It Takes a Thief is a Reality Show that aired on the Discovery Channel between 2005 and 2007. It starred two former thieves (Matt Johnston & Jon Douglas Rainey) who had reformed their lives; Matt had become a schoolteacher, and Jon a private eye. The episodes consist of them finding a homeowner who has very lax security on his/her home, which they then rob with the homeowners' consent, in exchange for a full upgrade to the security in their home. This robbery is filmed on an ad-hoc CCTV system installed in the house by the show's technical staff, and is played back for the viewing audience in real-time (burglaries that take over 10 to 15 minutes are edited for time). The homeowners must secure their house normally.
Matt usually comments on the robbery in progress while watching the CCTV in a nearby van, while Jon cases and then robs the houses. The homeowners then return to their houses (either with Matt or, in later episodes, independently) to survey the damage that Jon caused while robbing their house. Invariably, despite the fact the homeowners know they are going to get everything back, they are always devastated to discover how vulnerable they were, and being robbed (even with their consent) makes them feel violated.
After Matt calms the upset homeowners down after they are forced to confront what they could lose, the two hosts then help them get properly secured so that they can prevent being robbed in the future.
They then return about two weeks later to attempt to break into the house to make sure that the family has actually improved their habits. In about half the cases, despite the family knowing there will be a second robbery attempt, they're still able to break in again!
It Takes a Trope:
- The Atoner: Matt and Jon used to be thieves, but now they help people defend themselves against thieves.
- Blatant Burglar: No ski masks (the "crimes" are being filmed, after all), but Jon often wears a black stocking cap.
- Catchphrase: "Because to catch a thief... It Takes a Thief."
- Compromising Call: On an episode, Jon is robbing a sorority and decides to wait until all the residents are home (presumably so he doesn't have to worry about anyone showing up while the heist is in progress). Jon makes his move while all the girls are in the living room, assuming they'd all be there for a while. Instead, the girls almost immediately split into small groups and meander about. Matt, watching the cameras decides to call Jon to warn him. The trope ends up subverted when it turns out Jon turned his phone off prior to beginning the heist.
- Criminal Procedural: How a crime takes place, what happens, and how to prevent it from happening again; that's what Matt and John are here for.
- Delicious Distraction: In at least a couple of instances, Jon uses food as a means of placating a guard dog.
- Distracted by the Sexy: One episode had Jon stealing from an all-male frathouse and having a woman accomplice posing as a student trying to find someone at the frathouse to help keep them distracted. There are points where Jon is able to walk right by the frathouse members because all of them are trying to hit on his accomplice.
- Donut Mess with a Cop: The "target" of the episode was a police station. ("I can't believe we're going to jack the cops.") When Jon showed up for the meeting with his victims, he brought a plate of donuts as a peace offering.
- Even Evil Has Standards: During a heist Jon came across some September 11th items and remarked that he couldn't bring himself to steal them. It is noted later that if this were a real robbery, however, the thief may not have been so morally conscious.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Not played out nearly as straight as the homeowners would like. In some cases the big angry guard dog actually comes over to make friends.
- Evil Is Petty:
- Not "evil" per say, but on one heist Jon not only stole a family's money and appliances but also their beer. He drank it while he was still in the house.
- Jon also likes to steal remotes, even when he can't take the electronics they go to.
- Impersonating an Officer: Discussed. Some of the homeowners who signed up for the show were either police officers or married to police officers. Matt always made a point of talking about what would have happened if a real burglar, instead of Jon, had walked off with police uniforms, badges, and firearms.
- Incompetent Guard Animal: A homeowner trained his own guard dog. The dog was vicious, but the design of the house, combined with incomplete training, meant Jon was able to trick the dog outside and lock the dog on the back patio while he robbed the house. This was subverted on the return visit, where the patio had been redesigned to not allow the dog to be trapped outside, and the dog himself had received professional training.
- Inside Job: In one episode, Jon is charged with robbing a mechanic's business (as opposed to houses like the show normally covers). Rather than risk setting off the alarm and having to pick a lock, Jon just bribes an employee to not set the alarm and unlock the back door. Naturally, with all the security features disabled, Jon effortlessly cleans the place out.
- Murderer P.O.V.: In some episodes, Jon wears a miniature camera so Matt, the house owners, and the viewers can watch the crime from his point of view.
- No-Gear Level: Matt once challenged Jon to an on-the-spot heist. No casing, no tools, no accomplices, nothing! He still walked way with a lot of stuff.
- Reformed Criminal: Both of the hosts used to be criminals, though their records were exaggerated a bit for the opening credits. Now they're helping people.
- Too Dumb to Live: Looking at the "before" scenes, as the homeowners show Matt what they're (not) doing for home security, you have to wonder why some of these people haven't been robbed blind already. Bonus points to the homeowners who still don't secure their place after Jon's demonstration and the free home security system installation.
- One person's security was so lax, they robbed her house while she was in it, and played back the tape later.
- One person dared Matt and Jon to break into his house because he believed he already had top-notch security. All Jon had to do was cut the power, which he did instantly and easily.
- Your Door Was Open: Even in the re-visits, several people (as mentioned above) still leave their doors and windows open.