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 & 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. If producing the show is important to the plot, see Hey, Let's Put on a Show. If the story baits the audience into thinking the Show Within a Show is the actual show, brace yourself for the Proscenium Reveal. See also Fictional Video Game, a related Trope. If the Show Within a Show ends up being produced in reality as a Spin-Off, see Defictionalisation.


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    Model Trains 

  • The song "Movie in a Movie" by Tony Goldmark is about a ridiculously big set of nested movies.
  • Selena Gomez's Love You Like A Love Song has a video where she is in a karaoke bar, with her singing in and out of the bar's TV.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • All the Talk Shows With Fists.
  • The comic book from which Thunderbolt and Lightning originated from in GLOW.
  • "Guapos University" and "Fitness con Dark Angel" were among CMLL's. Five episodes of the latter were put on Youtube in 2014.
  • SHINE Wrestling has "Lucha Family Films(This does not exist)".

    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!"
  • Up Late with Miss Piggy on The Muppets.

    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 

    Theme Parks 
  • The former Disaster! attraction at Universal Studios Florida was based around the fictitious Disaster Studios, which created "films" such as "Apocageddon", "Das Schurke", "Baboon!", and "300 Knots Landing"; with their upcoming production being "Mutha Nature".

Alternative Title(s): Show Within The Show, Story Within A Story, Play Within A Play, Film Within A Film, Shows Within A Show