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When Dinosaurs Roamed America (2001, sometimes shortened to When Dinosaurs Roamed, especially outside North America) was the Discovery Channel's first major attempt to cash-in on the dinosaur-documentary trend started by BBC's famous Walking with Dinosaurs. Similar to that program, this also aimed for a Speculative Documentary format, and used C Gi to recreate its dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and various other prehistoric animals, placing them into real-life scenery. The stories were told in chronological order, from the beginning to the end of the dinosaurs' reign.

Unlike its predecessor/competitor, however, WDRA included short cut-away scenes to paleontologists and at times froze the animation to reveal the skeletal structure behind the animals' skin, using solid facts to explain the science that went into creating the program.

Other things that make it different from WWD is the fact that it concentrates purely on American dinosaurs, and condenses its stories into small segments, instead of devoting full episodes to them.

While disliked by some due to how quickly Discovery churned it out after hearing of the dinosaurs' marketability from Britain, the product was generally well-received by the viewers, especially compared to some later works, such as Clash of the Dinosaurs and Monsters Resurrected.


The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: Notice that small, unnamed theropod from the very beginning of the last segment? The website reveals it's The Cameo of Ornithomimus.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Allosaurus to Ceratosaurus. Also counts as an example of The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.
    • The Megapnosaurus (Kayentavenator?) suddenly cease their attack on the Anchisaurus. It turns out that the Dilophosaurus has shown up.
  • Animals Not to Scale: Most likely the result of the animators not paying attention. When the first T. rex shows up, it doesn't seem out of scale with the rest of the animals. But the narration claims it's a juvenile. Later, when his mother appears, she is hulking huge, even compared to the "Anatotitan" which is supposed to be the same size as a rex!
    • Well, to be fair, a new study shows that T. rex probably grew throughout its lifetime.
  • Apocalypse How: A Class 4 event at the end of the Cretaceous, but interestingly, the documentary also starts with an even larger meteor-strike, that was supposed to represent the great extinction event that ended the Permian and made way for the evolution of dinosaurs in the Triassic. A lesser meteor-related extinction also separates the Triassic and Jurassic.
  • Badass: The Dilophosaurus mother, and arguably the Allosaurus and T. rex also qualify.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Stegosaurus and Desmatosuchus.
  • Eagle Land: Back when eagles still had teeth.
  • Eats Babies: Ceratosaurus.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs
  • Failed a Spot Check: The deinonychosaurs fail to notice a forest fire, even when being surrounded by flames.
    • Behind the Black: And the Ceratosaurus doesn't notice the hulking huge, oncoming Allosaurus either, until it's right on top of it. To the ceratosaur's credit, though, it was off-screen, even if out in the open, plainly visible from all sides.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: What happens to the poor Apatosaurus that trips and falls.
  • Feathered Fiend: The documentary famously depicted many dinosaurs with feathers, including "raptors" and the bizarre-looking Nothronychus.
  • Follow the Leader: To Walking with Dinosaurs.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.
  • Giant Flyer: Quetzalcoatlus.
  • Hemisphere Bias: It's in the title.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Allosaurus does this to Ceratosaurus.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, the Ceratosaurus catches a juvenile Dryosaurus.
  • Narrator: John Goodman.
  • Never Smile At a Crocodile: Averted by the herbivorous Desmatosuchus, but the (likely) non pseudosuchian Rutiodon does the job.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Desmatosuchus and "Anatotitan" are mispronounced "Desmastosuchus" and "Anatatotitan", respectively.
  • Noisy Nature: For a dinosaur-show, this is almost prerequisite.
  • Prehistoric Monster: Avoided, although the animals do behave as aggressive as its intended audience expects them to.
  • Ptero-Soarer: The Quetzalcoatlus may seem outdated by today's standards, but that's the result of science marching on.
  • Raptor Attack: Somewhat Justified, as the C Gi team couldn't get their feathers to be quite as birdlike as they should be.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: The CGI creatures are dropped into Real Life scenery.
  • Science Marches On: The lower arms of the raptors are suspiciously scaly. We now know that they had properly feathered wings.
    • The theropod hands shouldn't be pronated (kangaroo-like). Their palms actually faced towards each other.
    • Syntarsus is called Megapnosaurus now, and it may be synonymous with Coelophysis.[1]
    • According to the Narrator, Megapnosaurus and Dilophosaurus are ceratosaurs. According to recent classifications, both creatures fall outside this group.
    • "Anatotitan" now appears to be synonymous with Edmontosaurus, which does not otherwise appear in the show.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The Ceratosaurus, as the Allosaurus kills it.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Desmatosuchus, Icarosaurus, Rutiodon, Anchisaurus, Camarasaurus, Nothronychus, and Zuniceratops.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: When the Stegosaurus pair get ready to mate, the camera tilts skywards. This was the only solution, though: we don't really know just how they did it.
  • Shown Their Work: The scenes of paleontologists inserted in between the dinosaur clips.
    • Feathered raptors and therizinosaurs.
  • Small Taxonomy Pools: Averted. Many stock creatures appear, but so do a number of animals that have rarely ever been shown on television, notably the (then) newly-discovered Nothronychus and Zuniceratops.
  • Speculative Documentary
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Coelophysis in the Triassic (the only dinosaur in that segment), along with Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Dilophosaurus from the Jurassic and Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, "Anatotitan", and Quetzalcoatlus from the Cretaceous.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The dromaeosaurid attacking the Nothronychus head on, although both survive the attack.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex: The arguable "star" of the final segment.
  • Wolverine Claws: Nothronychus.

Notes

  1. To further confuse things, the show's creatures may not be Megapnosaurus/Coelophysis at all, but a distinct creature that may have accidentally been named Kayentavenator.
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