Show Within a Show. In addition to finding out that they're trapped in the universe of Show B, the characters of Show A discover that they themselves are the subject of a Show A in the universe of Show B. The characters from Show A are, in essence, simultaneously Trapped in TV Land and a Refugee from TV Land. This isn't Welcome to the Real World, since both universes are depicted as being equally "real". A situation in which Show A is fictional in Show B and Show B is fictional in Show A isn't an example of this trope if they never share a continuity; if in A's continuity B is just fiction and vice versa. This could happen with two completely unrelated works that each incorporate real world elements that happen to include the other work. This is a relatively common trope used in Crossover Fan Fic. Strictly speaking, this kind of crossover should never logically be allowed to exist. At the very least, the particular episode of each series or work which references the other should be assumed to not exist within the other's universe. Otherwise, you would have a situation wherein it would be distinctly possible for the main characters to see the TV show of their entire reality within said reality, realize their entire existence was a lie, and freak out. And we wouldn't want that, now would we? One possible justification would be if the two worlds are simply Alternate Universes and the "shows" in question are based on visions people have from the other world. In this case, expect the characters trying to establish what in this show is correct and what is not. It could also be the case that the creators of Show B, within the universe of Show A, simply decided to set Show B in a world where the main characters of Show A don't exist, but acknowledge their impact by making them fictional instead- though this explanation breaks down if the world at large, and particularly the media, shouldn't know about the events of Show A in the first place. Unfortunately, the Fiction Identity Postulate proves that all fiction is equally unreal. And anyone living in an Alternate Universe may be, by definition, fictional. This is where Recursive Canon meets Recursive Reality. May create an accidental Intercontinuity Crossover. See also Celebrity Paradox. Comic Books Are Real is a one-sided version, usually dealing with a Show Within a Show instead of another real-life series. Compare Faeries Don't Believe in Humans Either, where each side believes the other is only stories prior to meeting, but both have always been fact and that's what the stories are based on. Contrast Stable Time Loop, which leads to a similar Ontological Paradox.
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Anime And Manga
- A Show Within a Show example: Many characters in Martian Successor Nadesico are fans of Gekiganger 3. The Recap Episode showed that, in turn, the main characters of Gekiganger 3 are fans of Nadesico.
- Excel Saga featured a kid who drew forged key frames from the Show Within a Show Puni Puni Poemi. The show was Defictionalized, and in Puni Puni Poemi, a math problem in school involves the number of cels used in each episode of Excel Saga.
- Once upon a time, Milestone Comics and DC Comics' Superman books participated in a Crisis Crossover, Worlds Collide. The story started with a mailman in the DC Universe who went to sleep and dreamed of waking up and working as a mailman in the Milestone universe (or vice versa), until other strange things started happening in both universes. The Blood Syndicate (essentially a streetgang with powers) were the first Milestone characters to meet Superman, and although they thought he was just a local wannabe, they all immediately knew who Superman was, what he could do, etc., because Superman was a comic book character in the Milestone 'verse. ("Does your mama know you left the house looking like Clark Kent?!"). Superman doesn't have the same benefits, realistically, since the Milestone Comics characters were hardly a household name, and he's not much of a comic fanboy.
- Static, an Ascended Fanboy, lampshades this; he drops his knowledge of Post-Crisis Superboy's history, and explains "I read all your comic books! Don't you read all of my comic books? (Do I have comic books?)"
- In the wake of a Cosmic Retcon, the two universes have now been merged with a new, shared history. Only a handful of people (including Superman) remember that they were ever separate.
- This happens to Superman a lot; it used to be that DC/Marvel crossovers operated under the conceit that the characters, if they didn't know of each other, at least operated in the same reality for the duration of the Crossover (Spider-man/Batman, for example), but after DC vs. Marvel/Marvel vs. DC, they were explicitly separate realities. It is true that the Fantastic Four knew of Superman from the events of that crossover in Superman/Fantastic Four, it was also established that Ben Grimm and Franklin Richards knew of Superman from the exploits of his comic book counterpart.
- Incidentally, Marvel vs. DC played with a retcon of Spider-man/Batman when the Joker recognized Spider-man from somewhere. Of course, since S/B was set before the Spider-clone saga and DC vs. Marvel was set after, Ben Reilly Spider-man didn't recognize the Joker from Peter Parker's adventure.
- Speaking of DC Comics, Pre Crisis at least, Earth-One and Earth-Two were fictional to each other, and on Earth-Prime, supposedly all the other alternate universes were fictional.
- The first Futurama/Simpsons Bongo Comics crossover comes about as the Brainspawn zapped the Planet Express crew into an old Simpsons comic. The second has the Simpsons characters and later, many other fictional characters materialising into the reality of Futurama from a comic by one of Farnsworth's inventions. However in their Bongo Comics crossovers, The Simpsons are pointed out as the fictional ones in Futurama's "real" universe. It should be only one way, being built off the idea in "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid" where the Brain can take people into worlds of fiction but since Matt Groening cameos on The Simpsons as the creator of Futurama...
- Terra Obscura. Their science heroes are the stars of comic books in Tom Strong's world, and vice versa.
- Jimmy Olsen in Superman comics is a fan of the Spin Doctors, a band with a Superman-inspired album and a song about Jimmy Olsen.
- Fan Fic author Jared "Skysaber" Ornstead used this trope to invert the Self-Insert Fic trope of Author Avatars knowing everything about the worlds they visit; there's always a Show Within a Show based on his life in each one, and at least one of the characters is guaranteed to be a fan.
- In the Harry Potter and Fate/stay night crossover Fan Fic "Fictional", Harry is a servant created by Caster from the book series. A big part of the plot is Harry coming to terms that all of his hardships were fictional and how to deal with it after the obligatory freak out. And you know, deal with being a slave (*cough* Servant). He also has to hide his scar, because other people freak out when they meet Harry Potter too.
- The Infinite Loops actually justifies this trope. The admins responsible for repairing the multiverse store backups of universes wherever they can, which has the side effect of making the natives write fiction about that universe. The Hub universe is simply the most well protected and undamaged area, which is why we have all this fiction....
- In the first chapter of Walking in the Shadows, D'hoffryn brings Xander to Smallville to have a chat. During the conversation, he mentions forgetting that both are fictional in the opposite universe.
- Played with in M. McGregor's "The Wonderland Subject", a dimension-hopping Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Ultimate Marvel crossover in which each universe has fiction based on the other one. Xander and Jean Grey spend quite a while being fannish at each other.
- In Kyon Big Damn Hero, characters make several references to Lucky Star — which, in turn, contains many references to Suzumiya Haruhi.
- Within Sherlock BBC fanfiction, DoctorWho has been both fictional (e.g. John Watson's a whovian) and real (e.g. John is the son of Captain Jack Harkness, a character on Doctor Who), depending on what universe the fanfiction author is writing in. Additionally, some Whovian fanfiction features the Sherlock characters as real people, or claims that the Doctor is a fan of the original Conan-Doyle figure. *Cue Rift crack*
- In the first scene of Scream (1996), the film Halloween (1978) is the subject of one of the questions the killer asks, and later Halloween is shown at a party (with one character loudly protesting at the mistakes Laurie Strode is making). Likewise, in the Halloween sequel, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, a couple of characters are watching Scream 2 in one scene.
- Also, in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the duo stumbles upon the the filming of a Scream movie. The first movie in the series had a poster for Clerks, a movie in the same continuity as Jay and Silent Bob.
- In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the TV-obsessed patient is seen watching an early scene from the movie Critters. Later, Critters 2: The Second Course had one of its alien doppelgangers attempt to imitate a cardboard Freddy Kruegar standee at a video store.
- In the first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Evil Dead (1981) is seen on a TV, a Shout-Out to a poster for Wes Craven's earlier film The Hills Have Eyes appearing in The Evil Dead (which was itself a Shout-Out to a poster for Jaws appearing in The Hills Have Eyes). Then in Evil Dead 2, Freddy Krueger's glove is seen in the shed where Ash creates his chainsaw-hand. Averted in the comics, there was an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny between Freddy, Ash, and Jason.
- In Independence Day a character makes a passing reference to The X-Files, conversely, in the first X-Files movie we see Mulder urinating in front of an Independence Day movie poster.
- From Through the Looking-Glass:
"What ... is ... this?" he said at last.
"This is a child!" Haigha replied eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her, and spreading out both his hands towards her in an Anglo-Saxon attitude. "We only found it to-day. It's as large as life, and twice as natural!"
"I always thought they were fabulous monsters!" said the Unicorn. "Is it alive?"
"It can talk," said Haigha, solemnly.
The Unicorn looked dreamily at Alice, and said "Talk, child."
Alice could not help her lips curing up into a smile as she began: "Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too! I never saw one alive before!"
"Well, now that we have seen each other," said the Unicorn, " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you. Is that a bargain?"
"Yes, if you like," said Alice.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number Of The Beast introduces the concept of the "World as Myth" which supposes that all fictional universes are equally real and, moreover, are accessible to one another via interdimensional travel. The act of authorship is what creates said universes, which leads to the interesting notion that the characters in any given universe may be controlled, at any given moment, by an Author from another. Or that characters could, in theory, meet their own Author. The novel concludes in a Massively Multiplayer Crossover whereby the protagonists host a convention of characters from nearly every Science Fiction and Fantasy universe ever.
- The subsequent novels The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and To Sail Beyond the Sunset run with the concept to its logical conclusion, in which the characters wage running pandimensional battles against groups of agents from other realities, all competing to see which can rewrite history to their whims.
- Philip K Dick The Man in the High Castle contains a Subversion. The novel is an Alternate History describing a hypothetical timeline in which the Axis won WWII and conquered the United States. And in the novel's 'verse exists another novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which is itself an Alternate History novel describing a hypothetical timeline in which the Allies won WWII, but which is not our reality. For example, in it, the British Empire is the dominant global power.
- Scots author Quintin Jardine has written two long-running series: Skinner, about a high-ranking Edinburgh police detective, and Oz Blackstone, a private detective and part-time actor. In at least one Blackstone novel he is involved in making a film based on the Skinner books, while the Blackstone novels themselves appear in Skinner's world.
- The Goosebumps series had a recursive fiction paradox. For example, a couple of the main books and a lot of the Choose Your Own Adventure books mention the main character having read about something like their situation in a Goosebumps book. In a good deal of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, you need to know about the book being referenced to get a good ending!
Live Action TV
- Mexican sitcoms El Chapulín Colorado and El Chavo del ocho recursively reference each other at different points.
- There was a crossover between Power Rangers and the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. It's particularly amusing when one of the turtles laughs off a mention of the rangers as comic book characters.
- An episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "A World of His Own" somehow managed to do this to itself. The story deals with a writer named Gregory West who can cause fictional characters to appear in real life if he dictates descriptions of them into his tape recorder, and cause them to disappear again by burning the tape he described them on. At the end of the episode, as is traditional Rod Serling appears to give the story's closing narration.
Rod Serling: We hope you enjoyed tonight's romantic story on The Twilight Zone. At the same time, we want you to realize that it was, of course, purely fictional. In real life, such ridiculous nonsense could never...Rod Serling: ...Gregory West: I mean, you shouldn't say such things as "nonsense" and "ridiculous! [takes out tape labeled "Rod Serling" and throws it into the fire]Rod Serling: [resigned] Well, that's the way it goes... [vanishes]
- In Mad About You there is an episode where Paul visits an old apartment of his. That apartment happens to be Jerry Seinfeld's and he runs into and has a rather poignant conversation with Kramer. But in a later episode of Seinfeld George is forced to suffer watching an episode of Mad About You with his fiancee Susan.
- Doctor Who is fictional in EastEnders: they have a character who is a fan (Bradley) who even goes to a Doctor Who convention at one point. EastEnders is also fictional in Doctor Who wherein Jackie Tyler is a fan, and EastEnders appears Show Within a Show style in "Army of Ghosts". The Doctor also references it in "The Satan Pit". There was a crossover between them in 1993 for Children in Need. In "Dimensions In Time", neither show acknowledges the other's fictionality in it and it isn't considered in continuity for either (one explanation touted by Doctor Who Spin Off Media is that it was All Just a Dream of the Seventh Doctor).
- In fairness, Doctor Who is implied to be fictional within itself. A Seventh Doctor episode had him visit 1963 London, where a TV announcer was cut off half-way through introducing the first episode of a new BBC sci-fi series with the first syllable "Doc-"
- References to characters watching Passions started showing up during season four of Buffy. Shortly afterward, Passions characters started watching Buffy.
- Also, characters in Buffy have talked about Xena, whereas, while they clearly can't have a television show on Xena, there is a play called 'Buffus the Bacchae Slayer'. Of course, as Xena is both told by a literary agent and fictional within itself, it's anyone's guess as to what is actually going on.
- Sort-of real life example - the series Bones is inspired by the work of author Kathy Reichs. In the series, the heroine is an author who writes novels about a character named Kathy Reichs.
- The novel character seems very close to the author in personality, though the events of each plot, per Reichs' afterwords, are only based on the broadest strokes of real-life cases. The television character is almost completely different from the novel character. It's really just the names.
- Dr. Temperance Brennan gets a honorable cameo appearance in Fforde's Thursday Next series, which runs on recursive fictionality.
- A tricky one: Green Acres coexists with Petticoat Junction, and Petticoat Junction coexists with Beverly Hillbillies, but Beverly Hillbillies is fictional on Green Acres (and is Eb's favorite show).
- Leverage and Psych are both mentioned as TV shows in each other's universes, but unfortunately, that leads to a What Could Have Been, because if Psych hadn't made Leverage fictional in their universe, Word of God says that Leverage's Eliot would've had an uncle named Henry.
- A difficult case occurs with the 60's series Batman and The Green Hornet. An episode of The Green Hornet establishes that Batman is a (presumably fictional) television show in his universe, but then the Hornet and Kato appear in an episode of Batman and help him with a case.
- Also, in the Batman episode "The Impractical Joker," Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Alfred are watching a news program about how Batman and Robin were made helpless by a new Joker device earlier in the day. In disgust, Bruce asks to change the channel, noting that The Green Hornet is about to come on. We don't get to see any of that, as Joker breaks into the TV channel's signal to gloat and taunt Batman over the airwaves.
- In The X-Files, a character is seen watching an episode of The Simpsons. Fortunately, it's not the episode where David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson appeared as Mulder and Scully. In Comic Book Guy's shop, one can see a poster to the X-Files movie.
- Eek The Cat did an X-Files parody, and was also shown in an X-Files episode "Eve" where one of the little murderous clones watched the animation.
- Dr. House watches Gossip Girl and Blair Waldorf watches House. Leighton Meester, the actress who plays Blair, also guest-starred on an episode of House as a teenager in love with the titular character. In the 2011 movie The Oranges Hugh Laurie plays a man who falls in love with a friend's daughter... played by Meester.
- In Community Abed's favorite TV show is Cougar Town and in one episode he talks about guest starring on it. In one episode of Cougar Town Laurie and Travis watch the first season of Community on DVD. This eventually came full circle with Laurie and Travis as bit characters in the season finale of Community and Abed as a bit character on the season finale of Cougar Town. A later episode of Community had Abed, Meta Guy that he is, explaining the Mind Screw the whole thing had been for him.
- In Stargate SG-1, Jack O'Neill makes several references to The Simpsons, Richard Dean Anderson himself, being a huge fan. In season eight, Dan Castellaneta makes a guest appearence (even agreeing with Jack that Mr Burns is the perfect analogy for the Goa'uld). Just to make it more confusing, Anderson once appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons and, oh yes, they mention his work in Stargate SG-1.
- In The Flash, Cisco has worn a rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock t-shirt, based on The Big Bang Theory, while Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory has worn Flash t-shirts and costumes.
- In Atlus's 2011 puzzle game Catherine, Teddie from Persona 4 makes an appearance in the form of a figure on a bar table and a mascot on a beer bottle. The main character owns books called "Persona". A scene in Persona 4: The Animation shows that Yu Narukami changed his girlfriend's ringtone to the game over theme from Catherine.
- The weird part is that the games do take place in the same universe - in Persona 3 Portable, Vincent (the main character of Catherine) makes a cameo in a hidden scene.
- The Way of the Metagamer and The Way Of The Metagamer 2: In Name Only. In Name Only makes the occasional cameo in the original, and it's been stated that the original exists within the world of In Name Only. Interesting in that In Name Only does not exist.
- Homestuck takes this trope to its Mind-Screw extreme with the events of the main story and the Midnight Crew. In the world of the main characters of Homestuck the Midnight Crew are from the latest MS Paint Adventures series, and the reverse is true for the actual members of the Midnight Crew in their world. However, Word of God along with recent events in the story claim that the the Midnight Crew exist within the same canon as Homestuck! In other words, it's not a Show Within a Show, it's a Show Within Itself!
- To elaborate on the "exist within the same canon", the world of the Midnight Crew is the same world as those of the Trolls, who also exist in (or at least communicate with) the kids in the Homestuck world, but are from an alternate universe.
- And, to take things even further, the art style and some of the universe mechanics for Midnight Crew suggest that it also takes place in the same universe as the previous MS Paint Adventures comic, Problem Sleuth.
- Also, Problem Sleuth was apparently in the same universe as Jailbreak and Bard Quest, and John in Homestuck has video games of all three of these. There are probably even more tie-ins than that.
- Like the time Jade read a panel of Homestuck, even being pretty true to what John had been doing at that point.
- The paradox is explained by the Author Avatar, who is likely sending different comics to different universes.
- To elaborate on the "exist within the same canon", the world of the Midnight Crew is the same world as those of the Trolls, who also exist in (or at least communicate with) the kids in the Homestuck world, but are from an alternate universe.
- A really subtle one with Questionable Content and xkcd. Marigold wears an xkcd shirt here, and this xkcd comic shows one of Hannelore's Twitter posts.
- In a few episodes of Inspector Gadget he can be seen watching Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, likewise Inspector Gadget has showed up as a TV Show on Heatcliff. Both shows were produced by DiC at around the same time.
- A ridiculous example in the first season finale and second season premiere of South Park; "Cartman's Mom is a Dirty Slut" shows the characters see a promo for the movie "Not Without My Anus" and say they will watch it, and in the second season premiere, which turned out to be "Not Without My Anus" itself, Terrence and Philip flip channels and watch part of the former South Park episode (where you can at least hear Cartman's name).
- An episode of The Simpsons has a guest appearance by Richard Dean Anderson playing himself, where his work in Stargate SG-1 is referenced. However in Stargate, Rick's character, Jack O'Neill has openly talked about his love of The Simpsons many times, including comparing Mr Burns to the Goa'uld. The icing on the cake is when Dan Castallaneta make a guest appearance on Stargate...and agrees with Jack's Burns = Goa'uld theory!
- The Simpsons has Matt Groening introduced as "the creator of Futurama". Another one has Bart Simpson hallucinating, his classmates appearing as fictional TV characters, one of which is Bender. Finally, a Futurama episode has a pile of Bart Simpson dolls appear as one of the many things in a gigantic (indeed, celestial) ball of garbage.
- Also, in the Simpsons episode Mayored to the Mob, Üter wears a Futurama shirt (this episode aired about a month before Futurama's first episode.)
- Also, thanks in part to certain trope-naming episodes of South Park, and innumerable references to each other, South Park, Family Guy, and The Simpsons are all fictional within each other's Universes. But then again, The Griffens have visited Springfield, and Eric Cartman has worked with Bart, so it goes with whatever is funny at the time.
- In one episode of the first season of Lois and Clark, Lex Luthor made a mention about watching Simpsons reruns. In one Simpsons episode, Comic Book Guy saw some problem and said it was a job for, some heroes he mentioned. Then somebody asked about Superman.
- For additional mindwarping, The Simpsons is a cartoon in The Critic - and then Jay Sherman visits the Simpsons family. Gah!
- This trope even occurs within a single show: South Park and Terrance and Phillip have watched each other's television shows. This gets a bit muddled as Terrance and Phillip are "real" actors in the South Park universe with a television show the South Park kids watch, but the characters (one assumes) Terrance and Phillip play have watched South Park. Do what now?
- In Danny Phantom, Danny can be see playing a Crash Nebula arcade game. In the Crash Nebula Poorly Disguised Pilot episode of The Fairly OddParents, Crash has a Danny Phantom comic book.
- An episode of American Dad! ended with Peter and Cleveland appearing, but another one had Steve and Roger watch a Family Guy DVD.