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Series / Dateline
aka: To Catch A Predator

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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 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).


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.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: To be sure, a more subtle example of this trope, but whenever a predator brought up that he was a religious man, Hansen appeared rather irritated with him, seeming to question just how religious could the man have been given the situation he was in.
  • 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.
  • Catchphrase:
  • The Dreaded: Chris is this to many of the predators.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • More Popular Spinoff: 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).
  • 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?"
  • The Stoic: Chris Hansen keeps a straight face at all times.
  • 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.
  • Syndication Title: Many of the hourlong true-crime documentaries are rebroadcast on MSNBC under individual titles without the Dateline branding.

"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


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