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Foregone Conclusion / Live-Action TV

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Foregone Conclusions in live-action TV.

  • Documentaries seem to use this trope all too often, especially if they're covering things like shark attacks or storms. The very presence of an interviewee talking about how they felt during the incident that nearly killed them thoroughly implies that they survived. No interview? Probably didn't make it—this is particularly of note in the series I Survived, which will sometimes feature stories that will feature two or more people going through a harrowing ordeal. But if only one of the named persons is reciting the story, it's not hard to guess that the others perished. Occasionally, however, a director will leave the victim out of the interviews until after their survival has been established.
  • Game shows provide many examples of the winner being virtually assured before the episode's natural conclusion — that is, the contestant in the lead will have such a great lead that it is impossible for the other players to catch up. For instance:
    • Jeopardy!: When a first-place contestant has more than double the cash amount (score) of the second-place contestant at the end of the "Double Jeopardy" round, the situation is known as a "lock" or, more recently, a "runaway". That is unless the leader does something very stupid (such as bet everything in "Final Jeopardy!" and then give a wrong answer) he is assured of winning.
    • Sale of the Century, for the first year of the 1980s NBC revival, ended the front game with three questions, worth $5 each (for a maximum $15 payout). Oftentimes, the leading contestant had a lead of at least $16 lead, rendering the final set of questions a mere formality. To avert this, a "Speed Round" was added, with host Jim Perry asking as many questions as time allowed at $5 each — although by the end of these rounds, a dominant contestant will have such a big lead that not enough time exists for the second- and third-place contestants to catch up.
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    • Wheel of Fortune: Starting in 1999, $1,000 is added to whatever dollar space the wheel landed on the Final Spin, to reduce the number of foregone conclusions at the start of the Speed-Up part of the final round and give trailing players a better shot at catching up. However, if he does hit $5,000, then this sometimes over-compensates to the point that a player with a very low score can abruptly overtake someone who was doing reasonably well before then.
    • On the Pyramid game shows hosted by Dick Clark, the front game automatically ended before the sixth category if the trailing contestant's score was so far behind that the sixth category was not necessary (except in the instances where bonus categories still had to be played). At least twice (once in 1985 and again in 1986), the game ended after the fourth category.
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    • Similarly, on Match Game, the front game's second round ended immediately after an incorrect match made it impossible for the losing contestant to at least tie the score.
    • The Newlywed Game: Although extremely rare, husband-wife teams whose scores were 30 or more points behind the other teams did not play the final "25-point bonus question", since they were out of the running for the show's prize (the 25-point question, even if answered correctly, would not give them the lead and a shot at winning).

  • Sometimes happens in the History Channel series America: The Story of US. For example, one episode plays suspenseful music and asks if Andrew Carnegie will be able to get the Bessemer steel-making process to work, so he can revolutionize America, pave the way for such things as the space program, and become the richest man on earth.
  • American Horror Story: Apocalypse presumably invokes this, since this season is set before other events already shown in the series. Given that the flash-forward in Hotel's epilogue is set in an intact Los Angeles, it can pretty safely be assumed that the end of the world is somehow reversed or otherwise averted.
  • America's Funniest Home Videos: At the end of each episode, the producers put their three favorite videos up to an audience vote for a $10,000 top prize. If one of these three videos feature a young child doing and/or saying something cute (or, less commonly, pets) without being particularly funny, odds are insurmountably high that this video will win.
  • The Astronaut Wives Club, being based on real people and events, is full of this trope. Most of the major historical events in the series, as well as the fates of the Mercury couples, are public knowledge:
    • Alan will eventually make it back into space.
    • Louise will not leave Alan or have an affair with Max Kaplan, no matter how much the series might tease it.
    • Despite the attention paid to their relationships during the series, the Carpenters and Coopers will not make it out with their marriages intact.
    • Gus Grissom will not survive.
  • Babylon 5 does this for nearly every plot line. In the first episode, we learn how G'Kar and Londo Mollari die (but the context is nothing like what we expect). The end of The Shadow War is given a season before it actually happens. Halfway through the first season, we see the eventual destruction of Babylon 5 (the space station). And of course, there's "If you go to Z'ha'dum you will die".
  • Babylon Berlin, by virtue of being set in 1929 Berlin, invariably suffers from this: It becomes particularly apparent when a nationalist conspiracy is revealed that intends to assassinate Gustav Stresemann and Aristide Briand before performing a Military Coup and reinstating Wilhelm II as emperor. Naturally, this doesn't work out.
  • Band of Brothers: Invoked, obviously, for the war as a whole and the advance of the Western Allies from D-day onwards. But very much inverted when it comes to the fates of the individual soldiers. Although several of the surviving real-life members of Easy Company are interviewed at the opening of each episode, the makers ensure that the survival of any given interviewee won't be a foregone conclusion by not showing their names until the end of the series.
  • Barbarians is about the leadup to the famed Battle of Teutoberg Forest. It's not a question of whether Arminius is going to switch sides and slaughter the Romans, it's about how he gets there.
  • Better Call Saul is a prequel and the story of Saul Goodman, who played a significant role in Breaking Bad as Walter White's lawyer. He's still "Jimmy McGill" at the start of the show, but we know he'll eventually become Saul, he'll eventually lose most of his ethics and turn into a high-powered organized crime attorney, and he'll eventually end up fleeing Albuquerque and living the rest of his life working at a Cinnabon in Omaha under the name "Gene" after the events of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan has said the show's about how someone like Saul even comes to exist. Also, any character who also appeared on Breaking Bad is guaranteed to survive to the end of this show, provided the show ends at or before the point where Walt and Saul first meet.
  • Blackadder
    • The first series (The Black Adder) is built on the premise that Henry Tudor (aka Henry VII) eventually became king and (according to the programme) re-wrote history to depict Richard III as a hunchback monster who'd killed his nephews. So, the resolution's already known from the start, the only question is how.
    • At the end of Blackadder Goes Forth (the final season, set in World War I), Captain Edmund and his battalion finally go over the top. Once they get there, the gunshots cease. But then they consider the war has ended... in 1917.
  • Black Sails is a double example. It serves as a prequel to Treasure Island, which takes place many years later, so we know certain characters will live past the final season. It also intersperses those characters with real-life pirates, whose ultimate fates are well known. However, they've played fast and loose with the historical events to the point the order, time, and places of real world people don't match up with those of their characters. There are also original characters whose fates do not fit the trope.
  • Boardwalk Empire features many historical characters so their fates are pretty much sealed.
    • Warren Harding will become President and die in office.
    • Al Capone and Charlie 'Lucky' Luciano will survive and become organized crime bosses running Chicago and New York. "Big Jim" Colosimo, Arnold Rothstein and Dean O'Banion will be murdered. Any attempts to kill Joe Masseria will fail if they take place before April 15, 1931.
    • The series also gets to play with this in cases where historians disagree on what actually happened. Jess Smith died in 1923, and while his death was ruled a suicide, many historians speculate that he was actually murdered. On the show multiple people want him dead, but he really is Driven to Suicide.
  • Caprica, a story about how intelligent machines were created by the twelve colonies. Guess how that ended up. Subverted with young William Adama. Contractual Immortality, my ass.
  • Chicago Justice: As LaRoyce Hawkins will still finish Season 4 of Chicago PD, it is a guarantee he will not be convicted in "Uncertainty Principle". The only question is how. It turns out that the victim's cellmate had killed him over cigarettes.
  • Every episode of Cold Case starts off with an introduction to the Victim Of The Week, followed soon by a depiction of their death. No matter how likable the subsequent flashbacks might make them out to be, it's only a matter of time before the final flashback reaffirms what we learned in the first few minutes of the show—this person is going to die.
    • This is subverted in a few episodes when we find out in the end that the presumed victim actually survived. In several cases it turns out that the body that was found was misidentified (often an intentional act by someone involved with the case), and in one remarkable case (where the body was never found) it turned out that nobody was dead; the victim was injured in the attack and her attacker took her across state lines where she wouldn't be recognized and left her for dead. She miraculously survived but was left with amnesia so severe she couldn't remember who she was, and at the time they lacked the technology to identify her in any other way, so she was put into foster care as a Jane Doe and lived for decades under a different name until the Cold Case detectives finally made the connection between the missing child and the Jane Doe.
  • Columbo, the TV mystery series starring the iconic Peter Falk character is a beautiful example of how this trope can generate narrative tension. Famously described as not a whodunnit but a 'howcatchem', the show devoted the opening fifteen minutes or so of each episode to showing the murderer set up and execute their version of the perfect crime. From there we follow Columbo's slow, methodical attempts to unravel it, picking up subtle physical clues and using them to play mind games with the suspect.
  • CSI has it several times, notably on the Taylor Swift episode (we know what happens to her character but not how and why) and the 9th season opener (the audience knows who did it and why, so the question is whether the team will find out and how).
  • The BBC produced a reality series called Dancing on Wheels, a wheelchair dance competition in which the winner would go forward to represent the UK at the European Wheelchair Dance Championships in September 2009. The show didn't air until March 2010.
  • Deadwood: Wild Bill Hickok serves as a main character in the first four episodes of the first season, and his murder becomes central to several storylines that follow. Also, viewers knowledgeable of history would know that characters based on historical figures such as Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock, and Sol Starr were going to survive the time portrayed in the series.
  • Disney's Davy Crockett mini-series. Davy going to the Alamo? What happened in real life?
  • Deadliest Catch: Capt. Phil Harris died of a stroke while filming season six. When the season premiered there was a lot of intentional/unintentional foreshadowing, and even worse Hope Spots — he was doing so well they had already started thinking about physical therapy...
  • The BBC3 drama pilot Dis/Connected starts out with the funeral of one of the characters, then goes on to tell most of the story through flashbacks. The audience thus knows from the beginning that Jenny killed herself - the question is why none of her friends responded when she emailed them her suicide note.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Any time they go back to famous events: Pompeii, the Reign of Terror, Madame de Pompadour, World War I, World War II, etc., the world doesn't end — big shock.
    • At the beginning of "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday", Rose Tyler's voiceover says, "This is the story of how I died." Of course it turns out that she's only considered dead in our world because she's trapped, and quite alive, in an alternate dimension with no apparent way back to this one... except that she appears in the first episode of series four before disappearing in a flash of light, and comes back later in the season.
    • Information: "Voyage of the Damned" is set on a spaceship called the Titanic, so surely this will be a smooth voyage with no danger at all. It even hits something in the very first scene: the TARDIS!
    • River Song dies in the two-parter she's introduced in but is capable of time travel... effectively making her immortal whenever she appears in other episodes. Her later appearances mention that she could, theoretically, still die, but naturally she doesn't.
    • Subverted in "The Waters of Mars", when the Doctor breaks his rule and decides to save the people who were supposed to die. One of the women disagrees with what he did and kills herself to correct his mistake.
    • "Vincent and the Doctor" presents Vincent van Gogh's suicide as an inevitability that is not prevented even after the Doctor and Amy show him that his art is hugely appreciated in the future. However, this one is interesting in a meta sense because, after the episode came out in 2010, plausible theories would be raised by some historians that van Gogh's death was actually an accident, and he claimed that he shot himself in order to protect the shooter.
    • In "The Pandorica Opens", van Gogh's expression of the TARDIS exploding is passed through the centuries. Earlier on, in "Cold Blood", a chunk of an exploded TARDIS is extracted by the Doctor from a time crack. However, the entire reality in which the event happened is wiped out and replaced by a similar one.
    • The prologue short to Series 9 has the Twelfth Doctor in the process of The Last Dance, preparing for a final meeting with an old enemy that will surely kill him forever and ever... which takes place in the season premiere two-parter. None of the pre-series publicity even pretended he'd be Killed Off for Real — all the talk was about how he and companion Clara are really going to live it up in this series until, perhaps, the finale stretch. Thus, the tension in "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" is who the enemy is, why the Doctor is ready to die, and how he gets out of it.
    • The cold open of "World Enough and Time", the first half of the Series 10 finale, reveals the Twelfth Doctor stumbling out of the TARDIS into a snowy wasteland and letting out a Big "NO!" as he begins to regenerate. The rest of the episode and its second part, "The Doctor Falls", reveal the circumstances that lead up to that sorrowful moment of Dying Alone, and the story comes full circle — but then he once again puts regeneration off and it turns out he's not as alone as he seems, setting up the events of Twelve's very last adventure, the 2017 Christmas Episode.
    • "Demons of the Punjab": Yaz is shocked when she learns her grandmother, Umbreen, is getting married to a man named Prem, because she knows that Prem isn't her grandfather, indicating that something will happen to him. Later, the Thijarians explicitly tell the Doctor that Prem will die the day of the wedding.
  • Dollhouse does this at the end of the season one with the episode "Epitaph One", a Flash Forward ten years when imprinting technology has caused what basically amounts to a Zombie Apocalypse with Brainwashed and Crazy killers instead of corpses. Played with because Word of God said the the imprinted memories of how this happened may not be accurate. This plotline was picked up and completed with the last episode of the second season/series.
  • The first season of Fargo features a recurring character, retired cop Lou Solverson. The second season, a prequel taking place back when Solverson was still on the force, has him get caught up in a vicious gang war. Since we've already seen him in the first season, we know that he makes it out alive. We also know that a secondary character survives the second season because he has a minor role in the first one. Everyone else, on the other hand...
  • Friends had a case where the conclusion was missed:
    Phoebe: Please, I almost fell for that with, uh, The Pride of the Yankees, I thought I was gonna see a film about Yankee pride and then, boom, the guy gets Lou Gehrig's disease.
    Richard: Uh, the guy was Lou Gehrig. Didn't you kinda see it coming?
  • Gimme, Gimme, Gimme converses a subversion of this on the Millenium Special when Tom monologues about not being able to go to The West End because Linda always embarrasses him, mentioning the time they went to see Jesus Christ Superstar when she told the children in the audience that Jesus dies at the end of it, which — depending on their age — they probably wouldn't have known.
  • NBC's Hannibal is a kind of adaptation of the book series, but also a prequel. So at some point in the show, Hannibal is going to get discovered and eventually imprisoned.
  • House of Saddam: As a historical drama, the audience knows that Saddam Hussein's regime will collapse and that he will eventually be captured and executed.
  • Gee, how do you think How I Met Your Mother will end?
    • Even though Ted spends the first season trying to get Robin, we know from the first episode that their relationship is ultimately doomed (Ted does get her by the final episode of the first season and they break up just before Lily and Marshall's wedding at the end of the second).
    • We learn that Marshall's greatest mistake was buying his first apartment with Lily, then later that episode we see them buying an expensive apartment downwind of the sewage treatment plant with a bad mortgage.
    • A lot of things about the show are foregone conclusions from flashforwards or spoilers given by Future Ted: the gang's friendships will all last, Lily and Marshall will stay married, Robin will never have kids, Robin's career will take off, Wendy and Meeker will get married, Barney will get married, Lily and Marshall will have a baby, Ted and the mother will have children, etc. Elaborated on in this NPR article.
    • "Symphony of Illumination" subverted the trope, using the framing device of having Robin talking to her kids at some point in the future. She then gets told she's infertile, implying at first that it's this trope and that it will turn out she can have kids after all. Then at the end, it turned out the kids only existed in her imagination and she really was infertile.
  • An episode midway through Human Target goes back several years, to tell the story of exactly how the main character turned from his previous life of crime. Anyone who watched basically any previous episode knows that this story involves him falling in love with a girl... who doesn't survive.
  • Many episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent are whydunits, although while there is usually a bit of black humor or wackiness in the Monk crimes, the CI crimes are always played straight. The "whydunit" is just from the audience's point of view. The detectives still have the whole case to solve. It's like the Columbo model, with the extra tension of wondering why the crime was committed in the first place. The crimes on Columbo usually had obvious motives, like monetary gain, when expensive jewels were stolen.
  • An early season two episode of Lost, after the Tailies discover the survivors from the raft, shows a man impaled on a stake, identified by Ana-Lucia as Goodwin. When Goodwin shows up in the flashback episode The Other 48 Days, it's easy to guess his fate.
    • Also, in season 5, half the main cast goes back in time to the '70s and join the Dharma Initiative... thing is, we already know what will happen to them, as it was shown in Ben's flashbacks towards the end of season 3. And it's not pretty.
  • In Mad Men, the main characters work on an ad campaign for Richard Nixon's campaign for the presidency (against John Kennedy). We know it won't work, but it's still very interesting. However, the trope is played with a bit as the audience is initially led to believe that their client, described as a "young, handsome navy hero", is Kennedy.
  • Mayday tries to add drama to their re-enactments of air disasters, but they also include Talking Heads of the survivors telling their stories. Clearly, if there were survivors then the plane either landed safely or at least crashed in a somewhat controlled manner. Subverted in one episode where a pilot is sucked out of the cockpit mid-flight — the episode shows no real-life footage of him until near the end, disguising the fact that he miraculously survived the ordeal.
  • Merlin
    • The show only starts hinting at an Arthur/Gwen romance in season two. And, of course, eventually, Prince Arthur is going to be king, with a magic sword, a Table Round, and Merlin as his trusted advisor.
    • Also, Morgana eventually turns evil.
    • No matter how loyal Mordred appears to be to Arthur, one of the defining moments of the Arthurian Legends is that of Arthur and Mordred's fight to the death and thus he must be evil.
  • Most episodes of the last several seasons of Monk are better classified as "whydunits", as we see the crime, but it doesn't seem to make any sense, such as the time when a millionaire tries to mug a middle-class man at gunpoint. The police want to clear the crime from the books because all the facts seem in order, and there are no loose ends, but Monk senses that someone must be getting away with something.
  • Murder, She Wrote often shows the killer at the beginning of the episode, leaving the rest of the episode to show how Jessica goes about catching the killer.
  • Some of the best MythBusters segments test myths that everyone assumes have a foregone conclusion only to yield surprising results. The best example is when they discovered an African elephant actually will go out of its way to avoid a mouse.
    Jamie Hyneman: A lot of the stuff we do is kind of ridiculous. ... But time after time, once we get into it, we run into things that we either totally didn't expect or something we were positive was going to go one way and it doesn't.
    • Any case in which the testing of a myth actually puts a tester in serious danger (such as the time they made a plane — the outside of one anyway — out of duct tape and had an actual pilot fly it) will obviously end with the tester's survival, because if someone had actually died during a test, the viewer would have heard of it and they probably wouldn't have shown that test.
  • An episode of NCIS starts with one character racing to find two others, just in time to see them start to drown. Most of the rest of the episode shows how that scene came to be. The fact that every segment begins with a one-second "repeat" of the final second of that very segment should also apply here.
  • Any episode of Quantum Leap where a famous person is involved. Good luck trying to save Marilyn Monroe or John F. Kennedy. Slightly subverted in that the show claims that things were much worse in the original timeline. Apparently, what we know is the result of Sam changing things for the better. Marilyn Monroe was supposed to die before making her final movie. JFK's wife was supposed to be shot along with him. Sam made sure it happened differently.
  • Because Reign is about the early life of Mary of Scotland, the show had to end on her execution.
  • Rome, quite obviously. Caesar dies. Marc Antony and Cleopatra die. Octavian wins and changes his name to Augustus. Rome has the distinction of being spoilable by a calendar — a simple glance at the months between June and September are all one needs to see just whose clan comes out on top.
  • Sherlock has an episode called "The Reichenbach Fall". Guess what happens. Subverted in that we see that he survived, although we're not told how.
  • Smallville tries to maintain sufficient drama, suspense, and Shipping even though we already know that Clark becomes Superman and ends up with Lois Lane. Clark's friendship with Lex Luthor is actually more compelling given that we know they become mortal enemies later in life, than many other relationships on the show.
  • Each season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand has this. For Blood and Sand itself: The slaves of Batiatus will rebel against their master and succeed.
    • Gods of the Arena is a prequel, so you know what will happen.
    • Vengeance builds up to the battle of Mount Vesuvius, where Spartacus will kill Glaber, and Oenomaus will also die.
    • War of the Damned is going to end with Rome crushing the rebellion; but as historically Spartacus' body was never found, his fate is uncertain, as well as Canon Foreigners such as Agron and Nasir.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has an interesting case of this in the episode "In The Pale Moonlight". The episode is told through flashbacks and begins with Sisko wondering where it went wrong so that the audience knows from the beginning that something bad happens. And during the episode we see Sisko trying to get the Romulans to their side in the Dominion War and so the audience begins to think that the plan fails and makes things worse. But ultimately the reason he is saddened is that he succeeded but that to reach this far he had to cheat, bribe, lie and 2 people were killed in the process and for him, the most damning thing is that he finds himself able to live with it.
    • Star Trek: Discovery:
      • Since the show takes place 10 years before TOS, several things can already be assumed about the Federation-Klingon War (it's not going to end in a Klingon victory) and the prototype spore drive (it's not going to revolutionize space travel).
      • Season 2 plays with this as Captain Pike is shown a vision of his future and is told that he can alter his destiny. However, doing so might result in the extinction of all life in the galaxy so naturally Pike declines.
    • The last episode of Star Trek: Voyager begins with the crew on Earth, celebrating the 10th anniversary of their return home. The producers of the episode then throw in some How We Got Here and some good old-fashioned Reset Button to both subvert and lampshade this trope.
  • Total Divas suffers from this as a result of trying to make a reality series about women who appear on live TV every week. The episodes are usually a few months behind so several of the stories they tease make no sense. At the end of the third season, the Cliffhanger was that the Bella Twins did not want to renew their contracts. Since the Bellas had continued to appear on TV since that episode was filmed, with Nikki even holding the title belt, they clearly changed their minds.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Still Valley", Rod Serling notes in his closing narration that Sgt. Joseph Paradine and the other Confederate troops were ordered to move up north to an obscure little place in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.
  • The 1993 version of The Untouchables has an episode where Al Capone's only son, Sonny, gets meningitis and receives experimental treatment. Considering that Sonny Capone was alive when the episode aired, we know how it was going to turn out.
  • Walking with Dinosaurs:
    • The fourth episode, Giant of the Skies, opens with a dead male Ornithocheirusnote  lying near a mating site. The story deals with his journey to the area.
    • The sixth episode, about the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, is titled Death of a Dynasty. Guess what happens to the central Tyrannosaurus family. Actually, the mother is killed shortly before the meteor impact.
  • The BBC's The White Queen is the story of the life of Elizabeth Woodville. The first episode builds suspense over whether her and the king's My Own Private "I Do" ceremony was faked just to get her into bed before he marries the princess he's betrothed to; even if you don't know the first thing about the historical events, the series' title rather gives away the fact that she's going to become Queen.
  • Xena spends Season 4 with recurring visions of herself and Gabrielle crucified at the hands of the Romans, while all the while Caesar is getting rid of his competitors and consolidating power in Rome. When an episode entitled "The Ides of March" pops up at the end of the season, you know what's coming. Caesar dies with the requisite Shakespeare quotes, Xena and Gabrielle die on crosses. Somewhat of a surprise at the time; many people expected the writers to find a way for the heroes to technically fulfill destiny and still escape...
  • You Rang, M'Lord? plays this up in the final episode, as Lord Meldrum talks about how things are finally looking up—just a year before the beginning of the Great Depression.


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