In every opening scene of Fargo Season 3, it says that:

This is a true story. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."

However, as mentioned in several websites, the story is fictional. Is this not a false advertisement, which is supposed to be illegal? Many people might not be very attracted to the series if it was not advertised as based on true stories and would not have paid to watch it.

So, is this totally fine? Are there no consequences? And, why is this not considered a false advertisement? Does the following example make sense?

This sausage is made from beef (that is why you buy it) while it is actually pork.

sounds the same as saying:

"the story in this movie is true" (that is why you buy it) while it is not?

  • 1
    I don't think "false advertising" applies to statements that aren't intended to be believed. Otherwise, Comedy Central would be out of business.
    – user6726
    Jun 22, 2017 at 19:19
  • 1
    @user6726 Then what is the difference between saying "this sausage is made from beef" (that is why you buy it) while it is actually pork, and saying "this story is true" (that is why you would buy it) while it is not?
    – renakre
    Jun 22, 2017 at 19:23
  • 1
    Art is different. You expect hyperbole and humor from Fargo, not from Hormel. There is no reasonable expectation that fictitious TV stories are true.
    – user6726
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:19
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    An interesting comparison is the lawsuit over the book A Million Little Pieces, which was marketed as a true account of the author's experiences, but was later shown to be fabricated in many details. There's an analysis of the suit here. But the publisher settled that case, so we don't know how a court would have ruled. Jun 22, 2017 at 20:23
  • 3
    Incidentally, in that case, the publisher offered refunds upon request, but received only 1700 requests out of several million copies sold. So it could be that even if there is potential legal liability, FX may feel that the damages would be negligible. Jun 22, 2017 at 20:27

1 Answer 1


Great question! It's actually every episode of all three seasons of Fargo, as I recall.

  • Fargo is not an advertisement. It is fictional content. You can say whatever your want in creative work, particularly in the US, so long as you're not violating copyright law.

(False advertising is kind of wiggly, in that I often see or hear advertisements all the time for supplements that claim to have some benefit or effect, with the disclaimer to the effect of "this claims have not been evaluated by the FDA" or some such. In other words, you can potentially lie in an advertisement so long as you admit the claims have no scientific basis;)

Regarding @Nate Eldredge's excellent point about Million Little Pieces, in that case they were claiming a fictional story was true as a sales technique in reference to a biography.

In the case of Fargo, it is clearly not meant to be taken literally. (Satire and other forms of "lies" are protected by free speech in the US.)

The original Fargo movie, from which this tradition re: Fargo the series derives, may even have had a disclaimer in the end credits "This is a work of fiction...", etc. This does make me want to review the end credits for the show as well. Creativity is one thing, but the studios are mega-conglomerates and therefore obsessed with potential liability.

  • 1
    But the whole point is that the work (ostensibly) claims to not be fictional content. The link in my comment above discusses cases where works claiming to be non-fictional were found to contain fictional statements, and publishers were sued. Those cases were settled; by your logic you would have expected them to simply be dismissed. So I am not sure it is as simple as your answer suggests. Jun 22, 2017 at 20:28
  • I was just going back in to address your excellent comment about "Million Little Pieces". Very distinct case from Fargo, imo.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:33
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    What would you say are the major indications that would make it clear to a reasonable person that the "true story" claim is not to be taken literally? Jun 22, 2017 at 20:35
  • @NateEldredge "Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred." is technically impossible. Even a faithful biopic of a real person takes all kinds of liberties, and there are events depicted all over Fargo which could never be validated. (Scenes involving a solo person who later dies or disappears, like Hanzee in S2. Plenty of scenes of Hanzee solo.)
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:39
  • @NateEldredge Also the fact that the introduction is clearly a reference to a prior creative work.
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:40

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