Forensic Files

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Forensic Files
Forensic Files logo.jpg
Title card, seasons 7–14
Also known as Medical Detectives
Mystery Detectives
Murder Detectives
Forensic Files: Digital Details
Cause of Death
Created by Paul Dowling
Starring Various
Narrated by Peter Thomas
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 14
No. of episodes 400 (list of episodes)
Running time 30 minutes
Distributor Trifecta Entertainment & Media
Original network TLC (1996–2000)
Court TV (2000–2007)
truTV (2008–2011)
Picture format 480i (SDTV) (Seasons 1–12)
1080p (HDTV) (Seasons 13–14)
Audio format Stereo
Original release April 21, 1996 – June 17, 2011
External links

Forensic Files is an American documentary-style series that reveals how forensic science is used to solve violent crimes, mysterious accidents, and even outbreaks of illness. The show was originally broadcast on TLC, narrated by Peter Thomas, and produced by Medstar Television, distributed by FilmRise, in association with truTV Original Productions. It broadcast 400 episodes since its debut on TLC in 1996 as Medical Detectives. Reruns shown on HLN were initially retitled Mystery Detectives before settling with the main title of the show in 2014.

A version of the series was broadcast on the British Channel Five, under the name Murder Detectives.

Several episodes are also available on distributor FilmRise's YouTube channel.[1]

Production and broadcast history[edit]

Title card used during seasons 1 through 6 (including the retitled Medical Detectives episodes).

The series began on the TLC Network in April 1996 as Medical Detectives.[2] Old episodes of Medical Detectives now air on TruTV under the Forensic Files label. Overseas, the show airs under these two titles, and others, on various channels in over 100 countries. It is distributed by CABLEready.

Premiering just as the O. J. Simpson murder trial had focused attention on the world of DNA and forensics, Medical Detectives became a hit.[3] It was one of the first of the popular forensic science shows. A few years later, Court TV acquired rights to broadcast the show and it quickly became the cornerstone of their primetime schedule, increasing its annual production run to 42 episodes. The show was retained after the network was renamed TruTV in 2008.

The show was so successful that, in 2002, NBC aired it as a summer replacement series, one of the first times a show produced for cable was aired by a broadcast network in prime-time.[4][5]

In 2009, truTV's sister network Turner Network Television ("TNT") began airing episodes in HD on Wednesday nights for the month of December.[6]

The vast majority of the shows are in a half-hour format. However, some hour-long specials have been produced. Several of these have re-investigated famous cases such as The Norfolk Four, or even historic murders such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the John F. Kennedy assassination.[7][8]

Reruns aired on Lifetime in the fall of 2011 under the Medical Detectives moniker.[citation needed] A year later, in October 2012, HLN began airing the reruns under the title Mystery Detectives. Beginning in January 2014, HLN switched to the "Forensic Files" title.[9] On that network, it is increasingly being used to fill many time slots due to program cancellations by budget cuts. In fact, the program took up about 58% of the entire HLN channel each week.[10] In June 2014, the series aired nightly from 2am through 5am on CNN, before being removed due to industry and viewer criticism[citation needed], along with continuing international breaking news events, and replaced with a CNN International simulcast. Since November 7, 2015, HLN retitled the series "Forensic Files: Digital Details" and aired episodes that did not air on the channel before. The reruns of the series have tied with CNN programs in its 25-54 viewing demo.[11]

TruTV currently still holds the licensing rights to the Forensic Files name.[citation needed] The reruns were repackaged with a shorter intro, and (at the end of some episodes) updates on what became of the suspect(s) or parties involved since the final verdicts. (For example: At the end of the 1996 episode "The List Murders," it is mentioned that John List, convicted of murdering his entire family in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison, died in 2008.) In late 2014, Investigation Discovery started airing episodes under the "Cause of Death" title.[12]

"Weird science"[edit]

The show helped pioneer documentary style crime-science shows. The show's official website says it profiles "puzzling, often baffling cases whose riddles are ultimately solved by forensic detection." The cases and people are real. Perhaps surprisingly, DNA testing is rarely focused on. While ballistics, hair analysis, and fingerprint comparisons do turn up, the show seems to prefer unusual evidence such as animal hairs, plant analysis, or arson investigation. Scientists and forensic experts in many fields are interviewed.

Not every case is a crime. In some cases, the investigation reveals that suspects are innocent, and the death was an accident or suicide. Several shows have profiled people who have been jailed for or convicted of a crime, and who were ultimately exonerated by forensic evidence. Other episodes have focused on accidents where consulted experts relied on forensic evidence to explain why the incident occurred, such as the 1987 King's Cross station fire and the 1993 Big Bayou Canot train wreck. Many of the accident investigation episodes were originally broadcast as a separate CourtTV series called Extreme Evidence, but are now re-run under the Forensic Files name, and included in the Mystery Detectives re-branding.

Although Medical Detectives also showed how outbreaks of mysterious illnesses were tracked (such as the Hantavirus and Legionellosis), most of those have been dropped in favor of criminal cases (and occasionally civil cases) on TruTV.

Show format[edit]

The show takes a "whodunit" approach, making each case a mystery to be solved. Every half-hour episode follows one case from initial investigation until conviction, acquittal, or some other legal resolution. Pathologists, medical examiners, police officers, detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, friends and families of victims or suspects (if cooperation is given) are all interviewed about their roles.

Video of the lab tests is shot in a modernistic film noir style, in dark, moodily lit settings with odd, glowing colors. The crimes and parts of the investigation are re-enacted with actors in dramatic recreations. These recreations are indicated by a change to a "filmized" look, as is done with many crime re-enactment shows.[4] These recreations sometimes include alternate versions of the crime, which are eventually disproved by the science. This technique would later be appropriated, in a modified form, by the hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation—essentially a fictionalized big-budget version of Forensic Files. During the original run of the show as Medical Detectives, eerie vocal music was matched with the recreations in order to create a frightening atmosphere. This specific effect was discontinued after the move to Court TV.

For privacy considerations, names of some victims and their families are changed, and case evidence featured within the show is re-created to protect true identities. That is, unless consent is given by the persons who are being spoken to, the show is not allowed to use the family's (or families') real name(s).

In 2006, Forensic Files "Advanced" episodes aired, which had older episodes interspersed with Pop-Up Video style factoids about the case featured.

Sometimes, another case is mentioned that is similar to that one. For example: "Cold Hearted" on "Freeze Framed" and "Past Lives" on "A Squire's Riches". In another episode that involves DNA evidence, a man on an older episode was mentioned to have been the first person put to death in the United States based on DNA evidence.

Other media[edit]

Cover of the first Forensic Files DVD.

The Official Forensic Files Casebook was published in 2004. The book recaps and expounds on some episodes, explains how the show is produced, and details why some proposed episodes were turned down. In it, the show's Executive Producer/Writer Paul Dowling says he was inspired to create the show because he had been present in Philadelphia during the outbreak of Legionellosis in 1976, as well as by the murder of Helle Crafts. The CDC's legionellosis investigation eventually became an episode of Medical Detectives, while the Crafts case was filmed as the series' pilot episode.[3]

In 2004, Court TV released a limited number of episodes on DVD. As of June 26, 2009, says the DVD has been discontinued by the manufacturer.

In August 2011, TGG Direct released 8 DVD collections each containing 12 episodes. These collections include "Historic Cases," "Convictions Overturned," "Death By Poison," "Crimes of Passion," "Kidnapping Cases," "Medical Mysteries," "Serial Killers" and "Sex Crimes."


Not every episode of Forensic Files has been narrated by Peter Thomas, a well-known voice-over talent. The episodes "Payback," "Ultimate Betrayal," "See No Evil," and "The Buddhist Monk Murders" were narrated by Peter Dean.

Each episode has a new 'cast', including interviews with witnesses, investigators, and forensic scientists. Many of the world's most well-known forensic analysts have appeared on the show (often in more than one episode), including Henry Lee, Cyril Wecht, William M. Bass, Alec Jeffreys, Skip Palenik, and Richard Souviron.

For the dramatic recreations, "lookalike" actors and models resembling the main figures in the story are found through a casting company in Allentown, Pennsylvania,[13] or through "open" casting calls in New York and other cities.


This basic cable offering has been reviewed infrequently by television critics. The Houston Chronicle compared it to an episode of Unsolved Mysteries: "A criminal story is told -- the more bizarre the better; a mysterious element is introduced; and forensic experts solve the mystery. All that's missing is Robert Stack."[14]

The Los Angeles Times gave this review: "Although "Forensic Files" ably extends this specialized field to the masses and deploys its slick reenactments effectively, its jarring voice-over is the overcooked antithesis of the meticulous science it depicts."[15]


  1. ^ FilmRise on YouTube
  2. ^ "Medstar's 'Medical Detectives Debuts Tonight" Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., April 21, 1996
  3. ^ a b P.Dowling "The Official Forensic Files Casebook," p.10-11, ISBN 0-7434-7949-1
  4. ^ a b "NBC Nabs Valley Crime Show" Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Sept. 6, 2002
  5. ^ Archived from the original on April 4, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Watch This Season's Drama on TNT". Retrieved 2016-02-17. 
  7. ^ Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved June 26, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "Bianculli on JFK TV Specials". NPR. 2003-11-19. Retrieved 2016-02-17. 
  9. ^ "paul dowling on Twitter: "HLN will call them MYSTERY DETECTIVES due to license restrictions. RT @ESS_28 Will they air them under #ForensicFiles or #MedicalDetectives?"". Twitter. Retrieved 2016-02-17. 
  10. ^ Buckman, Adam (21 April 2016). "'Forensic Files' And 'The First 48' Are TV's Hard-Boiled Champions". Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  11. ^ Nolte, John (16 February 2015). "Ratings: 'Forensic Files' Reruns Crush MSNBC, Tie CNN In Demo - Breitbart". Breitbart. Retrieved 11 August 2016. 
  12. ^ "Dangerous Persuasions TV Schedule | Dangerous Persuasions". Investigation Discovery. 2014-10-27. Retrieved 2016-02-17. 
  13. ^ "A model for success" Morning Call, April 12, 2004
  14. ^
  15. ^

External links[edit]