle.
  • Doctor Who: After being refused permission to film in the London Underground, due to safety concerns, the production team had David Myerscough-Jones design sets for The Web of Fear based on photos of the Tube tunnels. The result was so good the BBC received legal threats from the London public transport authorities, who assumed they'd done a bit of illegal location filming.
  • Emergency!: Webb's other well-known production is also recognized for the attention to detail it gave to emergency medical response, firefighting, and hospital emergency rooms. Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe (Gage and DeSoto) had actually received paramedic training prior to filming. You can tell that in many of the scenes there's no script and they're simply doing what a paramedic would do in that situation, including reminding each other of things that have to be done or checked. The captain of the station in season one was an actual Los Angeles County Fire Department captain, Mike Stoker basically played himself (he was also an LA County firefighter), and the dispatcher was Sam Lanier, an actual dispatcher for the department.
  • Firefly: This show is one of the few Sci-Fi shows/movies that has no sound in space. This actually adds atmosphere to the show and does not lessen the action.
    • There's also a subversion. Jayne mentions his guns don't work in vacuum, and they have to rig it up so that Vera has atmosphere so they can shoot a space-borne trap. This is incorrect; most modern guns would work fine in vacuum, and doubly so in the future. However, they did consult a firearms expert, he was just wrong.
      • Even that is justifiable: Most gun lubricants will flash-freeze when exposed to vacuum, disabling the weapon.
  • Foyle's War: Creator Anthony Horowitz ensured that all the WWII period details in this show were thoroughly researched. Most episodes are inspired or directly based off actual people, events, or wartime organizations.
    • There is one scene when Foyle becomes suspicious of a secretive factory that's being presented as a munitions facility, but doesn't have any smokestacks and the employees appear to know more about carpentry than machinery. The maintainers of the factory eventually allow him in, revealing that they are making coffins. Thousands and thousands of coffins, knowing full well they'll be needed. Foyle and Sam are sworn to secrecy, as the knowledge would be damaging to public morale.
  • Freaks and Geeks: Does this perfectly with both the time period (early '80s) and the location (anyone from southeast Michigan will enjoy the references to Faygo and the Auto Show, and the frequent use of "pop").
  • Homicide: Life on the Street: This show is frequently praised as one of the more accurate portrayals of police work, with a good eye and ear for details and dialogue often found within the Baltimore Homicide Unit as well as the cases they worked and the chain of command in the police department. Similar to The Wire, many lines of dialogue are taken word for word from David Simon's book.
  • The IT Crowd: This show is ridiculously exaggerated slapstick. But the writers put in lots of little details and shout-outs that shows they Did The Research into what IT workers are actually like and into. As a result, actual IT workers love it.
    • A lot of the IT and general geekiness accuracy comes from the fact that writer Graham Linehan is One of Us and in one of the DVD commentaries pretty much says Moss is based on a younger him and Roy is based on him now.
  • JAG: The research and accuracy became better through the years the show was running, though inaccuracies could always be found. Having a Marine Corps veteran as its creator, executive producer, and show runner probably helped. Being Backed by the Pentagon probably helped a great deal too. They did sometimes cite real military case law.
    • It should be noted that none of the starring characters who are military lawyers became that without having prior military service: Harm started out as an aviator, Mac was an administrative officer, and Bud was from the beginning a public affairs officer. AJ started out as a Navy SEAL, served in The Vietnam War in that capacity, and was transferred later to surface warfare. Sturgis began his career as a submariner. This makes for interesting characters, as opposed to Mildly Military straight-out-of-law-school-graduates, as they can relate to and interact differently with the various communities in the Naval Services. This is not completely unrealistic as the Department of the Navy has a law degree program which allows officers in the Navy & Marine Corps to earn a law degree at an accredited law school on Uncle Sam’s dime, conditioned that they fulfill service obligation following graduation, which must be within three years. Suffice to say, this program is quite sought after and competitive to enter.
  • Law & Order: Despite a lot of script-kludging, when a case is cited on this show it's a real case, and usually on point. Whether the judge's ruling or the defense counter-point is realistic is another matter, but the show does cite real case law.
    • Over other shows supposed to take place in New York City, it is the most realistic in getting things like the geography of the city right, and the weather. The detectives correctly say, for example, that they will go "down" to Alphabet City, when they are in Central Park, and give directions by street coordinates that are real. It rains or is overcast for no plot-related reason. People buy food from street vendors and eat while they are walking. Mostly, this can be attributed to the fact that the show is not only set in New York City, but also shot in New York City.
    • In one episode involving a particle physics graduate student trying to kill his adviser, they got the particle physics right. The papers were realistic, the universities and funders were slightly changed names from the real ones. Although not mentioned explicitly, the case involved an experiment that failed to measure a pair-production decay chain rather than one involving bremstrahlung. The psychology and life styles of HEP physicists were also (disturbingly) accurate.
    • For its first few years, Law & Order was accurate in another way that was rare on television for the time: the police rarely even drew their weapons, much less fired them. True to life, most of their time was spent talking to people, doing research on the victims' backgrounds, and running down leads.
  • Leverage: Has an actual pickpocket as a consultant so that all of Parker's Five-Finger Discount maneuvers are pulled off as realistically subtle as possible—sometimes, it's not even clear that she's robbed someone until the scene is shown from her perspective in flashback. Sometimes it was not even clear to other people on the set. During one blocking run-through, the director asked the actress to repeat a scene, but "really do the lift this time." She responded by holding up the item, which she'd already stolen on the last run.
    • Said consultant played Parker's counterpart on Starke's team in "The Two Live Crew Job".
    • This self-described "honest thief" is also consulted when it comes to Sophie's mind games and grifting tricks. Even some of Hardison's techniques come from him. One of the show's creators recounted a time when he spoofed a phone call to his cell phone to look like it was coming from his mother. Word of God is that roughly 95% of the seemingly impossible things the characters do on the show are things the consultant has shown them in real life.
    • There is one episode-long subversion, however - Episode eight of the first season, "The Mile High Job." While the cons are just as accurate as any other episode, regarding the aviation industry, it's so wildly inaccurate that it gives one cause to wonder if the writers had ever been on a commercial aircraft, let alone consulted anyone within the industry.
  • Lie to Me: The show is based off of Paul Ekman's promising, but not-yet-complete, research. It doesn't acknowledge many of the shortcomings in the research (unlike Ekman himself), and doesn't have time to explain the intricacies of the findings, but the principles are quite sound. Anyone familiar with Paul Ekman's research will recognize things in this show lifted directly from the man's lectures and experiments.
    • The pilot, for example, used a clip of a microexpression on Kato Kaelin from the OJ Simpson trial — the exact same clip that Ekman has used in his own lectures.
    • Also, pictures of Tim Roth going through the Facial Action Coding System are mounted in Lightman's office.
  • Mad Men: Appears to take pride in this. Given that the show is about an advertising agency in the 1960s with scads of Product Placement using past ad campaigns, they are remarkably free of major errors. One notable example: An early episode (set in 1962) shows the secretarial pool all gushing over a new office machine: a Xerox photocopier. The episode noted the month, so with a little digging, you'll discover it's the right machine, at the right time and place. (How they got their hands on that specific ancient device is beyond us.)
    • They also showed their work with another minor background detail: Pete Campbell's mother is said to be a member of the Dyckman family that used to own a lot of land in Upper Manhattan. Not only did this family exist and own a lot of land in Upper Manhattan, there's a pretty major street named after them.
  • Monk: In-Universe example in the episode Mr. Monk Goes to a Wedding. After Monk had to take Natalie with him to a mud spa due to it becoming a crime scene from a body being discovered in one of the stalls, he also took a male stripper with him, having mistook him for an actual cop. When telling the cop of the situation via police terms, the stripper responded with "That bad, huh?", implying that the stripper in question knew enough about police terms to understand the situation (presumably to allow him to play the role of a cop as realistically as possible).
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: Owns this trope; as befits a show written by a group of Oxbridge graduates, it often parodies writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Marcel Proust, and frequently mentions philosophy. Even the Monty Python films show their workings; Holy Grail for example steers away from well-known legends such as the Sword in the Stone and concentrates on parodying lesser known Arthurian tales (for example Galahad's temptation in Castle Anthrax is based on actual legends of castles designed to cause knights to stray).
    • The fun also comes from their famous inversions of typical tropes like "Welsh miners are stupid" when they start talking about things like the 30 Years War and obscure classical architecture.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: The final episode has Mike and the bots watching television in an apartment in Milwaukee, WI. The TV announcer refers to the station as WTMJ channel 4. This is a real TV station in Milwaukee.
  • The Office: Often Utz brand potato chips and pretzel snacks can be seen in this show's breakroom vending machines. Utz is a Lancover, PA product widely distributed in the northeastern United States, and would indeed be seen in a Scranton, PA workplace.
    • Similarly, Sheetz coffee cups can regularly be seen by the office workers. Sheetz is a gas station/convenience store that is so common in Pennsylvania and several surrounding states that it borders on the point of absurdity.
    • Another commonly featured brand is Wegmans, a grocery store chain with 75 locations along the Mid Atlantic, including one in Scranton, PA.
    • The Office features many other Shout Outs to real products, people and places from the Scranton area as well. The Froggy101 sticker on the file cabinet next to Dwight's desk is a Scranton-area country music station: WGGY 101.3 FM
  • Portlandia: Aspects of the hipster culture of Portland, Oregon in this show are all amazingly accurate. The show even gets details of the culture, look and attitude of individual streets correct.
  • Revolution: Danny's asthma attack is treated with ephedrine, a pre-modern asthma medication that can be extracted from a weed indigenous to the greater Chicago area.
  • Robin of Sherwood: Somewhat surprisingly considering its blatant 'sword-and-sorcery' elements and occasional new age mysticism, the 1980s TV series version is by far one of the most accurate depictions of the European middle ages ever to appear in a popular culture context, right down to citing obscure historical events and studying genealogies of particular noble families. Furthermore, most of the elements of the Robin Hood legend that it depicts are well-grounded in (at times obscure) earlier literature.
  • Rome: Featured a rather odd case of this trope meeting Reality Is Unrealistic, at least according to the director's commentary. At least one reviewer took the time to complain about Atia's unrealistic bikini line, when apparently they'd gone to the trouble of finding out exactly how the Romans looked after that sort of thing. Apparently it involved sharp seashells....
  • Scrubs: Despite some of the more cartoony personalities that make up the staff of Sacred Heart Hospital, this show has been touted as being one of the most realistic portrayals of life as a medical intern compared to all the other medical shows on television. Not only do they have doctors on staff as medical advisers (including the "Real J.D."), but they frequently receive stories of odd medical instances from doctors that they then work into the show. People have gotten into medicine because of the show.
    • This is Wonderland is similarly accurate, though in a courtroom rather than a hospital. Lawyers, apparently, are traded around between courts, work multiple cases simultaneously, and have to deal with people even more unpleasant than the lawyers themselves.
    • Another example is WKRP in Cincinnati, in its depiction of the (pre-Clear Channel) radio-broadcast industry.
    Carlson: Just...how far in the future is this?!
    Ghost of Christmas Future: Not as far as you'd think...
    • And Barney Miller is often acknowledged as the most accurate cop show ever put on TV.
  • Southland: Gets a lot of praise for this with former police officers saying it is exactly what their job was like.
  • Stargate SG-1 and its spin-offs: Had this in spades because the producers cooperated closely with USAF. All scripts were checked for accuracy, military protocol were uphold, many of the extras were military personnel, two chiefs of staff appeared on the show, actual C-130 and F-15 planes were used, and the show was also shot on a former Soviet submarine and a real US Navy submarine in the Arctic.
    • The Mc Kay-Carter Gate Bridge joins the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies with 34 stargates. The distance between the two galaxies is 3 million light years. That means the gates are about 90 thousand light years apart which makes sense, since gates can dial anywhere within a galaxy and that is roughly the diameter of the Milky Way.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Other than the neural implant, all the Cold-Blooded Torture practices Gul Madred uses on Captain Picard in "Chain of Command: Part II" are taken directly from Amnesty International archives. Patrick Stewart, who is a strong supporter of Amnesty International, was pleased by this.
    • For the episode, "The First Duty," the trope is displayed in a more philosophical sense with it being screened for the US Air Force Academy to illustrate how its honor code is to be followed.
  • Supernatural: While it has created its own mythology, the writing staff started out researching actual folklore and urban legends. Some people claim that this is a case of poor research because "everything's wrong," but folklore and urban legends are usually spread orally, so the details of each story change depending on who's telling it, but the writers kept the core elements the same. This is especially evident in the early episodes of the first season.
    • Sometimes, the writers manage to Show Their Work on actual mythology by having the brothers dismiss the Real Life versions of the tales, claiming they're mistakes and/or disinformation.
  • The Thick of It: Displays a very extensive and realistic documentation of the inner workings of the offices of Whitehall, and has many fictional counterparts for real politicians. Politicians themselves have commented on the realism, noting that the only thing unrealistic about it is the show's infamous amount of profanity. In real life, it's worse.
    • The show's spiritual predecessor, Yes, Minister, was also equally realistic of its portrayal of Whitehall and Civil Service machinations, due to the fact that they actually had inside information and anecdotes from senior civil servants. A good example is the episode "The Moral Dimension", where the main plot point - smuggling in alcohol to a diplomatic conference in Qumran - is based on an actual event.
  • Underbelly: Based on the book series and newspaper article, actually worked with members of Task Force Purana to get the story right, except when it wasn't.
    • Also a minor case of sloppy research...the first series had things like Pure Blonde beer and Coke Zero, in 1995. A Tale of Two Cities got it much better.
  • The West Wing: This show by Aaron Sorkin (in its first few seasons anyway) was a surprisingly candid and realistic portrayal as the sorts of conflicts and obstacles any presidential administration must run into on a daily basis, no doubt due to the fact that former Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan were advisers to the show. Some episodes were based on one character having to teach another character (and, by extension, the audience) about certain aspects of the federal government (e.g. Sam teaching C.J. everything she needs to know about the U.S. Census).
    • Not without its errors, though.
    • The show actually got a lot more politically accurate after Sorkin left - in particular, the final couple of seasons consist of a VERY meticulous election cycle, with polling numbers and electoral college projections tracked with stunning accuracy. Sorkin didn't care much for the minutiae of elections, to the detriment of the first full campaign depicted on the show.
      • Though they did the entire run-up to a brokered Democratic Convention, without mentioning "super-delegates" even once.
      • It's generally accepted that in the West Wing-verse, Ford (having not actually been elected as Vice President) managed to push for a special election in November 1974, permanently altering the electoral calendar (hence the Santos/Vinick contest in 2006), and therefore the people leading the parties. Because of this, it's possible that the Hunt Commission, even if it formed with the same membership (or indeed at all), did not propose the creation of superdelegates.
  • The Wire: This show is known for its accurate portrayal of Baltimore, police procedure, slang, and based many of its characters on actual police and criminals of the Baltimore area. Furthermore, its portrayal of a newsroom has been touted as the most accurate ever shown on television. And this says nothing of its portrayal of politics, schools, and unions.
    • The fourth season in particular, it's most critically acclaimed season, is noted for a heartbreakingly honest and accurate portrayal of inner city schools and how difficult it is for kids to get out of the cycle of drugs, poverty, and violence.
    • The Wire is currently being taught in a number of universities in a variety of fields, from law to sociology to film studies. A sociologist has described The Wire as the best sociological text ever written.
    • Fifth Season: Pearlman was quoting 18 USC chapter 47 section 1014. It pertained to wire fraud.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: In the episode where Jerry teaches Alex to fly a magic carpet, Jerry tells her never to fly into any clouds because she can become disoriented in them. Despite Alex's protests that there's nothing to run into inside a cloud, this is exactly what they tell real-life pilot trainees (either running into another aircraft or becoming disoriented enough to actually run into the ground).

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