In Auction Kings, Joel owns a pawn shop down the road from Gallery 63. When he buys something he'll have trouble reselling (hoping the original seller will come back for it), he'll often bring the piece to Paul to auction instead.
The Brady Bunch: The Season 4 episode "Greg's Triangle" saw Greg as head of the cheerleader selection committee, whose primary duty was to select cheerleaders and then a captain. His sister, Marcia, and his girlfriend Jennifer Nichols are two of the candidates. Jennifer - a babeliciously beautiful but conniving girl who uses her sexual charms to get what she wants - can't cheer her way out of a paper bag, as it turns out. While Marcia is decidedly better, it is a third contestant, Pat Conway (played by Tom Hanks' future wife, Rita Wilson) that has exactly the performance required of a varsity cheerleader and captain. So when the votes of the three-person selection committee are tied 1-1-1, Greg gets to cast the tiebreaking vote, and he ultimately picks Pat as the winner. Marcia agrees with the decision, admitting she (Pat) was the best, while Jennifer dumps Greg like a sack of garbage.
At the end of Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy's apparent choices, if she and The Scoobies cannot stop Glory from starting the ritual that would end the world and kill all human life, are to kill Dawn and save the world, which Giles tries and fails to convince her is the best action, or to save Dawn temporarily but let the whole world be destroyed, which is what her deontological instincts tell her is still preferable. The ritual is not prevented, and Buffy sacrifices her own life, her blood being similar enough to Dawn's, to save the world without killing an innocent
Let's Make a Deal: Often made part of a trading deal — to wit, the trader now has three options from which to choose. Such deals take one of several forms, with the contestant (of course) made to decide:
A guaranteed first deal at the outset (usually, up to $1,000 cash), with the second prize also revealed (equal or slightly greater value) and a third, unknown prize. Sometimes, the third prize will be labeled "Big Risk" or "Big Prize," etc. ... only to eventually reveal a Zonk.
The guaranteed first prize, with the other two unknowns, one or both which may be Zonks.
All three are unknowns. Often these will be accompanied by some sort of clue as to what they may win depending on their choice.
In each of the given deals, almost always one of the choices is a winner, although it is not unheard of for each of the three items to be zonks ... meaning that prior to revealing the first of the threesome of choices, there was an initial "keep or trade" prize decision that the contestant should have made a right choice on. On the other hip, all three choices might be winners ... meaning the contestant couldn't lose by trading in his initial prize, which although not a Zonk is worth decidedly if not far less than the lowest-valued item of the three better prizes.
In the first episode, when she’s supposed to choose between Dark or Light Fae, she chooses neither.
In episode 3.08, Bo is offered two tarot cards to choose from, but she chooses neither. Instead she picks a card from the deck.
In episode 3.09, Bo is supposed to leave Dyson behind in the Temple, since two people can enter the Temple, but only one can leave, but she chooses to take him through the portal and bring him back to life.
Season five has Dean and Sam refusing to play along with Heaven's will that Dean become Michael's host and Sam Lucifer's host so the angelic brothers can finish the final battle and fight each other to the death. Saying yes would thus raze the world either way, but result in paradise if Michael wins (as the angels believe he will). Lucifer wants Sam to say 'yes' because he believes he'll win, at which point he'll kick the Apocalypse into full gear and kill everyone. If the brothers both say 'no', Lucifer will use his present inadequate host to continue the Apocalypse at the current pace. The solution is provided by Gabriel: trap Lucifer back in his Cage.
In a literal example by Michael, Dean is told to say 'yes' or 'no' to Michael (well, he's told to say yes or die, but he'll die if he says yes...) When he says 'yes' but takes it back so he doesn't disappoint Sam, Michael then uses Adam, Sam and Dean's half-brother, as a vessel instead (it had to be someone from that particular bloodline).
Castiel gets hit with this in season six, when Raphael decides to restart the Apocalypse. When Castiel tells Raphael that he won't let him, Raphael beats the crap of him and says that his two choices are "submit or die." Castiel chooses to ally with Crowley, who loans him enough soul power to keep Raphael at bay while the two of them work to open Purgatory and access the soul power there to stop Raphael for good. Unfortunately, this option also sucks, but Castiel doesn't see a fourth.
In Revenge after Takeda murders Tyler in order to protect Emily's secret, he tells her that either her fiance Daniel or childhood love Jack must take the blame and that she can't save both. She does, however, by setting up Grayson thug Lee Moran instead.
Sherlock tried to do this in answer to Jim Moriarty's Evil Plan in The Reichenbach Fall. It didn't work.
Another example occurs in A Study in Pink. At the climax, Sherlock is forced into playing a Russian-Roulette-style game with the villain, involving two pills, one harmless and one lethal. Sherlock instead chooses to be shot, having noticed that the villain's gun is in fact a novelty cigarette lighter.
In the episode "Patterns of Force", Kirk and Spock are in a situation where a Nazi planet, created by a stupid Federation historian, is about to launch a genocidal invasion on a peaceful planet. One of their allies pleads with them to have the Enterprise to destroy the fleet as a lesser evil than letting the slaughter begin. Kirk balks at this bloody option, wanting to help the Nazi planet get back to normal, as well as protect its potential victims. In the end, Kirk makes the drugged Fuehrer cancel the invasion instead.
Another episode, "Operation: Annihilate!" confronts Kirk with a choice between allowing body-snatching parasites to spread further or killing the existing victims (over a million people, including Spock and his own nephew). Kirk specifically tells Spock and McCoy, "I want that third alternative!" They find it, but it's a near thing.
Another one was Kirk's Kobayashi Maru. Option one was respond to rescue call and be destroyed, option two was to abandon the Kobayashi Maru, potentially preventing war but leaving the crew and passengers to die. Kirk decided to Take a Third Option and cheat.
In the episode "The Emissary," Capt. Picard is told that a sleeper ship of Klingons is about to wake up with standard orders to attack the Federation. Ambassador K'Ehleyr gives only two options: Let them attack with great loss of life, or kill them before they start. However, Picard orders her and Worf to come up with better options, and after considerable difficulty, they do come up with a better solution — Worf and K'Ehleyr dress up as a captain and his first officer and berate the rather surprised Klingons for not realizing that the war would already be over by that point, implying (but not directly stating) that the Klingons conquered the Federation.
In another episode, Riker describes another Starfleet captain doing this at the Academy. There was a navigation test with three possible solutions. The captain in question (then a cadet) rejected them and offered his own. The test now has four solutions.
When Data is challenged to a rematch of Stratagema by a master he'd already lost to, Data decides to play for an impasse rather than let either side win. Since he's a tireless and emotionless android, he could keep this up virtually forever, while the organic master quickly becomes frustrated by the tactic and Rage Quits. Data is hesitant to call it a victory, but his shipmates assure him that it counts.
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Author, Author", Neelix tries to invoke this when giving advice to the Doctor about the conflict of the episode, mentioning a Talaxian saying that went "When the road before you splits in two, take the third path."
In the episode "The Way of the Warrior", Sisko explicitly states they need a third option. The two available are to betray the Klingons and warn the Cardassians about an invasion, or do nothing, meaning things likely won't stop there. The option Sisko finds is to get measured for a new suit by the resident Cardassian tailor during a briefing, thus "accidentally" allowing him to warn the Cardassians while remaining officially neutral.
In "Profit & Loss", three Cardassian fugitives hide from their government on Deep Space Nine while they plan how to escape Cardassian law completely. Garak is ordered by the Central Command to deal with this since he lives on the station and initially has the option of either capturing them or executing them. This option is reduced to executing them by the mission's overseer, Gul Toran, who winds up creating the choice between them being executed by Garak or himself (he prefers himself as he can take the credit). Garak solves the entire sorry mess with an option that is neither sending them back as living prisoners nor executing them: he kills Toran and helps the fugitives escape the station and Cardassian law entirely.
In "Sons of Mogh", Worf has to deal with the matter of his brother, Kurn. Because he turned against the Empire to side with the Federation, their house has been dismantled and Kurn disgraced beyond redemption. Under Klingon tradition, Worf would normally ritually sacrifice him to restore his honor, but that's murder under Federation law, so he's not allowed to perform it. Since the status quo is unacceptable, neither is carrying out the ritual, Worf has to find an alternative. The solution is to have Dr. Bashir alter Kurn's appearance and block his memories, allowing him to be adopted by a friendly house and be freed of Worf's dishonor without dying.
In an episode of MacGyver, Mac chases a group of gang members through an abandoned building and suddenly comes across an open door and a staircase, not knowing through where the gang went. He then uses his penknife to open a nearby locked door... only to fall into a snare trap with a bomb (which turns out to be fake). It was all for the best though, as the gang's apparent military training coupled with the fact that they knew Mac would go through the locked door allows him to, with help, deduce the gang's ringleader's identity: (his police chief friend, who is also a former Marine).
The sketch show Almost Live!, parodies this with the sketch "You Make the Call" (which was recycled for the show Haywire). Someone would have two choices, such as whether to run a red light and risk either a ticket or being late for work again. The third option was to just take a bazooka to the traffic light.
Stargate SG-1: Crops up several times until it's lampshaded within the show.
"1969": A freak accident involving a solar flare interfering with a wormhole sends SG-1 into the past where they're captured by the US military. While they're being transported, Jack tells them that they have two options. They can stay captive, where they'll be split up and interrogated until they tell the truth, or they can escape, find somewhere quiet to live and avoid impacting the future. Both options will affect the future because the second option means Teal'c will eventually become a Goa'uld when his symbiote matures. Jack asks Carter for a third option, but she doesn't know of any. The third option actually comes from General Hammond, who knew the whole thing was going to happen and sent a note to his past self that helps the team return to the future.
"Urgo": SG-1 have the choice between removing the annoying Urgo from their minds, destroying him forever, or living with him inside their minds for the rest of their lives. They choose to have him removed until they arrive on his home planet and meet his creator. Upon discovering that the creator race are an experience-starved culture, they take the opportunity to negotiate for the creator to accept Urgo into his mind. SG-1 get rid of him, Urgo gets to survive, and the creator's people now have the chance to learn new experiences with Urgo's help. Win-win for everyone.
"Fail Safe": An asteroid is on course to hit Earth, leaving SG-1 to try and set off a bomb in the asteroid's core to move it off course so that it misses Earth. The plans ends up failing. Their first option is to give up, leave for the Alpha site and hope they can reach a stargate before they're hit by the explosion from the asteroid hitting Earth. The second option is to leave the asteroid by enough distance for communications to come back online and hope they can contact the Asgard in time, convince them to intervene, and then have them arrive in time to save Earth. Neither option is realistic. Daniel and Sam cook up a third option, dragging the asteroid through the centre of the Earth via a hyperspace window, materialising it on the other side of the planet. They both agree it's completely ridiculous and both agree it's their only chance. Jack requests a fourth option. When the option does inevitably succeed, he lampshades the trope with the comment "third options always work".
"Moebius": SG-1's ship is discovered by the Jaffa in ancient Egypt. They can attempt to attack the Jaffa but then alter history, or they could just give up and spend their lives trapped in the past (with the added headache of having to live under Ra's rule). It's Daniel Jackson who comes up with a brilliant third option of burying the thing they came for so that they wouldn't have to go back in time to begin with. There's a reason he was the Smart Guy.
In The Vampire Diaries, Katherine is faced with an extremely difficult decision drained of The Cure that made her human and is rapidly dying of old age. She gave Stefan advice on taking care of your personal problems or running from it. For her, she has to either find a way to save her life or endure her own aging until the end. Instead, Katherine attempted to commit suicide.
Stefan: What are you doing?
Katherine: I told you. You can either face your problems or you run. I chose Option 3.
In Only Fools and Horses, market trader Derek Trotter is caught with a stolen microwave, and threatened with a charge of trafficking in stolen goods if he doesn't reveal the thief. If he won't talk, he and his family will suffer serious legal consequences. However, revealing the thief in exchange for immunity would make him a grass. When Derek agrees to the second option, his family is shocked... until, with full immunity in hand, he writes the name of the thief: 'Derek Trotter'
In the conclusion of the main story arc, Captain Sheridan is asked to choose between the Vorlons and the Shadows. He tells both to "get the hell out of his galaxy" instead.
All of the commanders in charge of the space station (Sinclair, Sheridan, and Lockley) are all VERY fond of this trope.
When Delenn is facing flak from other Minbari for her choice to marry Sheridan on racial purity grounds, Delenn goes on a vision quest which eventually causes her to realize that she is descended from Valen aka Commander Sinclair, a human turned Minbari. She threatened the guy involved that either they will accept her choice, or she will blab how many Minbari are not as pure as they thought they were, something that would throw Minbari society into chaos. Just before Delenn storms out, he offers a third option: invoking an old Minbari tradition hailing from the bad old days when they still killed each other: that someone from each of the clans would marry each other after the fighting stopped, as a symbol to help rebuild.
Delenn did this twice more in one episode. First, given the choice of the Religious caste surrendering or lots of people dying, she pulls out an ancient Minbari test of dedication and publicly shames the Warrior caste leader into taking part. She then takes a Third Option for the entire Minbari caste crisis by putting the Worker caste in charge.
Delenn likes these. She gives the Command Staff a third option when they must deal with a psychic Bester. They're choices are killing him or imprisoning if he violates PsiCop rules about unauthorized scans. Delenn offers them some Minbari telepaths to block Bester until he is drugged and power inhibited.
Paul McDermott of Good News Week, on the controversy over whether the New Millennium would start in 2000 or 2001:
"Thankfully, there's always the Australian solution: We start drinking on the 31st of December 1999, and we finish on the 1st of January 2001!"
Monk: In the episode "Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk", Monk is given a choice: Hide in a Porta-John or a dumpster. His answer? "I choose death!"
Subverted in "The Beast Below". While two of the Doctor's options are horrendous (kill everyone onboard or let the Space Whale suffer for eternity), his third option is equally horrible (lobotomise the whale). Lucky for us, Amy she notices that the whale is actually doing this voluntarily. She presses the "Abdicate" button stopping the whale's torture and leaving it free to escape...and the ship actually goes FASTER. Effectively taking a fourth option. Five bucks, the Doctor is probably feeling very humiliated.
In the Episode "Amy's Choice", the "Dream Lord" forces the Doctor, his companion, and his companion's boyfriend to pick which of two worlds was reality. They were both dreams.
Before that, in "The End of Time," The Doctor must choose between killing the Master (and supposedly severing the link Gallifrey has to Earth) or killing Rassilon to end the threat. After seeing a certain Time Lady reveal her face, The Doctor took a third option: shooting the Whitepoint Diamond and the machine that served as the actual link Gallifrey had to Earth, sparing the Master to perform his sacrifice.
The Doctor: Get out of the way.
In "The Day of the Doctor", the Doctor(s) pull this off when figuring out a way to peacefully deal with the Zygon invasion of Earth, and then spectacularly when they figure out a way to end the Time War, get rid of the Daleks, and still save billions of innocents on Gallifrey.
The two-parter "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" kicks off with a tragic subversion: When he realizes that a boy he's trying to rescue from a war zone is a young Davros — creator of the Daleks — the Doctor has two choices: save him, or kill him. His third option? Abandonment. The problem with this is that doing that after giving him hope and encouraging him to survive at all costs may well have been the start of his evil, and the Doctor from this point on is trying to atone for his mistake, even at the cost of his life. In Part Two, he gets a chance at this decision again, but which of the two options will he choose when he's at the Despair Event Horizon?
Torchwood: Children of Earth has a very dark example towards the end. By the start of Day 5, the options seem to be handing over millions of children to the 456 or fighting what is, from all available evidence, a losing battle to save them. Eventually Jack finds his third option - destroying the 456 by exploiting the signal they used to control the children. However, his plan will result in the death of whichever child is at the centre of the resonance, and the only one available is Jack's grandson.
In Kamen Rider Blade, Kenzaki is left with a Sadistic Choice at the finale. He can ether choose to seal the Black Joker, thus sealing away the innocent Hajime persona he and the others have befriended and who isn't responsible for his actions or allow the Black Joker to complete the destruction of humanity. So, what does he do? he fights the Black Joker long enough that Blade's King Form transforms him into the Azure Joker Undead. This makes the Black Joker no longer the winner of the Battle Fight and allows Hajime to return to his human life...though it also means they can never be near one another or they'll be forced to fight. Still, much better than the other options.
In an episode, Moreau wants Eliot to kill a general to prove he's still the same Eliot, before he'll give the team the address of the auction they need to take down. If they don't take down the option, a nasty bomb gets sold to terrorists, and Moreau gets away. Eliot agrees - you see the assassination take place. Cut to the hospital, they've picked up the body - Eliot swapped the general with a corpse and "killed" the corpse, then Sophie posed as the grieving wife and ID'd the "general's" body. Course, the address led them to a trap... but still.
Parker also pulls off this in "The Long Way Down Job". When she and Eliot are trying to recover the body of the victim who was left to die on a mountain, they fail also losing the evidence for their case. However they do manage to recover his cell phone that sends a message once it is brought down, both incriminating the suspect and giving a message to the victim's wife.
Minor example from Las Vegas: Sam is told that a whale with extremely sweaty palms must leave the casino because he's grossing people out, but doesn't want to hurt his feelings by expelling him from the last place he hasn't already been kicked out of. She solves the quandary by setting up a high-stakes game in the hotel swimming pool, with a floating table and waterproof cards.
iCarly: In one episode Carly and Sam get into an argument and force Freddie to decide who is correct. Freddie decides on an internet poll. After Freddie reveals who won out of the two girls, he reveals the third option which was both girls were being stupid and should make up. It won more than 200 times as many votes than the other two options.
In one episode, House announces he's choosing a team leader from his four minions. Three of them promptly begin competing and are soon stuck in what amounts to a game show for House's amusement. Taub stays out of it an offers to split the pay raise with House; he is promptly made team leader.
One episode with a focus on backstory shows how House got his leg in the shape it is: an aneurism in his thigh caused the muscles in his leg to become necrotic. An amputation would save his life, but House stubbornly refused to have his leg removed, even though it could kill him. His boss, Lisa Cuddy, and his girlfriend at the time and medical proxy, Stacey Warner, took a third option: an operation that would only remove the necrotic tissue and restore blood flow to his thigh. It succeeded, but because so much muscle tissue had been damaged, he needs to use a cane to walk and lives with such debilitating pain that it would lead to his Vicodin addiction.
Invoked in the series finale: House is trapped in a burning building and has two options: escape, but be arrested for wrecking an MRI machine in the previous episode, go to jail, and not be there for his best friend Wilson in his last days as he is dying of cancer; or stay in the burning building and die. The option he took? Escape out the back of the building, fake his death, and abandon his old life so he can be there for Wilson.
Defied in an episode of The Daily Show where, while debating Fox News's intent on a recent story, Wyatt Cenac argued that Fox was evil and John Oliver argued that they were stupid. When Jon suggested the existence of a third option...
Oliver:These are the only two possible explanations, because if they're not as stupid as I believe them to be, they are really f*cking evil.
Cenac:And if they're not as evil as I think they are, they are STUPID.
Averted in an episode of The West Wing. After Matt Santos is elected President, he has to choose between letting a political opponent be elected Speaker of the House or try to influence the election for the other candidate, who happens to be an old friend of his (which looks like blatant cronyism). They come up with a third option, convince his friend to withdraw and throw his support behind a dark horse candidate, who would then owe Santos a big pile of favors. Ultimately, Santos decides that such quasi-unethical political maneuvering is not how he wants to start his presidency, and refuses to interfere at all.
Faced with public outcry against a brutal dictator coming to New York for medical treatment, Frank has the police protect him before and during his surgery, then as soon as he's able to be moved he puts him on a plane back home, where a popular uprising has just deposed his government.
Faced with a white supremacist radio host making a live broadcast from a New York theater, Frank ensures the show can technically go on, but puts the man's police protection inside the theater and staffs it entirely with non-white officers led by a VERY large black sergeant.
Faced with finding a way to protect a Turkish violinist in danger of an honor killing if she returns home (the State Department's representative had wanted to grant asylum but the higher-ups vetoed it), Frank works his contacts and gets the New York Philharmonic to hire her, and the representative is only too glad to get her a work visa.
When an off duty police officer, who has had a few drinks, stops a robbery at first he is a hero - then he is in trouble for pulling his gun after drinking. Frank is advised to stay out of it. Instead he calls a press conference and announces the man will be punished, but gets to keep his job.
In one late episode of Quantum Leap, Sam's currently stuck in the guise of a lowlife married to two different wives and several kids. In order to get him to turn his life around he and Al need to break up with one of them, but they don't know which one to do so in order to create a better timeline. Instead, Sam gets both of them to break up with him, allowing both women to fix their own lives as his host was making them both miserable. In turn, this event is what allows the host to turn his own life around.
With his third wife and kids, who show up at the end of the show.
If Florence doesn't let the French enter their city, the French will probably destroy it. However, if they "surrender," they will be excommunicated. So what does Machiavelli do? Let the French come in "as friends," with their lances angled backwards to indicate they are not conquering the city. (The lances pointing straight up kept them from coming in at all, hence angling them backwards as a "symbol of Your Majesty's infinite resourcefulness," a neat turn of phrase as it was in fact Machiavelli's idea and not the king's.)
He always finds the third option. In another episode, some followers of Savonarola come to Machiavelli's door demanding vanities to be burnt in a bonfire. He doesn't want to give them books, which is what they first ask for, but they'll break his windows if they don't get anything. So he decides to give them a stuffed owl so they'll just go away and not get anything important.
On one episode of Blossom, we find out that Joey recently cheated on a test because failing would have meant getting kicked off a sports team. Unfortunately, he does too well and gets promoted to a more advanced class. His options are to either try the course, fail, get sent back to his original class, and get kicked off the team; or admit he cheated, get sent back to his original class, and get kicked off the team. While discussing his problem with Anthony, they discover that the next test has a grade that has to be achieved to stay in the class which is slightly higher than passing. So, Joey decides to do well enough on the test to pass, but badly enough to get sent back to his original class. This proves to be harder than he thought.
On one episode of Diff'rent Strokes, Arnold takes karate. Later, he has a "fight" against Willis to demonstrate his skill, but Willis lets him think he beat him fair and square. Then, he watches in shock as Arnold calls up "The Gooch" and challenges him to a fight. He's left debating whether to let Arnold fight "The Gooch" and possibly get seriously hurt or tell him he let Arnold win their fight and hurt his feelings. He ends up calling "The Gooch" and telling him that Arnold is taking karate. "The Gooch" ends up abandoning the fight.
Game of Thrones: Jorah tells Daenerys that she needs to take command of the Unsullied. Not just because they're a Badass Army, but also because they don't rape or sack. Barriston disapproves because the Unsullied are effectively an army of slaves. Both disagree that Daenerys should trade one of her dragons for command of the army. Daenerys has a third solution: 1) Give the slavers one of the dragons and take command of the Unsullied. 2) Have the slavers killed by the Unsullied and the very dragon that she just sold to the morons. 3) Set the Unsullied free. She walks away with both the dragon and the Unsullied, and because she set them free, they're even more loyal to her than they would've been as slaves. Result, Dany. Result.
In "Battle of the Bastards", when the Masters attack Meereen and her armada is destroyed, Dany's options appear to be 1) surrender and lose everything she fought to achieve or 2) crucify the Masters, destroy their ships and burn their cities to the ground. Not wanting to see Dany go down the path of her father the Mad King Aerys, Tyrion instead suggests using her dragons to launch a surgical strike. The dragons burn down the flagships of the Masters' fleet while the Dothraki army make short work out of the Sons of the Harpy, and the Gray Worm executes two of the three "Wise Masters", leaving the third behind to tell the other masters of Slavers's Bay what happens when you mess with the Mother of Dragons. By the end of the battle, Daenerys has won with a minimal body count, and has the Masters' remaining ships to rebuild her armada. Again, result, Dany. Result.
The July 11, 1974 episode of Tattletales posited this question to the men: "If a stranger saw your one and only streaking down Sunset Boulevard, he'd be most likely to comment on her _______." Joanne Worley said that her hubby, Roger Perry would say "boobs." Roger came back on, and after nervous deliberation, he wound up saying the stranger would comment on Joanne's hair. Guest host Gene Rayburn asked "What was your second answer, Roj?" Bert Convy interjected "Second and third answer!"
The Everybody Loves Raymond episode "A Job for Robert" had Robert stuck deciding whether he should keep his new job of being a salesman for a home security alarm company, or go back to being a police officer. Being the indecisive character he is, Robert tries to appeal to his family members to choose for him, who quickly divide into two camps on the issue. Raymond tries to force him to decide on his own, taking him away from the others and asking him once and for all what he wants to be: a cop, or an alarm salesman. Robert initially replies "I wanna dance."
The Ark space station's life support is failing, and the governing Council is faced with the choice of either letting everyone die of oxygen deprivation or killing a large chunk of the population to cut down on oxygen use, hopefully (but not definitely) buying them enough time to fix the problem. The third option would be for everyone from the Ark to evacuate to Earth, but that will only happen if the kids on the ground can let the Ark know that Earth's surface is livable again. The kids set up some giant flares to signal the Ark that they're alive and that Earth is safe . . . but it's too late. By the time anyone on the Ark sees the flares, they've already put over 300 people to death.
In the second season, Bellamy is undercover in Mount Weather, and gets word to Clarke that the Mountain Men are going to launch a missile at Tondc. Clarke could evacuate the village, but that would reveal she has access to inside information on Mount Weather, blowing Bellamy's cover. However, if she doesn't give the order to evacuate, then hundreds of her allies will die. She briefly considers a third option (killing the soldier on the ground who's guiding the missile towards Tondc, thus stopping the attack all together), but once again, there's just not enough time: she can barely begin looking for the soldier before the missile hits and Tondc is destroyed.
Also in the second season, the Grounders give the Ark survivors an ultimatum: either give Finn up to be tortured and executed, or the Grounders will attack and slaughter their entire camp. The episode "Spacewalker" is devoted to the characters desperately trying to find some sort of third option they can take, but ultimately the best they can do is have Clarke kill Finn herself, so at least his death will be quick.
In the Season 2 finale, Maya realizes that, if she leaves Mount Weather, she'll die of radiation poisoning, but if she stays, she'll be executed for being a traitor. A couple options are considered for saving her (Option 1: Assassinate the Mountain's leaders so they won't persecute her; Option 2: Get her to Camp Jaha and let her stay in the radiation-proof air lock). Neither of those options can be attempted, however, before the Mountain is flooded with radiation, killing everyone, including Maya.
In the same episode, Cage and Dante insist their only options are to kill the Sky People and use their bone marrow as a radiation cure, or to let their own people slowly die from radiation sickness. Kane suggests that he can get the Sky People to willingly donate bone marrow in large enough numbers to save the Mountain Men, but by that point so much blood has been spilled in the war for the bone marrow that Cage isn't willing to consider any other options, and he orders the marrow extractions to continue.
In the season 1 finale of Forever Henry reaches a difficult situation when it finally comes time to confront Adam. He can't kill him, as Adam is immortal and would just come back anyways. But he can't let Adam go and continue killing, nor can he arrest Adam without exposing his own immortality. Solution? Inject him with a syringe full of air, giving him an embolism that leads to locked-in syndrome. Thus Adam is trapped in his own body, unable to move or speak but still alive.
One plot of Gilligan's Island involved the castaways holding a beauty pageant and Gilligan ends up being the deciding vote between the three girls with some strong-arming from their supporting men. At the end, Gilligan grabs the Smart Ball and takes the fourth option by having the winner being an island chimp, pointing out that beauty pageant contestants can only be natives of the place they were born, which the chimp was and none of them were.
On Saturday Night Live, one "Bill Swersky's Superfans" sketch had the superfans as contestants on a game show based around Chicago sports teams. The final question was "If the Bears took on the Bulls, who would win?" All three took this route. One wrote a third Chicago sports team as the victor. The second wrote something that started with "B" and ended in "s", but was completely illegible in between. ("What does dat say?" "What do you think it says?") The third, Todd (Chris Farley), wrote a long explanation of how the two teams engaging in competition would be a terrible thing that should never be allowed to happen. This won.
A weird inversion occurred on Arrested Development. In the episode "Sad Sack", the FBI suspects that Michael knows where his fugitive father George is. While investigating the Bluth Company computer network, they discover a photo which appears to show the locations of WMD's in Iraq, establishing a connection between George and Saddam Hussein. Michael now has the difficult choice of whether to turn in his father for treason or go to prison in his place. Family lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn sits in on the preceedings as Michael is about to announce his decision. Then Barry sees the photo for the first time and notices something that renders Michael's decision moot: the photo is actually a close-up of Tobias' genitals. Thus, the third option takes him.
Attempted and failed in The Sopranos. After Tony's cousin Blundetto kills Phil Leotardo's brother, the gang finds itself facing a gang war. Tony has two unpleasant options; give his cousin to Leotardo and avert the conflict (but giving his cousin a horrible, tortuous death) or protect Blundetto and face a bloody war (costing numerous lives and resources and increasing the risk of arrest). Tony decides to try a third choice by killing Blundetto himself, quickly and painlessly. This fails and makes things worse, because Phil wanted to personally punish Blundetto; by denying him his revenge, Tony has just given Leotardo and his crew another reason to go to war.
Attorney Diane Lockhart is forced into this in one episode of The Good Wife. Diane is currently working for a very wealthy conservative activist, despite being a life-long liberal (her job is to actually provide the liberal point of view on cases he is considering taking and funding as sort of a test, to see if they are worth it and if the case is winnable), but agrees to actually defend one of their clients in court: A pro-life activist group who secretly recorded a video of a doctor casually discussing reusing organs from aborted fetuses after an abortion and wish to release it. Despite being staunchly pro-choice, Diane agrees to defend the release of the video on First Amendment free speech grounds. However doing so causes her to fall out with other clients of the firm, which also handles many liberal activists, and personal friends of her, and she even receives a private tongue-lashing from the liberal judge overseeing the case advising her to drop it. However withdrawing from the cases would likely cost her the very lucrative position with the conservative activist. Her solution? Openly bring up the judge's discussion with her in court while asking him to thus recuse himself from the case. The judge refuses to do so, but this allows Diane to make the point she is now so tainted in regards to this case she should be released from it, which she is.
The first three seasons of Community end with these:
The first season ends with Jeff moving on after breaking up with Professor Slater by getting back with Britta. Then Slater decides to get back with Jeff leaving him to choose between her and Britta. While the entire crowd argues over who he should choose, he walks out of the cafeteria and hooks up with Annie.
The second season sees Pierce's behavior become increasingly erratic. In the finale, the group holds a vote on whether or not to expel him, but they disregard the results because they're not unanimous. They continue to mull it over during the events of the finale where Pierce saves the day. They decide to let him back in, but he leaves of his own accord.
The third season sees Pierce and Shirley about to establish a sandwich shop in the cafeteria, but they argue over who will be the official owner. This ends up going to trial where Jeff has a choice between taking Shirley to victory or letting Pierce win and getting his job at the law firm back. Shirley tells him it's okay for him to put his job first which inspires him to suggest Shirley and Pierce become co-owners.