When two or more shows share the same pool of writers (or when a freelance scriptwriter is a particular combination of industrious and lazy), it's not unknown for tight deadlines to be handled by the expedient of taking a script already used by one show and "translating" it to another show. Characters are mapped onto their closest equivalents, and situations are revised slightly to fit the new program, but the same plot is used unchanged.
When properly and skillfully done, the result can be an episode that looks and feels "original". However, haste and carelessness can (and has) resulted in shows that not only have a "cookie cutter" feel, but that actually draw the viewer's mind to the similarity between the original and the retread.
Recycled scripts are also a common side-effect of writers' strikes, particularly among Westerns made in the 1950s and 1960s. The practice actually dates back as far as the early days of radio.
American networks have attempted to bring the ''Telenovela'' genre, very popular in Mexico, Central America and South America, to their market by purchasing the rights and scripts to older telenovelas, to very mixed to little success in the Americanization of them.
When a show has run for a very long time, they might find themselves inadvertently recycling their own scripts. This is often the result of changes in the writing staff, where the new writers can't possibly be expected to remember the plots of all 500 previous episodes. Particularly common in shows where every episode ends on An Aesop, since there are only so many important moral messages the audience will understand. This is particularly grating in a Very Special Episode.
A show targeted at a Fleeting Demographic or one that is a sufficiently Long Runner may well unabashedly recycle its own scripts every few years.
Fans of canceled series are sometimes irked by the refusal of writers to reveal what they had planned if the series had continued. Frequently, the reason is this trope. If a writer has a real humdinger of a story or a great idea for a plot twist and hasn't pulled it out of their bag of writing tricks before the series was canceled, the writer is not going to spoil it just to appease the fans. Instead, they will hold onto it for the next job and get paid for it.
Related to, but not to be confused with Strictly Formula, where each individual episode plot seems the same, with minor variations. See also Fleeting Demographic Rule and Recycled Premise. Compare Yo Yo Plot Point, where a particular arc or plot point repeats itself.
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Anime and Manga
Samurai Champloo had an episode in which a sympathetic thief befriends a main character, then is killed trying to steal for a sick relative, that closely followed the plot of an earlier Cowboy Bebop episode. The main difference is that the Cowboy Bebop episode had a Bittersweet Ending where the thief manages to get his sister what she needed, the Samurai Champloo one has a full Downer Ending where he dies without any implication that his mother could afford the medicine or even continue her regular life.
The anime tends to recycle scripts quite often in the Diamond and Pearl seasons, usually Kanto and Johto plots. Notably, Jessie's Dustox's release, and Pikachu getting beat by a Raichu, and Ash asking if it wanted to evolve. Also Dawn's Swinub refusing to listen to her after evolving to Piloswine, then almost immediately evolving again and continuing to disobey her, just like Charmander did.
Dawn's first episode has been rehashed two or three times at this point. All with Ariados as antagonists who trap Piplup in a web.
To wit, Axew has been kidnapped or lost no less than 5 times.
One notable example is that all four main casts have gone through an episode where the majority of the cast and/or their Pokémon get paralyzed with Stun Spore, and the unaffected cast must search for the only plant that can cure the ailment. This usually also leads to the focused Pokémon (always a Water-type) of that episode either joining the cast or learning a new skill and overcoming its own problem.
Naruto had the Land of Vegetables filler arc that was a rehash of the main plot of the first movie: Naruto's team needs to escort a noblewoman in hiding that is cold and distant because of a past tragedy, and is in disguise because of attempts on her life, but becomes a Defrosting Ice Queen through her experience with Naruto and by the end is prepared to fulfill their duty happily.
It's also somewhat common for a seemingly ordinary mission to end up becoming a lot more dangerous than the ninjas hired thought, just like the Land of Waves mission started out as a C-rank escort mission, but became equivalent to an A-ranked one by the time Zabuza arrived. The aforementioned Land of Vegetables arc is one such example.
Also, the "Curry of Life" filler arc features a villain who was a former member of the Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist who is partnered with a young boy that was ostracized for his bloodline limits (Raiga and Ranmaru)—which is largely a retread of the villains of the Land of Waves arc (Zabuza and Haku).
Though unlike most examples, the similarity is actually pointed out in the episode. And makes Naruto far more determined to Save the Villain.
Bleach's Soul Society arc had Ichigo fighting through impossibly difficult enemies to save his friend, using an ability that he had previously gained to win his battles. The Hueco Mundo arc? Well, it has Ichigo fighting through impossibly difficult enemies to save his friend, using an ability that he had previously gained to win his battles.
The mandatory uniform for said captured friend is a white dress, no less. The new enemies are introduced through a Red Oni, Blue Oni pair, one of whom is rowdy and the other emotionless, that beat up Ichigo, giving him the need to train. And of course the badguys were just being used by Aizen all along, the point driven home by him suddenly deciding to stab a girl.
In the Bount filler arc, the heroes fight Jin Kariya, a white haired villain who wants to take over the Soul Society because he and his Bounts were exiled long ago. In Memories of Nobody, the heroes fight Ganryu, a white haired villain who wants to take over the Soul Society because he and his Dark Ones were exiled long ago. As if to accent the similarities, the same voice actor plays both Jin and Ganryu in English.
Fade to Black intentionally recycles old plots to play with the characters' memories. On the other hand the villains have Aaroniero Arruruerie and Kaien's recycled background, complete with Rukia guilt, but are not supposed to remind anybody.
In the original Speed Racer manga, two issues include identical scenes in which Racer X tries to scare Speed away from a race. They're actual reprints, panel-for-panel, word-for-word, except for the name of the race.
Ojamajo Doremi: In both its first and second seasons, there was an episode where Doremi's Fairy Companion, Dodo, runs off due to the former's carelessness; the first time is when she makes Dodo cry after calling her out on incompetence while the second is when Dod runs off in a huff after being called out on...incompetence.
The girls having to go through exams throughout the seasons counts as well; in S1, Doremi, Hazuki, Aiko, and Onpu go through the apprentice exams, which continues for the rest of the series. Then in Sharp, they have to help Hana pass her baby exams while Pop has to go through several of the same exams her sister and friends went through. In Motto, they, along with newcomer Momoko, have to pass a series of exams given by the Witch Senate. Finally, Hana has to go through the same exams her "mothers" went through in order to become a full-fledged Witch again.
Subtly parodied in a filler arc of One Piece. An early filler has the crew meet a little girl being pursued by corrupt forces and trying to find a legendary land. The villain was a wimp who couldn't challenge the Straw Hats directly and instead relied on tricks and traps. The earlier arc dragged out over eight episodes. In the more recent arc, with notable resolve not to go through this again, Luffy and friends just decided to smash everything in sight. This resolved it in two episodes.
To be fair the first filler arc was over a set of islands while the second shorter arc was on just one specific one. Also the goal of the girls was different: Find a dragon, find a ingredient for a gem creation.
To a degree, rescuing Ace could be considered similar to the Enies Lobby Arc. They both feature an older sibling figure to Luffy who has a heritage which the World Government hates and considers a sin. Said figure initially does not have the will to live, but Luffy and his allies manage to convince him/her otherwise. In both arcs, Luffy storms a highly protected World Government facility with the help of former enemies. He also overtaxes himself immensely to the point where he cannot escape imminent peril.
Granted, Luffy's attempt to rescue Ace didn't endnearly as well. Additionally, in Enies Lobby, Luffy was considered the only one strong enough to defeat Lucci, whereas in the Marineford arc, many of Whitebeard's higher-ranking subordinates were stronger than Luffy was, as were many of his enemies.
Digimon fans who saw Summer Wars will probably wonder why they're watching a re-hash of the second Digimon movie: Our War Games. The answer: both were written by the same director.
The various Dragon Ball ZNon-Serial Movies tend to recycle elements from the at-the-time current story arcs: the villains are either Expies of other villains (Turles for Vegeta, Lord Slug for King Piccolo, Cooler for Freeza, Super Android 13 for the Androids and Cell, Janemba for Buu) or repeat important plot points (Goku and Piccolo team up in The Dead Zone, Gohan goes Super Saiyan 2 in Bojack Unbound, Goku and Vegeta fusing in Fusion Reborn, etc).
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny copied plot lines from the last Gundam show, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: Shinn and Stellar's encounter in a cave (in Destiny) being similar to Athrun and Cagalli's (in Seed), while the final battles in both shows are nearly identical, with the only difference being that in Destiny, the Three Ships Alliance's victory was a Curb-Stomp Battle (and in the TV version, a Flawless Victory). The whole final fight gets lampshaded as the Kira Yamato is told that he is fighting the villain from the previous TV series. Shinn Asuka also revives events from the first series in the fourth compilation film. One of the characters' most frequented questions is "Why is this happening again?"
Pretty Cure All Stars New Stage 3 is essentially the same plot as its first film, namely that a kid (Ayumi in the first film, the fairy Yumeta in the third) is having a crisis (Ayumi's shyness and Yumeta being an all-around failure and crybaby), which is solved by another party (the villain Fusion and Yumeta's mother, Mamuu) deciding to take things into their own hands by causing chaos, catching the attention of the Pretty Cure. However, what makes New Stage 3 actually work is the bigger focus on the girls and not trying to shill the Original Character too much.
Red Meat re-used the exact same script a few times, with only the graphics slightly changed.
When José Carioca's Brazilian comic series started getting popular, writers found themselves running out of ideas (it was a bi-weekly comic at the time). The solution was to recycle Donald Duck/Mickey Mouse cartoons and replace the main characters with José. Since they made sure to only use English stories that weren't localized yet, it sort of worked, at least if you ignore José acting out of character or interacting with characters he doesn't normally interact with (such as Goofy).
Archie Comics does this to a huge degree, which makes sense given its seventy-year run with multiple comics. And all the Digests that come out monthly, featuring anthologies of older stories. Running gags & themes abound, often creating the exact same stories and situations. Among the more notable examples, however, comes from the modern "New Look" stories- Titles, concepts, character names and slices of dialogue are completely taken from the "Archie Novels" series from the early 90s. Betty & Ronnie's fight over "Nick St. Claire", Archie moving away, Moose & Midge's breakup, etc., are all direct copies of prior work.
Speaking of Archie, their Sonic the Hedgehog series has fallen into this pit, recycling the same premise of an old and unused character group put Out of Focus coming under attack by a faction of the Dark Egg Legion and Sonic going (with one of the main characters) to fight them off. What's worse, is that this plot has been recycled three times in a row, at least.
A Christmas special for the Italian comic Lupo Alberto was copied from a Futurama episode: the main characters have an accident, she wakes up and discovers he is dead. Suddenly she discovers that he's still alive, but he asks her to "wake up" and discovers it was a dream. After some repetition of the fact, it's shown he was alive all along, she was in coma and he always said to "wake up" just as an encouragement for her problem.
Marvel's Tales to Astonish was a huge offender prior to 1961, when it was an anthology series. The writers apparently had a stock set of plots that were recycled, not every few years, but every few issues, right down to the twist endings.
In the late 50's and early 60's, Carl Barks recycled a couple of his own scripts from the late 40's with various changes, like making a Donald Duck story into a Scrooge McDuck one, figuring that no one would remember the old, long out of print comics. When older fans noticed it, Barks expressed shame in letters and interviews, feeling like he had been caught doing something wrong, despite that the fans simply thought it was a fun little trivia and liked both the new and old stories.
Marvel retold the origin of The Rawhide Kid multiple times over the years, usually with almost identical scripts, but different art, as shown here.
A script from a Winker Watson strip in The Dandy Annual 2009 was recycled for The Bash Street Kids, a strip in The Beano (Issue 3610). Even though the scripts were from separate comics and for separate strips. The two comics are from the same publisher though.
In the early sixties there were plans for a SuperboyLive-Action TV series. The show never made it past the pilot, but scripts were written for the show and were later used in the Superboy comic book series.
The first Batman story "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" is a recycling of the plot of The Shadow story "Partners in Peril".
Mortadelo y Filemón: Post Seasonal Rot, several albums have been accused of this. For example, "El tirano" being a remake from "Objetivo: Eliminar al rana", "La MIER" from "Cacao espacial"...
The central concept in Grant Morrison's original series The Filth—a super-secret spy organization trying to convince a hapless everyman that he's really their top operative with implanted fake memories—was based on a rejected idea that Morrison proposed for a Nick Fury series, which would have revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. kept Fury active into the present day by implanting his memories and personality into hapless test subjects.
In Half-Life: Full Life Consequences, John Freeman receives a call from his brother to help him kill aliens and monsters, and goes out to do so on his motorcycle, killing "zombie goasts", and eventually defeating the last boss, only to see Gordon Freeman killed before his eyes. In What Has Tobe Done, John Freeman sets out on his faster motorcycle, kills more zombie goasts and kills the boss that killed Gordon Freeman, only for Gordon Freeman to rise as a headcrab-infected zombie goast.
In The Prayer Warriors, "Battle with the Witches" involves Michael infiltrating Hogwarts in an attempt to learn about its connection to the British government and any planned attacks on Christians, as well as killing Dumbledore and converting anyone he can. In "The Titans Strike Back", Hogwarts reopens, and several characters come Back from the Dead, but Michael decides to focus more on converting them this time.
Also, "The Evil Gods Part 2" rips off of "The Evil Gods Part 1" to some extent. Both involve the Percy Jackson cast fighting against evil gods (the Greek gods in Part 1, the Roman gods in Part 2), while trying to find the traitor in their ranks.
In Christian Humber Reloaded, Vash meets a little girl and her father early on, who end up getting killed by raiders, whom he slaughters in revenge. He later meets another little girl, Soku, along with her father, but the interesting twist is that he kills them all after learning that Soku reported him to the police.
On the big screen, the 60s James Bond film Thunderball was recycled into 1983's Never Say Never Again with only a few minor tweaks to reflect the passing of time. The plot, names of several major characters, and the actor playing Bond (Sean Connery) were otherwise unchanged. This was the result of a lawsuit by a writer who had contributed ideas to the original Thunderball, who was trying to leverage this into permission to make his own Bond movies; the verdict was essentially that he could make as many remakes of Thunderball as he liked.
Die Another Day didn't go as far, but copied from Diamonds Are Forever the primary weapon of the villain (an orbiting satellite using smuggled diamonds that shot down nuclear missiles) and the fact that he teamed up with a foreign agent that happened to be the only girl he slept with that movie. They wanted to reference previous movies for number twenty, but that was a little much.
Actually Die Another Day took plenty of elements from the Moonraker novel which is perfectly fair game as Moonraker didn't get an adaptation, the film only used the title and the villain's name.
Neither did Diamonds Are Forever really. The smuggling and Wint and Kidd are from the novel but everything else is from an original idea by the producer, Albert R. Broccoli.
A View to a Kill is Goldfinger, except with horse racing instead of canasta and golf, Silicon Valley instead of Fort Knox, and a KGB operative gone rogue instead of an officially-sanctioned Red Chinese plot.
Meet the Parents had a guy planning to propose to his girlfriend, but then has to meet her parents. He spray paints a cat, takes a lie detector test, and accidentally ruins their dinner with her grandmother's remains. The Sequel, Meet the Fockers, had the same guy planning to marry his girlfriend, but she has to meet HIS parents. His dog gets dyed blue, he is given a truth serum, and accidentally ruins dinner with his foreskin.
Anybody who tells you that Never Back Down isn't a script recycle of Step Up 2: The Streets, replacing dancing with mixed martial arts, is a liar.
It's a beat-for-beat remake of the original The Karate Kid, to boot. Both feature a new kid in town who gets his butt kicked at a party by a blond bully, trains under a foreign-born mentor with a tragic backstory, hooks up with the bully's ex-girlfriend, and ultimately wins the bully's respect by kicking his butt at a tournament.
Ever thrifty, Roger Corman managed to film what was essentially the same script three times: When making Beast from Haunted Cave, he simply had writer Charles B. Griffith rewrite his own script for the heist thriler Naked Paradise and add a monster. He then had Griffith rewrite that script into a comedy, which he filmed as Creature from the Haunted Sea.
Likewise, large portions of Star Trek Into Darkness were copied from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, right down to nearly identical dialogue in one of the key scenes. The main differences are reversing Kirk and Spock's places in certain pivotal scenes and making Khan the lesser of a pair of villains.
Phantom of the Paradise has so many striking similarities with The Rocky Horror Picture Show (even though it could have only been inspired by the stage version of Rocky - RHPS was still filming when Phantom hit theaters) that some fans consider it part of the same series. Likewise, Rocky's bastard-sequel Shock Treatment has a number of striking similarities to Phantom; possibly a case of Richard O'Brien subtly reclaiming his own work.
"THE SCRIPT In attempting to capture some semblance of story, Joel Schumacher, along with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, first used the basic outline of BATMAN FOREVER. If one were to sit down, and view both films simultaneously on two separate monitors, the comparisons between the two would seem right—time-wise. Examine, for instance, the first act. Freeze has taken guards in the museum. Two Face has taken guards in the bank. Batman is trapped in a vault being lifted, inexplicably, by a helicopter. Batman is trapped, inexplicably, in a rocket headed for unknown space. Through over-the-top theatrics, Batman is able to save the day. That sentence is applicable for either film." Greg Bray, Remembering Batman and Robin, Batman on Film
It doesn't just apply to the beginning; Batman & Robin also used some key plot points from Forever, namely the final act, where Batman, Robin, and Batgirl raided the observatory.
Jonah Hex's plot, "During the Reconstruction, an evil ex-Confederate bent on destroying the Union creates a super-weapon, leading President Grant to send the only man who can stop him." And in this version we dont even get the damn giant mechanical spider
The Ju On (aka The Grudge) series is a special case. The first, no-budget, shot-on-video film had over 30 minutes of its footage recycled into the second video film to make a 76-minute Ju-On 2 that was only half new material. After that, the various bigger-budget theatrical versions, in Japan and the US, were also partially original works and partially remakes of segments from the video films and/or earlier theatrical entries (though at least in these cases they were actually re-shot). This finally ended in 2009 with the American straight-to-video The Grudge 3 and the Japanese double-bill Ju-On: White Ghost and Ju-On: Black Ghost, all of which were entirely original.
Scooby Doo Monsters Unleashed did a very obvious lift of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 episode Halloween, including the main plot about monster costumes becoming real monsters, and the character development subplot of the character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar giving her nerdy best friend a makeover in hopes of attracting the guy she's crushing on, and instead attracting the character played by Seth Green.
Agatha Christie did this several times. The Poirot short story Yellow Iris became the Colonel Race novel Sparkling Cyanide; the Poirot novellas Murder in the Mews and Dead Man's Mirror (which were published together) were based on the Poirot short stories "The Market Basing Mystery" and "The Second Gong", respectively; the Poirot novel The Blue Train uses the same device as the Poirot short story "The Plymouth Express"; and two Poirot stories, "Problem at Pollensa Bay" and "The Regatta Mystery", were later rewritten to be about Mr Parker Pyne. Note that Poirot, Race and Pyne all exist in the same universe.
When Robert E. Howard's By This Axe I Rule!, a short story featuring his barbarian king Kull of Atlantis, was rejected by Weird Tales, he changed its setting and replaced Kull with a new protagonist he had been toying with — Conan of Cimmeria — and it became "The Phoenix on the Sword", the first of nearly two dozen stories starring the character.
In an interesting reversal, the script for a third Conan film — Conan The Conqueror — was offered to Kevin Sorbo. Sorbo balked at the role, hoping to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger, so the script was modified to be about King Kull instead, giving us Kull the Conqueror. (No, we can't give it back. Should've kept the receipt.)
Chris Van Allsburg recycled his book Jumanji, about a magic safari-themed board game that draws the players into its world, into Zathura, which is about a magic sci-fi-themed board game that draws the players into its world. Jumanji was later adapted into a movie; several years later, so was Zathura, and many of the changes to the plot of Jumanji were also put into Zathura (for instance, both films introduced a character who had been trapped in the game world since childhood, since he started a game and didn't finish it).
The Monster Blood sub-series mostly avoided this to a degree.
As well as Deep Trouble II, and Return to Ghost Camp...largely because they didn't have a damn thing to do with their respective originals.
Some of the stories written for the Berenstain Bears Scouts series were simply extended versions of the episodes from the 1980s cartoon series.
Some Jeeves and Wooster stories, about a thick-headed young English gentleman and his ingenious valet, were adapted from P. G. Wodehouse's earlier Reggie Pepper series, about a thick-headed young English gentleman and... no one in particular.
In Le Morte Darthur, we get the tale of Sir Beaumains in Book VII, in which a lowly servant becomes a knight and is given an insulting nickname by Sir Kay, he goes on a quest with a damsel who mocks and degrades him endlessly, ends up proving his worth and changing the damsel's view on him, and his true identity is revealed to be Sir Gareth. In Book IX, we get the tale of Sir La Cote Male Taile, in which a lowly servant becomes a knight and is given an insulting nickname by Sir Kay, he goes on a quest with a damsel who mocks and degrades him endlessly, ends up proving his worth and changing the damsel's view on him, and his true identity is revealed to be Sir Breunor. Yeeeeeah, Deja Vu anyone?
Malory was compiling all the Arthurian romances he knew into one volume. It's entirely possible he included the same one twice with the names changed.
Actually, there is no known source for the Tale of Sir Gareth; although it draws on several Anglo-Saxon poems and the "Fair Unknown" genre that the La Cote clearly comes from, it has long been deemed too original to be a derivation. It is considered by most Arthurian scholars to be the only tale in the Morte to be created by Malory. La Cote Male Taile, on the other hand, came directly to Malory from the Prose Tristram, written in the 1200s.
Donald Sobol's Two-Minute Mysteries includes a story of a man who tries to impress his date with a fake medal his great-grandfather supposedly received, marked as a medal of valor from the first battle of Bull Run. The challenge is to figure out why the medal is obviously fake. Either it's obvious because it wasn't called the first battle of Bull Run until after there was a second battle of Bull Run... or it's obvious because Sobol used the same mystery in his Encyclopedia Brown series, except with a sword instead of a medal.
The majority of the Two-Minute Mysteries are just Encyclopedia Brown stories condensed to one page and with the crime in question upgraded from petty theft to first-degree murder.
A monstrous race is threatening Lancre. They have mind-control powers that seemingly surpass Granny Weatherwax's headology, just as she's starting to worry that she's getting too old for this. Nanny and Magrat have to fight on without her. And then she pulls a Crowning Moment Of Awesome and it turns out she had a plan all the time. Lords and Ladies or Carpe Jugulum?
Terry Pratchett's 1991 short story "FTB" (also known as "The Megabyte Drive To Believe In Santa Claus") is Hex's subplot from Hogfather, relocated to Roundworld.
A number of elements from Carpe Jugulum relating to recent events in Granny Weatherwax's life earlier appeared in the short story 'The Sea and Little Fishes.'
The Long Earth was adapted from an earlier short story, 'The High Meggas.'
The conclusion to the Pip and Flinx tales, in which some last-minute brilliance by Flinx allows him to track down a Lost Technology universe-warping superweapon and thus, save the galaxy from being devoured by the Great Evil, is a Recycled Script of The End Of The Matter, in which he did the exact same thing to save two solar systems from a black hole: the threat's just been scaled up by several orders of magnitude.
Dan Brown's Digital Fortress mentions a subplot explaining the etymology of the word "Sincere" as derived from "sine cera" which literally means "without wax" in Latin. In Digital Fortress he credits this to Spanish instead. It's explained that ancient sculptors would cover flaws in their work with wax, therefor a piece finished "without wax" would be considered honest and without flaw. Interestingly enough, Dan Brown revisits this exact same subplot when he explains "without wax" in his other book The Lost Symbol. This time crediting the etymology to Latin.note which is also false, the word comes from the latin prefix sin- (one) and verb crescere (to grow), drawing an analogy to a field that is not growing mixed crops, i.e. having unadulterated motives
Live Action TV
This trope was the basis for the early 2000s NBC show called The Rerun Show in which a group of actors took actual scripts of old shows such as Bewitched and Married... with Children, and used the same exact dialog, while spoofing the show with props and actions.
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman shared a fair number of scripts. The most obvious of these was a plot involving a crash on a remote island, stranding the bionic individual with a lot of extras plus a coworker from OSI (Oscar for Steve, Rudy for Jaime). The coworker is seriously injured, but there is a doctor among the survivors who can save him despite the primitive conditions; to help him do so, though, Steve/Jaime must cut open a finger on their bionic hand and bare two wires so that the doctor can cauterize a blood vessel.
Not the same show, but from the same writer: Kenneth Johnson wrote the two part The Six Million Dollar Man episode intoducing Jaime, who was to be married to Steve until her bionics (recently acquired in the course of the two-parter's first half) malfunctioned and she ran amuck during a tropical storm, after which she died from her condition. A couple of years later Kenny would write the season two opener of The Incredible Hulk, where David Banner fell in love with a doctor with a terminal brain disease — that causes her to run amuck in a tropical storm until she died.
The Bionic Woman and Gemini Man once shared a script about a lookalike for the title character infiltrating the agency where she/he works despite being ignorant of the main character's superhuman abilities. They are an assassin, targeting the main character's superior. At the climax, the hero(ine) and the double are both claiming to be the real deal; the hero(ine) proves his/her identity by using their special abilities — one by bionic-jumping to the top of a tree, the other by turning invisible.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had a script, "Journey To Oasis", which was very nearly identical to the original Star Trek episode "Journey To Babel". Actor Marc Lenard even appeared in both, playing very nearly the same character.
An episode of Step by Step had a similar plot to an episode of Happy Days. A character is dating a woman. Another character suspects that the woman may secretly be a popular stripper. They notice that the woman has a very distinctive laugh. So they hire the stripper in order to make her laugh and prove her identity.
Another episode had a plot that is more or less like an episode of Family Ties, where the family's eldest child wants a more mature birthday party and has one behind the mother's back. After being caught by the mother, the two have an argument until she realizes that it was the exact time she had her first-born child.
Similarly, Star Trek: The Next Generation recycled two scripts ("The Child" and "Devil's Due") that had been written for Star Trek: Phase II, the original proposed sequel series to Star Trek: The Original Series (they decided to do movies instead). The Next Generation also recycled some scripts that were used in the Original Series (most prominently "The Naked Now", which also referenced the episode it was recycling, "The Naked Time").
About the first half of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Future Imperfect" was suspiciously close to the G.I. Joe episode "There's No Place Like Springfield," written by the same authors. Just swap Riker for Shipwreck and...
After three years of the original series and eighteen years for its spin-offs, scripts began to be borrowed and recycled from within each show and across the franchise as a whole. For example, the basic script for the original series episode "Elaan of Troyius" was recycled twice. It got particularly bad with Enterprise, which was accused of being a recycle of Voyager as a whole set in the past.
The Enterprise episode "Doctor's Orders" is virtually identical to the Voyager episode "One."
Not only was Star Trek: The Motion Picture's plot based on the script for the cancelled Phase II pilot, but it bore a striking similarity to an episode from the original series, "The Changeling".
The Enterprise episode "Home" was similar to the Next Generation episode "Family". Both dealt with the Enterprise returning to Earth and the crew going on shore leave to visit their families and friends. Both were done so the characters and viewers could recover from the previous episodes, which had been emotionally trying for everyone ("Best of Both Worlds" for Next Generation, the entire Xindi arc for Enterprise). However, "Home" did serve a higher purpose, introducing three plot elements that would be expanded upon later (T'Pol's political problems and arranged marriage, human xenophobia, and the character of Erika Hernandez, captain of the starship Columbia). Short version: "Home" was "Family" with a few Chekhov's Guns. (No Chekov'sGuns, though.)
"Oasis" from Enterprise was extremely similar to "Shadowplay" from Deep Space Nine, both being about isolated societies that turn out to mostly consist of holograms created by the one real person to stave off loneliness after the people they're based on were all killed. "Oasis" even brought back Deep Space Nine cast member Rene Auberjonois, who immediately pointed out the similarity.
This also served as the plot of a short story in the Star Trek manga anthology.
Enterprise also has the episode "Chosen Realm," an obvious redo of the original series' "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Both deal with aliens who are at war over a trivial matter reflecting society at the time (having different colored skin, or a trivial religious debate), who ultimately return to their planet to discover that everyone has long since killed each other.
Star Trek: Voyager was often considered just a recycle of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For example, the Next Generation episode "Lonely Among Us" featured an Energy Being that is able to possess people and machines, and takes over the ship. Voyager's "The Haunting of Deck Twelve" used almost exactly the same plotline, but with the Framing Device of having Neelix telling the story of what happened to some children. By chance (probably), the Voyager episode ended up airing back-to-back with a repeat of the Next Generation episode when it was shown on BBC2.
Similarly, the Voyager two-parter "Future's End" takes a lot of story elements from Star Trek IV.
The Season 1 Voyager episode "Ex Posto Facto" is Next Gen's "A Matter of Perspective": A Rashomon Plot in which the crew's The Casanova is accused of murdering a scientist due to an attraction to the man's wife. The crew discover the truth due to an oddity in a simulation of the event. The differences are the actual solution, the form of the simulation, and the atmosphere: "Ex Posto Facto" is a Noir Episode.
24 scripts on Bewitched were recycled scene by scene. One was recycled twice. Most of these were episodes featuring the first Darrin that were recycled with The Other Darrin. Since some were two-parters, this means a total of 55 of the 254 episodes, 22% of the entire show, weren't unique. In addition to these completely recycled scripts, there were also many that had similar premises but were different in the particulars, and many individual scenes and gags that were recycled in otherwise original episodes.
Some of the black and white episodes were redone after the show went to color.
Disney Channel does this a lot in their Live-Action shows.
The Good Luck CharlieTwo-Part Episode "Special Delivery" is similar to the Full House two-parter "Happy Birthday Babies", where the youngest daughter (Charlie and Michelle respectively) have a birthday on the same day that the new baby characters are born (Charlie's brother Toby and Michelle's twin cousins Nicky and Alex).
Stargate Atlantis has reused a few scripts from Stargate SG-1, usually with a Lampshade Hanging. In the Atlantis episode, "The Intruder", McKay comments on how the SGC faced a similar situation before (in the SG-1 episode "Entity"). The SG-1 episode "Grace" has a sister Atlantis episode "Grace Under Pressure". There was even a week in which the two shows, airing back-to-back, featured very similar, yet unrelated enemies haunting each team's base: SG-1 had to deal with Anubis in "Lockdown", and the Atlantis team faced an alien being in "Hide and Seek". Both enemies took the form of inky black Energy Beings and were disposed of the same way — through the stargate.
In a plot spanning several episodes, the home base has been infiltrated and all but conquered by a ruthless enemy; simultaneously, a cataclysm outside is threatening to destroy the base if the conflict cannot be ended quickly enough. Stargate Atlantis ("The Storm") and Stargate Universe ("Incursion").
Two episodes of Stargate SG-1 several years apart both featured O'Neill being implanted with an Ancient Omniscient Database that gave him access to tremendous lost wisdom but was slowly killing him. In both episodes, his fading language ability was a serious obstacle, and in both episodes, the solution depended on him using his newfound mysterious knowledge to activate some powerful Applied Phlebotinum to reach the Asgard for help. However, this was more of a twist or deconstruction of the Recycled Script trope rather than playing it straight, because differences between the episodes highlighted how the show had changed over the years. The first time, downloading the Omniscient Database was by accident and O'Neill had to MacGyver the Phlebotinum from scratch to reach the Asgard, who they barely knew anything about at this point, and that was the whole point of the episode. The second time, downloading the database was a last-ditch attempt to resolve the season's Plot Arc, so actually finding a cure wasn't as important as finding something else in the database. The team had access to a fair amount of alien technology of their own by this point, and Daniel could even speak a bit of Ancient to translate for Jack.
The SG-1 episode "Arthur's Mantle" rehashes the plot of the much earlier episode "Crystal Skull". Sam and Cam, after being moved to an alternate dimension, immediately realize the similarity and try to skip straight to the solution: talk to someone who had also been to an alternate dimension. Unfortunately, it turns out their dimension is different from the one Daniel went to so they have to figure out another method of communication.
Writer Katharyn Powers's first episode of SG-1, "Emancipation", was a recycled script of an episode she wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Code of Honor". Both episodes are considered some of the worst episodes their franchises ever produced.
The late-1980s remake recycled four scripts from the original series virtually verbatim. The show did debut right in the middle of the 1988 Writer's Strike. (Which didn't prevent two of the writers taking their names off the remakes.). One episode improved on the original when Greg Morris guest starred as a retired Barney who gets wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey instead of the original episode's random victim-of-the-week.
Barney Jim?!? Is that you? Hell, you retired before I did!"
Jim Phelps Do any of us really retire?
Incidentally, the original series reworked some episodes in its final season (compare "Two Thousand" to season one's "Operation Rogosh," both of which involve men plotting to wipe out millions of Americans and a plan to unmask the scheme by making the villain think it's the future).
They reworked season one episode "Ice" (about a group of scientists trapped in Alaska who deal with a parasitic alien that caused its victims to turn psychopathic and eventually die) into the season two episode "Firewalker" (you can probably guess the main difference). Both were based, in turn, on the classic John W. Campbell short story "Who Goes There?".
"One Breath" and "Audrey Pauley," aired seven seasons apart, are almost exactly the same episode, just with a different partnership in the spotlight. Both involve the female half of the team (Scully and Reyes, respectively) falling into a coma after a traumatic event, and eventually being declared braindead. While in a coma, they have their own sub-plot on a different plane of existence. Meanwhile, the male half of the team (Mulder and Dogget, respectively), run around trying to figure out the paranormal aspect of the episode, as well as try to find a way to bring the female half of the team out of the coma and threatening bodily harm to those who attempt to shut off life support. There are a few minor differences: "One Breath" was part of the show's Myth Arc while "Audrey Pauley" was season 9 filler, "Audrey Pauley" had a more clear-cut paranormal aspect to it, and the causes of the coma are quite different. However, the scripts are so similar that in some scenes, Doggett repeats Mulder word-for-word. This also brings about a few Funny Aneurysm Moments. While "One Breath" was meant to show the deepening bond of Mulder and Scully's friendship, "Audrey Pauley" was used explicitly to showcase Doggett and Reyes' romantic relationship. Using almost the exact same script. It also makes Scully's unsympathetic nature towards Doggett rather ironic—she is the one making the arrangements to take Reyes off life support and donate her organs, and thinks Doggett is crazy for trying to save her. It's justified in that she was in a coma for almost all of "One Breath" and didn't see Mulder do the exact same thing, but it's still makes her seem like that much more callous.
The Avengers occasionally recycled its own scripts during the Emma Peel seasons, when Cathy Gale scripts would be given an overhaul. For example, "The Joker" is a creepier version of the Gale story "Don't Look Behind You," and "The Ł50,000 Breakfast" is a remake of "Death Of A Great Dane."
Likewise the New Avengers episode "Complex" is essentially a remake of the original series episode "Killer".
The plot of the Thunder in Paradise episode "Endangered Species" (a wolf child turns out to be the heir of a murdered co-owner of an aviation company, and the other co-owner wants to finish the job) was also featured in an episode of The Wizard with the same title. Before that, it was an episode of Manimal, "Female of the Species". The same writers - Michael Berk and Douglas Schwartz - are credited for all three.
One episode of The Brady Bunch in which Bobby pretends he's sick in order to get a visit from his favorite professional athlete, Joe Namath, was later re-used on Diff'rent Strokes with Muhammad Ali.
After Curly Howard's stroke, The Three Stooges attempted to get the audience attached to his replacement Shemp by making several of their old shorts over again with Shemp in the Curly part. Results were less than successful.
And where the magical protagonist used her powers to catch someone paying off a shady character, and deciding that the "only possible explanation" was that they were involved in illegal activities, only to later have to undo the damage to their reputation when it turns out that they were actually doing charity work while trying to protect the privacy of the charity recipients.
Sabrina recycled one of its own ideas: Sabrina and her friends are magically given musical talent in order to gain fame, which threatens to destroy their friendship. The two episodes were several seasons apart, and the details were different, but the basic plot is the same.
USA High seemed to rip off quite a few Saved by the Bell premises and plots (mainly because both shows shared the same producers and writers).
Saved by the Bell did this themselves quite a bit, with Saved by the Bell: The New Class ripping off a number of plots from the original series.
The Twilight Zone tended to run into this somewhat, especially considering that it is An Aesop as discussed in the main article. Particularly interesting is that two episodes of the same recycled script will end with the Family-Unfriendly Aesop version of the other's moral.
Most noticably "Mr Bevis"/"Cavender is Coming" (though in fairness, both were written by Rod Serling - and both were prospective pilots for a series about guardian angels, which didn't fly. It would be a while before CBS managed to pull it off) and "The Dummy"/"Caesar And Me".
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda was rife with this. First off, several basic concepts for the series were recycled from other aborted Gene Roddenberry TV projects. The character of Dylan Hunt, complete with name, was borrowed from Planet Earth and Genesis II, a pair of never-picked-up TV pilots from the 1970's about a man frozen in time for 300 years who awakens to find civilization in ruins following a nuclear war. The idea of the starship's computer AI being self-aware and having a female body it could walk around in was stolen from a rejected early concept for what eventually became Star Trek: The Next Generation. Another rejected Star Trek spinoff concept had featured a Federation starship, the USS Andromeda, frozen in time at the edge of a black hole, released 300 years later to find the Federation had fallen in a war with the Klingons, and the crew deciding to rebuild The Federation. On top of all that, an early episode featuring Dylan Hunt being able to briefly communicate with his wife who was still stuck back in the past was based on a rejected script for Star Trek: Voyager by the same screenwriters, and which bears a striking resemblance to a script that did get green-lit for Voyager in Season 1 to boot.
Perhaps this makes the "quantum slipstream drive" that becomes a plot point in latter seasons of Voyager a bizarre hybrid of Shout-Out and Mythology Gag.
An episode of Friends had Monica obsessing over a switch which didn't seem to do anything, and spent the episode going to further and further extremes to figure out what the switch did. The episode ended with her flicking it on and off, deciding that it did nothing, but we see it actually turns the TV on and off in Chandler and Joey's apartment. A clear recycle of a Married... with Children episode where Al spends the episode obsessing over a switch that doesn't seem to do anything, going to further and further extremes to figure out what it did. The episode ended with Al flicking it on and off, deciding that it did nothing, but we see that it actually turns the lights on and off in the dog house.
This was further recycled from (or into) a bit in Stephen Wright's stand-up comedy routine, where he tells of having such a switch in his house which he flicked randomly every time he passed it — until he got a letter from a woman in China demanding he knock it off.
Recycled again into a Nationwide Insurance commercial, featuring a man asking his wife the question while repeatedly toggling the switch. Cut to the neighbor's car getting smashed by the neighbor's garage door cycling up and down with the switch.
Another episode of Friends had Chandler learning a lesson about not breaking up with women over petty little reasons — something which he'd never done before, and would never do again, throughout the history of the show. The exact same thing happened to JD in an episode of Scrubs, but it had already been established as a plot device in an episode from an earlier season that JD has never broken up with a girlfriend in his entire life, ever.
The above paragraph was recycled from the Broken Aesop entry.
In its last two seasons, MacGyver started recycling material from its earlier seasons, but with more emphasis on the Aesop than on the story itself.
The story "The Seeds of Doom" (by Robert Banks Stewart) was recycled from The Avengers "Man-Eater of Surrey Green". (Stewart had written for The Avengers, but not that episode, which was by Philip Levene.) "The Seeds of Doom" feels wrong for a Doctor Who story in many ways, since it follows the Avengers formula. For example, the (Fourth) Doctor casually jumps on top of a bad guy and punches him out.
The Fifth Doctor story "Warriors of the Deep" plot bears striking similarities to the final First Doctor story, "The Tenth Planet". Both feature the Doctor and his companions accidentally arriving at an isolated military base and being mistaken for spies, and in both stories the Doctor's warnings go unheeded until the base is besieged by an alien threat. In both there is a section of the story where the alien invaders seize the bridge and the Doctor is forced by circumstances to stand by without interfering for a time.
Also the story "Night Terrors". A child in an everyday contemporary Earth environment turns out to be an alien whose reality-warping powers cause his fears to threaten his family and neighbours. When did we see that before?
"Victory of the Daleks" borrows big chunks of the lost serial"The Power of the Daleks", but with more of a knowing, Whole Plot Reference approach. The stuff that's borrowed — Daleks feigning servitude to humans, the Doctor protesting that they're pure evil and no-one believing him, a quirky scientist who discovered them promoting them to the leader of his people as a new development that can solve all of their problems, the Daleks doing it all as a plan to grow their ranks — is all aesthetic stuff, and the actual plot machinery itself is fairly different.
Deep Breath's alien threat is recycled from The Girl in the Fireplace, in that the ship is breaking down and the robots that staff it are taking organic body parts from humans to repair themselves and the ship. This gets repeatedly Lampshaded: the Doctor frequently remarks that the plot seems familiar but can't quite place it, and a throwaway piece of information towards the end notes that the two spacecraft of the episode were sister ships. The rest of the plots are different, though: The Girl in the Fireplace is a basic travel-and-find-trouble with a minor subplot involving the Doctor and Madame de Pompadour's crush on him, while Deep Breath is Twelve's first true episode and deals with all the pitfalls of regeneration.
The basic plot of the episode is sort of a Darker and Edgier version of the Fourth Doctor's first story, "Robot", which Steven Moffat mentioned using as a reference. The Doctor regenerates, suddenly developing an absolutely crazy and seemingly uncaring personality that disconcerts his companions and the people his previous self works with; a robot with an ambiguously humanlike personality and psychological complexes mirroring the Doctor's own is responsible for some bizarre murders; the Doctor's defeat of it is rather ambiguous as a happy ending; but the companion agrees to give the new Doctor a chance to befriend her (after a bit of talking to from the Doctor). Several lines and setpieces from "Robot" were lifted into "Deep Breath" to indicate the similarity (Vastra quotes one of the Brigadier's lines apropos of nothing, and the Twelfth Doctor's white nightgown is similar to how the Fourth Doctor was dressed). The main difference is that "Deep Breath" focuses on the regeneration plotline and Clara's emotional reaction to her friend changing, while "Robot" focuses on the companion investigating the robot murders and has the regeneration subplot in the background.
The minisode playing before it in cinemas shows Strax giving a Field Report to the audience about all of the previous faces the Doctor has had, with funny descriptions of their personalities, to assuage an audience needing a reminder that the Eleventh Doctor was not always the Doctor - a format previously used for one of the "Strax's Field Report" online minisodes. The introduction is repeated almost word-for-word, although Jenny and Vastra interrupt it in the cinema version. Few of the jokes are recycled, though - Strax's opinions on the other Doctors (not to mention which gender he thinks they are) are completely different between both minisodes.
MST3K reused several of the films they riffed on during their initial season on a local UHF station after going national. Several host segment sketches were also remade later.
The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town is just Santa Claus is Coming to Town with the origins of Easter traditions in place of Christmas traditions.
Kids Incorporated did pretty well for its first five seasons, but recycled stories from the early years abounded in the later seasons. For example, season 6's "Karate Kids" is almost identical to season 1's "The Bully" (The only substantive difference is that Robin actually learns Karate, whereas The Kid just pretended to have done so), down to the opening scene where the bullied character sneaks on-stage and performs wearing a Conspicuous Trenchcoat and dark glasses. Also, at least three episodes, near-carbon-copies of each other, have the Kids get a taste of super-stardom which nearly breaks the band up as they all forget how to work together.
Possible case: Both How I Met Your Mother and Rules of Engagement featured an episode where the show's resident Lothario runs into the older woman to whom he lost his virginity (complete with "Mrs. Robinson" reference). The Lothario, reminded of his poor early performance, determines to sleep with her again despite her having gone from middle-aged to a senior citizen, and Hilarity Ensues. What made this example stick out so much is the the episodes in question first aired on the same night, on the same channel, within an hour of each other.
One of the episodes of ABC's revival of Columbo - "Uneasy Lies the Crown" - was a remake of an episode of McMillan and Wife (by then just called McMillan) titled "Affair of the Heart" in which a dentist manages to kill someone and not be anywhere near the crime scene by placing digitalis under a newly capped tooth.
The season 1 M*A*S*H episode "The Ringbanger" has Hawkeye and Trapper gaslighting a colonel (Leslie Nielsen) who has gained "twice as many casualties but only half the ground" as other commanders into thinking he has battle fatigue and needs leave to cool off. "White Gold", the second last episode of season three, has Hawkeye and Trapper remove Colonel Flagg's appendix to send him stateside for several weeks. While it's played for laughs, a similar plot would be used to much more serious effect in season 7's "Preventive Medicine": in that episode, Hawkeye performs an unnecessary appendectomy on a gung-ho colonel so he can't lead his troops into a suicidal objective (provoking an enemy attack on a hill he was ordered to avoid), but B.J. will have nothing to do with it, accusing Hawkeye of violating their ethical code as doctors. So, the plot was recycled not once, but twice.
The second example is more of recycling a single plot tool, as the real goal wasn't to get Flagg sent stateside but rather to get him unconscious for a while so they can steal back the penicillin and hide it.
A more egregious example is season 3's "Payday", in which Hawkeye is the pay officer, comes up $10 over, and after complaining that he could have earned $3000 in his civilian practice, Radar arranges for Hawkeye to receive compensation for lost civilian wages (then donates it to Mother Teressa's orphanage), then replaces it with the winnings Trapper won using Hawkeye's watch. In season 8's "Back Pay", Hawkeye is outraged over civilian doctors making $4 an x-ray for draft examinations, and bilks the Army out the amount he would have earned were he paid the same rate as civilian doctors, then gets in trouble for defrauding the Army.
Heroes, "Six Months Ago" v. Buffy, "Help": Character tries to save girl from predestined death by murder (Sylar/some crazy cult)? Check. Girl ends up dying anyway of medical causes? Check (blood clot/heart attack). The girls' names are even similar: Charlie and Cassie.
Although Hiro eventually does manage to get Sylar to save Charlie.
The short-lived syndicated version of Bustin Loose (starring Jimmie "JJ" Walker) lifted several scripts wholesale from Walker's previous show, Good Times, usually nearly word-for-word.
Bizarre example: In this video about North Korea's long-running "comedy"/propaganda TV show, it's mentioned that they've recycled a "comedy" bit about beans from 20 years ago. (Newswire reports mention that the show has been "delivering the same material over and over again".)
As mentioned in the main article, American Westerns tv shows of the fifties and sixties were more or less made of this trope; Warner Bros. had a policy of reusing scripts across their various shows to save money on writers, changing only the names of the primary characters and the locations, as well as changes made for time and pacing when a script for an hour long show was used for a half hour long show later. Roger Moore had already read lines originally written for Maverick years before he joined the cast of the show while working on another show, The Alaskans, for instance.
Charmed had two separate episodes (in season six and season eight), each about three evil witch sisters who steal the Charmed sisters' identities and make everyone else magically think they are them. Except for different supporting characters (Chris in one, Billie in the other), they were eerily similar episodes.
Merlin has quite a small pool of writers, and by the third season, you can tell. The episode "The Changeling" (in which a princess is possessed by a fairy and betrothed to Arthur) is a melding of season two's "Sweet Dreams" (Arthur is put under a spell and falls in love with a spoilt noble-girl) and "Beauty and the Beast" (a troll puts Uther under a love spell and marries him), and the episode "Gwaine" has elements of "The Once and Future Queen" (assassins come to Camelot and try to kill Arthur under the guise of participants in a tournament). Hell, practically every single episode is a variation of a) magical creature tries to kill Uther/Arthur, b) Arthur goes on quest to prove himself worthy of kingdom, c) evil woman seduces one of the Pendragons, or d) someone needs rescusing from the dungeons after being falsely accused of magic.
Paul Merton in Galton & Simpson's... was a series of recycled scripts by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson (some from Hancock's Half Hour), with the most significant differences being that Hancock's exclamation of "Stone me!" was removed, and that in one episode Sid James's character (who in the original shared a bedroom with Hancock) is replaced by Merton's then wife, Caroline Quentin.
Invoked by Wheel of Fortune during a "Going Green" week in April 2011 (with environmentally-friendly prizes and an overall Green Aesop-ish motif). On the April 6 episode, host Pat Sajak informed them that every puzzle was "recycled" from a previous episode (episodes in the 1990s, to be specific). To drive the point home, a clip from the 1990s episode in question was spliced into the start of each round.
In a more straightforward example, the show has recycled puzzles very many times. Prize Puzzles are most guilty of constantly being some variation on "relaxing in the sun/in the sand/on the beach".
After Jason Jones wound up hung over with a facial tattoo, the night after Osama Bin Laden was killed:
The I Spy episode "Bet Me A Dollar", in which the partners set up a large-scale game of hide-and-seek that turns abruptly serious when it's revealed that the hiding partner has been poisoned, was recycled as Starsky & Hutch's "The Game".
Dan Schneider has several cases since Drake & Josh where an episode has been a direct lift of an earlier episode in another series.
He also has a massive tendency to repeat jokes. One example being the "three legged cat" joke.
Both Cat Valentine and Carly Shay have suffered the indignity of not being asked to a prom. One of these girls not being asked is ridiculous, both simply wouldn't happen.
A major character falls in love with another one, only for the Anti-Hero sidekick to come along and say that the love is superficial, leading to the couple breaking up, allowing the show to continue with Status Quo Is God. This describes both the Josh Loves Mindy episode of Drake & Josh and the iSaved Your Life episode of iCarly.
The two iPsycho episodes are the same thing with minor changes to the resolution.
After the success of its mass trauma episode "Blizzard" and its "one doctor, one case" episode "Love's Labor Lost", ER began trotting out similar episodes each season. This got so common that fans came up with a Memetic Mutation of "a _________at a______________floods the ER with patients" to describe certain episodes.
Both Los Serrano and Aida had a plot where one of the guys would be Mistaken for Gay and he would try to clear it out, just to discover women suddenly don't mind being naked around him, and then keeps the lie to take advantage of that. In both cases, the guy tries to get the girl he likes to strip, but she won't, and also in both cases, the guy tries to get some with the girl saying she's making him rethink about his sexuality. In both cases, the girl hits him.
Dragnet liked to recycle scripts at various points. One notable one was the Christmas episode involving a poor boy who took the statue of the child Jesus from the church he attended because he'd finally gotten the red wagon he asked for and wanted to give the child Jesus the first ride. It was done on the '50s TV series (then rebroadcast on radio) and the '60s remake.
Forever Knight recycled several unused first season scripts into season 3, which was why Captains Stonetree and Reese were both named Joe. All they had to do was switch last names and replace Nick's first partner, Don Schanke, with his second partner, Tracy Vetter.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered" has Xander convince a witch to do a love spell on him, which results in hundreds of women falling in love with him and him almost getting killed. "Him" has a character use a magic letter jacket that makes women fall in love with him and causes similar mayhem. The latter episode has a flashback of the previous episode and Xander fondly reminiscing about it, apparently forgetting about the almost getting killed part.
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: There was an episode of Angel about a shy scientist who liked to sing and was in love with a red-head. He built a machine that could stop time to solve his relationship problems...
Angel also had a plot in Season 5, in which the death of a character was used to get into an evil organization. Angel pretended to be involved in his friend Fred's death to infiltrate the Circle of The Black Thorn and Dr. Horrible's involvement in Penny's death filled the qualification to enter Bad Horse.
A.N.T. Farm had a plot similar to the iCarly episode "iEnrage Gibby" in which the newspaper mistakenly reports that Spencer is dead and he keeps the charade going because his art is worth more is he is dead. However, on A.N.T. Farm, Fletcher isn't in on it and apparently only one art buyer is under the mistaken impression that Fletcher is dead. YMMV, but many would say the iCarly plot seems forced. They never read the paper and when they do they noticed the obituary. While a French cologne inventor looking to buy art at an auction, sprays Chyna and Olive in the eyes with his new scent, which causes their eyes to become watery. He thinks they're sad because of this and he asked where was Fletcher and the said "he's gone" and "he's no longer with us." All in all, it create more humorous moments than the original, but again YMMV.
The episode of Boy Meets World "Things Change" is very similar to the Doug episode "Doug's Last Birthday" due to Cory being overwhelmed with the changes in his life. Many of them are similar such as the mom being pregnant, the local hangout changing names and theme, and the protagonist not being able to go to school with the girl of interest.
Snavely's was a failed 1979 pilot for ABC starring Harvey Korman which was based on the BBC series Fawlty Towers. In fact, that pilot was a recycled edition of a Fawlty Towers episode.
Concentration took a puzzle, "Let's Pick Up Where We Left Off," (lets / pick axe + cup / wh + air / we / arrow pointing left / light switch on "off") and reused it later as "Pick Up Where We Left off" by simply lopping off the word "Let's."
The Lois and Clark episode "All Shook Up" has the same storyline as the The Adventures of Superman episode "Panic in the Sky": A meteor heads for Earth, Superman tries to stop it and plummets to Earth with amnesia. The other regulars attempt to help Clark Kent with his amnesia, Superman seems to have disappeared, and the meteor's still coming... The main difference is that Lois and Clark adds the obligitory relationship subplots, and Ma and Pa Kent (who unlike the Planet staff in both versions, know Clark's secret and can tell him about it).
JAG: "Scimitar" in season 1 and "The Black Jet" in season 4 both feature an American service member captured by a hostile government on their soil, subjected to a Kangaroo Court, and ultimately set free by Harmon Rabb.
Hee Haw: Almost 20 years of recycled scripts, and not just segments recurring, but their entire content repeated. It became so monotonous that even bloopers passed for 'improv'.
The The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "The Big Four-Oh" recycles elements from The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "To Tell Or Not to Tell". In each episode, the mothers take the opportunity to rededicate themselves to dance in the hopes of finding out whether they could have "made it" if they hadn't taken different paths. Both episodes end with the women rising to the occasion and gaining the validation they sought, while acknowledging the physical strain dancing put on their (now older) bodies.
Laura Petrie: "There isn't a bone in my body that isn't screaming out "for heaven's sake! Lie down in a hot tub!""
Vivian Banks: "There isn't a part of my body that isn't aching for Ben-Gay!"
Grey's Anatomy: There were at least two instances of a department head surgeon injuring their hand and temporarily being unable to perform surgery.
One of the doctors falling in love with a patient who ends up dying.
April and Jackson's Will They or Won't They? is compared to that of Mark and Lexie, although almost every pairing on the show has some form of it.
The storyline of the title of Chief Resident being given to someone who isn't cut out for the job. Callie in the beginning, who is replaced by Bailey, and April, although April surprisingly improves and ends up being surprisingly good at it.
George and April both surprisingly fail their medical board exams due to the stress in their lives. While George does so an intern and has to repeat the year, April fails a more difficult exam in her last year of residency and is rehired after being fired so she can do better on her second try.
Izzie and Meredith both get into enough trouble to possibly get fired (for cutting a patient's LVAD wire and tampering with a clinical trial, respectively) but still being Easily Forgiven. In Izzie's case, she quits before she gets fired and Meredith is rehired when someone else takes the fall for her.
In the first season of The West Wing, the staff has a "safe" nominee for Supreme Court Justice (moderate-liberal, older white man, no apparent cause for controversy), find out he has a major judicial flaw, and decide to throw it all in behind a really liberal Hispanic, Mendoza, who was only on the short list for appearances; getting him on the bench takes a few episodes. In the fifth season episode "The Supremes," made after Sorkin's departure, they have another "safe" moderate candidate who again has a major judicial flaw and the staff decides to throw it all in for a really liberal woman who they only brought in to worry the Republicans, but in one episode this time. Nobody mentions Mendoza in the latter instance.
Kamen Rider has repeated its tropes from time to time and even recycled scripts. Examples include:
The conflict between the Main and Secondary Rider, only for said conflict to deflate because the Secondary sees that the Main is a pretty nice guy as opposed to the monster he was built up to be. (Agito and Kiva.
A related phenomenon in musicals is the recycling of lyrics:
"I Remember It Well" originally appeared in the Broadway musical Love Life, but remained extremely obscure until its lyric was recycled (with some revisions) for the movie Gigi, set to completely different music.
"Put Me To The Test" was a Cut Song from the movie A Damsel In Distress, used as dance music only. Its lyric was salvaged and put to use in the movie Cover Girl.
This applies to music as well. In musical theatre, recycled songs are known as "Trunk Songs" - songs that were written for one show, cut, and subsequently lay at the bottom of the composer's trunk until he was in Boston with a new show that desperately needed a new song in seconds flat, at which point he pulled the song out of the trunk (the lyrics often being replaced entirely). It's a testament to the craft of the songwriters how seamlessly some of these songs fit into their new context. A few examples:
The music for both "One Hand, One Heart" and "Somewhere" were originally composed by Leonard Bernstein for Candide and subsequently dropped. When West Side Story required new material but Bernstein was too busy working on Candide, he handed these songs over to lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Jules Styne's music for one particular song had been used in - and discarded from - several shows, before it wound up permanently in Gypsy as "You'll Never Get Away From Me".
Stephen Schwartz has stated that his music for the "Goldfarb Variations" in The Magic Show was culled from a much earlier show he wrote while still a student. The dramatic moment called for a four-part fugue - quite a technical challenge to compose - and, since Schwartz had already composed one, he decided to put it to good use.
A related example: many of the songs cut from Stephen Sondheim's Follies were re-used by choreographer Michael Bennett as material for the show's lengthy overture. The two songs featured most prominently are "All Things Bright And Beautiful" and "That Old Piano Roll".
Opera has some more blatant examples: Rossini in particular was nefarious for his extensive borrowing from his previous operas. At the time, there was greater freedom to do so, as long as the two works premiered in different towns.
The Sera Myu used the plot of Galaxia resurrecting Queen Beryl quite a few times. Sometimes she was with the Shitenou, sometimes not. Once she was resurrected with the Amazon Trio instead. Also, many plots were pulled from the Anime or Manga, but this is to be expected.
About half the songs (maybe more) of songwriter and composer Jim Steinman (famous for his collaborations with Meat Loaf) were written for, or later used in, various musical theater projects he'd either written or was on board for as part the creative team. These include: Neverland (produced at his college, which eventually led to Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album), Wuthering Heights (produced for MTV), an aborted Batman stage musical, Tanz der Vampire and Whistle Down The Wind.
Specifically from Tanz der Vampire: "Totale Fnsternis" (Total Eclipse) is a remake of his smash hit Bonnie Tyler ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with mostly changed lyrics (and, in the American version of the show, the audience reacted to it as a parody of the famous song - entirely unintentional). "Die Unstillbare Gier" (The Insatiable Greed) re-used the melody of his lesser hit Meat Loaf ballad "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are" with completely new lyrics. And "Gott Ist Tot" (God Is Dead) and "Einladung Zum Ball" (Invitation to the Ball) both use parts of the more obscure "Original Sin" originally recorded by Pandora's Box and covered by Meat Loaf in 1995.
One arc of Modesty Blaise had her being captured and placed in the bottom of a large hole with a bucket stuck on her head, as entertainment for two elderly murderers. The same plot was reused in an arc of Agent Corrigan.
Garfield has recycled gags many times in the strip's 30+ year history, including at least three instances where the same gag was used twice only one year apart. One is at the top of the page; another was a gag where Garfield is in such a hurry to get to a cup of hot chocolate that he stands on Odie. The third one was Jon giving Garfield a new cat food that was rich in fiber, only for Garfield to pull a sweater out of his dish.
Even Garfield and Friends wasn't safe. Throughout the show, there were Quickies, which were generally old Garfield and U.S. Acres strips adapted into animation. In Season 2, a Quickie based on this strip◊ was made. In Season 4, the exact same strip was made into a Quickie again. For its credit, however, it is a bit more faithful to the original source material (Jon doesn't say the word "nice", and Garfield actually claws Jon's pant legs).
Pluggers, being entirely driven by reader submissions, tends to have this an awful lot. Sometimes invoked when an old gag is recycled entirely and called a "classic". Naturally, this has not gone unnoticed by the aforementioned Comics Curmudgeon.
Berke Breathed tended to reuse gags in his various comic strips. Of note: the "burger without a bun" gag, which was used in Bloom County's first comic. It came from Berke's previous comic The Academia Waltz, and was later reused AGAIN in Bloom County itself.
Beetle Bailey, which by now has a run of about half as many strips as there are atoms in the known universe, must have recycled hundreds of its jokes, almost certainly sometimes more than once. Since there are so many strips in existence, it's just conceivable Mort Walker just can't remember which ideas he has already used. But don't bet on it.
He seems very deliberate about reusing the gag where the officers are afraid to point out an obvious spelling mistake in the General's written instruction, and instead do exactly what the instruction says, even though it makes no sense (tacks instead of tanks, buns instead of guns, gag masks instead of gas masks, etc.)
The comic strip Mulch once redid a week-long arc word-for-word after a change in artists. It hadn't even been a year since the previous arc ran.
Hägar the Horrible tends to be guilty of this. In general there are maybe seven or so basic setups (Hägar getting nagged on by his wife, Hägar and Lucky Eddie stuck on a deserted island, vikings attacking some noble's castle, Hägar returning from Paris...) that are repeated over and over again.
Baby Blues occasionally does this. For example, the joke with the false weight on Wanda's driver's license was used three times.
Averted with extreme prejudice by Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, none of which recycled an earlier comic. (Though Calvin and Hobbes twice used the joke about the 1812 Overture firing cannons in a crowded music hall. The repetition was presumably inadvertent.)
A 1998 strip has Roger complaining about how the paperboy is always throwing the morning newspaper in a puddle or in the bushes, to which Andy responds by saying that Roger should stop tipping him with a nickel every month. A later strip from 2000 has Roger complaining about how the paperboy keeps throwing the newspaper in a puddle and declares, "Starting today, no more 5-cent monthly tip for that young man!"
A strip from 2000 has Paige channel-surfing very slowly, to the point that Peter grabs the remote and start channel-surfing very quickly, saying "This is how to do it." This same gag was used in a 2005 strip, except with Jason in place of Paige.
A pair of strips had the exact same idea about Peter telling one of his parents saying that he doesn't want to rake the leaves until they have all fallen, so it's more efficient. The parent says they're all bare, and Peter says that there is still a few leaves on one of them, which he turned out to have attached with adhesive so they would never fall, and so he would never have to rake the leaves. The only differences are that he was talking to Roger in one and Andy in the other. he used duct tape in the Roger one and super glue in Andy one, and in the Andy one, Peter's comment was changed from a nervous "Heh heh..." to "Jason, you were supposed to hide the ladder!".
In Australia in the 1970s, there was a "war" between the Faces the People's Army (Mark Lewin, Spiros Arion, Mario Milano, Sheik Wadi Ayoub, King Curtis Iaukea) and the Heels Big Bad John's Army (Big Bad John, Abdullah the Butcher, Hiro Tojonote AKA the Great Tojo, Mr Fuji, Dick "The Bulldog" Brower and Waldo Von Erich). The feud was later recycled in Vancouver, with some changes. Mark Lewin, Spiros Arion and Mario Milano were all still members of the People's Army, with new members Angelo Mosca and Lord Athol Layton. Big Bad John's Army included, along with BBJ himself, Abdullah, Waldo and Brower again, the Tojo Brothers [Hito and Hironote Better known as the Great Kabuki], Tiger Jeet Singh, Don Fargo, Brute Bernard and King Curtis Iaukea. Then there was the case of Killer Karl Kox, who spent time on both sides.
TNA has done this with Mr. Anderson and Bully Ray in recent years. First, a frustrated Anderson would join the heel stable of the year, with Bully either being the field general or the outright leader. It would start off great until Anderson eventually hits a couple snags, at which point Bully would begin to question and antagonize him. Inevitably the tension would lead to Bully getting the group to betray and forcibly kick out Anderson. Finally, after a short time away, Anderson would return primed for vengeance, getting through everyone he has to in order to beat Bully down. Specifically, the two stables were Immortal in 2011 and the Aces & Eights in 2013—and with the latter, Anderson's victory over Bully would even force the club to disband.
Many scripts from an early radio version of The Lone Ranger were used and then sent to Canada and adapted into Dale Of The Mounted scripts. This also lampshades just how bad a role Jay Silverheels had in Tonto: When the scripts were adapted, the part of Tonto was replaced by a dog.
Most of William Shakespeare's plays recycle plot and whole stories from pre-existing works. For example, Romeo and Juliet was based on The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brookes, which is itself believed to be a translation of an even earlier work.
Cirque du Soleil does this occasionally by moving an established act (and often its performers) from one show to another, with costuming, staging, and music revised to fit its new home. It happened most often in The Nineties, when the company was much smaller, but still turns up today. The most extreme case was with the 1992 Japan-only tour Fascination, which mostly consisted of acts from the Le Cirque Réinventé and Nouvelle Experience tours that didn't visit that country. The visuals and theme duplicated those of Reinvente.
BioWare RPGs Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire all feature sidequests where you end up arguing your position before a panel of five judges against an insulting opponent. The connection is more explicit between NWN and KotOR: both sidequests feature a murder trial, the player character as the defense lawyer, and a defendant who did actually commit the crime (although in one case, the defendant was not responsible for his actions).
Mass Effect 2 also has this, though there are only four quarian admirals (one only presiding, without a vote) on the panel that judges Tali'Zorah. Unlike the previous examples, the outcome hinges on a single decision, although based on your actions, you might have more choices, as well as the more desirable options..
While speaking of Bioware, how many NPCs in the player's party has Bioware created with same trust issues?
Also speaking of Bioware, their RPGs somehow manage to shoehorn at least one Tower of Hanoi puzzle in them (I'm not sure about Jade Empire, but there is Naga Sadow's tomb in KotOR and the Rift Station in Mass Effect 1).
Also every Bioware game starting with KotOR has some "prepare defense" quest, all games have some sort of gladiator fights (to be honest, almost any RPG has those) and some sort of vision quest.
Additionally, KotOR 1 and Mass Effect 1 share similar plotlines in general: travel to about four planets/systems to retrieve information about the enigmatic MacGuffin, with a ship as your "base", while trying to make sense of your vague dreams and visions. You gather all but one of your squad on the starting planet and the central quest hub; the last is retrieved on one of the planets with information. Near the end, there's a shocking revelation that completely changes your perspective on the plot, followed by a visit to the lost world of the Precursors right before the final confrontation.
Same goes for KotOR 2 and Mass Effect 2: gather a dysfunctional team from across the galaxy (two members of which were in your previous team) in order to take down a major threat, with the ship from the previous game as your "base". Several of your team members have less-than-honorable pasts, and trust is now a major gameplay component. This all builds up to an epic conclusion, in which many of your team members can be Killed Off for Real. (Unfortunately, in KotOR 2's case, the conclusion was almost completely cut.)
KotOR 2 was not made by Bioware, though, so while there may be some recycled script elements (or rather, both games used the 'recruit a badass team' storyline), it's not like they recycled their own script.
Neverwinter Nights does the exact same thing thrice, as the first three chapters all involve starting in a "hub" town and then going to four different places in any order to get an enigmatic MacGuffin from each, before finishing with a dramatic reveal and a final dungeon, wash, rince, repeat (Chapter 3's final dramatic dungeon is Chapter 4, technically speaking).
Speaking of KotOR 2, it featured more or less the same setup as Black Isle/Obsidian's earlier Planescape: Torment: a Humanoid Abomination (that's you) tries to become normal again (Nameless One wants his mortality back and the Exile, her connection to the Force) and their suffering draws a number of other characters with serious issues to them.
Star Control 3 is a capital offender in this area; roughly 40% of the dialogue is ripped directly from the preceding game. The new lines are... lacking, to say the least.
For all the talk of Warcraft in Space!, Warcraft III has the same basic plot as Starcraft, with a hero of the first campaign becoming the Villain Protagonist of the second, followed by the various good guys including the Fallen Hero's ex-love interest uniting to stop them by teaming up in the final campaign, but ultimately failing to redeem them and not stopping them for good. There are several similar missions, and the Zerg and Undead even play extremely similarly in style, complete with backstories involving godlike precursors unleashing them.
A probably coincidental instance in animated series based on video games: The Super Mario World episode "Rock TV" has Bowser giving television sets to all the cavepeople and then hypnotizing them into turning against the Mario Bros. Ten years later, the Kirby: Right Back at Ya! episode "Un-Reality TV" has King Dedede giving television sets to all the Cappies and then hypnotizing them into turning against Kirby.
The first Metal Gear Solid borrowed several set-pieces from both of its MSX2 predecessors, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2, especially from the latter. Some of the events in Metal Gear Solid that were borrowed from previous games include:
A puzzle which involves deactivating an electrified floor by destroying its power supply using guided missiles (previously featured in MG1).
A boss fight with a rapid-fire weapon-wielding mercenary who is vulnerable to guided missiles (Machine Gun Kid in MG1, Vulcan Raven in MGS1).
A ninja-like character who turns out to be one of Snake's fallen allies from the previous installment (Black ColorBlack Ninja in MG2, the Cyborg Ninja in MGS1).
An anonymous informant who warns Snake of incoming traps. One of the more notable examples, as both characters turn out to be Gray Fox (Snake's Fan in MG2, Deepthroat in MGS1).
One of Snake's contacts turns out to be the enemy commander, who is willingly giving advice to sabotage Snake's mission (Big Boss in MG1, Master Miller/Liquid Snake in MGS1)
The first hostage Snake must rescue has a transmitter which pinpoints his location on Snake's radar (Dr. Marv in MG2, Donald Anderson in MGS1). Both turn out to be enemy spies in disguises (Black Ninja in MG2, Decoy Octopus in MGS1)
Snake must follow a female accomplice to the women's restroom in order to meet up with her (Natasha MarcovaGustava Heffner in MG2, Meryl Silverburgh in MGS1)
Snake ends up challenging Metal Gear's pilot to a fistfight (Gray Fox in MG2, Liquid Snake in MGS1)
Actually invoked in Metal Gear Solid 2. According to some characters, one of the objects of the whole thing was to see if going through what Snake did in Metal Gear Solid would create another super-soldier; and as a result, there are many elements that subtly echo the first game, such as the fight with Fatman among the crates, similar to Vulcan Raven; having to backtrack to the beginning, similar to the rifle; a fight where the player is able to go through the middle, but doing so is a game over, with both Vamp and Ocelot; even a cyborg ninja just to have one.
All three Uncharted games share plot elements: Evil and/orJerkass Brits, a vehicle chase in a jeep with a rear-mounted machine gun/grenade launcher, a Public Domain Artifact that mutates its victims (and makes them incrediblyannoying to fight, although the third game uses it only as part of a Meta Twist), a brief Genre Shift to Survival Horror, and a good guy getting shot only to later be revealed as surviving. Meanwhile, the first two games share even more plot points, in addition to the above: a traitor who didn't actually betray you, a Big Bad with a less-than-reliable Dragon, a forced team up with a rival against previously-mentioned mutants while you wait for your allies to rescue you, the Big Bad getting exposed to the artifact, bad guys dying Karmic Deaths as a result of the artifact, a bad guy subverting Heel-Face Turn right before death, and Those Wacky Nazis.
It must have been made in large part as an homage, since the game Titan Quest has innumerable similarities to Diablo 2 – taking it much further than even most Diablo clones do. Consider the following...
The first world of each game: In Diablo 2 is mostly grasslands ending in a dungeon crawl, in Titan Quest, it is the grasslands of Greece ending in a dungeon crawl.
The second worlds: in Diablo 2 you are off to the desert where amongst other things, you fight through a valley with several large tombs only one of which contains the boss. In Titan Quest, you are off to the deserts of Egypt where at one point you find yourself in a valley with several tombs only one of which contains the boss.
The third worlds: In Diablo 2 you go to a world of mainly forests. One quest has you searching for a jade idol. In Titan Quest, you go to China and mostly fight through forests (and heavily forested mountains). One quest involves finding a jade idol.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years could very well be called The Recyled Years instead, as a lot of plot points and scenes of the original are repeated, often with little to no variation. Considering you face nearly every boss from the original too, it could be considered the most enviroment-friendly game ever.
Interlude, a midquel added to the Complete Collection, takes the cake by recycling again the Doom Wall and Mom Bomb bosses, though on the latter they slightly innovated by having you face Dad Bomb instead.
Around 90% of the original game's soundtrack was recycled as well.
TRON 2.0 came out in 2003, was given virtually no publicity by Disney, and quickly vanished into Canon Discontinuity once TRON: Legacy came out. However, there are enough plot elements (protagonist is the son of the human protagonists, gets zapped to cyberspace when searching for his dad, gets drafted to the games and rescued by a mystery woman, goes to a bar to get what looks like the way out only to fall into an ambush...) matching up to make one wonder if the writers had the thing on multiplayer.
The Smurfs Travel The World, a European-only release game of The Smurfs, is basically a condensed version of the Season 9 episodes from the cartoon show, only without the time travel.
Times Like This took a strip from 2008... and recycled it (in honor of Earth Day) in 2010. The setup and punchline were the same; only the webcomics referenced, and some of the dialogue, were different.
Another episode of Spider-Man (1967), involving a scientist taking over a power plant to raise the city into the air, was re-used later. Essentially they changed a few words in the script, changed the scientist's skin color and added pointy ears, and suddenly it was involving an Atlantean using his submarine to lower the city into the ocean.
When scifi author Larry Niven was hired to write an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series, he took the plot of his short story "The Soft Weapon" and replaced three of the characters with Enterprise crew to create "The Slaver Weapon". It even featured one of his trademark alien species, the Kzinti, without alteration. (His rejected original proposal for the episode, meanwhile, became another short story, "The Borderlands of Sol".)
DuckTales and TaleSpin both on The Disney Afternoon, did this with episodes that involved confusion over what the right date was ("Allowance Day" and "The Time Bandit", respectively), which led to an impending execution. The main character(s) were saved by a pilot (Launchpad and Baloo, respectively) who scooped away the clouds to reveal what day it really was (with an eclipse and a comet, respectively), proving who was right. Baloo mentioned that he was the first pilot who had ever done something like this, despite the fact that TaleSpin came out after DuckTales. (It could be argued that because TaleSpin takes place in what appears to be The Thirties, Baloo would have been the first chronologically; a view taken by at least one crossover comic.)
It's worth noting that "Allowance Day" and "The Time Bandit" were written by the same writers.
The Smurfs themselves would recycle the same plot of Season 1's "The Fake Smurf", with "The Baby Smurf" (also Season 1) and "The Mr. Smurf Contest" (Season 5).
Many of the early Hanna-Barbera series reused stories from old Tom and Jerry cartoons (understandable, since the studio was made up of former MGM artists), as well as a few Looney Tunes (Some of the Warners story men wrote for HB). For example, the T&J short "Pecos Pest", about a relative of Jerry's from Texas who comes to practice for a TV appearance and uses Tom's whiskers as guitar strings, was redone as a Pixie and Dixie short. Similarly, the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Windblown Hare", in which the Three Little Pigs sell Bugs their homes just as the Big Bad Wolf arrives, was redone with Yogi Bear.
Not only that, but the writer of "Day of the Machines" also recycled the plot for an episode of Transformers Generation 1 — reusing not only the plot but also the title!
Similarly, Bravestarr has two episodes, "No Drums, No Trumpets" and "To Walk a Mile", that have the same plot: "a former Galactic Marshal, who has sworn off guns due to a tragic incident in his past, is looked down upon by his child. Then, said child is kidnapped by bad guys, forcing him to take up his weapon once more." Alan Oppenheimer even voiced the former Marshal character in both episodes.
Take a typical episode of Wacky Races, find a visual gag involving Dick Dastardly's attempt to stop the other racers, and the odds are even that you'll find an identical gag in a Chuck JonesRoad Runner cartoon. (Michael Maltese is credited as a writer on both series.)
The Hey Arnold! April Fools' Day episode was a 30 minute version of their previous episode "Beaned"; both episodes involve Helga faking an injury long after she's actually healed from it to have Arnold take care of her.
The resolution of these two episodes are completely different, though. In "Beaned," Helga's conscience gets the better of her for taking advantage of Arnold's kindness and she fakes her 'recovery' so that he's let off the hook. In "April Fools Day," when Arnold learns that Helga's faking her injury in order to prank him, he retaliates with an audacious prank of his own before she can spring her trap. (Since "AFD" is supposedly set post-movie, the differences in outcomes for each story show a subtle change in dynamic between the two - Arnold's passivity to Helga's aggression is slowly evolving into a good-natured 'contest of equals' between the two.)
The Family Guy episode "The Splendid Source" was adapted from a short story of the same name which Richard Matheson wrote in 1956. It shows in that the episode's humor is much more sedate than the norm for the show, and is almost completely devoid of cutaway jokes.
A Cutaway Gag in "Death Has a Shadow" shows Peter drinking the communion wine at church and then cracking a joke about how Jesus Christ was wasted everyday. About a season later in "Fifteen Minutes of Shame", the gag is reused, but DVD Commentary states that the reuse of the gag was purely by accident.
The episode "Trading Places" has the exact same premise as the Step by Step episode of the same name, with more or less the same results.
It's probably just a coincidence, but the last part of "Arise, Serpentor, Arise"! (G.I. Joe) and the entire episode of "Atlantis Arise!" (The Transformers) have a few similarites: the villians of the series attack Washington, DC, are defeated by the heroes, and the treacherous character voiced by Chris Latta saves his leader (receiving no gratitude for doing so). Of course, Cobra don't ally themselves with mer-creatures, and the Decepticons don't create a new leader, but even so...
A few later episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants seem to have recycled plots from other Nicktoons. "Toy Store of Doom", for example, has essentially the same plot as the Rugrats episode "Toy Palace" (they get locked in the toy store after it closes for the night and are afraid the toys will attack them), while "Banned in Bikini Bottom" (Krabby Patties are outlawed and Mr. Krabs starts selling them at SpongeBob's house secretly) is similar to the CatDog episode "Just Say CatDog Sent Ya," in which Farburg Burger Bones are banned from Nearburg and CatDog stars selling them at a speakeasy in an underground cellar.
"Picture Day" was a recycled script from the Recess episode "One Stayed Clean". An earlier episode recycling a script from the show would be "Big Pink Loser", which was almost identical to "Copycat Kid".
Friz Freling even recycled a few of his own Looney Tunes scripts within Looney Tunes itself. For example, the basic plots of "His Bitter Half" and "Honey's Money" are the same: A money-grubbing man (Daffy Duck in the former, Yosemite Sam in the latter) marries a woman for her money, and eventually has to take care of the woman's son. They even share a scene: The shooting gallery where the son makes it seem like Daffy or Sam is shooting at the barker. "Hmm...must have rick-o-shetted!"
The Simpsons episodes "Million Dollar Abie" and "The Boys of Bummer" both involve a member of the Simpson family (Grampa and Bart respectively) becoming a pariah over a sports-related mishap, to the point they attempt suicide. Though in the former's case, it only took over the first act, whereas the latter became the episode's main dilemma.
The Courage the Cowardly Dog episode Curtain of Cruelty has an identical plot to The Tower of Dr. Zalost; a scientist causes the entire town of Nowhere to become miserable, just like him (cruel in the former episode and depressed in the latter), and the solution involves one of Muriel's homemade recipes (fabric softener in the former and "happy plums" in the latter). Also, Eustace is immune because of his curmudgeoness. Both episodes do have several differences though, for instance Dr. Zalost is a full 30-minute episode, while Curtain of Cruelty is a normal 15-minute short.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut is an extended musical version of the episode "Death". Here, Kyle's mom overreacts to Terrance and Phillip and gets the other parents to protest against them (only mass suicide is changed to war).
"Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset" is a gender-flipped version of "South Park is Gay!".
Similarly with the above, The Powerpuff Girls Movie is almost an expansion of "Mr. Mojo's Rising", detailing about how the girls were created and how Mojo Jojo became who he is today.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episodes "Gamma World" and "Code Red" both have a villain using a fictional brand of science to disfigure crowds of people, Captain America, The Wasp, and Black Panther becoming disfigured, at least one Avenger having the antidote (created by another crimefighter) shot into himself or herself, and Thor evading a transformation before engaging in a side battle with a gamma-powered monster.
"Powerless!" has some plot elements blatantly copied from Thor's movie. Namely, Thor becomes a mortal, Loki tries to kill him with Destroyer armor, Thor sacrifices himself to protect mortal companions from the Destroyer, and Thor regains his hammer and his immortality as rewards for his selflessness.
Kaput & Zosky was rather fond of this, recycling not just scripts but entire episodes themselves. One episode has them try to take over a planet, only to find all of its inhabitants fleeing because it is about to be destroyed at sundown. Kaput and Zoski try to flee, only to have the planet blow up beneath them. The episode was later repackaged as a new episode, with only new dialogue used, with the plot changed to the planet, this time a popular tourist destination, becoming unpopular.
Martha Speaks intentionally used the same basic script for "Martha Smells" and "Martha Hears" which were part of the same episode. This is explained as T.D. copying Helen's script with some minor changes. The end of "Martha Smells" foreshadows the end of "Martha Hears". "Martha Hears" had some of the characters wondering if the same situation already happened.
Kim Possible gives us a Father's Day episode where teenage Ron doesn't want to hang out with his father, an actuary. The Dad then has to save the day to win his son's respect. The same plot is used in American Dragon: Jake Long with Jake and his father (also an actuary.) Both series used the same writing staff and the episodes premiered within 24 hours of each other, making the borrowing all the more egregious.
The entire premise of Sym-Bionic Titan is very similar to the episode "Jack and the Flying Prince and Princess" of Genndy Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack. Both even feature their robot companion dying, only in Sym-Bionic Titan, said robot is revived.
"Sisterhooves Social": Rarity and Sweetie Belle get on each other's nerves to the point where Sweetie Belle disowns Rarity as a sister. The two meet again later on a camping trip Sweetie Belle is having with Applejack and Apple Bloom, but tensions remain high between them. Sweetie Belle realizes that Rarity is a sister worth having after participating in, although not winning, the Sisterhooves Social race. "Oh, Brother!": Mario and Luigi get on each other's nerves to the point where Luigi disowns Mario as a brother. The two meet again later in the middle of a rainstorm, but tensions remain high between them. Luigi realizes that Mario is a brother worth having after saving him from one of Bowser's schemes.
"Hearts and Hooves Day" is similar to The Powerpuff Girls' "Keen on Keane". It involved the trio being Shipper on Deck and ensuing disasters. The love interest is both cases is a female kindergarten teacher (Ms. Keane, Cheerilee) and an older male relative (Prof. Utonium, Big Macintosh.)
A possibly unintentional one, but "A Canterlot Wedding" is similar to parts of the South Park episode "Succubus". Both involve the protagonist(s) finding something off about their friend's fiancee and accuse her of being evil, leading to her running off in tears and the friend to call out the protagonist(s) even though (s)he/they was/were right in a way. The difference is that while the South Park boys hated Chef's fiancee Veronica from the start and she was clearly an evil monster, Twilight Sparkle's reason was more tragic because the wedding was between her older brother Shining Armor and her beloved foal-sitter Princess Cadence, who turns out to have been kidnapped by Queen Chrysalis, the ruler of the Changelings who happens to prey on Shining Armor's love by taking on Cadence's form.
"Maud Pie" is similar to the Hey Arnold! episode "Weird Cousin". Both episodes have a character's rather peculiar relative visit the main cast. Coincidentally, Pinkie Pie's sister Maud speaks in the same monotone as Arnold's cousin Arnie.
Many Popeye cartoons from Famous Studios were remakes of old Fleischer Studios shorts, such as "The Anvil Chorus Girl" (based on "Shoein' Hosses") and "Penny Antics" (based on "Customers Wanted").
The plot of "Olive's Boithday Presink", especially the gag of the hunted tricking the hunter into thinking he has a family, was reused in the Looney Tunes short "Duck Soup to Nuts". Both were written by the same guy.
An episode of I Am Weasel used this for a Take That; Weasel and Baboon are filming a cartoon with the Red Guy as the director, and eventually Weasel points out that in the script, you can see the part where they crossed out "Bugs" and wrote in "Buster", and again the part where Red crossed out "Buster" and wrote in "Weasel".
The King of the Hill episode "A Man Without A Country Club", where Hank is offered membership to Nine Rivers, an exclusive, Asian-only country club, but as a Token Minority so they club wouldn't lose a tour by Tiger Woods, is a Race Lift of the The Jeffersons episode "Tennis, Anyone?", where George is offered membership at an all-white country club whose charter might be revoked.