Dateline NBC, or simply Dateline, is a weekly American television newsmagazine/reality legal show that is broadcast on NBC. It was previously the network's flagship news magazine, but now focuses mainly on true crime stories with only occasional editions that focus on other topics. The program airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time (9:00 p.m. Eastern for special two-hour editions) and on most Sundays, outside the NFL season, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, special Saturday editions also occasionally air during the fall and winter months. Two-hour feature-length editions sometimes air on any given scheduled evening, often to fill vacancies in the primetime schedule on the program's respective nights due to program cancellations.
|Also known as||Dateline|
|Presented by||Lester Holt|
(for past anchors, see section)
|Composer(s)||Michael Karp (1992–2006)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||28|
|Executive producer(s)||David Corvo|
|Running time||1 to 2 hours (including commercials)|
|Production company(s)||Peacock Productions|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution (cable and broadcast syndication)|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
|Original release||March 31, 1992 –|
|Related shows||NBC Nightly News|
Dateline is historically notable for its longevity on the network. The program debuted on March 31, 1992, initially airing only on Tuesdays, with Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley serving as its co-anchors. Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric joined the program when the previously separate newsmagazine Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric was converted into Dateline Wednesday. Gradually, the program expanded with the addition of a third night (on Friday) in 1994 and a fourth night (on Monday) in 1997, peaking at five nights of airings each week (eventually adding a Sunday edition) in mid 1999 and 2000. The number of nights that the program aired on began to be reduced with the rise of equally-economic and popular reality television programming and the result of viewer exhaustion with the multiple-night format. Editions first began to be removed in the spring of 2001, with the main Tuesday slot being eliminated in 2004.
Dateline was the first "multi-night" franchise that "established brand power by 'stripping' editions," a strategy by NBC's entertainment division to place the program in the same time slot every week. It was considered to be a singular program rather than multiple weekly programs, and included many teasers and multiple installment interviews (NBC later tried a similar strategy of "stripping" with The Jay Leno Show in 2009). In its prime, from 1995 to 1999, Dateline provided significant breaking news coverage. The program featured sensationalized news stories and drew in viewers with stories aired in multiple installments. By 1999, any one individual Dateline edition placed in Nielsen's top 10 most-watched television programs among total viewers during most weeks. NBC capitalized on its relationship with CNBC and MSNBC by airing repackaged stories seen on past Dateline broadcasts on the retrospective series Headliners and Legends and Time and Again.
The program first originated from NBC Studio 3K, using the same set that was used at the time for NBC Nightly News. When Today moved to its current facility, NBC Studio 1A, in 1994, Dateline took over Studio 3B and received its own brand-new dedicated set.
Past contributing anchors were Bryant Gumbel, who left NBC in 1997, Maria Shriver, who left NBC in 2004, and Katie Couric, who left NBC in 2006. On June 24, 2005, Ann Curry co-anchored "Dateline" for the first time and became permanent host shortly thereafter.
Dateline began broadcasting in high definition for the first time on July 21, 2008, with an episode titled "Tower Dogs". Dateline previously shared the multi-level Studio 1A with Today. However, in 2013, the program moved back to Studio 3K, where the early-morning news programs Early Today and MSNBC's First Look are also broadcast. Lester Holt replaced Ann Curry as host of Dateline with the start of the 20th season on September 23, 2011, shortly after Curry became permanent co-host of Today.
General Motors vs. NBC
On November 17, 1992, Dateline NBC aired an hour-long investigative report titled "Waiting to Explode," which focused on allegations that General Motors' Rounded-Line Chevrolet C/K-Series pickup trucks exploded upon impact when involved in collisions due to the poor design of the vehicle model's fuel tanks. Dateline's footage showed a sample of a low-speed accident in which the fuel tank exploded; the explosion during the crash test would later be discovered to have been staged by an expert witness for hire against GM, Bruce Enz of The Institute for Safety Analysis. Enz used incendiary devices and a poorly fitted gas cap to create the impression of a dangerous vehicle. The program did not disclose the fact that the accident was staged.
GM hired investigators from Failure Analysis Associates (FaAA, now Exponent) to study the footage; FaAA investigators discovered while reviewing the video that smoke had actually started to expel from the fuel tank six frames before the actual impact occurred. Acting on a tip from someone involved with the Dateline crash test, investigators with FaAA searched through 22 junkyards in Indiana before finding the charred wreckage of the GM pickups.
It was also later revealed that the Dateline report had been dishonest about the fuel tanks rupturing and the alleged 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) speed at which the collision was conducted. The actual speed was found to be higher than stated, around 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), and after x-ray examination of the fuel tanks from the C/K pickups used in the televised collision, it was found that they had not ruptured and were intact. GM subsequently filed an anti-defamation/libel lawsuit against NBC after conducting an extensive investigation. On February 8, 1993, after announcing the lawsuit, GM conducted a highly publicized point-by-point rebuttal in the Product Exhibit Hall of the General Motors Building in Detroit that lasted nearly two hours.
The General Motors lawsuit and the subsequent settlement were arguably the most devastating blows for NBC in a series of reputation damaging incidents during the 1990s and early 2000s. Within NBC, Michael Gartner, who resigned under pressure shortly after the incident, was the source for much of the blame. NBC News President Reuven Frank stated Gartner was hired in 1988, despite having no background in television news, in an attempt to satisfy parent company General Electric, by replacing current journalists with cheaper, less experienced reporters and producers.
In addition to the resignation of the news division's president Gartner, three Dateline NBC producers were dismissed as a result of the incident and the findings of the resulting investigation: executive producer Jeff Diamond, senior producer David Rummel, and Robert Read, producer of the report on the pickups. Michele Gillen, the correspondent involved in the segment, was transferred to NBC's Miami owned-and-operated station WTVJ, where she became an anchor of the station's evening newscasts.
In August 2007, Dateline reporter Michelle Madigan attempted to secretly record hackers admitting to crimes at that year's DEF CON in Las Vegas, Nevada. After being outed by DEF CON founder Jeff Moss during an assembly, she was heckled and chased out of the conference by attendees for her use of covert audio and video recording equipment. DEF CON staff tried to get Madigan to obtain a press pass before the outing happened. A DEF CON source at NBC had tipped off organizers to Madigan's plans.
To Catch a Predator
To Catch a Predator was a special series of reports, hosted by Chris Hansen, featuring hidden camera sting operations that bust potential sex offenders who carry out online chats with children with the intent of luring them to meet in person and engage in illegal sexual activity. The stings are conducted in partnership with Perverted-Justice, and begin for each potential offender with recordings of online chats of him with a "decoy" employed with the organization, posing as minor, generally between the ages of 12 and 15. If the potential offender and the decoy make an appointment, this is at the pretended home of the pretended minor, which is in fact a house prepared for the television show, with police hiding outside for the subsequent arrest of the offender outside the house.
During the filming of each episode, men who attempt to meet the minor in person are filmed as they enter inside the "sting" house. Shortly after the target is inside, often after talking to the Perverted-Justice decoy (who either briefly meets with the men or converses with them from another room), Hansen would confront each suspect and ask them about their online conversations (which were transcribed and printed) with the decoy. After the confrontation, the men are taken into custody by local police. Some men were arrested even if they never entered the home in question. The segment was cancelled in early 2008 in part due to criticism of the show as well as legal issues.
To Catch a Con Man
To Catch a Con Man was a series of hidden camera investigations devoted to the subject of identifying and detaining con men who attempt to extract money from victims in advance fee fraud scams, although some editions also focused on exposing and catching identity thieves. The stories, which were also reported by Chris Hansen (who called the identity thieves that the series investigates "a different kind of predator"), are conducted as an undercover sting operation in partnership with cardcops.com, a credit card watchdog group which investigates identity thefts and aims to catch the suspects in the act.
Comparison with other news magazines
In contrast to NBC's now-cancelled "hard news" magazine program, Rock Center with Brian Williams, Dateline focuses on true crime and human interest stories, predominantly featuring a single story for the entire program. Keith Morrison often serves as narrator for certain editions, usually reporting on real-life murder mysteries chronicled in many editions, and cliffhangers are used prior to commercial breaks. Famous con man Steve Comisar appeared regularly on Dateline as a fraud prevention expert.
The Friday night edition of Dateline features special emphasis on true crime stories, which previously included the "To Catch a Predator" series. Most NBC News specials, either in the form of special interviews or extended special reports on pertinent breaking news stories that occurred earlier in the day, are also broadcast under the Dateline banner. However, on occasion, the Sunday broadcasts (airing in a time slot otherwise reserved for family-friendly programming, aside from CBS' competitor 60 Minutes) focuses on stories tailored for younger viewers, such as recent Sunday reports on teen drivers and child safety; on other weeks, the Sunday editions feature either true crime stories, stories recounting situations in which people have survived life-threatening situations, consumer reports or interviews.
Dateline features a single story format, although in the past the program maintained a traditional newsmagazine format with multiple segments of varying length, such as with the Sunday version, which in particular still occasionally features multiple story packages that are tied to a specific theme. Unlike the other flagship newsmagazines on U.S. television (CBS' 60 Minutes and ABC's 20/20), Dateline featured more character-driven stories focusing on the audience's emotional attachment to the persons featured, and fewer non-character driven international and national news stories. However, the success of Dateline led to the other networks to create additional versions of their newsmagazines, 60 Minutes II and additional nights of 20/20 (which were often not as successful).
Executive producer Neal Shapiro pioneered several "signature segments" that appeared regularly on the program. These included Dateline: Survivor, in which a person recounts a near-death experience and their eventual rescue; Dateline Timeline, in which a popular product, person and music single are shown/played that viewers are invited to guess what year it was from; State of the Art, explaining how a special effect or stunt in a movie was technically accomplished; Consumer Alert, in which common consumer complaints or issues (such as food safety and products of suspect quality that may be dangerous) are investigated, Dateline Hidden Camera Investigation, a story using hidden cameras to focus on an issue of public concern; and Newsmakers, light interviews with major figures in politics, entertainment, and business, as well as regular people in the news. The program also included cross-promotional segments with Court TV and magazines People, Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports. In the 1990s, a common week would feature several "signature segments," breaking news, updates on past stories shown on the program, multi-part investigations, and interviews. Dateline also pioneered the use of viewer feedback including telephone polling and a unique format, the "Interactive Dateline Mystery," where viewers voted (similar to Choose Your Own Adventure) on where the story should go next.
Current on-air staff
- Lester Holt (September 23, 2011–present)
Former on-air staff
Repackaged hour-long true crime episodes of Dateline air on various cable and satellite channels such as Investigation Discovery, E!, USA Network (E! and USA are owned by NBC parent company NBCUniversal) and OWN, usually with the network names suffixing the generic branding of Dateline on…. Several other brandings exist, with Dateline: Secrets Uncovered as a part of Oxygen, Dateline: Real Life Mysteries on TLC (along with Dateline on TLC), and Dateline Extra the branding for repackaged episodes on MSNBC. All episodes are repackaged by NBC News under its non-fiction Peacock Productions banner.
In September 2017, Dateline began airing archived true crime-focused episodes in daily broadcast syndication; the NBC branding is completely removed. These episodes also air as part of MyNetworkTV's Wednesday night lineup.
- Series debut: 12.9 household rating/17.1 million viewers
- Series high: 21.2 million viewers (10/4/1994)
- Season averages
NOTE: Data from 2007 to present includes Live+ Ratings.
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Dateline is broadcast in Canada, mainly through NBC affiliates from U.S. border cities (such as KING-TV in Seattle, WDIV-TV in Detroit and WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, New York) that are widely available in that country; the NBC program is not shared with a domestic Canadian network, though many of the same Canadian counterparts to the cable networks mentioned in the syndication section air the repackaged Dateline on... episodes as a part of their own schedules. Dateline NBC is also seen on the 24-hour news network Orbit News in Europe and the Middle East, which broadcasts MSNBC and other NBC News programs for several hours a day. It is also broadcast on the Seven Network in Australia on Sundays at 5 a.m., although is pre-empted by paid programming on regional affiliates Prime Television and Golden West Network.
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- Although the age of consent in many U.S. states is 16, this minimum age set by some states at 17 or 18.
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