->''"The Cybermen are coming! All three of them!"''
-->-- Gag line by '''Ian Marter''' (Harry Sullivan in ''Series/DoctorWho'')

When any necessary role in a series is essentially represented by only a single person, even if it would be more realistic [[CastCalculus to have several.]] Instead of coming across a dozen different police officers depending on the nature of the crime and who's on duty that day, our heroes always deal with the same lieutenant. Or there's one doctor who treats every injury, from broken legs to melanoma. Or why a starship captain and the main bridge crew are always the ones going on away missions. This is mostly a way to avoid having to keep track of too many characters.

In adaptations, this often results from the creation of a CompositeCharacter or characters to stand in for an entire group from the original work. Writers generally have to build up a back-story so the audience can care about a character, which has little payoff if we don't see much of them anyway. It is much easier from a director's standpoint to wrap one character in several incidental roles or just one overarching 'figurehead' role.

Economy Casts are contributing factors in [[TheUnwantedHarem Unwanted Harems]] too, as the pretty girls invariably focus on the LoserProtagonist, for lack of any other option. Any time the story calls for a male to do something, it's him -- so he ends up as the only male character the girls get a chance to pay attention to on-camera. Similarly, if the boyfriend of the lead is the only man with an important role, the secondary characters may complain about being unable to attract men who don't seem to ''exist''.

One danger of this is the marketing and executive branch of creating stories installs the [[StatusQuoIsGod Status Quo]] on the Economy Cast, and [[SquarePegRoundTrope characters aren't allowed to develop too far]] out of their roles.

See GhostExtras for when the non-core cast is on-screen but living in a separate universe. See also TwoTeacherSchool or OmnidisciplinaryScientist. A [[VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory true story]] or [[AdaptationIndex adaptation]] may try to whittle down the cast by [[CompositeCharacter combining characters]].

Take this trope to its logical extreme and you get a MinimalistCast. For obvious reasons, it's rare to find this co-existing with LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters.

The trope is '''not''' about a character who fills more than one ''narrative'' role. An Economy Cast defies real-world logic, not just storytelling guidelines. Nor is this [[InexplicablyIdenticalIndividuals many characters that look the same]].

Compare TheMainCharactersDoEverything. Frequently leads to the impression that the main characters are AlwaysOnDuty.



[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* Used but also parodied on ''Manga/LuckyStar'', where many of the minor background characters are played by a tiny ensemble of, more or less, AnimatedActors (although the fourth wall is not outright broken until the closing "Lucky Channel" segment).
* Zig-zagged by ''Anime/{{Pokemon}}'' with the creation of the Nurse Joys and Officer Jennys[[note]]In Japan, they are simply called "jōi" (a pun on "josei issha"[female doctor], or "joi" for short), and "junsaa", which is another name for a police officer.[[/note]], a large number of characters [[InexplicablyIdenticalIndividuals who are all essentially identical]] in appearance, role and personality, which saved the writers having to create a new character every time the travelling heroes went to a Pokemon center or got involved in a crime.


[[folder: Film ]]
* Most war movies tend to invoke this trope, largely because it makes it easier for audiences to care about one character or a small group as opposed to an entire Division (which could consist anywhere from 10,000-20,000 soldiers) of them.
** As an example, during ''Film/SavingPrivateRyan'', in the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, many brave soldiers fought and died. The main characters mention them by name, but the focus is on Captain Miller as well as the other characters who would later go on the next mission that takes up the rest of the film. The other men, such as the 82nd and 101st Airborne soldiers the main cast runs into during their mission, were [[HeroOfAnotherStory heroes in their own right.]]
* There are only five named, voiced characters in ''WesternAnimation/{{Home}}''. On the other hand, there are thousands of both human and alien extras.
* In the BMovie ''Mars Needs Women'' (1967), a single journalist turns up to be briefed on the Martian menace to our women. This is promptly handwaved as this guy drawing the short-straw because the collective news agencies thought the whole thing was a hoax, so they picked one guy to go on their behalf.


[[folder: Literature ]]

* Appears in ''Literature/TheHungerGames'' books where bit characters are more likely to perform newly required tasks rather than a new character being introduced, even when it would be far more likely in real life for there to be more people involved. Furthermore, previous bit characters have a tendency to somehow reappear simply because it is easier than to write a new character in (e.g. the prep team).

[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* ''Series/{{Angel}}'': Kate represents the LAPD. The show eventually got around this by turning her into InspectorJavert. It's mentioned that she spends all hours of the night listening to the police scanner, which would explain why she's always first on the scene.
* On ''Series/{{NCIS}}'', whenever they have a case that goes into FBI territory it is always something Gibbs' best friend Senior Special Agent Tobias Fornell has been working on for years, no matter what area the investigation is looking into (organized crime, homeland security, catching serial killers, smuggling, etc.). This has been {{Lampshaded}} a few times, once they showed his office was overflowing with paperwork and he complained the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Another time they showed Tony Ziva and [=McGee=] going through his case load and commenting on how diverse it was.
* This is prevalent in ''Series/{{House}}'', where the three fellows and House perform every test and procedure, even those that only specialists would perform (at one point House assists in ''brain surgery''). There is some LampshadeHanging on this, as Dr. House makes it clear that he thinks that if you didn't do it, you can't trust the results.
** Also, doctors would rather risk their careers by ''breaking and entering'' than hire someone else.
** And they dig up a patient's dead dog once. You'd think they have lackies to do these things. Even if they are House's lackies.
** Not to mention, the hospital appears to employ maybe three nurses tops and zero technicians.
** That and, to put it very mildly, House isn't a people person. He'd much rather work with the few people who can tolerate him and do it all than work with a lot of people who'd rather not be around him.
* For reasons discussed in "Film" above, in the BBC TV drama ''Series/{{Colditz}}'', about life for British officer prisoners in Germany's maximum security [=PoW=] camp, the character of Lt. Dick Player is a [[CompositeCharacter portmanteau]], combining several Royal Navy and Merchant Navy officers who were inmates of the castle.
* ''Series/SecretArmy'', from the creator of ''Colditz'', had roughly six german soldiers serving under two officers to track down Allied airmen in the Brussels area.
* ''Franchise/PerryMason'' spent 141 episodes humiliating DA Hamilton Burger and police Lt. Tragg. It stands out all the more because Mason operated in the sprawling Los Angeles metro area and theoretically could have faced a different team of detectives on each case and literally dozens of [=DAs=] and [=ADAs=] at trial.
** Although there were a few episodes where he did face someone else during that run...but he was specifically in another city or town.
** What's more, in the novels, Perry would use a different investigator from the Paul Drake Detective Agency each book. In the TV series, Paul Drake would do all the investigation.
* We see the detectives in the ''Franchise/LawAndOrder'' franchise dealing with the same prosecutors, and vice versa, not to mention the same coroners and psychologists. ''Series/LawAndOrderSpecialVictimsUnit'' is probably the worst. In real special victims squads, the cops are frequently rotated out specifically because it's so psychologically damaging, but the show has the same two detectives there for over a decade.
* The morgue in ''Series/PushingDaisies'' seems to have only one coroner, although the pilot seems to indicate that though Ned had been working as consultant to a PrivateDetective for a while, that coroner had never met him before, so perhaps there is/was another one.
** According to WordOfGod, there are other people working there, but that coroner is the only one who lets them in no-questions-asked [[WordOfGay because he has a crush on Emerson]].
* The police characters in ''Series/ThirdWatch'' would always meet the same paramedics and/or firefighters at the rescue scene.
** Slightly justified in that they were all on the same block and worked the same shift. There were also a lot of extras in each group, without due attention necessarily being given to them. (Though to be fair, except for Jimmy and Alex, the whole FDNY was treated as an "extra").
* A mild version on ''Series/TheWestWing'': after six years of showing events in the White House, the show had to address the campaign for a successor. Promptly, three regular characters quit for jobs in the primary election campaigns... and another got to organize the nomination convention... and later ran for Vice President.
* ''Series/StargateSG1'': Having a [[ColonelBadass Colonel]] lead a team with just four people is really unusual, in RealLife Colonels typically command much larger companies. Though it's not that strange based on the "official" mission profile of SG-1 being special forces recon. Most of the antagonists are not secretive, so sending a larger force to cover more ground is unnecessary.
* ''Series/PoliceSquad'' featured Johnny The Shoe Shine Boy, who was Frank Drebin's informant in every single episode, no matter who or what he needed information about. To send things into pure parody, he was also an informant for numerous characters in random professions, explaining heart surgery to a surgeon and the afterlife to a priest.
* Early episodes of ''Series/{{MASH}}'' had a larger number of surgeons, including Spearchucker and several other one-time or background characters. Later, however, Hawkeye, Trapper, Henry and Frank (or Hawkeye, BJ, Potter and Charles after the cast changed) are the only resident surgeons seen in the entire 4077th.
* As the page quote suggests, this often happened with enemy races on the original series of ''Series/DoctorWho''. It was most painfully obvious with the Daleks, because by the time the show hit the 1970s the producers only had three very beat-up Dalek casings on hand and no money to build more. (The 1972 story "Day of the Daleks", for example, could not hide the fact that the attacking band of Daleks from the future consisted of exactly three Daleks.) Some stories, going back to the very first Dalek adventure "The Daleks", featured (very unconvincing) photo blow-ups of Daleks for background shots. Of course, with the advent of CGI, the new series expends some effort in the opposite direction, showing thousands and thousands of Daleks in one shot at the end of "Bad Wolf" (2005), though the Daleks were reintroduced earlier in the season with a single Dalek (in "Dalek").\\
A LampshadeHanging in "Terror of the Zygons" that was very similar to the page quote but actually on screen; the Zygons declare their plan to TakeOverTheWorld and the Doctor replies "Isn't it a bit large for just the six of you?"
** There is a practical reason to keeping the TARDIS Team down to 2-3 members, as well. Creator/PeterDavison's tenure was scripted like an ensemble show, with up to three companions (originally Tegan, Adric and Nyssa, with Turlough replacing Adric and Kamelion sort of replacing Nyssa) plus the Doctor crammed into the console room at once. It was difficult to give everybody an equal share, and it went on for two whole series. It's also one of the reasons why Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, was jettisoned in the second season of ''Doctor Who''.
--->'''[[http://docohosreviews.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/lance-parkin-q-part-one.html Lance Parkin]]''': Their characteristics all overlap, like some Venn Diagram. Adric, Nyssa and the Doctor can all do science stuff; the Doctor, Adric and Tegan can all get petulant; Adric, Nyssa and the Doctor offer the non-human perspective. And so on. On TV, the three companions tended to smoosh together rather than get distinct personalities.
* The SAMCRO chapter of the ''Series/SonsOfAnarchy'' consists of only eight members and a 'prospect'. This is small compared to the various other gangs they are allied or in conflict with including the other chapters of the motorcycle club. Also one of the members is mostly retired and sick enough to carry an oxygen tank with him. They are all extremely badass but if 2-3 of them are put out of commission, the gang becomes extremely vulnerable and they have to pull in people from other chapters to survive.
** This gets Lampshaded a couple times one time by AUSA Potter when he points out the Sons combined membership is still only a mid-sized MC "Barely in the top ten" nationwide, and later when they take some casualties Jax points out if he loses any more members by their rules he would have to disband the charter.
* ''Franchise/StarTrek'' is a particular offender, with [[Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine DS9]] as the stand out because the main cast is supposed to be running a war, yet several episodes have most and/or ''all'' senior members of staff going on risky missions in the middle of nowhere. ''[[Series/StarTrekVoyager Voyager]]'' might get something of a pass, since the general premise was a single ship stranded in the middle of nowhere, with half of the crew having been killed when the ship was dragged across the galaxy and only a small number of replacements from the former Maquis crewmembers they were chasing.
* Slightly justified on ''Series/TheXFiles''. Nobody cares about the X-Files and it's outside the FBI mainstream, so there aren't a lot of agents assigned to it. And they don't usually solve cases outside their department. They also interact with other FBI agents assigned to other cases, though those are usually one-episode characters.
* The rebel slaves in ''Series/SpartacusBloodAndSand'' use this to their advantage. No matter how many men the Roman have, they can only attack with as many as can fit on a small set at one time.
* ''Series/{{JAG}}'': Even though the show was on the air for ten seasons and had loads and loads of characters this trope came into play. For instance, if there would be an issue somehow involving the {{CIA}}, Clayton Webb would never be far away.
* ''Series/{{Hannibal}}'' runs into this with the forensics team. Jimmy is said to specialize in latent fingerprints, but is usually present at autopsies; and Beverly specializes in fiber analysis and not only performs autopsies, but traces a cell phone call at one point. Brian, thus far, has revealed no specialty, but also doesn't do very much.
* ''Series/GameOfThrones'' has the largest cast on television and yet still must struggle with this, given that [[Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire the book series it's adapting]] has [[LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters a cast of thousands]]. To simplify things, large groups that aren't central to the story tend to be represented by one or two characters. Grey Worm represents the Unsullied, Daario Naharis appears to be the only member of the Second Sons, and Meryn Trant represents the King's Guard whenever the King's Guard needs to do something assholish. Other groups, such as Dany's Dothraki followers, are theoretically still present but in practice never make any appearances to save on hiring extras.
* In the first season of ''Series/TruCalling'', the big-city morgue was run entirely by Tru, Davis, and Gardez (replaced with Jack), to the extent that Tru was alone on her first night. The writers seem to have noticed this, and the morgue had a fair number of extras in season two.
* Pretty much every character that needs to go to hospital in ''Series/TheShield'' is dealt with by Vic Mackey's wife.
* In ''Series/EnemyAtTheDoor'':
** Any time the plot of an episode requires a single member of the Committee, it will be Dr Martel, even if the issue at hand is outside his area of expertise. Occasionally there will be a handwave that this happens to be the day he's covering for the colleague whose job it ought to be.
** Any plot involving resistance against the Germans will likely have Clare Martel and/or her friend Peter Porteous involved somewhere, even if the plot would work just as well with entirely new characters. ("V for Victory" is a case in point: it could be told just as well without any Martels and Porteouses at all -- but then there would be nothing for the main characters to do.)
* ''Series/Babylon5'' did it's best to avert this, but still had to struggle with the realities of being a relatively small-budget sci-fi TV show, and used all the tricks in the book to overcome the limitations. Commentary for one episode reveals that, in a scene involving a constant stream of injured Narn refugees, the "hundreds" of Narn are all the same dozen-or-so extras cycling through the same door over and over again with different bandages on.
* PlayedForLaughs as an initially accidental RunningGag in ''Series/GilmoreGirls'': Kirk does ''all'' the odd jobs around town.
* ''Series/BlakesSeven''. Several planets or cultures had a population of only one or two people, especially when they had to share the screen with a number of extras playing an opposing group. In the pilot episode, the people seen walking the corridors in the opening scene are later killed in the massacre, then make an UnexplainedRecovery as prisoners in the transit cell with Blake. According to producer David Maloney he'd go through scripts and whenever he saw something like "Fifty guards rush into the room", [[NoBudget he'd cross out the fifty and write "two".]]
* ''Series/SpacePrecinct'' had a larger cast than some of these examples, but still managed to strongly imply that six beat cops, one sergeant and [[DaChief the precinct captain]] were the ''only'' people working in the titular precinct. No custody sergeant, no CSI techs, no detectives... No wonder Demeter City is such a dump.

[[folder: Pinball ]]

* In ''Pinball/WHODunnit'', despite having a hotel full of people and a lifetime of business associates, all of the happenings in Tony's Palace revolve around the same five suspects.


[[folder: Theatre ]]

* [[LampshadeHanging Lampshaded]] in Creator/WilliamShakespeare's ''Theatre/HenryV'', in which the Chorus asks us to "piece out our imperfections with your thoughts / Into a thousand parts divide one man ... Think when we talk of horses that you see them...." Read it [[http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Life_of_Henry_the_Fifth#PROLOGUE here]].
* ''Theatre/AVeryPotterMusical'' pokes fun at the fact that there are only twelve actors total portraying the entire student body of Hogwarts.
-->'''Hermione:''' Snape picked you out of hundreds if not ''five'' Gryffindors.
* As you would expect, all theatre productions that require a lot of extras do this.
* ''Theatre/LittleShopOfHorrors'' can be performed with only eight actors, by having the actor playing Orin double as the various people who offer Seymore fame and fortune. This is supposed to be symbolic of how [[spoiler:Orin's death paid for Seymore's fame]], but obviously it has other benefits.
* Parodied in "Dumb Bobeš", one of the plays of [[Creator/JaraCimrman Jára Cimrman]] Theatre in Prague. The whole play is a "reconstruction" of the fragments left from the mostly lost original and alternates scenes from the play with the "scientific" explanations of what happens. At one point they explain that their actors play multiple roles in the play because otherwise the wages of so many actors would make the tickets overly expensive.


[[folder: Various ]]

* Incorporated into most long-running mystery/crime series not involving an actual police detective. Since it is inevitable that the police will turn up to investigate crimes, and that they will have information the sleuth needs, the sleuth gets a [[FriendOnTheForce cop "buddy"]], if he is friendly with the force (Detective Dennis Becker on ''Series/TheRockfordFiles''), or a [[PoliceAreUseless cop stooge]], if he is as arrogant as Literature/SherlockHolmes (Inspector Lestrade).
* Supplementary material and adaptations of ''TabletopGame/{{Clue}}'' have to go to some lengths to explain why only one man lives in a BigFancyHouse, why there's only one maid (Ms. White) for the whole thing (especially common in period adaptations when domestic help was much more common), why there's only six suspects, etc. They usually work through it like this: Boddy was the last surviving member of a rich family, most of the help had the weekend off, he invited his closest friends to his estate for a private dinner party, and were cut off from the outside world by a thunderstorm, blizzard, etc.


[[folder: Video Games ]]

* ''Franchise/AceAttorney'':
** The original ''[[VisualNovel/PhoenixWrightAceAttorney trilogy]]'' takes this to an extreme; except for one-shot characters who turn up in single cases as suspects or victims, it has only one detective, Detective Gumshoe, who is the detective in virtually every case, as well as one judge (except in situations where a second judge is absolutely necessary, when his almost identical brother is introduced). The game engages in frequent LampshadeHanging over this, with Gumshoe often expressing disbelief at how often he ends up investigating a murder where Phoenix is involved. It should be noted despite the extremes in which it goes to, the series still has LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters.
** Larry Butz, Lotta Hart, and Wendy Oldbag show up multiple times, seemingly just to save the time designing and introducing new characters. Oldbag is particularly JustForFun/{{egregious}}, since Larry and Lotta at least get along with Phoenix and company; Oldbag has even less reason to be showing up everywhere that they do.
** After Phoenix stops being a lawyer in ''Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney'', Gumshoe ''finally'' gets a break... only for Ema Skye, a former one-shot character who replaced Maya Fey as Phoenix's sidekick in a past case, to take up Gumshoe's exact position, except relating to Apollo instead. It takes her much less time to lampshade hang on this phenomena.
** Characters occasionally refer to contemporaries-Gumshoe to other detectives, Edgeworth to a superior organization of prosecutors, and Maya to other residents of Kurain Village all come to mind-but the cast we actually see and interact with is the Economy Cast we know and love. Strangely, in the fifth case of the first game, you must talk to the Chief of Detectives at his desk to get a piece of evidence, but we don't actually get to see a sprite of the police chief-possibly because this single line of dialog is the only time we encounter the chief in the entire game. This case also introduces a couple other detectives or former officers, but two of them never show up again and the third one only gets a few minor appearances through the rest of the series.
* Every sporting event in ''VideoGame/CriminalCase'' is hosted by the same ([[NoNameGiven unnamed]]) announcer, whose line of work ranges from the local district's Roller Derby event to an international Road Racing rally.
* In ''VideoGame/RatchetAndClankUpYourArsenal'' Captain Quark assembles the Q Force, an elite team of specialists to help him save the day. Who are these specialists? Why nothing more than a bunch of random NPC's you met in the first game.
* In the Telltale series of ''VideoGame/SamAndMaxFreelancePolice'', this is downplayed with a few new characters being added every episode... but having most of them show up in different roles further down the line. This becomes especially ''egregious'' with [[NewJobAsThePlotDemands Sybil Pandemik]], who adopts over 8 different jobs in the course of the series, all of which help further the plot in some way.
* Only Three [[spoiler:later four]] male idols exists in ''VideoGame/Idolish7''. [[JustifiedTrope Then again,]] they're relevant to the plot.

[[folder: Webcomics ]]

* ''Webcomic/{{Starslip}}'' is set in a huge space museum / old war ship. There are occasional references to other crew members, but we only really see about 5 of them, despite the huge numbers that would be needed to run such a ship.
* In ''Webcomic/TwoKinds'', Mike and Evals represent the whole crew of their ship.


[[folder: Web Original ]]

* ''Franchise/{{Noob}}'' is set in a {{MMORPG}}, yet only two guilds are ever seen in the main faction, the Empire: the titular Noob guild and the main roster of the elite Justice Guild that happens to be former team of Noob's leader, the one that Noob's lancer wants to join and to include the younger brother of Noob's healer. Justice has close to two hundered members according to the novel version, but the fact that only the same handful of members are ever seen is so proeminent that some viewers of the webseries version raise eyebrows when a piece of dialogue alludes to the other members. Roxxor guild from the Coalition has the same problem as only their main roster is ever seen as well. The guild of Gaea Admirers has an unspecified number of members, but Meuhmeuh is the only one the has been seen more than once, which makes him look like Gaea's self-appointed personal assisstant and bodyguard within the guild.


[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* Lampshaded repeatedly in ''WesternAnimation/TheSimpsons''. It is heavily implied that Wiggum, Lou, and Eddie are the only three cops employed in the whole town of Springfield, and Dr. Hibbert and Dr. Nick are the only two doctors. Minor well-known characters such as Gil and the Squeaky-Voice Teen appear to hold every single low-level job in the town, and almost every major recurring character goes to the same church.
* Occurs somewhat frequently in various ''Transformers'' cartoons, where the might of the Decepticon and Autobot forces are represented by only a handful of characters, as seen in [[WesternAnimation/TheTransformers the original cartoon]], ''WesternAnimation/BeastWars'' and ''[[Anime/TransformersArmada Armada]]'', among others.