Truman Show Plot

Cut to camera three, and...

Usually a variant on the Tomato in the Mirror, where it turns out that the lead character is in fact the main character on a Reality TV show. Exactly how much of his life is controlled varies: in some cases, every little detail of his life is controlled by the network, while others basically let the main character do whatever he wants, so long as they catch it on camera. It can be a Twist Ending, or it can be established right at the start of the show.

Obviously, this was named after the plot of The Truman Show.

A fairly potent form of Paranoia Fuel.

Now, toss your hair back a little so your face can catch the light - perfect! Great shot! *ahem* As you were...


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     Anime & Manga 
  • The ending of The Big O. Maybe. Possibly. Arguably.
  • The anime Eternal Family. The plot synopsis at that link sums it up pretty well.
  • Megazone 23 has this as its main plot, albeit more in common with The Matrix
  • Aoi House turns out to be one of these.
  • A rather bizarre variant was featured in the Rave Master manga. In one chapter, the team comes across an island with a popular manga that's suspiciously similar to their adventures. After finding out that the whole thing was a coincidence, they entertain the idea of being watched constantly before finally just deciding that the whole thing was a coincidence and laugh it off. Then it's strongly implied that the strange gingerbread-like creature who often appears in the background is actually some kind of monitoring device-creature that exists to record their lives for the author.
  • The Brave Express Might Gaine mixed this with Merchandise-Driven.
  • Serial Experiments Lain hints at this, while not implicitly saying anything.

     Comic Books 
  • X-Men villain Mojo is an extradimensional media mogul whose interest in the X-Men lies in secretly filming their adventures for entertainment purposes. His cameras were Psylocke's eyes.
  • The second story from the comic anthology The Eternal Smile revolves around Funny Animal character Gran'pa Greenbax discovering he and his friends and relatives are modified normal animals created for a hybrid of reality TV and cartoons.
  • Meta comic example: Self-Deadpool.

  • The Truman Show is the Trope Namer, and one of the few to fully consider the massive levels of subterfuge needed to make this work.
  • Ed TV: Ed agrees to let a camera crew follow him around because he needs the money. Close enough to The Truman Show to be Dueling Movies.
  • Bolt is a variant; the film is all about a dog called Bolt who is the star of a tv show about a superpowered dog named Bolt. For most of the film, Bolt isn't being filmed, but because he believes he's a superhero he still acts accordingly.
  • This is the plot of The Even Stevens Movie. The Stevens family (from the tv show of the same name, of course) win a free vacation to an island and terrible stuff starts happening to them; it turns out that they're on a new, incredibly popular, yet cruel and heartless, reality show. Things are falling apart all around them, and they don't realize that it's all a fake until they do and get a chance to get back at the producer.
  • The plot of The Cabin in the Woods, though the "viewers" in this case aren't so much Reality TV enthusiasts as they are elder gods that require routine sacrifice.

  • Philip K Dick's novels have often used the idea of a person's belief that they are the center of everything, at least to themselves. Time Out Of Joint has the protagonist the centre of possibly the prototype Truman Show plot. He's not on TV, but living in an ordinary town, where he does a newspaper contest every day called 'where will the little green man be next?' He is actually predicting where the missiles fired from a breakaway Luna republic will impact on Earth; also, he designed the factory that makes the missiles, but has had a psychotic break through guilt, that providentially gave him limited precognition. It's normal for PKD.
  • Robert Rankin's Armageddon: The Musical is another one where the entire Earth is a reality show for aliens.
  • Although it predates the reality-show phenomenon, Piers Anthony's Race Against Time has a similar premise: the characters are living in a zoo for otherwise-extinct human ethnic groups and don't know it.
  • The end of Goosebumps' original HorrorLand book.
  • Margaret Petersen Haddix's book Running Out of Time is a variation on this. It's not a reality *show*, but it *is* a 24-hour a day living history re-enactment in an enclosed village, where lots of people are secretly watching the inhabitants during the day. Or at least, the 'living history village' is the cover story for what's really going on. And only the adults know what's up, none of the kids do.
  • Happens to Katniss, Peeta and all the other tributes during The Hunger Games.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Year Of The Sex Olympics: After "The Sex Olympics" get disappointing ratings, a family is taken to a remote Scottish island and then murdered in "The Live Life Show!".
  • The 1985-1989 version of The Twilight Zone. Its third-season episode "Special Service" used this trope.
  • The Amazing Stories episode "Secret Cinema" played this for a black comedy, where a woman had her life filmed and manipulated and shown in secret theaters she never sees; she finds this out when people start to recognize her and treat her as a celebrity. At the end of the episode, she turns the tables on the directors and heads off into a happy ending... cut to an audience applauding in a movie theater.
    • This episode was in fact Paul Bartel's remake of a short film he did in the '60s. That short gained a cult following, and helped Bartel start his film career.
  • This was also the premise of an actual Reality Show known as The Joe Schmo Show. To be specific, the person is on a reality TV show and knows he's on one, but he thinks it's a genuine competition show, when in fact, he is the only real contestant and everybody else are actors playing along with a script.
  • One episode of Boy Meets World invokes not just this plot but The Truman Show itself, with Eric in the Christof role and Rachel in the Truman role (complete with phobia from childhood preventing escape).
  • Happened on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Salem was the one who sold the show to the Other Realm network.
  • Black Mirror has a predictably twisted version of this. White Bear is actually a reality TV show designed to publicly punish people in an ironic fashion.

  • In Nebulous, it turns out that the characters have spent the past six years trapped in a time loop, which is actually the weekend omnibus of an alien reality TV series.

    Video Games 
  • Manhunt's hero is forced to kill a lot of people by a "Director" of snuff films.
  • In, A Mind Forever Voyaging you play as an AI who was trained in "how to be human"' via this method, and then suddenly forced out on its 20th birthday.
  • While they're not exactly on a reality TV show (though they do get tricked into one about 1/3 of the way into the game), the protagonists of Wild ARMs 5 are being watched on Duo's magical camera(s?), so everyone across Filgaia is witnessing their exploits for most of the game and NPC dialogue is undoubtedly affected by this.
  • This is the world of MadWorld. Exactly why this is done, besides for profit, is pretty damn important.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Homer's murder trial in "The Frying Game" turns out to be an elaborate reality TV hoax, which is only revealed when the switch is pulled on the electric chair.
    • The Simpsons: Hit & Run reveals that the entire planet Earth is one of these, set up by Kang and Kodos.
    • The Simpsons Game takes it a step further when God reveals that the Simpsons world is a mini-game of the videogame 'Earth', which he never stops playing.
    • One of the comics paid a more direct tribute to The Truman Show when a pair of executives realize that Homer Simpson's everyday behavior is comedy gold. It unravels when he learns the truth, only to begin self-consciously playing along and 'trying' to act stupid, which he is much worse at.
      • They lament that they spent all that money installing thousands of camera's all throughout the town, when they could have captured Homer's whole life with about six.
    • The episode "To Surveil, With Love" ends with the revelation that all of the surveillance cameras set up around Springfield (ostensibly to keep the peace) were broadcasting the Springfieldianites' behaviour as a reality TV show in Britain.
  • The South Park episode "Cancelled" reveals that the entire planet Earth is one of these, set up by aliens. Originally the intended 100th episode,it was a callback to the first episode and explains why Cartman had an anal probe to begin with. Incidentally, this episode was produced during Hit & Run's production, but aired about six months before the game came out.
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents has Timmy finding out that his life is secretly being broadcast to Fairy World.
    • Crimson Chin of the comic book variety.
  • In Futurama, Leela wonders why a pair of mutants are stalking her. One of the reasons she puts out is "some kind of even more boring Truman Show?" They're her parents, secretly watching over her.
    • There's another episode where it turns out a romantic, secluded resort which hosts only one couple at a time is actually the "human habitat" at an alien zoo.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy is unknowingly put on a game show to win Lucius' fortune through a Secret Test of Character.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life is not an example of this trope, though there's actually a real life phenomenon known as "Truman Show Delusion" (a persecutory/grandoise delusion suffered by some schizophrenics) in which people think they're being watched as part of a TV show. Sibling Team psychiatrists Joel and Ian Gold coined the term in 2008. Several of their patients have referenced the film explicitly in describing their delusion.
  • Apparently, Andy Kaufman. When he was a child he would address a hole in the wall, seemingly under the belief that it contained a camera and he was on TV. This was adapted in his biopic, Man on the Moon, which appropriately enough starred Truman himself, Jim Carrey. It's unclear whether Andy actually believed this or was just kidding (like so much of his behavior), even as a kid.
  • MIT researcher Deb Roy wanted to understand how his infant son learned language — so he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Ted-Ed: Deb Roy - Birth of a Word
  • This ABCNews article (via Cracked [1]) describes a Dutch village that has been established as a sort of "Truman Show" for senile dementia patients as an alternative to a traditional nursing home. Of course, they don't film the patients for entertainment purposes, and the caregivers will tell any patient who asks that they are in a care facility. It doesn't matter much, as the patients either don't care or will promptly forget.