Final Witness

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Final Witness TV Poster Image
Sensationalized real-crime show is dramatic and disturbing.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

There's an assumption here that crime and murder stories are entertaining, if disturbing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Victims and murderers are from all walks of life and from all over the country. Some of the featured murderers (and occasionally victims) suffer(ed) from various forms of mental illness.


The show focuses on murders. Interviews include descriptions of brutally violent criminal acts, including murder and rape. Real and fictional bloody images of crime scenes, guns, swords, and other weapons are shown. Disturbing events relating to the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina are discussed.


Victims are sometimes shown in their underwear or taking off their clothes (but there's no nudity). References to sex, condoms, infidelity, and homosexuality as related to crimes. Women are shown wearing bikinis and dancing provocatively.


Words like "bitch" and "hell" are audible.


Occasional logos for Heineken beer, Marlboro cigarettes, and other items, but the products aren't obviously featured.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults and teens are shown smoking cigarettes and drinking (beer, hard alcohol, wine). Drug use (marijuana, cocaine) is occasionally shown. Nothing is glamorized.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Final Witness combines elements of reality shows with dramatic reenactments to offer in-depth and sensationalized accounts of notoriously violent murders. It mixes real and recreated images of bloody crime scenes and dead bodies with interviews in which brutal acts of violence, including rape, are described. Sex, infidelity, homosexuality, and other related themes are also discussed. Words like "bitch" are sometimes used; drinking, smoking, and drug use  -- sometimes by teens -- is visible.

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What's the story?

FINAL WITNESS combines drama and reality as it tells the true stories behind murders from the point of view of witnesses and other people connected to the events, including imagined testimony from victims. It blends reenactments, actual crime scene/police footage, and interviews with survivors, witnesses, and others who offer detailed insight about the people involved. From small towns in Texas to cities like New Orleans, each episode reveals information and intimate circumstances about the lead up to the crime, the crime itself, and what happened after each crime was committed.

Is it any good?

Final Witness shows some of the complicated life circumstances that ultimately led to the horrific murders it features, as well as the different ways that these crimes were discovered, investigated, and, in some cases, prosecuted. But the endless number of disturbing images, emotional interviews, and narrations from the fictional voices of the deceased seem designed to entertain viewers rather than inform them.

It's sensationalized, but buried within these scenes are moments when Final Witness subtly reminds viewers of the humanity that's lost whenever someone loses their life to violent crime. It's a difficult show to watch and not one that's full of positive messages. But viewers who are drawn in by investigation shows will probably find it both dramatic and interesting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about reality TV shows that talk about real criminal events but use dramatizations to help tell the story. It is appropriate to use violent and/or sexual images in order to make a story more dramatic, if these images are related to the events that took place?

  • Why do you think victims of violent crimes agree to appear on these TV shows? What do they stand to gain or lose?

TV details

  • Premiere date: June 27, 2012
  • Network: ABC
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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