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Title card, seasons 7–14
|Also known as||Medical Detectives
Forensic Files: Digital Details
|Created by||Paul Dowling|
|Narrated by||Peter Thomas|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||14|
|No. of episodes||400|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original network||TLC (1996–2000)
Court TV (2000–2007)
|Picture format||480i (SDTV) (Seasons 1–12)
1080p (HDTV) (Seasons 13–14)
|Original release||April 21, 1996 – June 17, 2011|
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, 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.
Production and broadcast history
The series began on the TLC Network in April 1996 as Medical Detectives. 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. 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 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.
Reruns aired on Lifetime in the fall of 2011 under the Medical Detectives moniker. 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. On that network, it is increasingly being used to fill many time slots due to program cancellations by budget cuts. In June 2014, the series aired nightly from 2am through 5am on CNN, before being removed due to industry and viewer criticism, 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. TruTV currently still holds the licensing rights to the Forensic Files name. 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.
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.
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. 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 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 had been the first person put to death in the United States based on DNA evidence.
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.
In 2004, Court TV released a limited number of episodes on DVD. As of June 26, 2009, Amazon.com 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."
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, or through "open" casting calls in New York and other cities.
In 2010, Andrew Breitbart's blog-site "Big Hollywood" named Forensic Files as "the best true-crime reality show." "The program never veers from being both compassionate and professional," wrote editor John Nolte. "What the producers do so well is structure these forensic mysteries in a way that holds your attention with the hook of wondering of how the bad guy will be apprehended. Dare I say, it’s the best show on television."
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||13||April 21, 1996||December 19, 1996|
|2||13||October 2, 1997||December 25, 1997|
|3||13||October 1, 1998||December 24, 1998|
|4||13||September 29, 1999||December 29, 1999|
|5||19||September 12, 2000||January 9, 2001|
|6||30||May 21, 2001||December 10, 2001|
|7||42||October 12, 2002||July 26, 2003|
|8||42||April 1, 2003||December 21, 2003|
|9||30||June 3, 2004||March 2, 2005|
|10||42||April 27, 2005||March 15, 2006|
|11||42||July 19, 2006||May 2, 2007|
|12||30||September 26, 2007||February 17, 2008|
|13||50||September 12, 2008||July 9, 2010|
|14||21||September 10, 2010||June 17, 2011|
- "Forensic Files" (2000)
- Medstar's 'Medical Detectives Debuts Tonight' Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., April 21, 1996 www.mcall.com
- P.Dowling "The Official Forensic Files Casebook," p.10-11 ISBN 0-7434-7949-1
- "NBC Nabs Valley Crime Show" Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Sept. 6, 2002 www.mcall.com
- "Cable, Broadcast Differ On Sharing Programs" MediaPost: "Cable, Broadcast Differ On Sharing Programs", MediaPost.com, retrieved 6/26/09
- http://www.cyrilwecht.com/journal/archives/jfk/index.php retrieved 6/26/09
- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1512852 retrieved 6/26/09
- "A model for success" Morning Call, April 12, 2004
- Producer Paul Dowling's Twitter account
- truTV Forensic Files page
- Forensic Files at the Internet Movie Database
- Official truTV Website
- Episode list with brief summaries