Setting includes time as well as place, and stories of this trope are set at (approximately) the time when they are made. Some works take this further, constantly reminding the viewers that whatever is happening now, is happening now.
The goal with stories being set in the Present Day is to appeal to audiences of today, instead of audiences of past or future generations. Stories with this setting act like a time capsule of history, showcasing popular trends, current culture, and period aesthetics. They can range from just as the creator started work on the idea, to try and target the day that the story is published. Most things are as they would be in real life, and the story is set in a culture with which the creator is familiar.
Compare 20 Minutes into the Future (close enough to be just a few years away but noticeably futuristic), Next Sunday A.D. (just ahead of the present day — the Alien Invasion arrived next week) and Long-Runner Tech Marches On. When a work is set in the recent past, but treats it as if it were Present Day to the point of including anachronisms, it's a Present-Day Past. Contrast with Unintentional Period Piece, where a work attempted to not be set in the present day, but failed.
Examples, organized by decade then media:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: The novel is a critique of American social norms of the era, mocking the cast of wealthy New Yorkers who live extravagantly in The Roaring '20s, complete with references to World War I and bootlegging.
- H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos were written in the 20s and 30s, and this is borne out by mentions of Prohibition and fashion habits, like one character being concerned about not wearing a hat as he's fleeing from the monstrous denizens of the Town with a Dark Secret.
1920s Western Animation
- Most early Felix the Cat cartoons mirrored American attitudes of this era such as Prohibition era in "Felix Finds Out" (released in 1924) and "Whys and Other Whys" (released in 1927) and flappers appearing in "Felix Strikes It Rich" (released in 1923). In some cartoons, Felix performed a rendition of the Charleston which was popular in that era.
- The first volumes of Tintin were serialized and published weekly in the youth supplement of the Belgian Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, and included constant references to world news and celebrities of the time (either directly or in No Celebrities Were Harmed fashion) as well as racial and political stereotypes. After World War II many of these numbers were redrawn and rewritten to erase them.
- Charlie Chan at the Olympics features Chan investigating a plot at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and features possibly the most sympathetic portrayal of Nazi police ever depicted in American film. Even just a few years later, such a plot would be unthinkable.
- Gabriel Over the White House depicts an American President who solves The Great Depression by abolishing the Constitution, creating a private police force, ascending as an absolute dictator, and forcing other nations into submission through a superior military. And all of this is treated as a good thing. Such a President then was viewed as a willful, active leader compared to the incompetent Herbert Hoover (and even Franklin D. Roosevelt voiced his support of the film).
- Gold Diggers of 1933 is about the difficulties of life during The Great Depression, with evocative story and its songs. Justified in that the movie in the Depression years.
- The Little Rascals, which today come off as quaint stories your grandparents might tell about being children at the time. Specifically, it's about children during The Great Depression.note In more than a few episodes, the children wonder where their next meal is coming from.
- Face The Music (1932) begins on the joke that The Great Depression has reduced the rich and famous to eating at an Automat, with this scene leading into a Breakaway Pop Hit that includes Herbert Hoover among its optimistic reference. The second act has a drinking song in ironic salute of the not-yet-repealed Eighteenth Amendment.
- The plot of the 1938 musical Leave It To Me! relied on the facts that relations between the US and the USSR were relatively cordial, while their relations with Nazi Germany were not, and war in Europe, though seemingly imminent, was not yet a reality. Several of these facts changed irrevocably while the musical was in its post-Broadway tour.
- Margin for Error: The published script specifies the setting as "prior to September 1939", and takes place during a rather specific point in the diplomatic history of Nazi Germany. The Communist-Nazi alliance and invasion of Poland are brought up as predicted turns of events. The movie version was made after the U.S. entered World War II, which forced the plot to be framed as a flashback.
- Of Thee I Sing: Originally produced in 1931 as a satire on U.S. party politics, the 1952 Setting Update reached Broadway and flopped. Later productions have reverted to the original version, in which "the country thinks it's got depression" but it turns out that posterity (not prosperity, as President Hoover said) is just around the corner. Even educated audience members may still wonder what moratorium the chorus of reporters didn't want to know about (it was a freeze on war payments from those nations indebted to the US).
- Anchors Aweigh was released as a morale booster for the US Navy. While WWII was clearly coming to an end in Europe, it was still raging in the Pacific where the Navy was actively engaged against the Japanese. The opening sequence of the film is clearly designed to make the nation feel good about its naval forces.
- Confessions Of A Nazi Spy, filmed in 1939 and released in 1940, portrayed the United States when it was feasible enough for even long-established German-Americans to be simultaneously loyal to both the United States and Germany that they could be seduced into spying on the former for the latter's benefit. Several of the spies in the film are members of the German-American Bund, an organization that was already under Congressional investigation by 1938 and was actually outlawed by 1942 when the US was at war with Nazi Germany.
- The Great Dictator openly mocked the Nazis when the United States was still neutral, but due to Charlie Chaplin (and others involved in the film) not knowing the full scale of the Holocaust at the time the film was made, the Nazis' domestic policies are portrayed as much milder than they really were, i.e. the Nazi stand-ins are shown bullying and harassing the Jews, but nothing much worse than that. For another thing, the plot focuses on the rivalry between "Hynkel" and "Benzino" (read: Hitler and Mussolini) over the occupation of Austria, and portrays Benzino as a seriously intimidating rival to Hynkel; the dispute over the occupation of Austria was big news in 1940, but it's only remembered as a minor historical footnote today, with Fascist Italy mostly remembered as an ineffectual ally of Nazi Germany.
- Mission to Moscow: Based on a book by Joseph E. Davies, who had been America's ambassador to the USSR, and created in 1943, this movie is about his service to the country in the late 1930s. It begins with President Roosevelt sending Davies (played by Walter Huston) to Germany, and then to the Soviet Union, to see what he can do to prevent a second world war. The film ends with the attack on Pearl Harbor and a flurry of pro-Allied rhetoric.
- The North Star: A 1943 Hollywood war drama film, set during 1941 in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The protagonists prepare to leave their town North Star so they can visit Kiev, but are prevented from doing so when German troops attack from from the west.
- The Three Stooges:
- "You Nazty Spy!": A short based on the current war, where Moe's character is put into power of a small European country (called Moronika), with Curly as his Field Marshal and Larry as his Minister of Propaganda. The symbol of the country (a set of criss-crossing, swastika-like snakes) alone makes it clear who they were mocking, even if you missed the pun in the title.
- "I'll Never Heil Again": A sequel to "You Natzy Spy", this film seemed to have been made in a very specific period before Operation Barbarossa. In the climactic "Axel" partner conference, there are expies for Benito Mussolini, and a Japanese ambassador. So far, so good. However, also in attendance were an Expy for Josef Stalin, and the "Bey of Rhum," standing in for Turkey. Not-Stalin's presence can be explained by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact still in effect (barely) as of the time of filming that while not making the USSR an Axis partner note , ushered in a short-lived period of co-existence, trade and some cooperation between the Nazi and Communist blocs. The Bey of Rhum seems to have been a holdover from Ottoman Turkey's membership in the World War One Central Powers.
- The Blue Lamp: The film establishes the era of immediately-post-war London with children playing on bomb sites, austerity and rationing still somewhat present, slums that seemingly never left the Victorian era, a panic over juvenile delinquents who dress in sharp suits and fedoras, trolleybuses, and police cars with bells rather than sirens.
- YuYu Hakusho avoids use of specific dates, but features modern technology several times (the hospital room Shuichi's mother is in, CRT screens, the VCR for the Chapter Black tape), making it clear that the events take place in sometime in the mid-nineties, when the series was made.
- The first issue of Y: The Last Man takes place roughly now. For values of "now" equal to "2002", since that's when it was released, and actual dates are given in-series to confirm this.
- Draft Day centers around the 2014 NFL Draft. It was released in 2014, before the draft. In the real NFL draft, some people actually referred to this movie.
- Attempted with the original trailer for Star Wars (with Klaatu's first visit, in which he acquired Keanu Reeves's DNA) is followed by a caption reading "Present Day."
The Agony Booth: Hey, everybody, it's Present Day! Yaay!! Gosh, I hope I get an X-Box.
- Almost all of Charles Dickens' novels are set in his own era. The two exceptions are Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities, both of which take place within what was then living memory.
- The works of Jane Austen are all set in her own time. Ironically, they would go on to inspire an entire genre of Period Piece, the Regency romance.
- 24: "events occur in real-time". Even when several years or months pass between seasons, the day occurring is always implied to be the present.
- Although the main story line of How I Met Your Mother takes place in the Present Day, this is actually a Flash Back, as Ted is telling the story to his kids in 2030. Some episodes even have flashbacks (FlashForwards?) to events that take place between the two.
- Surprising for a show told in Anachronic Order, but Lost began this way, with the plane crash occurring on September 22, 2004, the same date the show premiered. However, it has never been set in the present after, instead being in the near-present: seasons 1-4 covered late 2004 to really early 2005 and the main action of season 5 takes place in 2007 and 1977.
- FlashForward (2009) attempted this, with the date of the "blackout" being about when it first aired, and the date of the flashforward the expected date of the season finale, but a hiatus screwed up the scheduling. And then it was cancelled.
- Except for a few specific cases, Doctor Who has a sliding 'present' which lines up with the current real date,; this is usually when the companion is from. Interestingly enough, partially avoided for the 5th series finale: Although for much of the season they were counting down to June 26th, 2010, the date of the season finale and destruction of the TARDIS, very little of the actual episode took place in that time period, dealing mostly with its time-spanning aftermath.
- Inconsistently averted during the 3rd and 4th Doctors' years with UNIT. Depending on the Writer, these episodes were either set in the present day, or the near future (e.g., Sarah Jane explicitly says that she's from 1980, in an episode released in 1974).
- Time Trax has criminals from the late 22nd century escaping to the present, or 1993, when the series aired.
- The live-action adaptation of Death Note takes place in 2015, where the original series took place about 10 years earlier (at the time it was released).
- Supernatural tries to do this, though it results in continuity errors because of ignored time jumps in at least two different seasons. But the date Dean is saved from Hell, is the same date that the Season 4 premiere first aired September 18, 2008.
- Orson Welles' radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds was infamous for use of this trope. Many listeners actually believed that the up-to-the-minute newscasts of an ongoing alien invasion were real.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor is William Shakespeare's only play set in his own era.
- Many plays, when not set in a particular time, will be set in "the present." This becomes problematic when producing a play written in the 1940s in 2012.
- This is parodied in The Drowsy Chaperone: many of the Man in the Chair's favorite shows, including the Show Within a Show ''The Drowsy Chaperone", are products of their time. At best, things simply become nonsensical to modern listeners without an explanation (such as the advertisement of "mixups, mayhem, and a gay wedding!"), and at worst, like the beginning of the Second Act of a completely different show, "Message From a Nightengale", it's Innocently Insensitive.
- Chess is an example of a show for which this became problematic much quicker than expected. Its first few productions required revisions to allow it to continue to make sense in "the present", and after 1991, only five years after it originally opened, there wasn't much choice but to treat it as a period piece instead.
- Critic's Choice by Ira Levin, first produced in 1960, identifies the time of the play as "last season."
- There's two main eras in each Assassin's Creed game — the past sequences in various historical eras that are relived via Genetic Memory in the Animus, and the present day sequences taking place roughly the year of each game's release with the protagonists reliving said past (usually the least interesting ones, for they are very short and have a limited gameplay and none of the appeal of the sequences in historical eras).
- Grand Theft Auto III has a good example of a "dated" present day: being made in 2001, Liberty City looks like any modern metropolis, but if you pay attention, you see how the 1998-2000 dot-com boom, when businessmen had just discovered the Internet, is still in full swing. Smartphones still didn't exist, text pagers were still in use, cars still sported the 90's curvy box look, nobody ever thought the person Donald Love was supposed to be satirizing would be the President of the United States, and Islamist terrorism wasn't even considered a threat compared to domestic crime.
- The online version of the fictional ''Liberty Tree'' news website for GTA III also invokes this trope by reporting events in Liberty City as if they were actually unfolding in the months leading up to the release of the game.
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) starts one day before its actual release date on Oct. 24, 2019.
- Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines supposedly takes place during its release year, 2004... and every computer in the Los Angeles area has an OS that looks like it came from the mid-1980's.
- Survival of the Fittest is set more or less in the modern day, with slight variations (George Bush isn't the President, for example, replaced with a fictional President, and Japan uses the Battle Royale act like in the eponymous film and book, which gave Danya the idea), but is technically set a year behind the real world. For example, v3 is the current game, played in 2008, but in the SOTF world it's 2007. With v3 finally nearing its end after about two years of play, the setting is now further behind.
- This was done somewhat literally with the Bookfarters Saga, the crossover event between Shipwrecked Comedy and The Tin Can Bros.. Thanks to the meta-narrative, the story does take place in real-time as fans watched along via livestreams and social media. It's also notable that, thanks to Shipwrecked's fondness for historical fiction, it was the first of their projects to take place in Present Day since Kissing in the Rain.
- The Simpsons is an interesting use of "present day", because the show has been running so long and the characters never age. It becomes increasingly bizarre when characters have flashbacks to their childhoods. This is a case of a floating timeline.
- Time Warp Trio was made in 2005. The "present" year as it is stated in the show? 2005, of course! The book series, which in 1991, logically enough took place in that year. Although each book is set in the year that one came out, so they get set in 1995, 2003 and so on while everyone stays the same age.
- Family Guy established the events of their first episode, Death Has A Shadow, to actually begin on January 31, 1999 (the episode's original airdate) in Back To The Pilot. The episode aired on November 13, 2011, but it could still be on September 11, 2011 (as it was mentioned to be just 10 years after September 11, 2001).
- Family Guy's spinoff The Cleveland Show has an episode (California Dreamin') beginning exactly three years after the events of the first episode mentioned at the beginning of that episode, which is September 27, 2009 (the episode's original airdate, so it would be September 27, 2012). However, the episode aired on March 17, 2013.