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Phony Newscast

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The Phony Newscast has two particular uses. One is when a fictional program wants to appear to be an actual News Broadcast. The other is when a commercial for something is pretending to run a newscast related to the product. Orson Welles did this on the radio (see below), but this trope is mostly used for television dramas. Often a controversial format if the story being told is one that might be expected to (or, in the case of Welles' production, does) inspire panic, such as end-of-the-world or warfare scenarios.


If real reporters and anchors are recruited for the sake of a familiar face, it's a Newscaster Cameo. See also Mockumentary, a similar format in which a story is presented in fictional documentary form.


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    Fictional programs 
  • "The War of the Worlds", the Ur-Example and Trope Maker, was an October 30, 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles' CBS radio series The Mercury Theatre on the Air that featured a dramatization of H.G. Wells' novel updated for 20th-century America. The program depicted a generic big band music performance getting interrupted by a series of news bulletins covering what turned out to be the vanguard of an Alien Invasion of Earth by Martians. Adding to the realism was that there was no commercial break until after the first act which consisted of the newscast; the second half was a standard play. Only those tuning in right at the start, or who listened through the commercial break, heard disclaimers that it was only a play. The program was said to have created widespread panic among thousands of listeners who believed an actual invasion was occurring – mostly listeners who were unable to reason that the sequence of events, as dramatized, was happening a little too fast (20 minutes from "explosions on Mars" to the "end of the world") or read the radio listings in their local newspaper promoting "War of the Worlds" as that night's dramatization. Or who simply didn't keep listening to the rest of the play, and Welles' final remarks at the end reminding listeners it was just a story (reportedly made under duress as the network was well aware of what was happening during the broadcast). In any case, "War of the Worlds" cemented Orson Welles' fame as a radio/movie/TV broadcaster, writer and producer.
    • Although people are still arguing about this, it seems the tales of mass panic caused by the Welles broadcast did not happen.
    • Welles' first Hollywood movie Citizen Kane also begins with a faux newscast, though in that case a faux newsreel.
  • The 1983 Made-for-TV Movie Special Bulletin begins with what purports to be the opening of a daily lineup for a television network, and the first few seconds of a fictional game show, then cuts to what appears to be a news broadcast, where we eventually learn a group may have a nuclear weapon in a boat in Charleston harbor. The broadcast continues through the inevitable detonation of the bomb and its aftermath.
  • The movie RoboCop (1987) has a series of newscasts where horrible events are described during the news in an upbeat fashion, such as when a police officer is brutally gunned down. The reporter cheers on the cop, saying how he's rooting for the officer to live. Its sequels, several episodes of the TV series, and and reboot also opened with a similar faux newscast.
  • Elf features NY 1 broadcasts after Santa's sleigh crash lands in Central Park.
  • Starship Troopers: "Would you like to know more?"
  • The Made-for-TV Movie Without Warning (1994) presented an Alien Invasion in newscast form, even making the titles part of a home-invasion drama which is interrupted by the news. The introduction to the film openly acknowledges Welles' War of the Worlds radio play as its inspiration. The inclusion of real-life news figures like Sander Vanocur and Bree Walker add to the verisimilitude.
  • The BBC often uses real news reporters for this.
    • In January 1926, BBC Radio aired "Broadcasting the Barricades", a simulated live report of a violent revolution in London written and aired by Catholic priest and satirist Ronald Knox, who — accompanied by vivid sound effects — regaled his audience with reports of Big Ben getting toppled, the National Gallery being looted, the Houses of Parliament and the Savoy Hotel coming under mortar fire, mass executions of government officials, etc, leading to a panic among some listeners who were unaware they had tuned in to a fictional program. Orson Welles later cited the Knox program as one of the influences for his own "War of the Worlds" dramatization 12 years later.
    • It was quite common during Russell T. Davies's tenure as showrunner on Doctor Who.
    • The BBC's infamous 1992 special Ghostwatch was presented as a live documentary following BBC personalities (playing themselves) investigating a poltergeist that eventually commandeers the BBC studio and the transmission feed. Although the special was shot months in advance and the paranormal happenings were fictional, many frightened viewers assumed the events depicted were true; an investigation by Britain's media regulator found that the special contributed to the suicide of a panicked teenaged viewer. Ghostwatch was subsequently banned from being transmitted again.
    • A rather odd example: In Blackadder The Third, Vincent Hanna, who was then a BBC election correspondent, appeared as "his own great-great-grandfather", reporting on the Dunny-on-the-Wold by-election for The Country Gentleman's Pig Fertilizer Gazette. This was treated exactly as a TV broadcast, even though it was the 18th century. But that's how Blackadder works.
    • News anchor Richard Baker famously appeared at the end of a Monty Python's Flying Circus episode as if the nightly news were beginning. It wasn't.
  • The DVD for Dawn of the Dead (2004) includes fake newscasts. We see the Zombie Apocalypse spread, and the anchor becomes more and more disheartened. (Some footage from this featurette is incorporated into the film itself.)
  • The Dark Knight has newscasts during the film reporting on the Joker and the Batman; in the DVD extras you're treated to 4 fake in-depth newscasts about Gotham.
  • The 2004 Thunderbirds somehow manages to shoehorn a reporter into every scene in which the Thunderbirds appear in the outside world. No idea how anyone could consider this remotely plausible, since she'd have to have advance warning. Maybe the Hood tipped her off?
  • Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet reinterprets the original play's prologue as a newscast.
  • Oil Storm, a 2005 mocumentary that aired on FX and Discovery, depicting a fictional oil crisis and what would happen as the result of the highly oil dependent United States facing a severe shortage. In the movie, a major hurricane destroys key oil infrastructure at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, precipitating a Murphy's Law series of events that snowball — including a tanker collision in the narrow Port of Houston and terrorist attacks over the oil trade (including the destruction of the huge Ras Tanura oil refinery in Saudi Arabia). These events drive the price of oil to above $200 per barrel and gasoline to near $9 per gallon.note  The mockumentary follows several people, including the owners of a mom-and-pop convenience store, a paramedic, stock market and oil analysts, government officials and others, and includes a substantial amount of human drama from the first events to the resolution — through diplomatic skill, the United States winning a $16 billion/year oil deal with Russia, which helps replace the oil lost in the earlier events.
  • One of the extras in the campaign mode of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is the Dominion's own news network, whose hilariously incompetent attempts to be a propaganda machine for Emperor Mengsk provide comic relief between missions.
  • The "Weird Newscasters" game from Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
  • The Two Ronnies started and ended their programme with one.
  • Animalympics, which was originally meant to air as a TV special, plays as Olympic coverage from channel ZOO, "the station that brings you the beast in sports."
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a dramatization of the events leading up to a nuclear war, presented as breaking news broadcasts.
  • Tout ça (ne nous rendra pas la Belgique) (2006) — A hoax news broadcast aired on December 16th, 2006, on the French-language Belgian TV station RTBF, reported that the parliament of the Flemish-speaking region of Flanders had seceded and that Belgium as a nation had effectively ceased to exist.. The program featured interviews with real politicians (not all of whom were in on the hoax) and a staged evacuation of the royal family from Brussels. Thousands of panicked phone calls were placed, worried citizens rallied outside the royal palace, and several ambassadors sent panicked messages to their capitals. Thirty minutes into the program, the Minister for Audiovisual Affairs ordered RTBF to admit the hoax.
  • A local example: the comedy-sketch show Almost Live! used to be produced by and air on the NBC affiliate in Seattle, Washington. One week (on April Fools Day) they "interrupted" the show with a serious-seeming "newscast" which announced that the landmark Space Needle had fallen over in a windstorm. Enough people believed the report that the station later issued a formal apology.
  • The second half of the prologue in TRON: Legacy is mostly various newscasts on the disappearance of Kevin Flynn and the subsequent aftermath regarding ENCOM, ending at the home of his parents, who try to cheer up their now-orphaned grandson Sam, who refuses to believe his father is missing.
  • The DVD release of Independence Day includes the faux newscasts depicting how TV news reported on the arrival of the alien craft. One of the Making-Of featurettes used to promote the film also opened like this.
  • Initial episodes of the original V (1983) TV series opened with a faux newscast on resistance activities.
  • Colossatron: Massive World Threat is a game that is presented as a news broadcast on theaforementioned Colossatron, complete with on-the-scene reporters and jagged static lines.
  • The Peoria Plague, produced by Peoria, Illinois radio station WUHN in 1972, involves the station's easy listening music format being interrupted by a breaking news story about a Big Blackout that soon turns into a combination of The Virus, Zombie Apocalypse and Alien Invasion.

    TV satires 
  • This Hour Has 22 Minutes is a comedy series poking fun at Canadian issues, presented in the format of a news broadcast.
  • The Daily Show mimics regular news shows, to the point where many fans treat it as one.
  • Saturday Night Live features a faux newscast segment called "Weekend Update'' poking fun at real news stories note .
  • SNL didn't originate this, as Steve Allen featured faux newscasts in his various shows in the 1950s.
  • The Day Today, a BBC parody of the tropes and structure of TV news in general, and Brass Eye, made by some of the same creators, which moved into more direct political humour and became notorious for its pranking of real public figures and celebrities.
  • Some More News is a youtube-based version of this trope, presenting itself as an investigative news programme presented by The News Dude, a high-strung madman incapable of subtlety.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus frequently satirized TV newscasts (as well as BBC Radio newscasts). The surprising appearance of Richard Baker, an authoritative figure at BBC News since 1954, as the newsreader in one of these sketches was Monty Python's Richard-Nixon-saying-"Sock-it-to-me?" moment.

  • A commercial for Stick-Ups room fresheners included a newscast introducing the product.
  • Huggies diapers have the "Baby News Network" ads.
  • The Sibuxiang Beast commercial which caused a minor panic in China: Museum of Hoaxes article on it
  • Sometimes, companies advertising a particular product sometimes use the "breaking news"/"this just in" technique to pitch said item – often, a credit service or medical product, along with contact information. Another commercial had a disc jockey use the "more music after the break" line before pitching a medical service and giving a testimonial (using a generic last name and identifying them as friends); during the commercial, the DJ rumples through paper to make it appear he's spontaneously searching for a telephone number to call (for listeners to obtain the service). While the idea is to catch unsuspecting audiences off-guard – making it appear as though the news anchors and "DJ" are legitimately part of their staff – it sometimes fails when, after the commercial, an actual jingle plays and the real DJ talks.
    • Similar to the above, when a radio station's actual DJ conducts a "phone interview" with a D-list celebrity about the item or service being promoted.
  • A British radio ad for cold remedies begins, "This is an important newsflash. We are under attack. I repeat, we are under ah... ah... ah... choo!"
  • Oh, if only the Internet were immune. "Breaking News! Britney's Weight Loss Secret Revealed!"
  • There has been at least one ad for mortgage refinancing made to look like a 24-hour news channel, complete with crawl.
  • Some newspaper/magazine print ads intentionally mimic the layout and style of the newspapers/periodical that they are placed in to achieve a sort of "our claims are objective, like the news" effect or (especially in ads that advocate a political stance) fool the reader into thinking that the ad was an legitimate piece of journalism. Some newspapers intentionally go out of their way to ruin this by printing a massive ADVERTISING FEATURE banner on top.
  • Many Infomercials attempt to disguise themselves as news magazine-style shows, with a serious-looking host and a set resembling something from CNN. Of course, the "host" has a "guest" come on who does nothing but extol the virtues of whatever product they're selling. And the same "newscast" is repeated every day. See also Advertising Disguised as News.