Filler episodes are entries in a generally continuous serial that are unrelated to the main plot, don't significantly alter the relations between the characters, and generally serve only to take up space. This could be considered Padding applied to a whole franchise.
They are extremely common in Anime, where many shows have 26 or more episodes per season. The producers have to use filler just to meet contractual demands. Filler is usually something entirely original for the anime, but not always; many manga – particularly weekly manga – employ filler just as ruthlessly due to the extreme deadlines. Sometimes entire filler Arcs are created, most often because the series Overtook the Manga. Just about every long-running manga-based anime action series will have gargantuan amounts of filler over time. This is because Japanese networks, unlike western ones, pretty much don't do reruns or season breaks at all. This especially gets compounded when they go beyond the 26 episode mark. Many series air over 40 episodes per year, when they would have a hard time making even half of them related to the main plot.
In most cases, the defining aspect of filler is the total lack of series momentum. Filler can be safely ignored without any loss of important information. However, there is also a style of filler called the "single upgrade filler". Basically, it uses a filler episode to introduce a new power, machine, costume, minor character, etc. without having to work it into the greater narrative. In these cases, the episode can be ignored outside of "something got an upgrade".
The term "filler" is also used by fandom to refer to anything that isn't in the source material. This stems from the practice mentioned above of adaptations that are threatening to catch up to the source using original story arcs, episodes, and general content to pad things out. That is not this trope, but such cases are often related to it.
The Wacky Wayside Tribe is a common form of Filler in quest narratives. When the show splits to follow two or more characters, and one of them is engaged in Filler-type activities while the others are doing important things, it's Trapped By Mountain Lions. A Lower Deck Episode can end up as Filler if badly done. When the Filler is just flat-out bizarre, it's a Bizarro Episode. If you need Filler badly enough, clips of previous episodes can be hacked together into a Recap Episode.
Compare Fake Longevity, the video game equivalent. For filler in Web Comics, see Filler Strips. For filler in Music albums, see Album Filler.
Compare Breather Episode. When the news media is forced to resort to this, it's Silly Season. Or Sweeps. You decide.
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Anime & Manga
Maison Ikkoku had an episode concerning one of the Cloud Cuckoolander neighbours of the protagonist actually giving him a mysterious egg, and he frets the whole episode looking after it, not knowing if he should eat it, keep it in his fridge or try to hatch it...
Dragon Ball had a significant amount of filler. The relaunched series, Dragon Ball Kai, eliminates much of the filler in Dragon Ball Z. Throughout the first two series events end up being contradicted by canon events in several places, such as:
An early one where Master Roshi explains the Dragon Balls to Launch, giving a completely bogus origin story in the process, though this may be more due to Roshi believing a myth and not knowing the truth.
Another where they go visit Android 8's creator an in attempt to have the self-destruct mechanism within him removed, only for it to be revealed in Z that the previously unseen Dr. Gero was the one who built Android 8.
Unless Gero commissioned the scientist to make the android in secret, thereby making Gero 8's creator by proxy.
It also had an entire arc of this, featuring Garlic Jr. (A villain from the first anime film). Opinions are, of course, mixed about it but it didn't contradict the main storyline. (Its aforementioned predecessor film was the one which contradicted the canon events). Then there was the Other World Tournament, where Goku fought deceased warriors from throughout the galaxy's history after Cell blew up Goku.
Whether a scene was Filler or not also plays into arguments about characters' power levels within the fan community, as often, the anime filler features fights that didn't exist in the original manga and tend to throw out previously established power ranking, leading to many of them completely disregarding those scenes for the sake of the debate.
Naruto's anime went into filler for over a year (80 weeks to be precise) after it Overtook the Manga. The producers of the sequel Shippuuden initially took steps to have minimal filler so as not to break things up too badly. There's more filler as Shippuden goes along, but the producers try to keep it down by slowing the pace of canon episodes. Many episodes – especially the first couple of arcs, where it was every episode – were adaptations of a single manga chapter. However, many individual chapters of the manga contained long stretches of not much happening. This hasn't changed, and since there were still chapters where not a lot happened, this led to episodes where characters literally did nothing, including an egregious one where Naruto, Yamato and Sakura stood around for 20 minutes talking about how they needed to get moving and catch up to Orochimaru. The pace is pretty odd, considering that the anime is usually two years or so behind the manga.
Also notable about the Shippuuden fillers is that they go against canon. Rather than a long series of Monster of the Week episodes evenly mixed with random variations of Defeat Means Friendship (as the original TV series did), the Ninja Guardians arc actually details a full-on storyline with an interesting backstory. Some arcs – such as the 3-Tailed-Beasts arc – focus on giving one last chance for screentime to many of the characters who would later get killed or otherwise be lost from the limelight. Other filler arcs – like the 6-Tails arc – use the episodes to expand on characters like the Tailed Beast Hosts. While very important to the plot, most of them are killed off-screen in the manga, or killed after a very small amount of screentime.
Bleach: Due to the anime catching up to the manga on a regular basis, series-long filler arcs were created. Individual filler episodes do randomly occur through canon arcs, including canon scenes that might only consist of a few panels being expanded into an entire filler episode.
The Bount Arc was the first filler arc, occurring immediately after the end of the Soul Society arc. It introduced a group of characters who were enemies of Soul Society but struggled with keeping Ichigo and Uryuu's power issues as close to canon as possible while making them still able to function in the storyline.
When Hitsugaya's Advance Squad was based in Karakura Town for a month at the beginning of the Arrancar Arc, the anime team decided to create a mini-arc of filler episodes detailing what these shinigami were up to.
The Captain Amagai Arc occurred in the middle of the Arrancar Arc, lampshaded in the episode tag scenes by having the characters (usually Ichigo) joke about the unfortunate timing of the arc and having the canon characters behaving like actors taking a set break. This arc focused on a new captain for the third division as well as a power struggle plotline within a high-ranking noble family.
The Karakurizer stand-alone filler episodes (213, 214, 228 and 287) are based on a series of manga omakes (about life in Karakura when the main cast is off fighting battles) expanded into a mini-plotline but also crash head-first into self-parody at times.
The Zanpakutou Unknown Tales Arc was a plotline where an enemy turned the zanpakutou against their shinigami owners while struggling with one captain also defecting, combining an action story with a mystery story as both the enemy's and the defector's motivations were both slowly revealed.
The Beast Swords mini-arc immediately followed the Zanpakutou arc, tying up some loose ends and using the zanpakutou characters for mostly comedy or slice-of-life stories.
The Gotei 13 Invasion Army Arc occurred after the end of the Arrancar Arc and, like the Bount Arc, had to struggle between keeping Ichigo's power level relevant to the canon while making him useable for the arc. This story centred around a mysterious Damsel in Distress and her equally mysterious enemy who had the power of creating a clone army of the captains and lieutenants to serve him.
To elaborate, filler after the Kyoto Arc started nice, but went downhill. The first one (the "Christian Arc"), while having some holdings of the Idiot Ball and a disappointing amount of fighting, still had interesting characters, an unexplored element of Japan's history, and the animation was still as nice as ever. Then came the Daigoro Arc, which had too much padding, but still some interesting moments (it was based on an official RK novella). After that, the Black Knights arc: an interesting idea (European knights in Japan), but badly explored, as the story took too long to ever go anywhere and the battles were very, very static. And for the final blow there came the Feng Shui Arc, which had a ridiculously hard-to-follow plot, bland new characters, random unexplained events and practically zero action. Naturally, the show was cancelled after it.
Gintama. However, the very first episode of the anime was completely filler.
Despite the very difficult genre of the anime, the staff did a pretty good job with the fillers, making them as amusing as ever. There was actually an episode in which Gin-san explains to the others what the staff could do in the case of the anime catching up with the manga, and one of the solutions was to make a filler. However, he also lists the cons of this - the anime could veer off its original plot because of this, and make it impossible to naturally come back without getting some complaints from the viewers. So what the Gintama staff chose to do was do reruns...if only because they didn't want their spot on the broadcasting schedule taken by another show, or their popularity diminishing in their absence and taken over by new anime, specifially Kuroko No Basuke.
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, despite being only 39 episodes, wound up having a filler arc added in the middle of production. These were the "Island/Africa arcs" (episodes 23-34) in which the entire quality of the production, from the animation to the storyline, sank like a stone. They were commissioned only because the show's ratings were very high and imposed on the production team against their will. Hideaki Anno actually had nothing to do with their production because he was so taxed with just fulfilling his original duties, and in later interviews expressed that if he could redo the series he would only keep parts of two of the filler episodes at most because the arc was so unimportant to the story.
Any "Chii and [insert name here] Talk" episode in Chobits. They were considered so pointless and unnecessary to the plot that they were completely excised from the first North American DVD release, and only released as a bonus disc after fans complained.
The Pokémon anime only starts a new game-based arc on the day the games in question are released, in Japan at least. This has led lots of filler episodes. The Johto arc is considered terrible due to the many bad filler episodes and poor pacing since it had no filler to fall back on before the next region. The Hoenn arc however was considered an improvement, as May's quest was given same the importance as Ash's and thus there were able to get two storylines worth of episodes and need less filler. The Battle Frontier arc was a mixed bag, due to uneven placement of the filler episodes.
Early on, many filler episodes were simply the result of a carnival being in the town juuuust as Ash and co. arrived. Other times, it was due to them getting lost because no-one could read the map properly, or ending up in a town that wasn't present in the games.
According to math, Johto was comprised of 50% filler. Surprisingly, the Sinnoh arc was only 20% filler. The Unova arc also contains less filler.
In something of an inversion, Slayers had at least three or four per season, but they are usually the funniest episodes.
The third season of the Ikki Tousen anime, Great Guardians, has no basis in the original manga and has little bearing on the overall plot. The slightly slower pace and bigger emphasis on character interaction still make it a fairly enjoyable watch though.
Megaman Starforce was even worse. It had a great plot for the first half, a lot of promise. Then the creators forgot there was a plot for almost the entire second half of the series. So we got a bunch of random episodes about the FMs goofing around on earth until the last few episodes when the creators finally remembered that there was a plot. The series was hastily ended with a lot of loose threads and a bunch of stuff that made no sense unless you had played the Starforce video game, and even then the plots between the two mediums were so different by that point that is was more of a "fill in the blanks and hope you're right" thing.
Magic Knight Rayearth anime in the first season has a lot of filler episodes. This, however, proves to be very important when it comes to Character Development. It also borrows several elements used in the manga too.
And then on the second season there's everything involving Nova.
Although not as much as Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh! has a LOT of filler (about 80 episodes out of 224). Specific arcs are Noah's, Doma/Waking the Dragons and the KC Grand Prix, plus a few stand-alone filler episodes. The debate on which of those are good and which are crap can reach Flame War proportions.
The Noah arc's status as filler was lampshaded rather hilariously in the dub by Kaiba:
Funnily enough, if they didn't skip over the first few arcs and chapters of the manga and adapted the DDD plot (Dungeon Dice Monsters) faithfully, there probably wouldn't have been any need for the filler arcs. The manga had more than enough material at that point for NAS to avoid going into filler hell. Unfortunately, advertising for the card game comes first...
Team Taiyou is also considered this since no cards are released from their decks. Even moreso when they are not involved in WC 2011 game.
Season 2 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX had 52 episodes. A good quarter or more consisted of Duelist of the Week episodes with no relevance to the overarching plot, instead relying on Excuse Subplots (the Genex Tournament, Crowler and Bonaparte trying to groom a student into a celebrity duelist) to set up duels. A six episode mini-arc revolved around the students going on a field trip to Domino City, but aside from meeting Sartorius's sister and some backstory on him, it too was mostly filler, and could probably have been trimmed down into four or even three episodes.
Soul Eater had a few hilarious fillers involving the character Excalibur, who's pretty much a filler-character, although he does come in on the last arc.
Pretty much all filler before the 7-year-timeskip was all either cut material Hiro Mashima chose not to use or to serve as Adaptation Expansion; the lone exception being the four-part Daphne filler in which Natsu is forced into a mechanical Dragon.
And after the 7-year timeskip, an entire filler arc was introduced. It was notable for introducing a Reborn Oracion Seis and the Earthland counterparts of notable Edolas characters.
Sailor Moon has a fan guide called "Sailor Moon Essential Episodes" that roughly pinpoints 53 episodes as completely irrelevant filler, with an additional 51 being single plot point/power upgrade curiosities (along with five vital episodes of the Doom Tree arc still considered filler). The show only had 200 episodes total.
Worse yet, while most of the filler episodes at least justify their existence by featuring villain activity (often providing some characterization for the villains in the process), there's a couple of stories that aren't related to the villains at all (first season episode featuring a psychic girl, second season episode with dinosaurs, etc.)
One of the most egregious R episodes comes where Chibi-usa tries to return home to the future and this backfires. At the end of the episode Minako asks her what she was trying to do so they could possibly help her. Mamoru simply says that Chibi-usa must have a good reason for not telling them and nothing more is said. So it seems the "good reason" was so that the season's plot didn't move along at all.
There was an entire arc that was filler; Naoko Takeuchi only intended for Sailor Moon to be a one-arc series and was taken aback by its popularity. Takeuchi's publisher and the anime executives asked her to continue the series, which she did. However, the anime had no material to go off of resulting in the Makaiju (Doom Tree) arc to be created in order for the manga to establish a clear storyline for the second arc. Fan response has been mixed for this arc; some people see it as a useless waste of time and ignore it while for others, it's one of their favorite story arcs.
Dennou Coil is mainly the story of Isako and her connection to the weird phenomena in the virtual world. This makes the episodes in which she doesn't even appear feel rather pointless.
The filler episodes do feature Yasako, the other main character, and her friends exploring the nature of illegals, however, which gives them a point. It could be said that Yasako is the protagonist through whose eyes the action is seen, making her understanding of the milieu more important than Isako's arc.
While the 2003 anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist had some filler, Brotherhood, the direct adaptation of the manga, is an aversion: characters and events introduced in the original's filler episodes (like the introduction of Barry The Chopper and the Elrics removing a corrupt official of a mining town from power) are only quickly referenced, letting the main Story Arc progress in every episode.
Compared to most shows of its length (thirteen years and counting!) One Piece has had relatively few filler arcs, due in part to how jam-packed with details Eiichiro Oda's stories tend to be (making it easy for writers to do adaptation expansion) The filler arcs which are present are a mixed bag; fans generally hate the Warship Island/Apis arc, but many consider the G8 arc to be good enough to stand with the best of the canon material. The Ice Hunter arc got high marks as well, perhaps because it was outlined by Oda himself.
Some of the filler arcs are based on storylines which Oda planned for the manga but were later cut to keep the plot moving. The One Piece Strong World movie also began life this way.
Case in point for Adaptation Expansion: After the events of Sabaody, the fates of the remainder of the Straw Hat Crew was given a single chapter of the Manga. From that chapter, the writing staff created four episodes, covering the fates of two members in each. This was aired in-between Amazon Lily and Impel Down, due to fitting with travel time. In-between Impel Down and Marineford, the writers created another four episodes that touched upon the cover-stories that were put into the Manga during Marineford.
While One Piece is good-and-all at being free of Filler, that doesn't mean that the anime is epic 24/7. It's instead subject to some pretty excruciating Padding as it attempts to stretch the chapters out.
The second half of the To Aru Kagaku no Railgun anime is filler, containing material not covered by the original manga (or the original original novels), focusing largely on minor, uninteresting characters and had little to no action (As in, the exact opposite of the rest of the series, or the parent series To Aru Majutsu no Index). Even though the stories were outlined by the original author, you could tell it was made solely because it would sell regardless of quality. Considering Railgun is the More Popular Spin-off... it did.
Fist of the North Star had more episodic villains than there were in the manga. This is particularly in the first season, due to overtaking the series to a huge extent, and wanting to put the first major fight (Kenshiro vs. Shin) at the end of the season. This involved inventing new henchmen for Shin every week and turning some independent enemies into his lackeys. The third season also overtook the manga, but stretched out the Souther fight and put five recap episodes at the very end of the season.
There is an "ordinary" filler episode also. "Someday in the rain" is original to the anime, although it was written by Nagaru Tanigawa. The series seems to be a case of Pragmatic Adaptation. The anime seasons cover everything (chronologically) that happens before Disappearance, which was The Movie.
Code Geass had two Clip Show episodes that the staff openly referred to as Filler; they weren't even included in the DVD release. However, many fans consider any episode that doesn't directly correlate to the war between the Black Knights and Britannia to be Filler, resulting in a lot of hate for the Breather Episodes that focus on Ashford Academy. The writers possibly fired back in the final School Festival episode, where Milly remarks (paraphrased) "There's nothing wrong with the little filler moments in life" - and in the English dub, she outright uses the word "filler".
Being only 49-episodes long, the fillers in Macross 7 are incredibly hard to deal with since you can't totally avoid any episode without missing out some important events. In the first half of the show, you can count around 10 battles with nearly identical situation, the villains repeatedly announce their objectives (more Spiritia!) but ultimately retreat while accomplishing nothing, boring Stock Footage and the same songs being performed over and over. But mixed among those sequences are bits and bits of important information, making the show an obvious result from Executive Meddling to make the show longer than it should be.
Heaven's Lost Property is a rare example of a manga with filler. There's no other way to call interrupting the main arc for some random perverted wacky hijinks of Tomoki (And maybe one or two pages with plot at the end). The worst part? It's a monthly manga. Thankfully the plot's great... when the author gets to it.
Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi contains a tremendous amount of filler compared to the first series; which is unusual, since it's actually shorter. Annoyingly, no single episode can be just skipped over, since the creators almost invariably throw in a scene or two of story or character development just to keep it from being entirely irrelevant. To the point that removing all the filler from episodes 2 through 9 would leave about one and a half episodes of relevant material.
Neon Genesis Evangelion didn't have very many of these (due to its being only 26 episodes long), but the most notable was Episode 7, "A Human Work". It contains no Angels, has no real bearing on the story, has little to no character development (other than Shinji's anger over Misato's slobbiness, leading to Shinji's being assured by Toji and Kensuke that knowing how slobby she is compared to her beautiful real-world persona makes them "a family"), and pretty much serves only to fill in the space between the battle with Ramiel and Asuka's introduction to the story. Though it is worth noting that despite the episodes aforementioned lack of content it does add a bit of world building and drops some large hints at NERV's more seedy involvements in the overall events of the series.
Digimon was normally surprisingly good at averting this, unusual for a Merchandise Driven anime of such length per series, but Digimon Frontier had a little bit of a problem with it. Then came Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Leaping Through Time, where almost literally the entire series is filler: in twenty-five episodes, there have been only the vaguest hints of greater things going on but have been largely ignored in favour of pointless filler. The practical upshot was to leave them with just three episodes to introduce, carry out and conclude an actual plot. After the excellent high that was its immediate predecessor, especially in regard to its lack of filler, no-one was amused.
Being the previous contender for the most episodic installment, 02 was surprisingly good at averting this – but episodes 12 and 15, which featured romps through a Digital western and Little Edo town respectively, did nothing to advance the plot or characterization.
Like Tamers, Digimon Savers also has a slow start with its first 10ish episodes following the Monster Of The Day format. The plot only truly starts when Merukimon enters the picture.
YuYu Hakusho has episode 3, where Yusuke, as a ghost, helps Kuwabara in his dealings with a nasty teacher threatening one of his friends. Aside from a dub-added line, none of the events in this episode are alluded to again, and the next episode's Recap doesn't mention it at all—a viewer could skip from episode 2 to episode 4 without feeling like anything's missing.
Gurren Lagann is essentially devoid of filler save for one questionable episode – Episode 16: Entire Polysynthesis. It's the equivalent of a clip show detailing the last 15 episodes to help make the transition of a 7-year Time Skip. However, it has virtually no new material, accompanied by live-action scenes of a writer's hands drawing title cards and commentary statements. The eyecatches themselves are made from those of the past episodes put back-to-back, 4x4, and in chronological order, with the anime title filling the last empty square. Oddly enough, its presence makes the show end on 27 episodes, cluing the viewer in that like a normal seasonal anime, 26 full episodes were produced – but this one was tossed in for good measure.
Katekyo Hitman Reborn! is more subject to Padding, but it does have two full-fledged filler arcs during the adaptation of the Future Arc. The first of which is for the Vongola Guardians to recieve the flame of their respective Arcobaleno babies and a second arc which is to gain the flames of acceptance from their respective Vongola ancestors so that they'll be able to open up their box-weapons.
Pick a Super Robot Genre series at random and there's a good chance that it will have these (particularly if it's one of the earliest). Of course, due to being a part of Merchandise Driven shows, such episodes tend to be used to introduce new upgrades for the main robot.
InuYasha was infamous for this. Although many of the earlier seasons were mostly storyline-based with filler thrown in here and there (because the manga was well ahead of the anime) many fans noted a deterioration starting during the fourth season before the Band of Seven Arc; after this arc, the anime was more or less caught up with the manga, causing copious amounts of filler to be created in order to compensate. This led to the show's premature ending, necessitating a short revival (The Final Act) several years later, after the manga finally ended.
The second season of Kore wa Zombie desu ka? was mostly filler, due to the plot's magical chainsaw being broken. While it was rather entertaining, only about three episodes were actually important to the plot, with all the other episodes being retconned.
Uncanny X-Men #228: a filler issue designed to wrap up loose ends from Dazzler's ongoing book via flashback tale, made worse by the fact that the issue beforehand was the last part of the "Fall of the Mutants" storyline, which set up a new status quo for the X-Men.
Uncanny X-Men #512: Matt Fraction does a one-off time travel/steampunk storyline which has the illusion of being important in the grand scheme of things via revealing why the Celestial in San Francisco was guarding, but never comes to anything and makes the issue just Fraction indulging in his own writing fetishes.
Used with Roy Thomas's run in the 1960s, especially during the Factor Three storyline. Thomas uses the lengthy storyline to flesh out details (such as the X-Men struggling with reaching the bad guys lair without Xavier's resources) most writers would have glossed over.
Subverted with the The Avengers tie-in issues for Secret Invasion, as the tie-ins essentially serve the purpose of filling in a TON of plot holes from the whole Skrull invasion storyline.
The first three issues of Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man series were forced crossover issues, leading to David joking that fans should just avoid those issues issues as filler and even had the first official TPB for his run called "False Start", as a joke about how issue #4 was the real first issue of the series.
The infamous Titans Hunt storyline in New Titans was infamous for this. There are two filler issues tossed into the storyline (#80 and #81) which exist mainly to shill the newly introduced Team Titans and to serve as a "War of the Gods" crossover issue. The later is ironic: at the time, the Titans were largely off-limits for big storylines (the book was only sold at comic shops at the time), though in this case the plotline kind of had to be addressed as Donna Troy played a major role in War of the Gods and her involvement had to be addressed.
Filler issues in comic books often exist because of plans changing at the last minute. Teen Titans had a crossover with Outsiders with another crossover planned soon after. DC decided to just make the second crossover a separate miniseries, resulting in a two-issue filler arc in each book.
Alternatively, there is the cynical notion that fans consider Crisis Crossover issues to be filler and can ultimately be skipped, while comic companies see the crossover issues as important and the stories that exist between crossovers as the real "filler". This in turn has led to some Crisis Crossovers putting out mini-series for the big name characters so that the main books don't get interrupted, though this has the negative effect (especially when the mini-serieses don't impact the Crisis Crossover in any meaningful way) of the mini-series being treated as filler and ignored.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac has Filler Bunny, a cute little bunny rabbit who was created and tortured by cruel scientists for the purpose of filling pages when Vasquez can't come up with enough material.
Book 5 and 6 of Les Légendaires count as this: not only does it have few, if anything, to do with what was the main plot at this point, but most of the events of those Books are retconned in-story thanks to Jadina's time reset. The main villain of those book, Captain Ceyderom, is the least important of all the major villains and the only one to not appear again after this arc. On the other hand, Prince Halan, who is also introduced in this book, appears again later, and theme such as Jadina's Arranged Marriage are further explored later.
Nicely subverted in IDW's Transformers Ongoing. Issues #9-#12 feel like a short little filler storyline that develops a few minor subplots (like the fate of Thundercracker) and leads into the next storyline (which develops the main Myth Arc) but is otherwise unimportant. However later on, issue #29 reveals that the events of that storyline may have been more important then they seemed...
Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley started off as a novella. When asked to write a novel length version of the story, the additional material is mostly a completely unrelated sub-plot.
The Level 3 Bionicle reading books were specifically developed to tell unimportant side-stories, so as to spare the fans from having to read "kiddy stuff". They of course still bought them, some even preferring them to the author's main-story writing.
A little under half of the Animorphs series consisted of filler episodes; they became particularly infamous and prevalent once the ghostwriters kicked in. In particular, nothing between Visser and book 45 - a ten book period - at all contributed to the overarching plot, with the debatable exception of the fourth Megamorphs.
Live Action TV
Many TV series will have a subplot, and often these will have little or nothing to do with the main story. However, these can serve several purposes beyond padding the episode – most notably, it can be used to contrast the tone of the main plot (usually, this will be light comedy), it can advance a recurring storyline, or it can test new actors and/or characters to audiences.
Additionally, establishing shots – used to give context to the next scene or act – can sometimes be used as padding, especially if they come into play for more than a few seconds or if several are used in succession.
Twin Peaks was only intended to last until Laura Palmer's murderer was caught. Unfortunately, it was popular enough to spawn another season, which was completely unplanned and directionless as a result.
Lampooned in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace: Dean Learner states that so many slow-motion sequences were used because the episodes often ran several minutes short and they had to be bulked out somehow.
Related example: Super Sentai and Power Rangers mostly follow the "half arc, half filler" formula, but each Sentai series has to run for a whole year's 48-52 episodes, whereas Power Rangers are usually much shorter. While some fans prefer the higher story-density of PR's shorter seasons, others miss the fleshing out of the characters (the girls in particular) that the additional fillers episodes allow the writers to indulge in in Sentai.
Early seasons of Power Rangers, which aired on weekdays, we're stuffed with filler, the first season in particular having run for a whopping sixty episodes and abstained from doing story arcs that didn't focus on the green ranger (For example, those Power Eggs in the episode with the chicken monster? They were originally the last two dinosaur eggs, a subplot that ran all the way to the end of the series in the Sentai.)
Less justifiable in the original series of Doctor Who, however. Serials running for five to seven episodes or more usually have so much padding, contrivances, and irrelevant storylines, they can get hard to watch. This was reduced in later series (starting with the Fourth Doctor), with a more manageable four episodes per serial and rarer six-part episodes. Even in the Sixth Doctor season 22, where the runtime was temporarily switched to 45 minutes instead of the usual 25, the serials go over two parts only once.
In particular, the First Doctor serial The Dalek's Master Plan, a massive 12-parter (plus a prologue episode broadcast weeks earlier and notable for not featuring any of the main cast), had a Christmas Episode intentionally meant as filler.
The Prisoner was originally intended to be a seven episode miniseries. The network wanted more, and so ten standalone episodes were created and intermixed with the main Story Arc. Less noticeable than in other series with a high filler percentage, as most of the filler episodes are still good.
Swedish children's sci-fi comedy show Vintergatan, both 5A and 5B, had children getting to call the characters and help them with personal things. These conversations could get very, very, very annoying. Even more frustrating in the sequel, which only had ten episodes instead of around forty-fifty — conversations on the ship between one certain alien and one certain human, mostly showing off their Odd Couple-sort of relationship, and serving absolutely no purpose, aside from minor Character Development — which was forced by the plot later on anyway.
Used as a quick gag in the Musical Episode of Buffy, where the cast sings "Walk Through The Fire," and Willow's only line in the song is "I think this line's mostly filler."
It usually happens in Fringe, where there's always a Monster of the week focus and mostly all of the episodes advance very little on the plot. There was one episode in the second season, for example, that showed Charlie Francis alive. Keep in mind, the character had already died in the show, but apart from that, it felt like a normal episode. Apparently, it had been filmed for the first season but they waited until then to air it.
One particularly obvious example of this on Saturday Night Live was the 1985-86 season's Christmas episode hosted by Teri Garr. The centerpiece of the episode was meant to be a 'made-for-TV movie' spoof called "The Big Tree," which was split across a commercial break due to its length. However, the entire second half of the sketch was cut (most likely after 10 PM dress rehearsal) after the audience failed to respond, so the live episode has painful patches of filler. Segments such as Teri's monologue and Don Novello's 'Mr X.' commentary on Weekend Update are clearly padded out to be much, much longer than they should've been; and a sketch about a tropical island further drags out the episode by using a number of overlong stock-footage clips.
Sons of Anarchy Season 2 has the first couple of episodes seem to set the stage for the rest of the series...until it becomes apparent that the resolution to this begins about three episodes from the end. The remaining episodes generally expand on subplots and have many, many instances of Just Shoot Him.
It was pretty common in the first two seasons of Farscape to alternate between arc-oriented stories and monster-of-the-week filler episodes. The plot was fairly ill-defined and the characters needed fleshing out anyway, so it was quite bearable. Still, these episodes were safe to ignore until the third season or so, when old filler characters started to play crucial roles in the main stories. New material that seemed like filler was also harder to dismiss. Especially when what had seemed like a textbook filler-psychopath-of-the-week twinned the main character, changing the course of that season and throwing a monkey-wrench the size of a Command Carrier into John and Aeryn's relationship.
The "Mirror Universe" episodes of the various Star Trek television series fell into this. Placing the action in an alternate universe allowed the writers to create new stories without affecting the main "timeline" in any shape or form, could result in alternate (or darker) versions of already-established characters (which was a great acting opportunity for the main cast because they got to try a different spin on their role), had massive battle sequences with real consequences and casualties...and were always forgotten about as soon as the episode was over. This was later averted with the 2009 Star Trek reboot, which is intended to be a long-term relaunch of the franchise in an alternate universe.
Improv-heavy Outnumbered's solution to an episode coming up short seems to be having little Karen act out a Reality Show with plushies, and cutting that into the episode as necessary.
Transformers: Classics was a toyline specifically created to bridge the gap between the Transformers Cybertron and Transformers movie series, and consisted of radical modern updates of the original Transformers Generation 1 characters. Re-releasing old favorites with modern-day engineering proved to be a very popular idea with the fans, and the line has since seen several successors, often running alongside the cartoon or movie-backed toy-lines and revisiting series other than G1.
The Bohrok-Kal, 2003's winter setline from BIONICLE. They were noting more than Palette Swaps of the previous year's enemy sets and their story was essentially a half year-long extension of 2002's Bohrok Saga (though it wasn't exactly filler). The line was probably produced to give LEGO enough time to prepare for the movie and the tie-in toys released later that year, although it reportedly affected their profits pretty badly — however that was partly because no regular-sized hero sets were released that year.
Side Missions are pretty much the definition of Fillers in Video Games. They have nothing to do with the main storyline, and are pretty much there just as a break from the main game play with the added bonus of gaining extra experience points.
They generally have nothing to do with the main storyline. Sometimes they have a lot to do with the main storyline... just not with advancing it.
Final Fantasy XII has about 30 hours worth of story and 200 hours of sidequests that consist of plotless monster hunting.
That's not counting the miles and miles of plains you have to walk through to get from A to B. The walk from Nalbina to Archades takes the cake though — nearly 5 hours of walking and no plot bar two exposition scenes clocking in at 10 minutes.
Tales Of Symphonia had the infamous and distracting hunt for the Ymir Fruit in Ymir Forest, a fruit that was said to be able to cure every disease. The fruit was needed to heal an elf woman which was never seen in game, and which had no impact on the plot. The player had to solve the puzzle regardless, since the sick woman's child blocked the way to the protagonist's destination. Just so you understand why is this is irritating, the puzzle is really dumb, hard, frustrating and technically unnecessary, as the characters could circumvent having to do it if they used their brains. Strangely, the protagonists ignored the fact that they were on a quest to cure a disease of one of their party members at that time and could just use the fruit to heal her.
5 too, to a certain extent, but it was much more coherent than 4, the real filler being the quest to get each new member of your unit, having to go through puzzles to fix whatever problem was caused, and always ending in a fight with their navi, the main plot was held together otherwise.
Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops was basically Metal Gear Solid with Big Boss instead of Snake or Raiden. It's not considered a bad game since the story and the characters are all quite entertaining, but it is considered a disappointment, since all it contributes to the overall arc of the series is to retcon a few character's backstories for (nonsexual) Fanservice, and shows where Big Boss thought up the name "Outer Heaven." On the other hand, its important to the overall saga as it also acts as an early-bird clue that its Zero, not the CIA Director from Metal Gear Solid 3, who founded the Patriots, something that's later confirmed in Metal Gear Solid 4.
Metal Gear Solid Mobile is this as well - a completely pointless mission that does show the development of Solid Snake and Otacon's friendship, but also chooses to have Snake's memories of the mission erased at the end. So much for that, then!
With the development of the Guild Wars world, particularly in the Factions and Nightfall campaign, almost the entire Prophecies campaign can be seen as this (particularly as, as is finally revealed in Nightfall, the major events the player witnesses and takes parts in in Prophecies were part of an elaborate plan by Abaddon, the former - and deposed - god of death, to worm his way back into the mortal realm from the Realm of Torment.
Fate/hollow ataraxia is actually large made of filler. However the filler is often highly entertaining and some see it as the point of the story to begin with.
Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has Ellicor II. Being here pretty much eats up about half of the game and it has almost NO relevance to the plot, so much so that the filler is it's own plot and they have to actually bring the plot to the planet, I.E. aliens invading during a filler plot important war because the protagonist is taking too long to leave and continue the plot. Most plot points actually go unsolved.
In the first game, the Disney worlds, excluding Hundred Acre Wood, are all plot-relevant. You either attempt to save a Princess of Heart and/or take out a villain who is conspiring to use the Heartless. Individual boss battles, however, often consist of fighting a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere.
Kevin And Kell suffered from this when it was syndicated in Atlanta's newspapers; Since then, it's gone from a funny-but-plot-heavy comic to a primarily Gag-A-Day comic with the occasional story lasting more than one day.
Homestuck had an 'Intermission Arc' which focused on the Alternate UniverseEvil Counterparts to Problem Sleuth's team: the Midnight Crew. It's a subversion: The Midnight Crew is actually agents from another game played by another race, and are actually are larger part of the plot then originally hinted at.
Hussie's self-insert segments can be seen as this, as they come out of nowhere and have no real influence on the plot. He at one point addresses these concerns, and admit that his reach of influence into the story will only amount to one yard.
Exactlyone yard. After John and Jade escape the Scratch by literally Breaking the Fourth Wall, Hussie posits that they will travel exactly one yard before entering the session they created. Oh, and it takes them three years.
Played straight at times; sometimes the story pace slows to a crawl and nothing in particular happens of import for a couple weeks at a time. One arc lasted almost 2 months before the pace picked back up.
8-Bit Theater had at least one filler arc, with a couple more which could possibly be considered filler: Unarguably, nothing comes of an arc in which the Warriors of Light take over the town of Gaia. The frozen wasteland arc introduced the doomsday cultists, who did reappear, but did little to further the overall plot, and the Onrac arc was little more than a Shaggy Dog Story for the city in question, though it did set the Warriors of Light on the route to their next destination.
Parodied to the point of deconstruction in Four Swords Misadventures. When Red and Green Link were fighting over Zelda (It Makes Sense in Context), it flashes back to a conversation between Red and Green in Naruto-style, with Purple and Blue, Mystery Theatre 3000-style, critiquing the use of filler time and taking away from the action.
The majority of Nostalgia Critic episodes are over twenty minutes with some sketch comedy, character stuff and done with a fair amount of energy (even when the Critic's depressed). But there are a few that Doug has admitted to rushing because he gave in to fan demands and just wanted to get out the way.
Retro Game Master: Arino ends up clearing Ninja Spirit in two hours. One of the producers gives him a phone call telling him they don't have enough footage for a whole episode and that he should occupy the audience for a few more minutes. So we get a scene of the cast having lunch.
Avatar The Last Airbender had a few episodes per season, which includes both "The Runaway" (one of the more popular episodes of the series) and "The Great Divide" (generally the least liked episode of the series). Lampshaded in a recapparody towards the end of season three:
Aang: Look, it's the Great Divide! The biggest canyon in the Earth Kingdom! Sokka: Ehh... Let's keep flying.
A better lampshading is the actual introduction to the recap episode:
Sokka: Come on, a day at the theater! This is the kind of wacky time-wasting nonsense I've been missing.
Specifically, "The Great Divide" and "The Painted Lady" stand out as the only two episodes of the show that can be removed completely without disrupting the show's flow in the slightest. "The Runaway" at least has important character development for Katara and Toph, as well as continuing the Combustion Man subplot.
And "The Fortuneteller" was just one long Ship Tease and nothing else.
"Tales from Ba Sing Se", though a filler episode, gives Iroh a real Tear Jerker back story, as well as showing exactly why Appa hasn't met up with the rest of the Gaang...
The Clear My Name episode "Avatar Day" infringed on the Sequel Hook "The Swamp" set up for "The Blind Bandit". It foreshadowed the return of Suki and the B Plot had Zuko seperate, but the former wasn't necessary, and the latter could've been stuffed into the previous episode.
Most of Season 4 and parts of Season 3 of Code Lyoko. Ironically, Season 1 was a Monster of the Week kind of show, but it started out that way, and thus, the idea of filler wasn't a consideration until after such time as the series grew a beard, so to speak, and shifted to a Story Arc format for Season 2 and the Prequel episodes. So, it's debatable if the so-called filler was really just a return to form.
Also, due to Season 1's Monster of the Week format, you could actually watch most of the episodes in any order, with the exception of the season finale, as the last episode of that season starts off from where the previous one left off, making it a two-parter.
Total Drama Island has a pretty blatant example in the form of "Camp Castaways", in which the Final Four end up trapped on a "deserted island" (actually Chris's secret production camp). Although the foursome seem to bond a bit over the course of the episode, this is completely disregarded at the end when they all agree to pretend it never happened.
DuckTales: "The Duck Who Would Be King", the second episode of the "Time is Money"-five parter, can easily be left out without disturbing the course of the story. At the end of the first episode, the protagonists attempt to return to the present after traveling to prehistoric times. At the start of the second episode they accidently arrive in another ancient time period and have an adventure unrelated to the main plot of the story arc. They leave this time period again at the end of the episode. At the start of the third episode, they finally arrive back in the present. None of the events from the second episode are ever mentioned again in the rest of the story arc, and episodes one and three perfectly connect to each other even without episode two in between.
Scooby-Doo: In the 1970 episode "Jeepers, It's The Creeper," Scooby is disguised as a chicken in a chicken coop as he and Shaggy and trying to escape the Creeper. Scooby accidentally hatches an egg, and the subsequent baby chick tags along with our heroes, thinking Scooby is its mother. Its only tie-in with the episode is at the end, when Scooby passes another nest and several eggs hatch, the chicks thinking Scooby is their mother.
The two episodes of Daria not seen as canonical or even all that good by fans: the one where everyone bursts into a sing-and-dance routine about an impending hurricane, trhe other when the supernatrural spirits of various public holidays intrude into reality. If these were devised as last-minute filler to get the number of episodes up to a series-friendly 26, it explains much.
In newspapering, fillers are sometimes used to, appropriately, fill space. These might take one of several forms:
Famous quotes, fun facts or quick stories that are generally humorous in nature.
Filler advertisements. Often, these will be "house ads," or advertisements created by an editor or advertising department selling the newspaper. Other times, stock ads – often, these are public service ads from the Ad Council – may be used.
Clip art or graphics that might apply to the season or an upcoming holiday, but otherwise serve little purpose. While these were more common in the era before computer pagination of pages (which allow page designers to adjust the leading or length of a story to fit a specific space), sometimes after everything has been adjusted and there is still enough white space remaining, the editor will turn to using filler. The result is a cleanly-designed page that the reader can rarely notice the difference
In radio, in the era where virtually every radio station had network news at the top of the hour – and was available only by live feed – many stations used instrumental songs to fill time remaining between the end of the last song and when the network news began. Stations often had a library of a few dozen generic-sounding records, each sounding somewhat like the genre they played, which were used to fill out the remaining hour, often if there wasn't a current song or recurrent that was short enough to fit the remaining time without cutting it off early. The jockey sometimes read announcements or previewed the next hour, but if he chose not to talk, the song would allow the jockey to avoid broadcasting "dead air" (silence).
WPFM, an album-rock station in Panama City FL, broke for ABC news at the top of an hour in a 1977 broadcast. Afterwards, there was dead air for some three minutes before soft violin music started playing. Immediately, the DJ at the station finally returned to local and quipped "You learn something new every day. Today it's 'don't go to the bathroom during ABC news'."
When a person has set goals or a long term agenda to just get there, they are sometimes required by other forces to meet with other people or do things pertaining to other matters that are third-party and do not help further their activity at all. Percent of the time, these people or things are never heard about again. (See also: The airport personnel, when your luggage is on the wrong flight.)