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Show Within A Show: Live-Action TV

Examples of type 1 (characters involved in production)

  • The Bluth family takes part in a mock trial during the aptly named Mock Trial with J. Reinhold in Arrested Development.
    • There's also Scandalmakers, a shoddily narrated and acted programme which does a hilariously bad episode about the Bluth family.
  • Sports Night within Sports Night.
  • FYI within Murphy Brown.
  • The Alan Brady Show within The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • Tool Time within Home Improvement.
  • The WJM Six O'Clock News (and also The Happy Homemaker) within The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Wake Up, San Francisco within Full House.
  • Vermont Today within Newhart.
  • Ricky Ricardo's band stage shows in I Love Lucy.
  • Silverstone within The Famous Jett Jackson.
    • Gets weird in the wrap-up TV movie where a freak accident causes Jett and Silverstone to swap places, revealing that Silverstone's reality exists but is dependent on the show in Jett's world (i.e. a teen actor is trying to be a superspy, while a superspy who never had a childhood is trying to be a regular teenager). And the producers of the show have just decided to kill off the star character in the Grand Finale.
  • Aaron Sorkin's one-season drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is about the lives of the producers of a Saturday Night Live-style Sketch Show.
  • TGS with Tracy Jordan (originally The Girlie Show) within Thirty Rock.
  • Some shows are set in a radio station, and have multiple shows on the schedule.
    • WKRP in Cincinnati — It's a music station, so all the "shows" are DJ patter.
    • Newsradio — Various news segments.
    • Frasier — Frasier's call-in psychiatric show, and more rarely, Bulldog's sports and Gil's food criticism. And a variety of one-timers.
    • Chris in the Morning and Maurice's show in Northern Exposure.
    • Martin's show in Martin (and his Word on the Street TV program in later seasons).
    • Larry's show on Hello Larry.
  • You Can't Do That on Television has a show-within-a-show that shares the same title.
  • A slightly odd version of this trope was the short-lived British show Moving Wallpaper. It was set in the production offices of a show entitled Echo Beach. What sets this one apart is that Echo Beach was actually shot as well, and an Echo Beach episode would air after the Moving Wallpaper episode concerned with the production of that episode.
  • There was a short-lived American Sitcom named All Is Forgiven, which was about the writers and actors of a soap opera. The soap opera was also named All Is Forgiven.
  • The Red Green Show is framed as a men's advice and magazine show, with the men of Possum Lodge offering "helpful" advice, only to usually end up with disastrous results.
  • Grosse Pointe has show-within-a-show as its central premise, and advertised it as "Grosse Pointe is a comedy about a drama called Grosse Pointe" or something to that effect.
  • Reality Show example: The eponymous show of I Survived a Japanese Gameshow is given its own title, Hai! Majide, just for effect.
  • Glass Mask is a series about acting, so naturally includes a large number of these, some real plays, some created for the story (and one created for the story which was later turned into a Noh play of its own). Also includes a performance of A Midsummer's Night Dream, so technically includes an example of a show within a show within a show.
  • Season 4 of Seinfeld had Jerry and George writing a sitcom pilot called Jerry, in a parody of the creation of Seinfeld itself by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, which starred (fictional) Jerry as (even more fictional) himself. The season finale showed a variety of main and supporting characters watching the pilot.
    • There were also all the fake movies, the most memetic being Rochelle, Rochelle ("a young girl's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk") and the thriller Chunnel ("EVERYONE OUT OF THE CHUNNEL!").
  • The play written by the Marquis de Sade and performed by the asylum inmates in Quills.
  • When The Whistle Blows, Andy Millman's sitcom in series 2 of Extras.
  • So Random! and Mackenzie Falls within Sonny With A Chance. After the actual show's 2nd season So Random overtook it with Sonny having left and Chad taking her place.
  • Dead Set is a miniseries in which the entire plot is about zombies attacking the real Big Brother house while the show is being filmed. All the survivors are contestants or employees of Big Brother.
  • Robbin' Hood in Curtains.
  • SCTV, a.k.a. Second City Television, an early-1980s sketch-comedy series set in a low-budget TV station that mainly produced and showed rip-offs or spoofs of real TV shows and films — such as High-Q, Chariots of Eggs, The Days of the Week, Mel's Rock Pile, Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, etc.
  • iCarly — Friends Carly, Sam and Freddie run their own webshow.
  • A real show-within-a-show: Friends' Joey Tribbiani was a cast member on the soap opera Days of Our Lives.
    • Along with several less real examples (like Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E. and Freud!).
  • A short-lived semi-documentary UK Saturday Morning Kids' Show on the subject of TV production, Tele Gantic Mega Vision, featured its obligatory gameshow section as if it was an independent production for the channel TGMV, and not a segment within the main programme.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm. They have a season where they're producing a reunion show for Seinfeld, which used to be a real show. Another season has Larry David star in The Producers, which, as mentioned below, has a show within a show (Springtime for Hitler), and Mel Brooks is secretly trying to make The Producers a flop in itself. Furthermore, the second season deals with Larry trying to get a show off the ground (first starring Jason Alexander and later Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that would revolve around the star playing a version of themselves trying to find success after the end of Seinfeld.
  • A recurring character in Stargate SG-1 who knows about the Stargate Program creates a campy science fiction series called Wormhole X-Treme!, based on SG-1, which the US Air Force decides to allow because it creates Plausible Deniability in the event of a security leak. As the real show is centered around SG-1, the "fake" show is eerily similar to the real one, and this allows the show to poke fun at itself and at the television industry in general. It also includes numerous cameo performances from the crew.
  • The eponymous Larry Sanders Show.
  • How I Met Your Mother had Lily's terrible terrible play with allegorical characters such as Greed. Apparently this play somehow then became a Show Within A Show itself.
    • Also The Wedding Bride in another episode. This was made by Tony the ex-husband of Ted's ex-fiancee, Stella. This is also an example of 2 and 3 as the other characters in the show are a fan of the movie and it is a plot point.
      • Since it's a twisted version of what actually happened to Ted, it's also an example of type 4!
    • Robin works on/anchors assorted news programs throughout the series, which are semi-frequently shown—Metro News One, the Japanese news show, and now Come On, Get Up New York! are all in-universe shows.
    • As a teenager Robin was on the kid's show "Space Teens" which had Innocent Innuendo Turned Up to Eleven
  • In Supernatural they got caught up in another group of ghost hunters show "Ghostfacers".
    • There was also that time they got Trapped in TV Land by the Trickster and were sent through a number of different shows, many of which were obvious digs at real shows, such as Knight Rider and Greys Anatomy.
    • 6.15 "The French Mistake", in which Sam and Dean get sent into an alternate universe where they are actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who subsequently play the characters Sam and Dean in Supernatural. Their castmate is Misha Collins, their bosses are Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble, their director is Bob Singer...
  • Wild Palms: The Church Windows show Codie plays in.
  • The first series of French and Saunders followed the (fictional) unbelieveably low-budget cringey 'French & Saunders Show' that consisted of frequent epic fails.
  • In Community, super-meta Abed writes and directs a campus TV show called The Community College Chronicles with characters based on his study group. Abed's so well-versed in TV Tropes that he can use the show to predict what's going to happen to the study group next, down to Shirley being chased through the library by a werewolf - also making this a type 4.
    • "Troy and Abed in the Morning" on Community is an example, and subversion of, Type 1 in that it doesn't actually exist.
    • Community also had Abed talk about appearing as an extra on real life show-within-a-show Cougar Town.
  • Slings and Arrows is about the actors and production personnel at a Canadian Shakespeare festival. Each season they put on a different play (Hamlet}, Macbeth, and King Lear), and the themes of the play relate back to the main backstage plots.
  • GSN (formerly Game Show Network) briefly had a series called Burt Luddin's Love Buffet which was a real relationship game show (much like The Newlywed Game) which after each segment, would go backstage to show host Luddin (played by John Cervenka) talking to his jaded, often highly sarcastic didn't last too long.
  • My Name Is Earl had Estrada Or Nada, a game show where contestants could challenge Erik Estrada to any talent. Knife-throwing, ventriloquism, and "bendy singing" are just a few. Overlaps with Type 3.
    • Don't forget several appearances of the characters on in-universe episodes of cops
  • Glee has two televisual examples of this - the recurring but not regularly-featured 'Sue's Corner', which is part of a local late-night news show, and the one-off 'Glee Holiday Spectacular' from Episode 3x09 ('Extraordinary Merry Christmas'), in which Artie, with the help of New Directions, stages an homage to both the Judy Garland Christmas Special and the Star Wars Christmas Special for a local TV station (though in this case, despite how it sounds, Stylistic Suck really does not apply except when Finn is expected to act, and it's all utterly charming). The show also has several theatrical examples in the musicals the students produce (or attempt to produce) each year - in order, Cabaret, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and West Side Story.
  • This is the whole point of the NBC show Smash, which is about the behind-the-scenes aspects of writing, producing, and performing a new broadway musical. Naturally scenes from said musical make it into the show.
  • In season 4’s "War Stories" of JAG, Admiral Chegwidden while on leave gets persuaded by a Hollywood producer to act as technical advisor on the movie “Fields of Gold” which is a navy-themed action adventure with a court-martial. Chegwidden is a Fish out of Water as the “real navy” differs quite a lot from the “reel navy”, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • An episode of Diagnosis: Murder has Amanda win a chance to be on the soap opera The Young and the Restless and the rest of the cast end up there when someone tries to kill the cast of the TV show. A running gag involved the cast of the soap commenting on how Amanda looks like their co-star Victoria Rowell(Rowell played both Drucilla on YR and Amanda on Diagnosis).
    • In another episode, a TV show is being filmed in the hospital.
    • Another episode involved the murder of the "Masked Magician" on the set of his reality-TV show where he revealed how stage magicians perform their tricks.
  • Justice has American Crime which seems like it's half America's Most Wanted and half celebrity gossip show.
  • On The New Normal Bryan is co-creator and showrunner of a teen show called Sing, which is implied to be very similar to Glee.
  • Simon Brimmer's radio program "The Casebook of Simon Brimmer" features prominently in several episodes of Ellery Queen.
  • Hawaii Five-0 Season 3 Episode 21 Imi loko ka 'uhane Is told from the view point of a morning/daytime show host's perspective. The show films a day in the life of Hawaii Five-0 episode. The host even calls it a Very Special Episode
  • Garth Marenghis Darkplace is a strange sort-of inverted example. The focus of the show is on the eponymous TV show Darkplace, while occasionally cutting away to commentary from the (equally fictional) Garth Marenghi and the actors playing the characters.
  • Baywatch has the episode "Rescue Bay" in its 4th season. A writer/producer is inspired by watching lifeguards on the beach saving people and decides to shoot a tacky Pilot sequence with characters based on the in-verse characters.
  • Lateline was another example where the show and the show within the show have the same title. The show within the show was a nighttime news program similar to Dateline, only less professionally done.
  • News Night with Will McAvoy and TMI on The Newsroom.
  • The newscast on Ken Finkleman's The Newsroom, implied to be the CBC's Toronto supper-hour newscast.

Examples of type 2 (characters are fans)

  • The Valley within The O.C..
  • Rebo and Zooty and ISN News on Babylon 5.
  • The soap opera watched by the Suarez family in Ugly Betty.
  • Train Man featured a TV show called Getsumen To Heiki Mina, which eventually became its own anime series.
  • Red Dwarf had Androids, a soap opera about robots.
  • Married... with Children:
    • Al Bundy is a big fan of Psycho Dad, and went so far as to travel to Washington D.C. to complain to Congress when Marcy had it cancelled.
    • Peggy Bundy is seen watching Psycho Mom in a later episode.
  • Dinosaurs has several. Actually it has examples for each of all four types of this trope.
  • In the Angel episode "Birthday", Cordelia is shown an Alternate Timeline where she didn't meet Angel and has her own TV show, the Friends-a-like Cordy!
    • Also, the kids' puppet show Smile Time in the episode of the same name.
  • On OZ, the prisoners are often shown watching Miss Sally's Schoolyard and lusting after the buxom children's show host. Also a type 3 in that stalking the buxom show host is why Busmalis gets caught and returned to Oz after an escape attempt.
  • Tides of the Heart was a soap opera that was originally just watched by the characters on Shortland Street, at least until it was revealed that a character who had previously been Put on a Bus was now the star of the show. The aforementioned character's best friend eventually received a gig on the show as a writer, though this all occurred offscreen.
  • Inspector Spacetime, an affectionate Doctor Who parody - and Cougarton Abbey, a fictional British progenitor of Cougar Town in the style of Downton Abbey were mentioned on the season 3 premiere of the NBC sitcom Community.
    • Word of God has stated that Doctor Who exists in the Community universe, but is an inferior rip off of Inspector Spacetime.
    • Community also has the notoriously terrible Kickpuncher movies.
  • Every episode of Twitch City was titled after that episode's subject of The Rex Reilly Show, a Take That on Jerry Springer that shows up at least in a short promotional.
  • The residents of Brookside would often watch The Magic Rabbits.
  • A mixture of the two first types, plus meta-references, has occurred on LOST: Nikki turns out to be an actress who has just completed an arc on a show called Exposé. The show is about a duo of strippers/detectives who fight crime with the help of their club-owner/mentor (played by Billy Dee Williams) who is actually The Cobra, the show's Big Bad. Hurley is a fan of the show, and it plays on TV sets in a Locke flashback (that aired before the episode fully introducing it), briefly in a Sun flashforward, and was watched by Hurley's dad in the real-time action of "The Lie". In the LOST episode "Exposé", Nikki's Exposé character is killed off in a flashback — and then Nikki is killed off in LOST.
    • It's mentioned that she's a guest star and "we all know what happens to guest stars". Strangely, this meta joke falls flat, because while they were originally planned to be guest stars the actors who played Nikki and Paulo were instead billed as main cast until their characters died.
    • Hurley describes the show and mentions a villain whose "identity has been shrouded in mystery for four seasons," who turned out to be someone the audience thought was a good guy. This inspired fans of LOST to hypothesize that an original Lostie will turn out to be the Big Bad.
    • Which is, in a way, what happened.
  • Twin Peaks provides an example of this in its "Invitation to Love" soap opera that is seen in many of the earlier episodes. It also serves as an example of type 4, as Lynch used the soap opera to comment on the larger storyline.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, The Wedding Bride. The other characters in the show (other than Ted) are fans of the movie. This is also an example of Type 1 and 3 as it was made by a character in the show and it is a plot point.
    • Since it's a twisted version of what actually happened to Ted, it's also an example of type 4!
  • Dean Winchester of Supernatural is a big (though secret) fan of the House-like Dr. Sexy, MD.
  • Young Sam Beckett who grew up to travel through time on Quantum Leap watched Time Patrol as a boy, and in fact got his idea of the string theory of time travel from it's star, Captain Galaxy. (Also counts as types 1 and 3.)
  • Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger invokes this with a manga instead, Love Touch, with the Pink ranger and two non-human characters following it. And one's a villain, which leads to a Heel Realisation (where will your manga come from after you Take Over the World?) Also dips into Type 1 when the manga artist makes a one-shot appearance.

Examples of type 3 (SWAS is plot point)

  • Wormhole X-Treme! within Stargate SG-1. It's designed to look as cheap, campy and tacky as possible.
  • The Adventures of Captain Proton! within Star Trek: Voyager (this one also has a bit of the first variety in it as well).
    • Mostly, Captain Proton! was Type II, but became Type III in the episode where extradimensional aliens mistook it for reality because in THEIR dimension life is photonic.
    • Captain Janeway's relaxation program with Leonardo da Vinci abruptly turns to this when he ends up wandering on his own in The Doctor's holoemitter. A major element of the story is her attempts to retrieve him and how his inventions are essential to their mutual escape.
    • A Briefing With Neelix in "Investigations" was used to investigate who was the spy on board Voyager.
  • The Doctor Who episode Bad Wolf has the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack find themselves trapped in lethal versions of popular British reality shows; Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not To Wear. The Doctor's reaction when he finds himself on the Big Brother set: "You have got to be kidding!"
    • Also, there's The Shakespeare Code, where a lost Shakespearean play, "Love's Labour Won" is part of an evil alien plot.
    • The same episode features a reference to Harry Potter, then in the ending Martha suggests the word Expelliarmus to banish the witches, which prompts the doctor to remark "Good Old J.K!"
  • In The Mighty Boosh episode "The Nighmare of Milky Joe", Vince and Howard become stranded on a desert island while on their way to perform on The Pieface Showcase. This intention, combined with Milky Joe's later appearance, also make it a Type 1.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, The Wedding Bride. An episode revolves around Ted seeing the movie with his newest girlfriend. This is also an example of 1 and 2 as a character in the show wrote the movie and the other character's are fans of the movie.
    • Since it's a twisted version of what actually happened to Ted, it's also an example of type 4!
    • Robin considers becoming a "Currency Rotation Specialist" on "Million Dollar Heads Or Tails", hosted at various times by Regis Philbin and Alex Trebek.
  • ISN News from Babylon 5 will be a Type 3 from time to time, typically when the news centers around the station itself, or in season 4, To show how EarthGov was spinning the news to villanize Babylon 5 as much as possible after they seceded from the Earth Alliance. Also in the finale, "Sleeping in Light", where it is implied that the episode, and by extension the entire series, was an ISN documentary.
  • The penultimate The X-Files episode centered around The Brady Bunch.
  • I Love Lucy was a fan of this: Ricky's nightclub performances were frequently discussed...and Lucy was always trying to get to perform in the acts.
  • In one episode of UFO, Cmdr. Straker was under the influence of an alien crystal and hallucinated that he was actually the head of a movie studio (his cover in the show's "real life"), and stepped out of the set and onto the real-world sound stage where UFO was filmed, addressed the series actors by their real names, etc.
  • Baywatch has the episode "Rescue Bay" in its 4th season. A writer/producer is inspired by watching lifeguards on the beach saving people and decides to shoot a tacky Pilot sequence with characters based on the in-verse characters.
  • In the Haven episode "Shot in the Dark", the host and cameraman of a Ghost Hunters-type show called Darkside Seekers enter Haven, Maine and try to investigate it, completely unprepared for Haven's very real supernatural dangers and almost get killed. The heroes find them annoying (especially since they often film people without asking for their permission), but they pull their weight and actually help defeat the Monster of the Week. They return in the episode "Exposure" and help out when people start being turned into ghosts.

Examples of type 4 (Plot Parallel)

  • Wormhole X-Treme! within Stargate SG-1.
  • Drake & Josh has Drew And Jerry, which was Drake and Josh's life being put into a TV show. As an aside, it also opens up the potential for a universe busting aversion of Celebrity Paradox, by making Drake & Josh, iCarly, Victorious and Zoey101 all 'real' and existing in the same 'universe' as the actors who play all the characters. For example, this means in that universe, there are four versions of Miranda Cosgrove.
  • Diane's play in Frasier.
    • Though in this case, it's eerily similar to Cheers rather than Frasier itself.
  • Invitation to Love within Twin Peaks.
  • Jerry: The Sitcom within Seinfeld.
  • Rosie — C.H.I.M.P. on Blossom (well, it started out similar, before the Executive Meddling).
  • The Doctor Who episode "Remembrance of the Daleks" almost breaks the Fourth Wall with one (unseen) show-within-a-show. There is a scene with a television in the background, on which a continuity announcer can be heard saying "This is BBC television, the time is quarter past five, and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new science fiction series Doc-" at which point the scene ends.
    • The Expanded Universe novels claim this series was called Professor X. The similarities between the Professor (who travels through time and space in a pillar box, and battles Cybertrons) and the Doctor have never been explained, and are rarely noticed by the characters, even when they're fans.
    • The anthropomorphic comic Rocketship Rodents (itself a parody of Buck Rodgers) has its own Doctor Who Show Within A Show parody called Professor Chronofur... And as it's an anthropomorphic comic, you probably know where it leads.
  • Sifl And Olly were big fans of the show Peto & Flek, which seems to be a complete distillation of the concept: two faces in a void, screeching to a phantom audience. Peto was the "straight man" while Flek only ever said "Guh-guh-guh-guh!"
  • In Absolutely Fabulous, Saffron writes an autobiographical play entitled The Self-Raising Flower, which uses actual dialogue from previous episodes.
  • Apparently, a TV movie featuring two characters who look and act suspiciously like bad copies of Mulder and Scully exists within The X-Files and Millennium universe. In the X-Files episode "Hollywood A.D." (s07e18), Mulder and Scully meet their "actor" counterparts on the set (Those would be Garry Shandling and Tea Leoni.) A scene of what looks like this fake X-Files movie is running on a TV screen in the background during one Millenium episode. In both cases, the show-within-the-show was made to be deliberately cheap-looking and campy.
  • Similarly, there was an episode of the TV show Nowhere Man that featured a cheaply produced, poorly acted cable-TV-esque version of the main events of the series, which included the events of the episode itself.
  • The Adventures of FATMAN, the show-within-a-show in The Weird Al Show, tells of a man who can change into a fat man with the power to lift heavy objects, withstand scalding liquids, and fly, though slower than cars. Harvey the hamster can stand and talk in this show, and is generally cleverer than "Weird Al" Yankovic.
    Announcer: Due to a rare GLANDULAR PROBLEM, an ordinary, jelly-filled, glazed donut turns mild-mannered Donut World employee AL YANKOVIC into the crime-fighting superhero known as FATMAN.
  • The Valley, Summer's favourite show on The O.C., had suspicious similarities to The O.C. itself. This was really played up when the characters got to meet the "actors". Seth and Summer found out that two of them were dating (as Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson were at the time), and Ryan was amazed that the male lead could still "play high school" at his age (Ben McKenzie was ten years older than his character).
  • Father Ben is pretty popular with Father Ted and Father Dougal on Father Ted
  • Ghostfacers within Supernatural.
    • But much more so with the book-within-a-show. The book series Supernatural introduced in the episode actually is the first few seasons of the show, and its Take Thats at the fans are exquisite. Turns out the series was written by the prophet Chuck, chronicling what will eventually become the Winchester Gospel. That title is incredibly ambiguous as to whether it will feature one or both of them.
    • Even more so with 6.15 'The French Mistake', in which Sam and Dean get sent into an alternate universe where they are actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, who subsequently play the characters Sam and Dean in Supernatural. Their castmate is Misha Collins, their bosses are Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble, their director is Bob Singer...
  • Masked Rider has been retconned to be a show-within-a-show when Nadira in Power Rangers Time Force was shown watching it.
  • One episode of Queer as Folk features the rather farcical Gay as Blazes, which sarcastically parodies common criticisms of the show.
  • Abed's college film series on Community which is both based on the other members of the study group and also predicts what will happen to them with such spooky accuracy that Shirley calls Abed a "Middle Eastern Magic 8-Ball"

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