Don’t Believe These Common Television Myths

Television is great entertainment, but shouldn’t be taken as though it’s always telling the truth. Whether it’s court dramas, detective shows, sitcoms, or just about anything else you’re watching, there are bound to be some inaccuracies. Law & Order and CSI, are some of the worst offenders, often just creating their own science as they go. Even your favorite sports come packed with myths that you shouldn’t believe.

But let’s keep our focus on television as much as possible. Here are 15 common myths you’ve seen play out on TV that just aren’t true.

1. Don’t suck out the snake venom

Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane

Maybe focus on escaping instead. | Mutual Film Company

This is a really common TV myth, and it even popped up in the cult classic movie Snakes on a Plane. But in reality, this is a major no-no. The idea is that if you get bitten by a venomous snake, that the best course of action is to suck the poison out of the bite. But the person sucking the poison out is inevitably going to ingest some of the poison, which is bad. And imagine if they have a small cut in their mouth, for example.

By the time someone could actually suck the venom out, it’s already in the bloodstream and really won’t do much good. So please do not do this. At any rate, snakes don’t always release their venom when they bite, so don’t fret too much. And try to just avoid getting bitten in the first place.

Next: The truth about serial killers

2. Not that many serial killers

Michael C. Hall as Dexter

Dexter should not have been so busy. | Showtime

Popular TV shows like Dexter and Mind Hunter give the perception that serial killers are a real societal problem, but in reality, they’re extremely uncommon. All apologies to Dexter Morgan, but there are only between around 25-50 serial killers active in the United States at any given moment. That is, at most, one for every state. Serial murders make up less than 1% of all murders.

Further, there are plenty of other serial killer myths that are wrongly portrayed in popular culture. For example, although most serial killers are thought to be white men between the ages of 30 and 60, a surprising number of female serial killers have been caught. They often are more covert than their male counterparts, leaving little evidence behind.

Next: What to do with a nosebleed

3. Don’t tilt your head with a nosebleed

Rachel on Friends with a nosebleed

Ross should be warning her not to do this. | NBC

You’ve seen this before. When a character gets a nosebleed on a TV show, the first thing someone advises is to tip their head back and plug their nose. In an episode of Friends, Ross and Rachel are sitting on the couch in the coffee shop when she experiences a nosebleed. No shock, Rachel tips her head all the way back and holds a tissue to her nose. Wrong. Do not do this.

That actually forces the blood to flow backwards, and even down your throat. The better advice on nosebleeds is actually to tip your head slightly forward and stop the flow of blood with a tissue or something similar.

Next: Lab science

4. Scientists in the lab

Law & Order SVU science lab

She’d probably prefer to work in a lab where detectives aren’t constantly interrupting. | NBC

On so many shows, such as Law & Order: SVU, we find detectives visiting a lab to check up on the status of DNA taken from a crime scene. The lab tech walks them through what was found, and boom! They instantly have a lead (and push the plot forward in the episode). But that’s not really how it works in the real world.

When detectives collect evidence, most often it’s sent to a lab somewhere else. It can take actually take several days, depending on the case and the evidence, for the whole process to take place. At any rate, people working in the labs aren’t doing it with a detective leaning over their shoulder.

Next: Dusting for fingerprints

5. Fingerprints aren’t foolproof

Kingsman: The Secret Service

These spies should know not a perfect process. | Marv Films

Often, what we find in these TV detective shows is that a case can be solved by fingerprint evidence. And that’s true. No two people have the same exact fingerprint, meaning that if fingerprint techs find a clear print on a murder weapon, a match could be made and the bad guy goes to prison.

But let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that to match that fingerprint in most cases would require the perp to already be a suspect. Fingerprinting isn’t foolproof, because the print is only as good as the person examining it. Evidence from in fictional cases show that 20% of the time, a person ends up misidentified.

Next: Check the DNA

6. DNA isn’t foolproof


In real life, they often walk away with no DNA at all. | CBS

This myth has infiltrated our society in a very harmful way. Because of detective shows and their liberal explanation of how DNA is used to solve crimes, real-life juries have unrealistic expectations about DNA evidence in a trial. On TV, there is always DNA evidence left at a crime scene, and what’s more is that it’s easily run through a database and tied to one specific offender. That’s laughably wrong.

Often, no DNA at all can be found at a crime scene. In those cases, many jurors believe that no DNA means clear evidence that a defendant wasn’t present. But DNA evidence is hard to find and collect, except in some more obvious examples such as hair or bodily fluids. Even when it is collected, we aren’t yet to the point where DNA evidence is the end-all, be-all for justice.

Next: Clear!

7. Defibrillators aren’t used that way

Dr. Cox holding defibrillators on Scrubs

This is definitely not how they should be used. | NBC

Popular medical dramas have been doing this wrong for decades. Whether it’s ER, Scrubs, or House, the biggest and most common misconception about hospitals is that a defibrillator is used for someone that is flatlining. In reality, shocking a heart to get it to start beating again is like pouring water into a gas tank to get the car to move.

Defibrillators are commonly used in instances of an irregular heartbeat, but not to resuscitate a patient. A doctor is going to rely on CPR in that case, which interestingly enough has a surprisingly low rate of success — around a 10% survival rate. Also, doctors don’t rub the paddles together on a defibrillator either. That’s just for show.

Next: Just keep them on the phone

8. Tracking the call

The Wire

The entirety of The Wire would be different if they paid attention to this fact. | HBO

More myths from police shows. When a person is kidnapped, the police are always there and ready when the kidnapper calls with the ransom demand. But the edict is always to keep them on the phone, because a certain amount of time is required to track the call. Fortunately, that’s more nonsense created for the sake of TV drama. Here in 2018, calls can be tracked pretty much immediately, according to an anonymous FBI agent:

“If someone is calling from a landline, the carrier will know immediately. They can’t hide it from the phone company. It may come up on your phone as unavailable, but the phone company knows exactly where it’s coming from.”

So don’t go getting any ideas about kidnapping someone. It’s a bad idea, all around.

Next: Video doesn’t work like that

9. Enhancing footage doesn’t really exist

Iron Man and Captain America look at security footage

That video was nearly 30 years old, there’s no way they could have seen that it was Bucky. | Marvel

Detective shows really are the worst about fudging science for the sake of an interesting plot. Not only do these types of shows often give you security footage with far clearer video than is common, but they’ll “enhance” the video by zooming in further. It doesn’t work that way.

Zooming in further on a security video is only going to make it grainier and more distorted. Remember, just because we can recognize an image in a video or an image as a face doesn’t mean the data representing that face will know it’s a face. It’s just data. To try to enhance the video to create a clearer image would be to add data where none was collected.

Next: A really gross myth

10. Peeing on a jellyfish sting

Joey, Monica, and Chandler on the beach in Friends

This whole awkward encounter could have been avoided. | NBC

Another fun TV myth was represented on Friends, and that’s peeing on a jellyfish sting. When Monica is stung by a jellyfish at the beach, Joey gets performance anxiety and can’t bring himself to pee on the wound. But Chandler steps up to the plate and gets the job done. A happy ending, right? Well, in reality, it doesn’t work that way.

Although peeing on a jellyfish sting most likely won’t cause you any further harm, there really is no scientific evidence that it helps. Interestingly, the best suggestion for a jellyfish sting is vinegar. Or, assuming none is on hand, even ocean water can help.

Next: Do not wait!

11. Don’t wait to file a missing person report

Finding Carter

Maybe it wouldn’t have taken them 15 years to find Carter if they’d followed this rule. | MTV

For the sake of drama, often TV shows or movies will bring out the myth that you must wait a certain amount of time — usually either 24 or 48 hours — before you can file a missing persons report with the police. This is another myth that is not only wrong, but dangerous. In reality you can and should file a report as soon as possible, because the first 72 hours are the most crucial.

By law, police must accept all missing persons reports, regardless of how long that person has been missing or the jurisdiction of the office. Generally, the rule of thumb for law enforcement is that they’d rather find out that the person isn’t actually missing than wait too long before searching.

Next: Kabong!

12. Getting knocked out is a big deal

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy may have Slayer strength, but how did that prevent her from getting knocked out? | The WB

This myth spreads across pretty much all genres of television and movies. How often do you see somebody get hit in the head and knocked out, only to wake up later absolutely fine? It usually happens with the butt of a gun, for example. But not only is it much harder to knock somebody out than is often shown, doing it can have dire consequences.

Hitting somebody hard in the head can cause a concussion, internal bleeding, or even severe brain damage. The advice on getting knocked out relates to how long you’re out. Generally, if you’re out longer than five minutes you’re going to need an ambulance.

Next: The truth about crime solving

13. Crime solving is a long process

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Procedurals like CSI have an hour (less with commericals) to catch the perpetrator. | CBS

Isn’t it nice when an investigation can get all wrapped up in less than 60 minutes? The various Law & Order shows are really good at this. But in reality, Dexter is a more realistic show in dealing with real investigations. The Ice Truck Killer from Season 1 of Dexter, for example, took the whole first season to solve — the span of weeks or even months in the plot.

That’s generally more like how investigations work. Science and police work takes time and can be way more tedious than would be interesting to watch on TV. That’s why database searches for DNA or fingerprints are just a single click away, and the jump from the arrest to the courtroom happens in two clang noises.

Next: Just walk it off

14. Taking a bullet like a champ

Daryl and Carl on The Walking Dead

It’s amazing how many people (and zombies) survive major wounds on The Walking Dead. | AMC

Where Dexter often gets some aspects of police work right, plenty is done wrong. In Season 2 of the show, Dexter takes a bullet to the leg. No worries, he just cleans it up and goes about his business. Agents of SHIELD is particularly bad in this arena, with a recent episode having Mac take a bullet to the leg with no real consequence.

This is just one of many myths involving gun violence and television. There really is no “safe” place to take a bullet, as a bullet to the leg could hit a major artery or cause severe muscle damage. Among the other gun misconceptions is that characters often fire massive rifles with little or no blowback.

Next: The truth about cord cutters

15. Cord cutting is killing TV

Netflix logo

Netflix and other streaming services are making TV more popular, not less. | Getty Images

The final TV myth relates to how people watch it. Some believe that cord cutting is killing subscription television, and it certainly isn’t helping. The rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, people are finding less and less reasons to pay high prices for traditional cable television. But not everybody is cutting the cord, as the industry is beginning to adapt.

Most older viewers still have traditional television, and overall 80% of adults have a cable subscription of some kind. Viewing it as an either/or situation is a fallacy, as well. It’s possible to have a basic cable package in addition to Netflix, Sling TV, or another streaming package to help fill gaps. At any rate, these companies are also beginning to find ways to make money with their own streaming apps.

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