Show Within a Show

"They fight! And bite!
They fight and bite and fight!
Fight, fight, fight!
Bite, bite, bite!
The Itchy and Scratchy Show!"
Opening Narration for The Itchy and Scratchy Show, The Simpsons note 

A fictional show that takes place within an actual show; or, occasionally, a fictional installment or incarnation of an actual show.

Shows-within-a-show are usually of low quality. This is intentional: the low quality of the show is part of the joke or the misery of the characters involved. As a general rule, the more central the Show Within A Show is to the actual show, the better — or at least higher-gloss — it will be.

Many comedies have short one-off gags where they parody existing shows. Most of the following examples are recurring and they come in up to four varieties (which can be overlapping):

  1. The characters are involved in the production of the show.
  2. The characters are fans of the show, or only see it occasionally.
  3. The show-within-a-show is a plot point.
  4. The internal show, in either variety, is eerily similar to the real show.

Sometimes these shows can be shown as Separate Scene Storytelling.

For the pre-television history of this trope, once again we must go back to William Shakespeare, who featured plays within plays both in comedy — The Most Lamentable Comedy, and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe within A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew actually is one by means of a Framing Device — and in tragedy (The Murder of Gonzago within Hamlet).

Compare with School Play, Soap Within a Show, Who Would Want to Watch Us?, Fictional Document, Framing Device, Recursive Fiction, Recursive Reality (of the "nested stories" variety), Mutually Fictional, Pushed in Front of the Audience, Post Modernism, Plot Parallel.


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    Model Trains 

  • The song "Movie in a Movie" by Tony Goldmark is about a ridiculously big set of nested movies.


    Professional Wrestling 

    Puppet Shows 
  • Dog City (the cartoon) in Dog City.
  • The Muppet Show on The Muppet Show.
  • In an episode of Dinosaurs (the early '90's animatronic puppet show), Earl watches a sock-puppet show where a woman refers to some skanky-looking characters as "cheap hose/ho's." (See Parental Bonus.) He says something close to, "I love this show. It's got one meaning that's funny for grown-ups, and one that's funny for kids!"

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • "If you ever find out what you're watching is a show within a show, sit back and hang on for the ride of your life." — Jack Handey

     Tabletop Games 
  • ''GURPS
  • GURPS Magical Items 3 includes a brief description of a setting where The Fair Folk battle with Magitek Humongous Mecha in the chapter describing such mecha. The vignette for an earlier chapter on magic toys suggests that this setting is a popular kids' TV show in the world of GURPS Technomancer, with its own line of living action figures.

Alternative Title(s):

Show Within The Show, Story Within A Story, Play Within A Play, Film Within A Film, Shows Within A Show