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Forensic Files
Forensic Files promotional poster
Format True crime
Created by Paul Dowling
Starring Various
Narrated by Peter Thomas
Country of origin  United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 12
No. of episodes 350+ (as of 1/1/2008)
Running time 30 min.
Original channel TLC (1996-2000)
Court TV/truTV (2000-present)
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Audio format Stereo
Original run April 21, 1996 – Present

Forensic Files is a documentary-style show which reveals how forensics and science are used to solve violent crimes, mysterious accidents, and even outbreaks of illness. The show is broadcast on truTV, narrated by Peter Thomas, and produced by Medstar Television, in association with truTV Original Productions. It has broadcast over 300 episodes so far since its debut in 2000 on what was then called Court TV.[1]


Production and broadcast history

The series began on the TLC Network in April 1996 as Medical Detectives.[2] Old episodes of Medical Detectives now air on Tru TV 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 snapped up 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]

"Weird science"

The show helped pioneer documentary style crime-science shows. The show's official web site 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.

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

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 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 in video style. In earlier episodes they were blurry and black & white, and some were shot on film, while the rest of the show was shot videotape. More current shows use video recreations in color, with letterboxing and a 'fuzzy' look. [9] 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.

In 2006 Forensic Files "Advanced" episodes began to air. This format takes previously released episodes and adds random extra bits of information related to the case previously left out. These bits of info are in the "pop-up" format reminiscent of Pop-up Video and often add interesting facts related to the case and those involved. These facts often have the ironic or "wow" element to them.

Other media

"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. [10].

Also in 2004, Court TV released a limited number of episodes on DVD. As of 6/26/2009, says the DVD has been discontinued by the manufacturer.


Every episode of Forensic Files has been narrated by Peter Thomas, a well-known voice-over talent.

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, "look-a-like" actors and models resembling the main figures in the story are found through a casting company in Allentown, PA [11], or through "open" casting calls in New York and other cities.


  1. ^ "Forensic Files" (2000)
  2. ^ Medstar's 'Medical Detectives Debuts Tonight' Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., April 21, 1996
  3. ^ P.Dowling "The Official Forensic Files Casebook", p.10-11 ISBN 0-7434-7949-1
  4. ^ "NBC Nabs Valley Crime Show" Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Sept. 6, 2002
  5. ^ "Cable, Broadcast Differ On Sharing Programs" MediaPost: "Cable, Broadcast Differ On Sharing Programs",, retrieved 6/26/09
  6. ^
  7. ^ retrieved 6/26/09
  8. ^ retrieved 6/26/09
  9. ^ "NBC Nabs Valley Crime Show" Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., Sept. 6, 2002
  10. ^ P.Dowling "The Official Forensic Files Casebook", p.10-11 ISBN 0-7434-7949-1
  11. ^ "A model for success" Morning Call, April 12, 2004

External links

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