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):
- The characters are involved in the production of the show.
- The characters are fans of the show, or only see it occasionally.
- The show-within-a-show is a plot point.
- 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
one by means of a Framing Device
— and in tragedy (The Murder of Gonzago
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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- The song "Movie in a Movie" by Tony Goldmark is about a ridiculously big set of nested movies.
- 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!"
- "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