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 and has never entirely gone away.
The series 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. Stone Phillips would become the face of the main Dateline. The series existed mainly to fill holes in the programming schedule; during the bulk of the 1990s, Dateline was on more nights than not. Archived (rerun) Dateline crime stories are used for this same purpose on MSNBC, Investigation Discovery, and TLC during dead periods.
The series drew infamy with its constant stream of fluff stories, You Can Panic Now stories, and screw-ups — most notably, an early 1992 episode of the show got into hot water when it falsely claimed that 1973-1987 GM pickup trucks have leaky and explosive gas tanks (when in reality, the only reason they exploded for the cameras is 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 from NBC News to NBC's O&O in Miami, WTVJ, 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 was 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 nights of Dateline. Stone Phillips left the series (Jane Pauly left several years earlier) and Anne Curry and Chris Hansen took over as main anchors for the series.
The series returned to the spotlight in 2004, when a segment Chris Hansen did with the 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 Chris Hansen and the predators. Controversy was sparked, mostly by accusations of entrapment by lawyers for the accused predators and a high profile suicide of one man caught in the sting (but who did not appear on the show, having discovered prior to his death that he had been nailed in a sting operation). The show and Chris Hansen ultimately achieved Memetic Mutation, with parodies appearing on different shows like South Park, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, The Boondocks, Squidbillies, etc. Whether because of the legal controversy, 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 Chris Hansen, who recently had his own embarrassing scandal.
On April 2015, Hansen launched a Kickstarter campaign to promote his successor to the original series, Hansen vs. Predator. The campaign was so successful, Hansen 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 season 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 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?
- Adult Fear: The dangers that TCAP confronted were very much real-life fears that are among parent's worst nightmares.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: For Christmas, Dateline embraced the fact that Keith Morrison sounds like true-crime Santa and released several episodes of him reading classic Christmas tales.
- 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.
- Blatant Lies: Hansen usually gave the predators a chance to explain what innocuous purpose they had for being there... before he reveals that he has the (very incriminating) chat logs.
- The Dreaded: Chris is this to many of the predators.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
- 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: On To Catch A Predator Chris Hansen has provided these on more than one occasion to "guests" that stripped naked when entering the house.
- More Popular Spin-Off: To Catch a Predator, to the point where half this page is about it (you could count the tropes listed for the things that weren't To Catch a Predator on one hand).
- 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.
- 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?"
- Schmuck Bait: 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.
- 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.