In many ways, both big and small, television is in the business of selling us the future. Whenever you flip the channels, you’re likely to find a range of fortune tellers -- infomercial psychics that swear they can see all, and cable news pollsters that try to predict the outcome of everything from a horse race to the presidential election. Most of the time, they’re not right, but sometimes, TV can be pretty freaking accurate when it tries to guess what’s going to come next.
For the past few decades, in fact, there have been several series that have accidentally predicted future events. From forecasting the fates of world leaders to imagining public figures and the scandals that befall them, these comedy and drama series have done a fantastic job of reading in between cultural lines and figuring out where we’re heading. Here are 15 Times That TV Predicted The Future.
15. The Simpsons and President Trump
President Trump. It’s an idea that many Americans never thought would come to pass. But, amazingly, it’s a reality that The Simpsons predicted years ago. In the 2000 episode “Bart to the Future,” Bart gets a chance to see into his future, and learns that he is, predictably, kind of a deadbeat. His perpetually motivated sister Lisa, though, is a pretty big deal. In fact, she’s getting ready to take the reigns as the first (straight) female POTUS.
Her predecessor? One Donald J. Trump, who left her with some pretty ugly budget issues to clean up. It’s not the first time that Matt Groener’s iconic series has predicted the future, and it likely won’t be the last. After all, the President-elect has never been shy about his political aspirations. But 16 years ago, who would have thought that this would be one of the predictions that The Simpsons got right?
14. Black Mirror and David Cameron's pig thing
This spectacular but sobering British sci-fi series seems to have only one goal: to make us hyper-aware of our reliance on technology and its power to do harm. Despite this overarching theme, the first episode of Black Mirror provided a rather stark view, not just of technology, but of the politics of public opinion.
One of the very best entries of the entire series, “The National Anthem” follows a fictional prime minister who, in order to save a member of the Royal family from kidnappers, has to get intimate with a pig on national television. When the episode first aired in 2011, it seemed like a clever commentary on our international obsession with scandal and the 24-hour news cycle. Then, a tell-all biography of England’s then-Prime Minister David Cameron hit bookstores, and revealed that he may have actually done unspeakable things to a swine in his college years.
As expected, headlines around the world connected the story to Black Mirror. And though the porcine-report was never officially confirmed, it’s safe to say that the series, at bare minimum, offered up an accurate prediction of what the fervor around such a grotesque story would look like.
13. The Lone Gunmen and 9/11
In the spring of 2001, The Lone Gunmen was doing its best to be the go-to show for America’s next generation of highly suspicious patriots. Though the X-Files spin-off only lasted a few months, it did manage to leave a pretty chilling legacy -- that’s because its pilot more or less forecasted certain aspects of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The episode followed Byers, Frohike and Langley as they tried to prevent a government-sanctioned attack designed to boost gun sales across the country. The conspiracy in question would involve someone flying a plane into the World Trade Center. The Lone Gunman first aired in March 2001, and there’s truly no way that the series’ creators could have known that its viewers would see something similar, but far more terrifying, just six months later. To this day, though, it seems almost impossible that a series intended to up the ante on good, clean, paranoid fun could unwittingly predict such a horrific tragedy.
12 Person of Interest and Edward Snowden
These days, Edward Snowden is one of the most famous people in the world. That’s because in 2013, he leaked the news of the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance program and forever changed the way many of think about privacy. A year before Snowden’s revelation, though, CBS’s Person of Interest aired an episode that would end up becoming far more true-to-life than the series’ creators might have imagined.
“No Good Deed” centered around Henry Peck, a young and extremely paranoid professional who, it turns out, is secretly a Natural Security Agency spy. Peck learns about his employer’s massive surveillance program and, well, you know… does exactly what Snowden did roughly a year later. It’s highly unlikely that Person of Interest’s creative team had any sort of knowledge of the agency’s inner-workings -- they were just trying to tell an exciting story. It just goes to show that these days, truth can really be just as dramatic as fiction.
11 The Chris Rock Show and O.J. Simpson’s Tell-All
Chris Rock has never had an issue with boundary-pushing comedy. In fact, he’s made a career out of it. If he hadn’t made it big as an actor and stand-up performer, though, he might have had another career option on the table: professional psychic.
A 1999 episode of his HBO series, The Chris Rock Show, featured an especially humorous skit in which he fondly recalled a (fictional) visit he’d had from OJ Simpson. According to Rock, the former football player dropped by his show to promote his new instructional video: I Didn’t Kill My Wife… But If I Did, Here’s How I Did It. At the time, it was pretty funny; but eight years later, the public learned that Simpson was making plans to release a memoir, titled If I Did It. Chris Rock gets major points for not only knowing Simpson had a predisposition towards poorly-conceived self-promotion, but absolutely nailing the lack of tact that the fallen star would one day display.
10 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Google Glass
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offered up an exciting glimpse of the technologies that humans could one day enjoy. In 1997, the series introduced the concept of a virtual display device -- that is, a portable viewscreen that allowed Jem’Hadar and Vorta to communicate and get an up-close, enhanced glimpse at the world just outside their spacecraft. Eighteen years later, DS9 fans noticed that a recently announced and much-hyped Google product bore an uncanny resemblance to the sci-fi series’ virtual display technology.
Google Glass hit the market in 2015, and was promoted as being an exciting way to integrate digital technology and information into our everyday lives. The product itself was perhaps a bit too futuristic, and ended up being a bust. The tech behemoth has pulled it for now while they reassess its purpose, but we’re guessing they’re just waiting until they can reintroduce it once we’ve expanded their empire into space.
9 Spooks and the 7/7 Bombings
This series (known stateside as MI-5) aired from 2002 to 2011, and was popular due to its thrilling look at the inner workings of England’s military intelligence. It also ended up producing a frighteningly predictive storyline about a violent attack.
One of the series’ fourth season storylines followed the MI-5 team as they worked against the clock to prevent a terror cell from bombing central London, including iconic locations like King’s Cross station. The episode was filmed in the spring of 2005, several weeks before a series of bombings hit the city on July 7, 2005. Once the dust had settled, it was clear to the series’ creators that the story they’d crafted -- complete with references to King’s Cross and other recently attacked locations -- had become a tragic reality. The BBC ultimately aired the Spooks episodes unedited in September, complete with a disclaimer about the violence and its similarity to real-world events.
8 Scrubs and Osama Bin Laden’s Hideout
Not that long ago, Osama Bin Laden was the most wanted man in the world. Government operatives across the globe searched far and wide for the al-Qaeda leader, but it took them nearly a decade to track him down. Apparently, they all would have saved some time if they’d been watching Scrubs, NBC’s quirky hospital-themed comedy series best known for its irreverent comedy and sometimes off-color jokes.
In a 2006 episode, “His Story IV,” J.D. bones up on the facts about the war in Iraq in order to impress his friends. When no one else wants to discuss current events with him, though, the janitor steps in and remarks that they should be looking for Bin Laden in Pakistan. Sure, he didn’t exactly throw out the man’s coordinates, but it also wasn’t exactly the most likely place for the terror leader to be hiding. In 2011, U.S. forces finally tracked Bin Laden down -- and he was, just as the janitor predicted, in Pakistan. Maybe J.D.'s longtime nemesis took a quick sabbatical from Sacred Heart to drop some knowledge on Seal Team Six?
7 Star Trek and the Moon Landing
In so many ways, Star Trek was one of the foremost pioneering TV series of the 20th century. It was diverse, tech-friendly, and always had an eye to the future. Once or twice, it was so in tune with the world’s future state that it accidentally spoiled the USA’s lunar landing.
A 1967 episode, entitled “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” found the Enterprise crew traveling back in time, where their ship is mistaken for a UFO. At one point in the episode, Uhura picks up a distant radio frequency from NASA, which mentions something about a manned mission to the moon getting ready to depart Cape Kennedy that Wednesday. It just so happens that two years later, Apollo 11 -- the manned NASA mission that would later land on the moon -- departed from that very same port on a Wednesday.
Now, many of these details would have been fairly easy for Star Trek’s writers to deduce. Space, the final frontier, was a hot topic across the world at that time, and Cape Kennedy was a well-known NASA hub. The episode never explicitly states that the Enterprise’s crew landed in 1969, either, though eagle-eyed fans have deduced, based on the series’ timeline, that they likely did. So, ultimately, while it may not be that big of a coup for a sci-fi series like Star Trek to guess the year we’d land on the moon, we gotta give them credit for getting it right, anyway.
6 Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and ‘80s Politics
With its psychedelic set dressings and current-event focused sketches, this zany comedy series was very focused on the “now” of the late 1960s....except for its tongue-in-cheek events segment, “News of the Future,” of course. Dan Rowan read headlines from the future, and they were often so ridiculous to the show’s studio audience that they would burst into laughter. However, Laugh-In’s segment did get a couple of things right.
In one episode, Rowan announced a bit of news about a President Reagan in the year 1988 -- Ronald Reagan, the former actor turned politician, was most certainly still in the Oval Office that year. A “News of the Future” skit in 1969 also predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty years later. Sadly, the obviously psychic Dan Rowan passed away in 1987. Otherwise, we could ask him how today’s political headlines might end up.
5 Quantum Leap and Superbowl XXX
In the realm of TV shows about time travel featuring awesomely bad late-20th century fashion, Quantum Leap is hard to beat. Despite being a series that dealt with the future quite often, it didn’t manage to make too many accurate predictions during its time on the air. However, it was spookily accurate on one very specific piece of history: the outcome of the Superbowl.
In the football-themed episode “All-Americans” from the series' second season, Sam is busy trying to prevent a high school athlete from throwing a game and thereby ruining his potential career. The episode ends with Al watching an entirely different game on TV -- the 1996 Superbowl, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers are down by three points. That episode aired in 1990, and sure enough, six years later, the Steelers found themselves playing in Superbowl XXX, where they promptly lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17. For the mathematically-challenged folks keeping score at home, that’s a three point difference.
4 Second Chance and Colonel Gaddafi’s Death
Until 2011, this short-lived 1987 Fox series was most notable for being Matthew Perry’s first starring vehicle. Then, former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi died -- and someone, somewhere figured out that Second Chance had predicted the date of his death almost to the day.
In the pilot episode (set in July 2011) the series’ main character is hanging out near the pearly gates, awaiting his final judgment from God after a deadly hoverboard accident. There, he happens to run into Colonel Gaddafi, who has also recently met his end after being shot. In reality, the divisive politician died in October 2011 -- less than three months after the July 29 date that Second Chance happened to guess --having been gunned down by rebel fighters.
Sure, given Gaddafi’s lacking popularity around the world, you could write off their guess on how he’d die as being fairly obvious, but you gotta give an obscure series its due for managing to guess the year of a dictator’s death nearly a quarter century ahead of time.
3 The Year of the Sex Olympics and Reality TV
It’s not easy to pin the blame -- er, origin -- for reality TV on a single event or piece of content. If we had to, though, this 1968 off-the-wall British TV movie might be a good place to start.
The Year of the Sex Olympics may sound racy, but it was mostly a dystopian story of a not-so-distant world in which a group of powerful elites more or less controlled the population by dumbing them down with television. That in and of itself could be seen as a pretty prescient cultural commentary. Amongt the programming they envisioned for the masses? A series about a group of people stranded on a desert island. Media critics have credited The Year of the Sex Olympics for at the very least predicting the current fervor over reality television programs. Whether or not it actually inspired series like Survivor, The Island, and that oft-forgotten classic Temptation Island may forever remain a mystery.
2 The Troubleshooters and the Growth of the Oil Industry
On the surface, this 1960s series about the inner workings of an oil company may not seem all that futuristic-thinking (or exciting). However, on more than one occasion, The Troubleshooters had the unique distinction of predicting some pretty off-the-wall goings on within the oil industry during its time on the air.
The company at the center of the series, Mogul, was decidedly similar to another real-life company at the time: BP. Many of the events in the series lined up frighteningly well to what was going on at the British oil company at the time. For instance, The Troubleshooters aired an episode that centered around Mogul taking over a chemical company, and within a matter of days, BP did the same thing in real life. Three days before an episode about Mogul striking for oil in Alaska aired, BP announced that they’d been successful in the Last Frontier. Of course, The Troubleshooters had filmed the episode months earlier.
The series was so accurate in its portrayal of the inner workings of the oil industry that its star, Geoffrey Keen, was warmly welcomed by oil men at industry functions. As far as we know, the series didn’t predict how much it would cost us to fill up our cars in the future.
1 Parks & Recreation and the Cubs World Series Win
In most cases, as we’ve seen, the predictions that come out of TV shows tend to be, well, alarming. That’s part of what makes Parks and Recreation’s unexpected foray into future-telling so much fun. In “Ron and Jammy,” an episode from the series’ seventh and final season, the gang visits Lucy in Chicago. It’s the summer of 2017, and as she leads them around the city, she mentions that everyone has been in a great mood since the Cubs won the World Series.
The episode aired in 2015 -- more than a year before Chi-town's beleaguered baseball franchise finally broke its 108 year-long curse and brought home the Commissioner's Trophy. In fact, Lucy's comment first received laughs, since it was clear to most viewers at home that, given the Cubs’ century-long losing streak, they probably weren’t going to be hitting that milestone anytime soon. Parks and Recreation now holds the distinction of being one of the only shows in television history to correctly predict something that brought about widespread joy.
What future prediction from a TV show would you like to see come true? Tell us in the comments!