Bulldog PI - private investigation services

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Popular culture has been enthralled with private investigators for many decades. Books, television shows and movies are as far from reality as you can get when it comes to the truth of what private investigators truly do. Let’s take a look a few of these pop culture portrayals.


Fictional PIs abound in print–and have since the good old days of 5 cent paperbacks. A few popular print PIs you might be familiar with include Sue Grafton’s character, Kinsey Milhone, first appearing in A is for Alibi, and Sara Paretsky’s fiery female PI, V.I. Warshawski. Readers get sucked into the danger and excitement in book after book in these series. In reality, the job of a PI is far less exciting, and though dangerous situations can occur, they’re nothing like these fictional accounts.

TV and Film

No discussion of fictional PIs would be complete without mentioning the hallmark of the 80s, Magnum P.I. Take this entire portrayal of PIs, from the flashy hawaiian shirts to the red Ferrari and throw it in your mental trash can. No one can go unnoticed during a surveillance case in a flashy sports car.

Another portrayal from the 80s we can completely dispense with is Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. While this character was a writer/reluctant investigator, the investigative elements were pure fiction. Plus, how many dead bodies can one woman find in closets and other random places?

Moving ahead, the modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC’s Sherlock is another example of investigative work that involves far more danger and intrigue than the reality of PI work. Interestingly, early writing of the character showed him as a detective, and he has transformed over time into a PI.

Keeping with the character of Sherlock Holmes, the recent portrayals of this character in films starring Robert Downey Jr and set in the past come nowhere close to reality either. While entertaining, these films reflect nothing of true investigative work–then or now.

Dis-honorable Mention

Cheaters. While some investigative footage is shown in this “reality” show, there is very little about it that shows the real work of PIs.

Pointing out these unrealistic portrayals is important because it creates a false public perception of what private investigation is and what private investigators actually do–in reality. Most investigative work involves lots of hours spent doing research, waiting and watching. Finding information takes time and gathering evidence takes time. Unrealistic depictions of private investigation create unrealistic expectations from clients both on the time an investigation takes and also what a PI can legally do for them. Tossing out everything you’ve “learned” about PIs from books, TV and films allows you to better understand the reality and appreciate the services a real-life PI can provide.