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Series / Dateline

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"Hi there. Why don't you take a seat right over there... what are you doing?"

Dateline, also known as Dateline NBC, is a Prime Time News show and one of the largest, most popular, and most infamous news programs ever. It started airing in 1992 on NBC and has never entirely gone away.

The program was conceived in 1992 mainly as a cheap schedule filler and about the 73rd attempt to unseat 60 Minutes. It was hosted by Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, the latter of whom would become the face of the main Dateline. The series existed mainly to fill holes in NBC's programming schedule; during the bulk of the 1990s, it was on more nights than not. Today, archived (rerun) Dateline crime stories are used for this same purpose on MSNBC, Investigation Discovery, and TLC during dead periods.

Dateline drew infamy with its constant stream of fluff stories, Media Scaremongering stories, and screw-ups — most notably, an early 1992 segment got into hot water when it falsely claimed that 1973-1987 GM pickup trucks had leaky and explosive gas tanks (when in reality, the only reason they exploded for the cameras was the remote controlled explosives the NBC crew put there). This resulted in the firing of a couple Dateline producers and led to Michele Gillen (the correspondent involved in the segment) getting transferred to NBC's affiliate in Miami, where she became an anchor of the station's evening newscasts.

Recurring segments include "The Dirty Dozen" (in which it takes a critical eye to health inspection scores of various fast-food restaurants), Could This Happen to You? stories, as well as full length episodes dealing with True Crime mysteries (the show has done so many episodes about murder cases involving well-to-do, adulterous suburban types, it's been nicknamed If You Marry a Doctor, You Will Die). Many of the episodes are narrated by Keith Morrison, whose voice can be described as "Mr. Rogers as-a-creepy-old-man".

The series began to fade by the late 1990s when NBC began shoring up its late night line-up, which meant fewer dead slots to fill. Stone Phillips left the series (Jane Pauley had left several years earlier) and Ann Curry and Chris Hansen took over as main anchors for the series.

Dateline returned to the spotlight in 2004, when a segment Hansen did with the cyber-vigilante group Perverted Justice catching men attempting to arrange sexual encounters with underage teenagers, "To Catch A Predator," garnered a huge amount of publicity. This led to a whole series of Dateline "To Catch A Predator" specials and a spin-off, "To Catch A Predator: The Raw Tapes", which shows longer versions of the confrontations between Hansen and the predators. Controversy was sparked, mostly by accusations of entrapment by lawyers for the accused predators and the high profile suicide of a local district attorney caught in the sting (but who did not appear on the show, having discovered prior to his death that he had been exposed). Dateline and Hansen ultimately achieved Memetic Mutation, with parodies appearing on different shows like South Park, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, The Boondocks, Robot Chicken, Squidbillies, etc. Whether because of the legal controversies, the increased popularity making it hardernote  to lure men to the houses, or because the "demographics" of the alleged predators had declined,note  no new "TCAP" segments were produced after 2007. According to a Facebook comment in 2009, it might return someday. If so, it will likely be without Hansen, who had his own embarrassing scandal which resulted in him leaving NBC.

On April 2015, Hansen launched a Kickstarter campaign to promote his successor to the original series, Hansen vs. Predator. The campaign was so successful, he eventually took over as host of the daily syndicated series Crime Watch Daily, of which Hansen vs. Predator became a recurring segment on the show; his takeover as host boosted the show's ratings.

Dateline is still on the air, now anchored by Lester Holt, in a Friday Night Death Slot (right before the local news) and also airs on Sundays opposite 60 Minutes between seasons of NFL football. It has some internal infamy, as CNBC airs 60 Minutes on CNBC rather than Dateline: Business Edition because of the show's lack of any non-tabloid coverage... though there being a Dateline: Business Edition says something.

The launch of the short-lived Rock Center with Brian Williams in November 2011 suggests that NBC knows that Dateline should never be omnipresent on the main network schedule again.

Not to be confused with Dateline, where it took the name from.

Why don't you use these tropes over there?

  • All There in the Manual: Perverted Justice posted the chatlogs between the predators and their decoys on their website, leaving some of the context and details on a predator's background unseen on the show. A good example of this is Anthony Palumbo, who on the show comes off as a bit generic as someone who tries to act cool but confesses under pressure. Most of his infamy among fans however stems from the very exaggerated sex-obsessed personality he displayed in the chatlog.
  • Ascended Extra: Frag is simply referred to as a "Perverted-Justice volunteer" in the first few investigations. By the end of the series, he receives more air-time than anyone besides Chris Hansen.
  • Ascended Fanboy: A hilariously unintentional example with the predators. Some of them admit to actually being fans of TCAP when they run into Chris. Only to now be featured on the show in the worst possible way.
  • Bathos: Sexual predation is a horrible thing, but the situation is livened somewhat by the hilariously pathetic nature of the predators along with Hansen's stoic wit to call them out for it.
  • Blatant Lies: Hansen usually gave the predators a chance to explain what innocuous purpose they had for being there... where they will try to give a somewhat decent excuse for being there... before Hansen reveals he has the chatlogs with the decoys, while most are obvious bullshit the following take the cake with this trope:
    • "I don't think I would have had sex with her" (said while butt naked in front of Chris)
    • "It wasn't me that sent that message that was a friend at a party; I don't know why they used my name" (they had pictures of him he had sent to the decoy)
    • "I don't have a last name"
  • Catchphrase:
  • Deadpan Snarker: Chris. He's especially snarky when he pierces the pathetic excuses of the predators.
  • The Dreaded: Chris is this to many of the predators.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Coming up with Blatant Lies can be seen as this, but others accidentally admit to what they wanted to do in the interview.
    Predator: "I talk to people in that chatroom that turn out to be guys half the time!"
    Hansen: "So you've talked to people who've said they were 13 before?"
    Predator: "Well, 13... 15, well... wait a minute!"

    Hansen: "You are open to the idea of sex?"
    Predator: "No... well, up here, yes, but would I? No... or... maybe... all right, maybe."
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The very first To Catch A Predator segment was named Dangerous Web, and was a bit more focused on exploring the world of online child grooming in general. The first two episodes also didn't feature the co-operation of the police as part of a sting, and so the predators were able to leave after being confronted and exposed.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: The turning point of every segment. Most predators instantly know that they are royally screwed when the decoy leaves the kitchen to an unlit hallway and Chris enters.
  • False Reassurance: Predators frequently asked whether Chris was a cop or whether he would arrest them- "I'm not a cop" or "I'm not going to arrest you" aren't untrue statements, because he isn't and can't. The actual cops that are waiting outside will do the arresting. He also sometimes added a variant of "You're free to go", but only from him, not the cops waiting right outside.
  • Freudian Slip: A few predators have offered the defence that "they haven't done anything yet".
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: A recurring character tic in Lorne Armstrong's infamous chatlog is him making and drinking coffee, which seems to happen several times each day while he's talking to the decoy. As the chat goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that "coffee" is just shorthand for beer.
  • Get Out!: Chris Hansen uncharacteristically cuts short his confrontation with a predator after the latter brought his five-year-old son with him to the decoy's house.
    Hansen: "Since you have your child here, I'm not going to pursue this... I think it'd be best if you just went ahead and left."
  • Hope Spot: The False Reassurance Chris gives predators leaves the more oblivious ones with this, thinking that they had successfully evaded punishment through Chris' supposed mercy, only to be ambushed by the police waiting outside.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Sometimes the excuses of the "guests" creep into this territory.
    • One predator claimed he was there to check on the girl because he was afraid there were people there to jump out on him that she was with and by that logic he was somehow innocent.
    • Another claimed that they had no evidence that they would bring alcohol to the decoy because they didn't 'technically' say they were going to bring the alcohol (he had brought 3 packs of beer, of varying flavours and was making the excuse while sitting behind them).
    • One claimed that there was no proof he had any sexual intent with the girl. After having just walked into the house completely naked and carrying a sex toy.
  • Large Ham: While not common, there are a couple of predators that for some reason talk entirely in caps lock during their chats with the decoy which leads to some unintended hilarity:
    Predator: "U WANT DO IT RAW?"
    Decoy: "raw?"
    Predator: "YES"
    Decoy: "what's that?"
    Predator: "NO RUBER"

    Decoy: "what kind of romance?"
    Predator: "MOUTH"
  • Long-Runners: Has aired since 1992. Furthermore, it was also NBC's first successful news magazine after failed attempts such as Prime Time Saturday/Sundaynote ; NBC Magazinenote  and Monitornote .
  • Lost My Appetite: One predator, on walking into the room where Chris was waiting, picked up a cookie from a plate in front of him—and on being told that Chris had a transcript of the predator's chat with the decoy, tossed it back onto the plate, saying, "You know what? I don't want this cookie."
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: The show's bread and butter since the To Catch A Predator days.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A common claim by the predators. Of course, they have already incriminated themselves online and left no doubt as to their real intentions.
  • Modesty Towel: Chris has provided these on more than one occasion to "guests" that stripped naked when entering the house.
  • Oh, Crap!: A very common reaction among the more Genre Savvy predators when Chris shows up. They either realize they were caught in a sting operation or in some cases they've actually seen TCAP before. A few actually recognize the setup even before Chris shows up and try to bolt — only to run into the police outside. A few think that it's just a reality show setup or some kind of prank only to react this way when they realize the police are involved and even bolt midway through the interview.
  • Older Than They Look: The actors posing as the underaged kids are all over 18, but look like they're adolescents.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "Why don't you have a seat right over there?"
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Chris did this in the Bowling Green, Kentucky segment.
    Chris: ... but this time, we were bowled over by what we've seen, in the quiet town of Bowling Green.
  • Schmuck Bait: Chris and his crew create fake aliases that allow the predators to expose themselves. Chris allows the predator to leave just so they can get tackled by the cops. They fall for it every time, even after the show became popular.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Once Chris Hansen became a household name, predators frequently ran for it the moment that they saw him. A few decided to run for it part of the way through the interview.
    • In the first To Catch a Con Man installment, all three con men ran for it as soon as they learned that they were talking to Chris.
    • Some of the predators took it even further by not bothering to show up to the meeting spot at all. Except that by this point they've usually given out enough personal information to identify and arrest them since a crime was already committed by soliciting a minor online.
  • Skewed Priorities: One particular predator was very insistent that the decoy put his beers in the fridge; to the point where he shouts "Put the beer in the refrigerator!" more than literally anything else in his conversation with the decoy.
    • Later in when the same predator was talking to Chris, he awkwardly states out of nowhere that he "isn't gay or anything" while its debated whether or not this was an excuse to why he wouldn't sleep with an underage boy, fans speculate he was actually more ashamed of being homosexual than being a pedophile.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Used for obvious reasons, though this is also sometimes employed for somewhat comic effect too.
    Chris: But that's not how the conversation went on the internet is it?
    Thomas: I don't think so, I don't know.
    Chris: You say, "I love to ____k a young man, deept____ and f____ ____".
    Thomas: ...okay.
  • The Stoic: Chris Hansen keeps a straight face at all times.
  • Syndication Title: Many of the hour-long true-crime documentaries are rebroadcast on MSNBC under individual titles without the Dateline branding.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Richard from the Ocean County sting tried to pull this scheme. Introducing himself to the decoy as a college student named "Rick", he expresses his intentions before introducing a friend named "Steve" who will actually meet with the decoy. As a grooming tactic, this appeared to be his way of making the victim more comfortable with sleeping with an older man.

"I'm Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC, and we're doing a story on tropers. If there's any other tropes you'd like to add, feel free to do so. Otherwise, you're free to leave this page anytime."

Alternative Title(s): To Catch A Predator, Dateline NBC