We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties
When something really shocking happens on the air, especially if it happens in the newsroom
itself, the program being shown will suddenly switch to this message or something similar.
Sometimes played for Black Comedy
if the presentation of the message sharply contrasts with the horror of the scene. An even darker version is when the message is displayed
, but the horrible noise in the background indicates what is actually going on. It may also happen if the Genre Blind Red Shirt Reporter
tries to get an exclusive interview with the Eldritch Abomination
On other occasions, the message is used even if the difficulty is not technical in nature, such as a fight breaking out on live TV or a performer (or news anchor) having an emotional breakdown, disrobing on live TV, dying
, or saying something so controversial that it will cause backlash from the network censors or, worse, the FCC (and their national equivalents abroad)
. When this message appears in fiction, usually one of those things is exactly what happened. Actual technical difficulties are vanishingly rare in fictionland, and thanks to many stations now being run by their corporate owners from one hub (for instance, Fox runs many of their owned stations from New York City
, Los Angeles
), in reality also. Sometimes the message pops up as a result of Camera Abuse
, which could
be a valid case of technical difficulty.
Can be used similarly to News Monopoly
— if every
station is Experiencing Technical Difficulties at the same time, something is seriously wrong.
Compare with Relax-o-Vision
and Do Not Adjust Your Set
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Anime and Manga
- In one episode of Death Note, the cult of Kira is being broadcast live worshipping him. Since they are presented as basically a scam, Mikami uses his death note to kill all of them. After their gruesome heart attacks, the screen changes to a "cutesy" "be-right-back" message.
- The anime version of Pesche drawing his sword in Bleach culminated with an angry Pesche declaring his "thing" was much bigger and better than Ishida's. Mid-rant, the video cut to a title screen with a puppet telling the audience not to act like Pesche.
- The Castle of Cagliostro: This happens to the broadcast of the Count's wedding, courtesy of some of his Elite Mooks, after Lupin starts disrupting things. Unlike most such examples, the broadcast is soon restored because the newscaster so happens to be Fujiko, who is quite capable of defeating them.
- In Tintin and the Picaros, San Theodoran television shows a Kangaroo Court sentencing Castafiore to life imprisonment, at which point she starts to sing an aria. It quickly cuts to a "PLEASE EXCUSE THIS INTERRUPTION" message, followed by a cartoon interlude.
- Used in The Sandman when Dr. Destiny makes the world go crazy and a kids show host encourages children to commit suicide.
- Shaun of the Dead features a sequence where a character flips through the channels and sees nothing but Technical Difficulty screens, even on the satellite channels which normally only stop working due to bad weather affecting the signal (such as the Discovery Channel).
- In the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead, Johnny switches off the radio just as an announcement of this kind is being made.
- The original Dawn of the Dead starts with two of the main characters leaving the TV studio where they work, as this type of message is put on.
- This ultimately happens on every single channel shown by Clamp Cable in Gremlins 2: The New Batch as the titular critters wreak havoc throughout the building. Bonus points because the technical difficulties title card bear the image of a grinning gremlin.
- Even better when Clamp authorizes the "Final Broadcast" where a peaceful female voice over images of nature scenes and wildlife says, "Due to the end of civilization as we know it the Clamp Cable Network is now ceasing transmission." This is a parody of an Urban Legend that CNN has a tape narrated by Ted Turner over nature scenery ready to roll to close out world history just in case of global annihilation. In 2001, the New York Daily News reported that CNN does have a tape prepared for an end-of-the-world scenario, but it consists of a recording of "Nearer, My God, To Thee" over footage of a waving American flag. No nature footage.
- The original Gojira has this when a radio newsreader is killed. Interestingly, we see the scene from his perspective.
- A humorous example in the film I Am Curious (Yellow): Lena and her friend Börje are about to make love in her archive room. There's no bed, so they drag in a mattress and some sheets and pillows from another room, and make all sorts of elaborate preparations. At the moment they actually begin intercourse, a test pattern flips up on the screen. Cut to a pleasant looking announcer fixing her hair, not realizing she's already on camera. She says "We regret that we have had some technical difficulties owing to erection fault" (or "faulty coupling", depending on the translation).
- Network lampshades this and references the Chris Chubbuck tragedy after Howard Beale sarcastically announces that he's going to commit suicide on camera. At first the studio staff don't realize he's said it, mumbling gossip while the commercial is on; then panic, they open the studio mike to communicate with Howard, the immortal words "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON" go out to 67 affiliates, he replies that he can't hear what they're saying, they come back from commercial and Howard is being pulled away from his desk by the floor crew — and just as the mayhem really starts the TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES PLEASE STAND BY card flips up.
- Happens in a bonus feature on Finding Nemo when Jean-Michel Cousteau loses it thanks to Nemo, Dory and Marlin.
- In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, a Gas station clerk flicks though multiple channels, each with a test card on. Further proof that Skynet is taking over
- Problem Child 2 has a patriotic puppet show suddenly hijacked, with the Uncle Sam puppet explaining "We are experiencing technical difficulties," and the bald eagle puppet chiming in with "Yeah - I had to scratch my butt!" Naturally, Ben assumes that Junior is the culprit - but he's not.
- At the end of The Running Man, the TV screens all read PLEASE STAND BY after Ben Richards and his girlfriend walk off the game show's studio set.
- When Buzz in Monster Brawl is forced to shoot his fully zombified (it was inevitable) co-host Sidney, the film displays a "please stand by" banner. When the program returns, Buzz is wearing a neckbrace and laments how his co-host had to be put down "like mongrel dog".
- There was a non-notable Sitcom called Please Stand By named after this, taking place in a family owned-and-operated small market TV station.
- The Outer Limits was originally titled Please Stand By. However, the title was changed because the producers and the network were afraid that between the title and the famous Opening Narration ("There is nothing wrong with your television set..."), people might mistake the opening sequence for a real emergency alert. (To add some historical perspective, the series premiered not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
- Home Improvement's Show Within a Show Tool Time would sometimes cut to these when Tim injured himself somehow. Such as the time he nailed his foot to the floor, and one of these pops up. Then we hear the sound of his co-host pulling the nail out...
- During a Brass Eye special on Paedophilia, there is "technical difficulties", as a member of the militant paedophile organisation "Milit-Pede" attacks the studio.
- Seen on The Colbert Report many times, usually when Stephen is doing something that would get him arrested or at the very least result in a lot of viewer complaints.
Colbert: Well, folks, I have been informed by my network's lawyer that even when complimenting, I should not racially generalize, and I assume he is right, Jews make the best lawyers-[cue second Technical Difficulties screen)
- Played for laughs on an episode of Empty Nest. Womanizer Charlie Dietz becomes a meteorologist on the local news and compares the size of some hailstones to the anchorwoman's breasts. Cue the trope.
- A common subtrope for British shows that use this is to cut away to the classic Test Card F girl or a humorously modified version to fit the show. Used for example in Zero Punctuation.
- Subverted in real life with Christine Chubbucks's suicide: after she shot herself, the prevailing camera stayed focused on her while slowly fading to black. The camerawoman simply could not believe this wasn't a stunt or gag on Christine's part, but more likely because the producer of a 10am show in Sarasota in the early 70's usually didn't get a lesson on "What to do if your host shoots themselves on the air".
- Outright averted - because his news conference was not being aired live - with the similar suicide of Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania Republican treasurer who was convicted of a lot of fraud charges, including embezzlement.
- British one-off Halloween Special Ghostwatch does this just as things start heating up in the Haunted House.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Severed Dreams", an ISN reporter interrupts the news broadcast to announce that several Earth colonies have seceded in protest of President Clark's bombing of Mars and that armed troops have invaded ISN headquarters. An explosion is heard, then the broadcast goes off the air and is replaced by a network logo (without an explicit "Technical Difficulties" message, but with the same implications).
- Saturday Night Live has used this multiple times.
- One sketch involved a children's show called "Jingleheimer Junction", with characters personifying Friendship, Unity, Caring, and Kindness. And yes, they all had their initials written on them. Naturally, this trope was used repeatedly.
- On the season 35 episode hosted by Drew Barrymore (for the sixth time, making her the show's most frequent female celebrity host), there was a sketch featuring a cooking show on the roof of a building. The show cuts to a "Please Stand By" placard every time the show hosts (played by Drew Barrymore and Andy Samberg) are attacked by crows (which are attracted to the bread crumbs the two are using for chicken parmigiana).
- The TV Funhouse sketch "Conspiracy Theory Rock" immediately cut to a "Please Stand By" card (with the NBC peacock sweating nervously) as the song continued to accuse NBC of being GE's lackey. The song even pointed out that this trope is used as a cheap way to censor out anything sponsors or the network may deem inappropriate ("'Please stand by'/'Please stand by'/It means there's technical difficulties, supposedly/So if you see/A "Please Stand By"/You know it's all part of GE's big lie...")
- In one rather hilarious example on Bill Nye the Science Guy this happens when Bill flicks a red-kneed tarantula onto the cameraman, causing the cameraman to drop the camera onto the floor. The cameraman screams "THE TARANTULA'S CRAWLING IN MY PANTS!!" while the trope name is broadcast on the screen.
- Dead Set features any number of them. In this case the hopelessly non-descript "PLEASE STAND BY" of the messages serve to underline just how quickly and violently overrun everything was.
- The "Commentary by Gernot Hassknecht" in the German political satire show Heute Show always ends with this, after Hassknecht starts his inevitable Cluster F Bombing.
- 30 Rock uses this graphic◊. (And no, it's not used by NBC in real life.)
- In the first season finale of The Hour, during the Show Within a Show, a graphic with this description goes up when a government official and higher-ups at the BBC think the show has gone too far.
- Played for laughs on Sports Night; in the episode "Thespis", the Show Within a Show has been plagued by difficulties all night, and the latest is when a power grid goes off upstate, which affects their transmission and forces them to put up the graphic detailing technical difficulties.
- James May's Man Lab: The cameraman gets so bored with the crew's argument over how to make tea that he simply puts his camera down and walks off. Cue an absolutely terrifying version of Test Card F, with Oz Clarke as the girl and James as the clown.
- Used repeatedly in the intro piece "SCG03 Special Report" to the Lordi album The Arockalypse as reporters are clearly taken out by monsters while on air.
- "Technical Difficulties" by Julien K, a rather indistinct song done for Transformers.
- ECW held their event ECW Gangstas Paradise on September 23, 1995, which produced two TV episodes. Near the end of the first of these shows, there was a locker room confrontation between The Public Enemy and New Jack and 2 Cold Scorpionote where various cameraman were getting knocked out, leading to a "Please Stand By" message appearing on the screen.
- WWE Raw for a time would have a graphic for this which featured, of course, a picture of Triple H. If you do a Google Images search for "Technical Difficulties" and either "Triple H" or "HHH," you will find many parodies of this.
- DX did somewhat of a parody of this during one of their commercials for their merchandise. The two got into a Take That contest that culminated with Hunter commenting on Shawn's thinning hair. Cue Shawn attacking Hunter, a quick flash of a graphic of DX with "Technical Difficulties," then flashing back to the two still fighting.
- Early in Ape Escape 3, Specter's taunting message to the heroes is interrupted by Dr. Tomoki's overdramatic posturing. When Specter loses his patience, the screen briefly cuts to a "Technical Difficulties" card showing a sad monkey.
- BioShock is littered with TVs that show nothing but a flickering test card reading "PLEASE STAND BY", emphasizing the theme of Rapture being essentially abandoned.
- A move named "Devour" in Final Fantasy VIII involves characters running up to the target of the attack and a picture of a pleasant, flower-covered field, along with a scrolling message indicating technical difficulties. After a few seconds, the screen changes back to scene of the fight, where the target has mysteriously vanished.
- Played for drama in Modern Warfare 2, where the intro sequence to the mission "Of Their Own Accord" is an emergency broadcast system alert containing evacuation instructions for residents of Washington, D.C..
- The hotel-room-esque Relaxation Chamber you start Portal 2 in has a TV in the corner; the first time you wake up it's off, and the second time it displays this message. It's pretty redundant with everything else going on.
- Shattered Union: In the intro, a news reporter is presenting a report from Washington DC when when the city is nuked.
- A news report on a motel television in Mystery Case Files 9: Shadow Lake was interrupted by a screaming face followed by a technical difficulties sign.
- Snaaaake! uses a technical difficulties sign as a loading screen.
- The Spoony Experiment combines this with Heroic BSOD when Spoony sees the VHS case for Highlander II: TheQuickening call itself "the smartest sci-fi thriller since Blade Runner", though instead of a TV "Please Stand By" card, it invokes a Windows program-crash dialog box ("This application has performed an illegal operation and must close down"). It pops up again in his Ultima VIII review.
- The Nostalgia Critic sometimes switches to this when he really loses it; the "Technical Difficulties" screen shows him in a straitjacket (much like the one on the season five Simpsons episode "Marge on the Lam.")
- Subverted at the start of his review of The Magic Voyage where he goes berserk until he breathes fire, then a cartoon of him taking his "meds" appears with the phrase "One moment please".
- Linkara has occasionally cut to a Relax-o-Vision screen while music from Pokémon plays in the background. See Countdown To Final Crisis Pt. 1 for an example.
- Nash often uses these when a news story is just too much. They usually have a variable message: "Shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down", "Don't worry, we're pretty sure he won't find the gun this time", "Please don't provoke the raging jackass."
- Occasionally, this happens to the Necro Critic whenever something he's reviewing causes an insane breakdown, immediately followed by a brief scene of him after the off-screen sedatives have kicked in.
- Homestar Runner has used this both ways. In the Strong Bad Email "pizzaz", Strong Bad is interviewing himself, and at one point the interviewee gets mad and shouts "This interview is OVER!" Cut to the card shown at the top of the screen. Later, the cartoon "Fall Float Parade" cut to a similar card with a turkey instead of The Cheat when the Marshie balloon crashed into the hosts' booth (and, presumably, broadcast equipment).
- Ashens cuts to his logo card with a spanner sticking out a flip-top rendering of his head whenever he runs into difficulties with camera focus, tat malfunctions or it takes a long time to put a 'some assembly required' product together. Alternatively, a version featuring a sad eyed version of the logo with green vomit is used for when a food special item has actually made him sick.
- Brows Held High has a moment where Kyle flips out during the Sweet Movie review over actual footage of war crimes: "Cannibal Holocaust didn't use real bodies —" The screen then cuts to a "missing video" screen for an editing program, with the test card drone playing over it.
- Achievement Hunter has a white-on-black "Technical Difficulties" screen accompanied by mariachi music when a full-length Let's Play experiences a significant delay, such as a Minecraft server crashing and requiring lengthy work behind the scenes.
- Subverted in I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC in the first confrontation between Jonah Hex and Iron Man, after Hex asked why they replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2. But all you did was just stand there for a few seconds and then say, "That's why."
- This has happened several times during Kent Brockman's news reports on The Simpsons, with technical difficulties graphics that included a puppy that has pulled a plug from the wall, a bird flying into powerlines, and Kent Brockman wrapped in a straitjacket with a cuckoo clock bird coming out of his head.
- The Critic has many pun-based technical difficulty signs used on Coming Attractions with Jay Sherman, such as "We'll be right bark!" with a picture of Jay as a dog◊.
- Happens on the Beavis And Butthead episode "Tornado" where B&B are watching "Barney Bakes a Cake". Barney the Dinosaur sets himself on fire and we hear him [the guy in the highly flammable Barney suit] screaming "Ow, ow! I'm burning! Kids, help! This sucks!" behind the caption (the Edited for Syndication version immediately cut to the technical difficulties card featuring a blue Big Bird rather than show Barney's hands catching fire and shortened his line to "Kids, help! This sucks!") Heh-heh. Heh-heh.
- Happens on the Total Drama Island Show Within a Show Celibrity Manhunt. As Eva angrily throws objects at the covering hosts we get a black and white, "Technical Difficulties" screen... Of Blainley getting choked by the Drama machine while Josh looks on in melodramatic shock as jazzy Elevator music plays in the background.
- The Futurama episode "Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television" had one after a child actor robot breaks down (literally) during an episode of All My Circuits. The technical difficulties card had a broken robot shrugging his shoulders and the words, "Oops! Broken Actor" and the show cuts to an episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad (which, Fry remarks, "...has been going downhill since season three").
- Also used during the episode "The Problem With Popplers". When the Omicronians return to Earth, and the news station starts falling apart from the shaking.
Linda: We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties...
Beam falls in the background
Linda: and crap like I've never seen before!
- One episode of Freakazoid! starts like this, while you hear Freakzoid hastily try to put the finishing touches on the show in the background.
- This was a Running Gag in the Ultimate Spider-Man episode "Freaky". One instance had a screen with a chibi Spider-Man holding a messed up video tape when Wolverine in Spider-Man's body slammed into the side of a building after a botched web-swing.
- In Transformers Animated, Soundwave started a Robot War by turning machines against humanity. When the news guy's camera bot begins chasing him, turning the broadcast into a Jaws First Person Perspective shot, and just as it catches up with him we get a "PLEASE STAND BY" screen instead of the probably un-TV-Y7 fate of the newscaster.
- One short for Gravity Falls featured a commercial for a show called, "Lil' Gideon's Big House", which starred Lil' Gideon after he was sent to prison at the end of the first season. It ends with a still of a sparrow with the words 'TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES' 'PLEASE STAND BY' and Bud Gleeful saying, "Lil' Gideon's Big House will return as soon as we contain this riot."
- One of the stranger causes of technical difficulties in the 50s and 60s was the weekly CONELRAD or EBS test. Before the two-toned attention signal was devised, stations would begin an alert by quickly switching their transmitter on and off. This was so stressful to the equipment that the procedure became known to engineers as the "EBS Stress Test".
- During times of extreme political turmoil, European radio stations have been known to switch to an all-classical all-the-time format.
- As happened most notably after the Chernobyl disaster, while officials were working out how to efficiently communicate what had just happened to the public.
- During the failed 1991 coup in Moscow, all three Soviet TV channels were broadcasting Swan Lake, so people realized that something monumental was happening.
- On 4 June 1989, what was then known as Radio Beijing began its shortwave broadcast with a brief statement that protesters in Tiananmen Square had been killed by army troops. The announcer then apologized for not being able to provide any more information or to continue the regularly scheduled broadcast and then played classical music without interruption for the rest of the hour.
- Roughly 2005 or so, in Chinese news, there was a statement, "Censorship has relaxed in China, however, it is still present, as in the case of... (broadcast interrupted)." Nobody died though, as the reporter was still around to announce the news.
- In the 60's, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi, which was owned by an insurance company looking to deny the Civil Rights Movement was happening and protect the interests of Jackson's white business community (which was hotly opposed to the movement), would often suddenly have "technical difficulties" (and throw up a slide to that effect) whenever a network news report about the Civil Rights movement and its activities would be broadcast, and even NBC primetime programming which showed African-Americans in any positive light would suddenly be knocked off the air due to "a network problem". Many, including the NBC network itself protested this and in 1968, the station became the first and only television station to ever have their FCC license to broadcast revoked for non-technical reasons. The new ownership group and future owners made sure the station was fair and evenhanded in their news coverage after they took control, and somehow magically fixed those "technical difficulties" permanently.
- While not quite technical difficulties per se, anyone in the USA who thought to flip through the channels as 9/11 happened (and no one can blame folks who didn't), saw that many non-news/non-kids stations had some sort of card up saying they would be off the air for the rest of the day due to the events going on.
- During the week in which Michael Jackson died, Channel Four cut out a sketch on one of its shows that was less than glamorous about the pop star. They accidentally put up "This programme will continue in sound only" instead of "Programmes will continue shortly".
- During the '50s and early '60s, West German TV would experience mysterious "Tonstörungen" (sound difficulties) whenever they were transmitting sports events of any kind - more precisely, whenever the East German anthem was played during the medal presentations.
- During the final speech of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu on 21 December 1989, broadcast on live television, the crowd that had "voluntarily" assembled in Palace Square in Bucharest began to boo and heckle their leader, an unprecedented event. As Ceaușescu trailed off in his speech with a look of utter disbelief on his face, the live feed quickly cut to a plain orange screen, with first picture, then sound coming back when order was (temporarily) restored and the speech could continue. (The cameras were still recording, however, and the sound of Ceaușescu resorting to pretending his microphone must be malfunctioning was captured for posterity.)
- Prairie Public Television in North Dakota experiences one during a broadcast of the British drama Heartbreak House after the tape malfunctions.
- An odd example: On Danish television channels from the early ages of TV till the 2000's, when the channels were off air, they would display the technical difficulties screen with a loud never-ending beep. Around 2007-08, due to TV stations getting better equipment, it's rare to see a single channel have it during the off-air hours. Now they are replaced with a slideshow overview of the next day of broadcasts with the TV-station's radio counterpart playing music in the background. This has mostly been because of the technical difficulty screen having next to no use, even when technical difficulties are happening, mostly with how easy it is to fix them and how it's faster to have the TV-station's narrator to explain what's up.
- A further odd example is the formerly annual Rebroadcast Standby test that was carried out by the BBC when analogue transmitters were still in use. Put simply, in the unlikely event that an individual transmitter lost all its data feeds (something that would require a pretty big disruption such as a nationwide power cut), it should be able to rebroadcast on-air signals from operational transmitters. The Rebroadcast Standby test, which would take place in the middle of the night on BBC 1 and 2 over the course of about three hours, evaluated the quality of rebroadcast signals at individual transmitters by allowing engineers to cut off the data feeds at will. Thus, this was a case where a broadcaster was intentionally inducing technical difficulties, and anyone tuning in on an analogue signal was met with Test Card J and a creepy speaking clock. Here is an example from 2008, the test begins at about 4:05.