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When Dinosaurs Roamed America (2001, sometimes shortened to When Dinosaurs Roamed outside North America) was the Discovery Channel's first major attempt to cash-in on the dinosaur-documentary trend started by BBC's famous Walking with Dinosaurs. Similar to that program, it also aimed for a Speculative Documentary format, and used CGI to recreate its dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and various other prehistoric animals, placing them into real-life scenery. The stories were told in chronological order, from the beginning to the end of the dinosaurs' reign. The series is narrated by John Goodman, with music by former Tangerine Dream member and Babylon 5 composer Christopher Franke.

Unlike its predecessor/competitor, however, WDRA included short cut-away scenes to paleontologists and at times froze the animation to reveal the skeletal structure behind the animals' skin, using solid facts to explain the science that went into creating the program.

Other things that make it different from WWD is the fact that it concentrates purely on American dinosaurs, and condenses its stories into small segments, instead of devoting full episodes to them.

While disliked by some due to how quickly Discovery churned it out after hearing of the dinosaurs' marketability from Britain, the product was generally well-received by the viewers, especially compared to some later works, such as Clash of the Dinosaurs and Monsters Resurrected.


The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: Notice that small, unnamed theropod from the very beginning of the last segment? The now- gone website reveals it's an Ornithomimus.
  • Always a Bigger Fish:
    • The Megapnosaurus (Kayentavenator?) suddenly cease their attack on the Anchisaurus. It turns out that the Dilophosaurus has shown up.
    • Allosaurus to Ceratosaurus. Also counts as an example of The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Coelophysis is put in the late Triassic of 220 million years when the Dinosaur didn't appear until about 216 million years ago.
    • Dilophosaurus didn't exist 200 million years ago.
  • Animals Not to Scale:
    • Most likely the result of the animators not paying attention. When the first T. rex shows up, it doesn't seem out of scale with the rest of the animals. But the narration claims it's actually a juvenile. Later, when his mother appears, she is hulking huge, even compared to the "Anatotitan" which is supposed to be the same size as a rex!
    • Similarly Megapnosaurus is said to be 10 feet long; how come the not-even 7 foot Anchisaurus is more than twice their size (this could be a case of Science Marches On as the larger Ammosaurus is sometimes considered Anchisaurus)?
  • Apocalypse How: A Class4 event at the end of the Cretaceous, but interestingly, the documentary also starts with an even larger meteor-strike, that was supposed to represent the great extinction event that ended the Permian and made way for the evolution of dinosaurs in the Triassic. A lesser meteor-related extinction also separates the Triassic and Jurassic.
    • Apocalypse Wow: The K-T extinction is depicted as a supermassive atomic bomb going off with a blazing wall of ash and fire rushing across the land, causing the mighty T. rex family to flee in terror. In the aftermath, a grey world is left behind littered with dinosaur corpses.
  • Artistic License Paleontology:
    • The theropod hands shouldn't be pronated (kangaroo-like). Their palms actually faced towards each other.
    • Icarosaurus was not the first reptile to evolve the ability to glide as earlier gliding animals like Coelurosauravus and Sharovipteryx were known many years before the documentary's creation.
    • An example that is borderline this and Science Marches On are the dromaeosaurs in the Mid Cretaceous segment. Mid-way through production, the fossils which the dromaeosaurs were based on were reclassified as a much more primitive coelurosaur (later determined to be a tyrannosaur and named Suskityrannus). Unfortunately, it was too late to fix, as the dromaeosaurs were the main characters. But the more accurate depiction was given a nod with the unnamed coelurosaurs which briefly appear in the episode.
    • Quetzalcoatlus is depicted as being slow and clumsy on the ground and having difficulty taking off, when in fact it was quite fast and comfortable on the ground and could take off relatively easily: Azhdarchids spent a considerable amount of time on the ground, like giraffe-sized storks and due to being able to gallop and jump using the muscles in all four limbs rather than just their hind limbs they could get airborne fairly easily in spite of their bulk.
  • Behind the Black: The Ceratosaurus doesn't notice the hulking huge, oncoming Allosaurus either, until it's right on top of it. To the ceratosaur's credit, though, it was off-screen, even if out in the open, plainly visible from all sides.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Stegosaurus and Desmatosuchus both use armoured tails to defend themselves against predators. Ceratosaurus finds this out the hard way.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The raptors in the fourth segment die in a forest fire because they were too busy eating to run away.
  • Decomposite Character: Accidental example. Due to the producers having to deal with a misclassification discovered halfway through production, the the Zuni theropod (eventually named Suskityrannus) wound up being split into two different dinosaurs; the Zuni raptors (as the find was originally interpreted as a dromaeosaur), who are focal characters, and a generic coelurosaur, who is given a minor role in the segment.
  • The Dreaded: Dilophosaurus towers over its competitors and its prey in the Early Jurassic. The only thing they fear is another Dilophosaurus.
  • Eagle Land: The documentary takes place in prehistoric America, back when eagles were big, scaly and had teeth.
  • Eats Babies: Ceratosaurus kills and devours a baby Dryosaurus.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The deinonychosaurs fail to notice a forest fire, even when being surrounded by flames.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • What happens to the poor Apatosaurus that trips and falls. As if slowly starving to death wasn't bad enough, a hungry pack of Allosaurus descends on it and ravenously devours it alive.
    • During the lightning/forest fire sequence in the mid-Cretaceous segment, the raptors get roasted alive along with the Zuniceratops corpse they were feeding on.
    • During the same segment, a Nothronychus gets struck by a bolt of lightning and explodes! This was cut from the television broadcast for obvious reasons.
  • Feathered Fiend: The documentary famously depicted many dinosaurs with feathers for the first time, including "raptors" and the bizarre-looking Nothronychus. As for the fiend part of the trope, the raptors are carnivores and the herbivorous Nothronychus has no issue taking deadly swipes at them with its claws when they try to add it to their menu.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.
  • Giant Flyer: Quetzalcoatlus is the size of a small plane.
  • Goofy Feathered Dinosaur: Subverted with the raptors and Nothronychus. Their early CGI feathered coatings may make them look goofy, but they are very dangerous animals. Especially the Nothronychus since they can swipe away a raptor with their mighty claws despite being described as "a half-plucked turkey [that] walks like a potbellied bear."
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Allosaurus does this to Ceratosaurus as it chases down the Dryosaurus.
  • Inconsistent Dub: All three Hungarian narrations (yes, there's that many) had trouble deciding where to use soft "C"s and hard "K"s, which lead to mispronunciations like "Koelophysis", "Keratosaurus" and "koelurosaurus".
  • Mighty Roar:
    • Tyrannosaurus does this, obviously, but Dilophosaurus also has an awesome roar (which sounds oddly metallic). Ceratosaurus is no slouch either, as it has arguably the most fearsome sounding roar.
    • Inverted in the case of Allosaurus, which sounds incredibly weak being the largest carnivore in the Late Jurassic segment of the show.
  • Narrator: John Goodman does this.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Averted by the herbivorous Desmatosuchus, but the phytosaur Rutiodon does the job alright.
  • Noisy Nature: For a dinosaur-show, this is almost prerequisite. A particularly glaring example is the Dilophosaurus. Justified in the part where the Syntarsus (now Megapnosaurus) steal his food, since he is trying to scare them away, but for the most part he can't seem to shut up even when he's stalking prey (Ironically, Science Marches On and it is fairly certain most dinosaurs were not incredibly noisy animals).
  • Prehistoric Monster: Avoided, although the animals do behave as aggressive as its intended audience expects them to.
  • Raptor Attack: Somewhat justified, as the CGI team couldn't get their feathers to be quite as birdlike as they should be. Though one may wonder why they couldn't just keep the feathers as textures, as done on realistic CGI birds.
  • Real Is Brown: Practically half the animals are some shade of brown or earthen tome.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The Ceratosaurus, as the Allosaurus kills it.
    • Allosaurus itself, all the time.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: When the Stegosaurus pair get ready to mate, the camera tilts skywards. This was the only solution, though: we don't really know just how they did it.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The scenes of paleontologists inserted in between the dinosaur clips.
    • This is one of the first dino-documentaries to feature feathered raptors and therizinosaurs (in the form of Nothronychus). While the CGI technology wasn't ready to depict birdlike feathers, the sight of a fuzzy but dangerous raptor is enough to hammer home of just how close dinosaurs are to birds.
    • The depiction of Dilophosaurus as an apex predator of its day rather than a scavenger with a weak bite or the fictitious frilled-spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park. While there are minor scientific inaccuracies with the portrayal itself, this is one of the few major dinosaur media that refutes the idea of Dilophosaurus being physically weak carnivore (even back in 1986, paleontologists argued that Dilophosaurus may have still hunted other dinosaurs despite its apparent fragile jaws, while reviews of Dilophasaurus skulls in 2021 found that their supposedly fragile nature was the result of misinterpretation and it was definitely robust enough to kill large prey).
    • The Quetzalcoatlus is depicted with pycnofibers.note 
  • Speculative Documentary: Since dinosaurs are long gone, it's inevitable that the documentary would have to construct its interpretation of the Mesozoic era based on the evidence they have with fossils.
  • Terrifying Tyrannosaur: Tyrannosaurus rex is the "star" of the final segment, and John Goodman plays up its fearsome nature, calling it the "scourge of the American West." The documentary portrays the T. rex in two variants of terror: The fast, nimble juveniles that can chase down any prey they find, and the giant, powerful adults that can instantly kill their prey with one bite. Together, they form a formidable pack feared by all.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The dromaeosaurid attacking the Nothronychus head on, although both survive the attack. They then die when they're burned alive in the forest fire because they were too busy eating the corpse of the dead Zuniceratops to run away from the fire.
  • What the Hell Are You?: How the Nothronychus is introduced, with the rogue raptor that encounters it being utterly dumbstruck by its bizarre appearance. Then he tries to attack the seemingly clumsy and defenseless vegetarian, only to get its ass whooped. For context, this was the very first time a therizinosaur was brought to life in a nature documentary, beating Chased by Dinosaurs by a year.
  • Wolverine Claws: Nothronychus has unusually large claws.


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