Movies & TV Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for movie and tv enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I just finished watching the TV show Fargo. Each episode begins with the lines that this is based on real events. When I looked for it on Wikipedia, it said

However, this claim is completely fictional. Showrunner Noah Hawley continued use of the Coens' device, saying it allowed him to tell “a story in a new way”.

I want to ask, is there no rule/guideline for it? In other words there must be some governing body which checks what contents can be shown and what can not be shown. So is there no rule related to this?

share|improve this question
possible duplicate of Are the events depicted in FX's Fargo TV series really true? – Ankit Lamba Jul 15 '14 at 5:19
This question is not specific to fargo. wikipedia already says that the claim is fictional. this is a question about the general rule. fargo is just used as an example. – Ankit Jul 15 '14 at 5:30
and BTW, I read the questions linked here. My question is not answered there. – Ankit Jul 15 '14 at 5:46
If your question is if there is a rule or law against this, no, there is no rule or law preventing it, otherwise it wouldn't be done. Many other movies have claimed to be true including 1985's Return of the Living Dead. – Meat Trademark Jul 15 '14 at 5:48
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I found this...

Question: 1) In a publication, what is the difference between saying “based on a true story” versus “inspired by a true story” and are there legal implications that could arise from either choice of words? (For our purposes, the “true story” language is going to be used in a Children’s Picture book about an animal. The book is about a real animal, containing some facts about the animal’s life, but the animal is anthropomorphized).

Answer: 1) No difference of any legal consequence between “based on” and “inspired by.” Each of them suggests that there is a core of truth to the story but that you are embellishing or going beyond the factual record. This is something we call “faction,” a conflation of fact and fiction and it can under some circumstances give rise to libel claims, but not if the story is about animals.

That was written by Steve Gillen, an Intellectual Property attorney, and comes from So it appears that from a legal standpoint it isn't about fleshing out what fragments of truth would be in the story, but rather covering whatever might be potentially recognized as a true detail. By saying that the story is "based on" a true story, the actual true story part could simply be that something happened in Fargo, North Dakota. I realize that in this specific case he admits that the individual episodes aren't based on facts... that he is using the technique to sell his story. But the series is based on the movie, which was "based on" a true story.... so the thread could be continued just on that.

This isn't the first time a series has started like that, where the individual episodes indicated a story based on real life, but might actually be almost completely fabrication. Dragnet radio and TV episodes were mostly based on actual cases from the LAPD, but there was artistic license taken occasionally with how a case might have ended or even begun. When the Tom Hanks movie of the same name came out, it began just as the series had... claiming the story was true, but that the names had been changed to protect the innocent. Yet the story was a complete fabrication.

share|improve this answer
The movie Dragnet was more of a parody of the TV series, and it would have been incomplete if they had not used the original opening. The fact that the plot is a complete fabrication is just another element of the parody. – Donald.McLean Jul 15 '14 at 12:46
Regardless, a less ... knowledgeable ... or more ... naive ... viewer might have been duped by the opening of that movie. One who was unfamiliar with the source show. Which is, I believe, kind of the OP's point. – CGCampbell Jul 15 '14 at 14:56
It isn't about whether or not we should believe the opening disclaimer... it is about how the opening disclaimer sets the tone. With the movie Dragnet, I agree that it wasn't about being serious... it was about continuity with the series. However... it is still an example of that kind of disclaimer being used for some OTHER reason than to actually inform the viewer that what they are about to see was based in fact. The OP was curious as to whether or not it was legal to use a disclaimer like that when it was clearly not based on a true story. – Bon Gart Jul 15 '14 at 20:11

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.