In the development of a show, movie, game, TV series, etc, everything, from characters, settings, stages (more etc.), changes rapidly. Characters become other characters, different plots fuse and split or are destroyed. Eventually, you get the finished product, but the developers aren't going to forget the past. Usually, developers (who are known for their senses of humor, except when they aren't...) will put in a little thing or two that alludes back to something that happened in development, so they can all have a good laugh about it.
An inside joke to the greatest measure, unless the viewer/player has been given a Beta that includes what the joke is about, they'll probably never going to know what the joke is about, or even if it's supposed to be funny. Can be anything from a previous character design to a joke about one of the developers, but you'll probably never know.
See Call Back
for references to things that actually appear in the plot, Production Throwback
for development on prior works, and Mythology Gag
for references to things that happen in alternate adaptations. When the backstory behind these gags are explained, that's an example of What Could Have Been
, given by Word Of God
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Anime & Manga
- The dub of Fullmetal Alchemist has the voice Travis Willingham used for Mustang's "I love dogs!" line, which is based on the voice he used when trying out as Major Armstrong; he even refers to the voice as "Armstang".
- In Naruto a character is introduced named Sabu, who possesses a giant axe and has a giant raccoon dog named Ponta for a pet. Both of these things are references to a character named Kintaro, who also possessed a giant axe and a giant raccoon dog named Pochi, who was replaced by Zabuza and Haku as the main villain of the Land of Waves arc.
- Bonz, the creepy kid from Yu-Gi-Oh! has a skull-shaped face that was originally going to used for Yami Yugi.
- Magic: The Gathering has loads of these. Amongst the notable ones are Telim'Tor, whose name is an anagram of his playtest/development name, Mr Toilet; and Sol Grail, whose name is an anagram of Gorillas, which were the playtest/development race for every creature in Alliances.
- Maro was submitted to the development file for Mirage with its creator's username (MaRo for Mark Rosewater) for the database instead of a placeholder name. No-one noticed the mistake until the Creative department had already commissioned the art, so it stayed.
- Not exactly a joke, but Invincible later introduced a character called Bulletproof who used Invincible's initial name and costume. In-story, the costume was even developed for Invincible but rejected.
- In the final storyline of DC Comics Hourman title (the one about the "diamond generation intelligent machine colony from the 853rd century, DNA-programmed with Miraclo gene biosoftware") he was confronted with a further-future version of himself, who was much better at both being a hero and being a person than him ( it turned out to be Amazo). The design for the future Hourman was identical to an early design seen in the Hourman sketchbook given away with Wizard when the title began.
- Marvel Comics has had several references to a character named 'Coal Tiger', which was one of several names that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were bandying back and forth as a possible name for the character who in mainstream continuity in the Marvel Universe became Black Panther. These include:
- The Black Panther's son in the Marvel Comics 2 alternate future.
- An alternate universe version of T'Challa himself, who appeared in The Avengers vol 1 #355 as a member of the Gatherers, a group of former Avengers from different universes. This version had a costume based on a Jack Kirby design for a new costume for the Black Panther that only ever appeared in a pin-up.
- A Coal Tiger is mentioned in Captain America vol 1 #389 as an opponent of the Zambian villainess Impala.
- In Black Panther vol 3 #60, the Coal Tigers are mentioned as being a rank in the Panther Cult.
- The working name for the Dinobot Swoop was Divebomb. The Transformers Marvel UK comics told that was his name back in Cybertron. Some time later, when Hasbro coincidentally made a Decepticon named Divebomb as part of the Predacons, the comics explained that Swoop lost his name to him after a defeat.
- The title of DC's Reign Of The Supermen event which tied into The Death of Superman event is a reference to Reign Of The Superman which featured the first Superman character Siegel and Shuster developed.
Film — Animated
- The commentary for Atlantis: The Lost Empire tells a story about how there used to be a mystic named Zoltan (who used to speak in the third person, for some reason) along for the ride. At one point everybody sounds off after falling down a hole. For the longest time he was still there shouting "Zoltan is okay!" even after his character had been written out of the script.
- Near the end of Beauty and the Beast, while the enchanted furniture are fighting off the villagers, a music box can be seen among said furniture. That music box was originally going to be Belle's sidekick.
- At one point in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' development, Flint was trying to get into the Science League, headed by Vance LaFleur. You can still see a poster for the League in his room and lab.
- In The Emperors New Groove, there is at least one reference to a small, mystical guide to the Emperor, despite the fact that he was written out of the plot: he appears as a candle-holder during the poisoning scene. (Watching DVD commentary is fun.)
- In Toy Story 3, there is a bumper sticker on Andy Davis' drawer labelled "Newt Xing", a possible reference to the cancelled Pixar film Newt.
- Many ideas from the first Toy Story made it into the second. Originally the first movie was going to open on a clip from the TV cartoon the Buzz Lightyear toy was from, which got reworked as the video game opening for the sequel.
- The idea for having a villainous teddy bear, as seen in Toy Story 3, actually predates the Toy Story franchise itself, to a proposed Christmas special based on Tin Toy
- Near the very beginning of The Rescuers, Madame Medusa can actually be seen driving a large red sports car to New York City Airport, not unlike the one driven by Cruella DeVil. Originally, the villain of The Rescuers was actually indeed going to be Cruella DeVil! And that car not only looks like Cruella's, but as a matter of fact, that car is Cruella's.
- One of the drawings during the end credits of Tangled shows Rapunzel and Flynn consulting a fortune-telling monkey, in reference to a deleted scene in which Rapunzel and Flynn escape some guards with the help of a gypsy and her pet monkey.
- Robots has several. The robot with the jet pack seen waiting in line on Big Weld's TV show is an early design for Rodney, and the owner of the diner where Rodney's father works was originally a director from an early treatment. Scenes from early test footage with the director character appear as photos on Aunt Fanny's home.
Film — Live Action
- Spider-Man Trilogy:
- The second film has a couple of playful jabs at Tobey Maguire's back problems, which nearly forced him to drop out. This includes the "I'm back, I'm back! ...My back, my back!" scene, and a Freeze-Frame Bonus Bugle headline claiming link between back pain and brain shrinkage.
- That headline is actually a lot more mean-spirited than it seems. Maguire's back problems were a point of contention on set, and it was generally assumed by most of the production staff that he was using his condition to avoid showing up on the set or working on days that he didn't feel like it (regardless of whether or not that was true). At one point, they even threatened to fire and replace him.
- A lot of names from the early, unused drafts of Star Wars continue to pop up in newer works. "Starkiller", Luke's original surname, shows up a lot, and Mace Windu's name can be traced back to "Mace Windy" from the first treatment.
- The Dark Knight had Batman undergo a costume change in order to be able to fight faster and turn his head. This was done because Christian Bale had his fill of the Batsuit in the first installment, and wanted a more comfortable design.
- In Aliens, Hudson teases Vasquez by saying "When they said 'Alien', she thought they said 'Illegal Alien' and signed up." Vasquez' actress actually did make that mistake, and showed up to the auditions dressed as a migrant worker.
- In the film adaptation of The Flintstones, Fred is accidentally referred to as Mr. Flagstone. The original name for the show was The Flagstones.
- This example might actually be an urban legend: The Enterprise XCV-330, first seen in the recreation room in Star Trek The Motion Picture, is often claimed to be based upon a rejected design by Matt Jefferies for the NCC-1701. But there is evidence that Jefferies actually might have designed it at some time after the end of TOS, for another Roddenberry-project which never did come into fruition.
- Possibly related: the "Jefferies tubes" that Star Trek characters crawl around in to whenever they need to get into the real guts of their ships may be a nod to his last name and role in ship design for the series.
- The Indiana Jones films have famously gone through a lot of work before getting to what we saw in theatres. For example, an early version of The Last Crusade was set predominantly in a haunted castle, which is reference with Brunwald castle (in which Henry Jones Sr is held captive) and an early title for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was Indiana Jones and the Saucermen from Mars - Indy dismisses the crystal skulls as belonging to "Saucermen from Mars" when he is interrogated by Irina in the tent.
- In Back to the Future Part II, Biff is listening to Perry Como's "Papa Loves Mambo" on the radio while driving to the dance. Word Of God explained in the DVD commentary that they almost used "Papa Loves Mambo" in Part I for the Mister Sandman Sequence, but ended up using "Mr. Sandman" instead. They stuck the Perry Como song into Part II as their way of referencing this little inside joke.
- The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice has an unusual one. It's not a movie development gag but a book development gag. Early in the movie, Elizabeth is seen reading a book titled "First Impressions." "First Impressions" was the original title Jane Austen gave "Pride and Prejudice." Also, when the pages of the book are shown, it's revealed that Elizabeth is reading the last chapter of "Pride and Prejudice" with the characters' names changed.
- I Am Legend includes a development gag to another movie - a giant poster in Times Square has a Superman/Batman logo. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was hired to write a Batman vs Superman film before it fell through.
- Steven Spielberg had hired go-motion expert Phil Tippett to do the Jurassic Park dinosaurs. Then ILM did an awesome demo of computer-generated dinos. The exchange when Spielberg showed Tippett said demo ("You're out of a job", "Don't you mean extinct?") became a dialogue in the movie.
- "Tales From Year Zero" is FULL of references to earlier versions of the script for Pacific Rim before Guillermo Del Toro became involved with the project; for example, the comic's main character Naomi Sokolov was the film's deuteragonist, traveling the world to find out the reasons behind the Kaiju, and the simulated death of Yancy Beckett by Kaiju tongue was how he actually died.
- The Xanth character Jenny Elf is based on a real life reader, who was given the choice of being an elf or an ogre in the books. The ogre she could have been later showed up, jealous at having missed her shot at becoming a main character.
- A sort of sequel-by-other-hands/fanon development gag: In his biography of Sherlock Holmes, William S. Baring-Gould speculated that if, as stated by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Holmes family were county squires, Sherlock and Mycroft must have an older brother, or else Mycroft would be the squire and would therefore be maintaining the estate up in Yorkshire. The development gag is that Baring-Gould named this brother "Sherrinford"; Doyle originally called Holmes "Sherrinford Hope".
- In The Truth, there's a brief mention of the dwarfs mixing up ink for the printing engine from an old well beneath the building. It's a little detail that doesn't mean anything ... unless you know that the earliest plotline Terry Pratchett came up with for a "newspapers on the Discworld" novel was "what if it's printed with ink that has accidentally been mixed with water from the Well of Truth?"
Live Action TV
- When Joel Surnow first got the idea for 24, all he really knew was that he wanted it to take place within a 24-hour timespan. His first idea was to do a show about planning for a wedding, and all of the crazy hijinks that happen in the 24 hours before it. Fittingly, the first part of Day 2 is about a family getting ready for a wedding.
- In Criminal Minds, Jason Gideon's name was originally Jason Donovan. This is the name of the author of a book Gideon finds in an UnSub's apartment in one episode.
- Friends: On the normal show, Monica and Chandler fall in love and are Happily Married for years. All sounds normal,, though Monica mentions she once had crush on Joey and Chandler is sometimes Mistaken for Gay. In the orignal plan, Monica and Joey were the shows Official Couple and Chandler was gay. It's a sign of how much can change that the shows most constant couple would never have been imagined in early drafts.
- Very obscure but... the Gallifreyan writing (inside hexagons) seen in the new series of Doctor Who resembles the strange abstract hexagonal design made by Susan, the Doctor's grand-daughter, in an un-aired pilot for Doctor Who.
- This is how Aliens in Cardiff came to be, starting in "The Unquiet Dead". Since BBC Wales films there, it's treated as a borderline Place Worse Than Death in-universe, with everyone astonished that anything interesting happens there. "I saw the fall of Troy! World War Five! Now I'm gonna die in a dungeon...in Cardiff."
- In the new series, the season 4 premier "Partners in Crime" featured a character named Penny Carter. Penny Carter was the name of the original companion for Season 4. However, Catherine Tate, who had previously appeared as Donna Noble in "The Runaway Bride," had such a great time, she asked if she could come back. So, Penny was written out and Donna was written in.
- The Doctor's scoffing "You watch too much TV" when Martha asks if the Master is his brother in "The Sound of Drums" may be an insult directed at controversial early plans for what became Doctor Who:The Movie to be a full Continuity Reboot, which would have included that as a plot element.
- Lady Christina, the single-story companion-substitute in "Planet of the Dead", is very similar to what has been publicly stated as the concept of the companion who would have replaced Ace had the original show had a twenty-seventh season.
- Clara’s headstone in 1892 states that she was born on 23 November 1866 and that she died on 24 December 1892, meaning she not only shares the same birthday (though not the year) as Doctor Who itself but that she was also 26 years old when she died — the exact same age as Doctor Who was when it was cancelled in 1989.
- Continuing this, Clara's mother died march 5, 2005 - the same day that the new series premiered.
- The ship wrecks featured in the Star Trek TNG episodes "Best of Both Worlds" and "Unification" have been well documented by fans. It turns out that some of them are actually study models for the Excelsior from Star Trek III.
- Some of the ideas from the original pilot for Heroes that were scrapped made it into the show. The most notable example is the character Ted Sprague, who was based off of an Islamic terrorist featured in the original pilot.
- LOST: An important character in Eko's flashback episode is named Emeka. Emeka was originally Eko's name during casting of the role, and numerous magazines reported it as his name when the actor was cast. It was changed to Eko shortly before filming began.
- In the Seinfeld episode "The Betrayal", we get a flashback to Jerry and Kramer's first meeting, where the former calls the latter "Kessler" before being corrected. Kessler was the character's original name in the pilot episode.
- The two-part episode "The Menagerie" of Star Trek: The Original Series features extensive footage of the (at that time yet) unaired first pilot "The Cage". Apart from Leonard Nimoy as Spock, the cast was completely different, and also the design of the sets and the uniforms differed somewhat. "The Cage"-footage cleverly was used as Flashback to an earlier point in Spock's career.
- Sometimes a pro wrestler will do subtle references back to previous gimmicks and characters they've had in the past, including all the way back to before they began with a company. For one example, TNA wrestler Gunner wrestles in tights that have a broken glass theme.◊ This seems a little out of place, unless you know that he wrestled on the indy circuit for years as Phill Shatter.
- Similar to the TNA example above, WWE wrestler Ryback's name likely won't make a lot of sense to those who don't know about him wrestling in the independents as Ryan "The Silverback" Reeves.
- Probably the biggest example of this is Stone Cold Steve Austin's finishing move being called the "Stone Cold Stunner". He was known for years as "Stunning" Steve Austin in WCW.
- William Shakespeare's Henry V Parts 1 and 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor all have gags playing off the fact that Falstaff was originally called Sir John Oldcastle, until the descendents of the real Oldcastle objected. In Part 1 Prince Hal calls him "My old lad of the castle"; in Part 2 he's given a detail of Oldcastle's career (he was page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk) and the Epilogue has the Suspiciously Specific Denial "Falstaff may die of a sweat ... for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man"; and in Merry Wives, when disguised as Herne, he seems to give his identity away by crying "Oh! Oh! Oh!" when burned (the joke being that he's crying "O!" for Oldcastle).
- The original set of Spring Awakening includes a chalk board showing a list of songs in the show, and includes a couple references to places where songs were cut (for example, the name of the former act two opener "There Once Was a Pirate", can be seen written faintly above the name of its replacement.)
- A very early rejected mask design for Toa Pohatu was later used for another Toa of the Stone element, Toa Onewa.
- The mask of Makuta Mutran was originally to be called Artidax, the Mask of Mutation, until the writer realized that the Mutran set came with a Mask of Silence. The Mask of Mutation was later given to another Makuta, Miserix, and Artidax became the name of the island he had been imprisoned on.
- Pom Pom's dog, Trivia Time, and Homeschool Winner were both characters that were created for Homestar Runner but never quite materialized; this didn't keep subtle references to Homeschool Winner from cropping up in a few toons, and Trivia Time is officially Pom Pom's pet cookie jar.
- DSBT Insani T thrives on this trope! Watching the Special Info Episode will make many of these gags easier to understand.
- The first Order of the Stick published book, Dungeon Crawlin' Fools, has an author's commentary in which it is noted that the party's leader, Roy Greenhilt, was originally supposed to be a Squishy Wizard and occupy The Smart Guy role. The author decided that it wouldn't work out to have him be both that and the Only Sane Man, so Roy became a fighter and the sesquipedalian Vaarsuvius was introduced. This makes the strips in which we learn that Roy's father is bitterly disappointed in him for not becoming a wizard doubly funny.
- Another commentary reveals that Roy's misadventure with the Belt of Gender Changing was originally going to be him intentionally donning it to secretly engage in "girl talk" with Miko and learn more about her, only to discover later that he couldn't remove the belt. In the comic he only puts it on as an emergency disguise to help save Elan's life. When Haley finds out, she mocks him and one of her jokes is that this was him trying to impress Miko.
- New Media web shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series often have the characters, who are played by guys who are usually all friends, make jokes about the actors playing them and, occasionally, about events that happened during the making of the show. Most times, these references are either explained or funny enough that it doesn't matter.
- In the comments to an Arc 13 Interlude chapter of Worm, a chapter in which Imp (a teammate of the protagonist) uses her Perception Filter superpower to spy upon the Slaughterhouse Nine (a band of supervillain Serial Killers), the author mentions Imp's inspiration: a member of the earliest draft of the Slaughterhouse Nine called "Nice Guy" whose power was to be the guy you would never suspect, fading into the background until he could cut your throat without your even considering him a suspect. Which makes it hilarious in the first chapter of Arc 26 when a resurrected ex-member of the Slaughterhouse Nine called "Nice Guy" starts using his power on the heroes (and Anti Villains) to divert suspicion from himself in preparation to killing them, and Imp takes him out with the Bond One-Liner "My schtick."
- In Avatar The Last Airbender:
- Avatar Roku takes Aang on a spiritual journey, in which Aang learns about Roku's life, and about how strong friendships can transcend spirit and time, but anyone is capable of evil or good. After the revelation, Toph makes a point of asking Aang whether he thinks that friendships can truly transcend lifetimes. It's a thought-provoking philosophical question, but it's mostly also a reference to the fact that some of Toph's development designs (originally a large man) were used to create Roku's Earthbending teacher.
- Katara and Sokka's mother's name is revealed to be Kya, which was Katara's name in the pilot. Taking it one step further, after the creators found out they couldn't use the name Kya but before they named her Katara, they called her Kanna: currently the name of their grandmother.
- The poster for "The Ember Island Players" is based on the cover for the Book 1 DVD, and the play itself had another joke about Toph's original design as she is portrayed as a large man. And how the poster (and the Book 1 DVD cover!) put Zuko's scar on the wrong side of his face.
- The first season finale has the Water Tribe using an ancient and super-pointy Fire Navy uniform for infiltration purposes that is based on the Fire Nation designs from the pilot.
- Also from the original pilot, Zuko was going to have a pet messenger hawk who would be something of an Evil Counterpart to Momo. Then Sokka got one in season three.
- In Sequel Series The Legend Of Korra, two characters are based on rejected ideas for the original series. Naga was originally going to be a third Team Pet for the Gaang, and Bolin is based on the original idea for Toph's character.
- Walt Disney had an obscure character named Mortimer Mouse. Disney had first considered calling Mickey "Mortimer". He actually resurfaced in the House of Mouse series as Mickey's romantic rival—and he reminds one quite a bit of a Mickey parody by the same name that appeared in Bloom County.
- An episode of The Simpsons features Bart and Lisa being beaten to the punch at solving the problem of the week by a brother and sister named Lester and Eliza, who are modeled after Bart and Lisa's far cruder designs in the Tracy Ullman Show shorts.
- Frisky Dingo: the title itself is one of these, referring to an insult Killface would have taunted the Xtacles with as they were originally called Whiskey Tango Six in early incarnations.
- One episode of Danny Phantom has the titular character riding a motorcycle, a vehicle Hartman wanted him to ride during early developments of the show (back when Danny was a normal teen hunting ghosts).
- In Transformers Animated, Rodimus Prime's briefly appearing team of Autobots consist of Animated versions of Transformers characters that the members of the main cast were originally supposed to be based off of (Hot Shot who became Bumblebee, Red Alert who was replaced by Ratchet, and Rodimus himself who was renamed Sentinel Prime at the request of Hasbro).
- Quite a few examples from the Total Drama series:
- Several of the interns are based on the concept designs for DJ, Cody, Katie, Sadie and Tyler.
- In Season 4, one member of the second generation cast, B, is also based on DJ's concept design.
- LeShawna's original design was recycled and used for her cousin, Leshaniqua, who showed up in "One Flu Over The Cuckoos".
- Codename: Kids Next Door: In Operations "Pool" and "Caramel", we see Numbuh 5 wearing glasses (in the "Pool" case, an alternate universe version thereof), in contrast to her regular apperance. This is a reference to her wearing glasses in the pilot (at one point, the CN website for the show even mentioned that she wears glasses).
- In Jimmy Two-Shoes, there are several pictures around the Heinous Manor of Lucius in his concept art's outfit as opposed to his ordinary one. In another episode, Jimmy wears a bowtie, which was part of his concept suit.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
- In a flashback we get to see Twilight Sparkle's parents. Her mother bears a more than passing resemblance to Lauren Faust's original design for Twilight herself, back when she was meant to be the same character as Twilight (no last name) from the first-gen series.
- One of the photos of Fluttershy pinned to the wall of Photo Finish's studio in "Green Isn't Your Color" is essentially Lauren Faust's concept art of earlier-generation pony Posey, except with wings and an altered cutie mark.
- In "Family Appreciation Day" we get a flashback featuring a young Granny Smith, who looks just like an alternate version of Applejack that Lauren Faust drew for the series' pitch bible.
- In "The Last Roundup", one of the pictures the other characters use while trying to find Applejack is based off a different concept sketch of her.
- One episode of Futurama shows Leela's maternal grandmother, a mutant with a normal arm and a tentacle - which the developers originally planned to give to Leela's mother, who instead has two tentacle arms.
- The Powerpuff Girls had one episode where the Professor's dreams he hadn't accidentally added Chemical X when creating the girls, resulting in the "Run of the Mill Girls", who had no superpowers nor the Girls' unusual features. The designs used were heavily based on redesigns—from when the show was still several years away from even starting—that were considered in response to negative reactions from test groups.
- In the Beetlejuice, there was a rather gross one. evidently, Beetlejuice's fingers are red because of some...Rule 34 one of the animators drew.
- The protagonist of Captain N: The Game Master was originally pitched as a newspaper delivery boy named Buddy. Once the Season Two Paperboy episode came around, the design was re-used for the character Julio.
- The Justice League's public liaison, Catherine Cobert, was originally slated to appear in the first episode of Young Justice. She got as far as having a character design and a voice actress record her dialogue before she was axed for time considerations, but she survived in two small ways: first, hers is the voice of the Justice League's computer— it's her voice announcing "Recognized: Robin B-Zero-One," etc. Second, her character design was given blonde hair and repurposed as reporter Cat Grant. She eventually made an appearance in the first episode of season two, with a new character design, the same voice actress, and... talking to Cat Grant.
- The Little Mermaid TV series featured a turtle named Clarence, who was first deviced for the movie as King Triton's advisor before being replaced by Sebastian.
- In Beast Wars, Inferno was originally conceived as a new body for Megatron. The show made him a distinct character, but the scrapped idea was referenced in one of the early Season 2 episode, where Megatron in his actual new body collides with Inferno mid-air, and they briefly end up switching heads. Inferno is amused, Megatron not so much.
- A Star Trek: The Animated Series episode features Robert April, the first captain of the Enterprise. The name was indeed one of the options Gene Roddenberry considered for the TOS captain, before he settled for Pike (and eventually Kirk). Canonically, he was the captain of the Enterprise before Pike and he is represented in the Star Trek Encyclopedia with an image of Roddenberry himself wearing a uniform.