Chekhov's News

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The protagonists turns on the TV, listen to the radio, or skim the newspaper as part of a morning routine and we get some brief look at the big news, then some background noise small articles and local goings-on. Of course, by the Law of Conservation of Detail, it's never really very small; even the most mundane or seemingly faraway events crash into the here and now with dramatic results.

That article about a new building opening? It will house the Doomsday Device MacGuffin.

Reporter mentions sudden disappearance of a species? They're actually aliens going home.

Radio announcement of an author cancelling his book tour? He's been silenced by the Brotherhood of Ancient Conspirators.

Whatever the seemingly small-fry buzz, it may appear irrelevant or incidental right now but will turn out to be critical to the resolution of the plot.

Contrast Ignored Vital News Reports, in which the importance of a news item is obvious to the audience but the characters ignore it. This does not include news items that are purely Foreshadowing; to be Chekhov's News, the news must appear early on without obvious significance, and the payoff has to appear later in the work.

Compare with Coincidental Broadcast, in which the randomly-encountered news is relevant to the what's happening right now in the plot.

Examples of Chekhov's News include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Summer Wars, there is a news report in the beginning about a satellite hurtling towards the Earth, but will land safely. After everything has gone down, the satellite has been hacked and is now hurtling towards the Big Fancy House everyone's living in.
  • In Kiki's Delivery Service, there's a running news item involving a dirigible. At the climax, it runs into trouble and Kiki must rescue her friend Tombo, who's desperately hanging from a rope on it.
  • One arc in Black Butler begins with Ciel reading a newspaper article about a diamond trader having been murdered in faraway South Africa. The significance of this only becomes clear at the very end of the arc, when we learn why Ciel framed for murder Mr. Woodley, another diamond trader. The motive for this was that Ciel had learned that Woodley was the murderer in South Africa and invited him to the manor specifically to be the scapegoat for the murders Ciel had predicted would occur.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Watchmen, news items mention the disappearance of prominent scientists and artists. It turns out that this is related, not only to the mask-killer cases, but to something much, much bigger.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Date Night has an early mention of a local senate, an iconic broom and clean-up act who turns out to play a big part in why the heroes are getting chased down.
  • Early in the first Back to The Future movie, a random passerby mentions the 30th anniversary of a terrible lighting bolt that struck their monument in 1955. At the end of the movie, since plutonium was very rare at the time, Doc Brown and Marty, stuck in 1955, use the power of the bolt to power the DeLorean and go back home.
  • Lampshaded in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, where the narrator expresses his contempt for the trope. It is later played straight by the film.
  • Subverted in Shaun of the Dead, where the news broadcasts follow this trope, but the characters never notice them.

Literature[edit | hide]

Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • Sherlock episode The Great Game, a bypass mention of an art display opening on the morning news later becomes a plot point.
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Wedding of River Song" starts with a radio broadcast about solar flares blocking out the signal. Turns out, it was a response to a cry for help for the Doctor, and the answer of millions of return call.

Video Games[edit | hide]

Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • RWBY: In V1E2a, a newscast shows a relatively-peaceful protest by Faunus before it's switched over to Glynda welcoming the students to Beacon. V1E9 introduces (to those who haven't seen the prologue trailers) the White Fang, a not-at-all-peaceful Faunus terrorist group.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible is reading the newspaper with a headline about his former superhero colleague Gazerbeam. Later, when he's escaping the robot, he finds Gazerbeam's skeleton in a cave, who had carved the word "Kronos" into the wall before he died.
  • In the The Legend of Korra "A Leaf in the Wind," Korra hears of up-and-coming pro-bending team the Fire Ferrets and star player Mako via a live radio broadcast, and later meets the team, making her debut as a pro-bender soon after.