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For Want Of A Nail / Live-Action TV

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  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Framework arc shows what would have happened if a few characters had their greatest regrets erased; among other things, May didn't kill Katya Belyakov, and Fitz wasn't abandoned by his father. By the time Daisy and Jemma break into the Framework, both May and Fitz are working for a HYDRA dictatorship that arose because Katya killed hundreds of innocent teachers and children in the Cambridge, Massachusetts school she was placed in - May because the Cambridge mess was her fault, and Fitz because his father is a misogynistic psychopath who thinks anyone with the slightest hint of human decency is weak and instilled him with the same values.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The Wishverse is the result of this trope combined with a subversion of It's a Wonderful Plot. Because Buffy never came to Sunnydale, The Master left his underground prison, Willow and Xander were turned into vampires, Angel became a prisoner implied to be tortured and raped for the fun of the vamps, wreaking merry havoc on the town. Buffy also got herself a scar and an unrefreshing new attitude. The Wishverse debuted in "The Wish", and vampire Willow crossed over into the Buffyverse in "Doppelgangland" for even more fun.
    • Although this may seem a bit less dramatic as the trope would imply. Considering that Buffy was the one to kill the Master and keep the Hellmouth in check, it's not a dramatic leap in logic for her lack of presence having disastrous consequences, unlike a kingdom falling for want of a nail.
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    • This happens again in the Angel episode "Birthday", where Cordelia turning her head the other way at a party results in a world where Cordelia has become a famous TV star instead of joining up with Angel, but Wesley's lost his arm and Angel, having to take the visions in place of her, has lost his sanity without her presence. Additionally, Fred is implied to have never been rescued from Pylea.
  • Castle:
    • "Pandora" and "Linchpin" feature this concept, with CIA analyst Martin Blakely finding these professionally. He would find an event that would eventually create a desired outcome. (Though given that he boasted about the positive outcome of the Arab Spring, when that movement also went on to create ISIS and in the long run largely failed outside of Tunisia, it puts this slightly in doubt.) His plan for the episode was that he determined the assassination of a Chinese businessman's daughter at the hands of rogue CIA agents would eventually cause World War III, which the United States would lose after 27 million Americans die. Castle and Beckett discuss the plausibility of the scenario after the case is solved:
      Castle: Do you think we actually saved the world?
      Beckett: I think that... we saved a little girl's life. And that's enough for me.
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    • In "The Time of Our Lives", Castle is either transported to by an ancient artifact, or hallucinates due to hitting his head, an alternate timeline where he and Beckett never met. As a result, his next book after ending the Derrick Storm series turned out garbage, his fortune is gone, and his family is estranged from him, and Beckett has made captain but has lost a lot of her drive to find the non-obvious explanations of murder cases that she excelled at in the prime universe.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • In the 100th episode, a largely empowered Cole wished Paige had never reconstituted the Power of Three with Piper and Phoebe. Paige crosses over to the new reality (as she is teleporting at the time of the change) and has to witness the changes in her sisters' lives: Phoebe and Cole have an unhappy open marriage, Piper became a rogue demon hunter obsessed with getting revenge for Prue's death and she and Leo are divorced, the Manor is inhabited by demons with Daryll working for them, and P3 is in ruins.
    • Another episode had the sisters Mental Time Travel to the future, when the knowledge of the supernatural is made public, and witches are being hunted and burned. Why? Because one of them used a spell on a guy they didn't like, who proceeds to have a burning hate for all witches. When they go back to the present, they undo the event, although we're not shown that future again.
    • They play with it again in another episode in which something so minor as Piper randomly picking between turning left or right at a critical moment resulted in some pretty major messing with fate due to the circumstances. By the end of the episode this had snowballed into her sisters getting killed by a demon from the future. She fixes it simply by going back to the past and telling herself to go the other way when it comes up.
  • Community: The entire episode "Remedial Chaos Theory" is about this: at Troy and Abed's housewarming, nobody wants to go downstairs to get the pizza, so Jeff rolls a six-sided die to decide who goes. This proceeds to create six separate timelines where different things happen (the Darkest Timeline includes Pierce getting accidentally shot and dying, Jeff losing an arm in a fire, Annie suffering a mental breakdown, Shirley becoming an alcoholic, Troy losing his larynx, and Britta dyeing a strip of hair blue) until the real timeline where Abed catches the six-sided die before it rolls and instead makes Jeff go get the pizza himself.
    • At the end of "Basic Crisis Room Decorum", one of the Japanese teenagers who has been prank-texting the Dean is chewed out by his Salaryman father over the high phone bill it has caused. When the kid snarks back about his dad reducing everybody to money, has dad gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech telling him that this is nothing, when he gets out into the real world he will "know true reduction" and feel truly small and insignificant, just like his dad does. At the end of the scene is a voiceover from an older Japanese man — the grown-up version of the same teenager — saying that this short argument was in fact the defining moment in shaping his life, motivating him to become the most powerful Yakuza boss in Japan.
  • Dad's Army: Features Captain Mainwaring (attempting to be philosophical) reciting part of the relevant poem, only for Lance-Corporal Jones to interject at the end:
    Mainwaring: For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost; for want of a rider, the message was lost; for want of the message, the battle was lost; and so it was that the kingdom was lost —
    Jones: Hence the expression, "Keep your hair on."
    • Afterwards Pike tries to recall it at an appropriate moment, but mangles it as "For want of a Battle, a horse got nailed."
  • The Dead Zone reveals that, without Bruce to keep him centered, Johnny alienates everyone (they all think he's a quack), Sarah and Walt break up from the strain of dealing with Johnny, and Johnny dies trying to assassinate a politician for the greater good (the latter being how the original novel ends.)
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Father's Day": Rose asks the Doctor to take her back to the hit-and-run accident that killed her father, so she can witness it and be with him he dies. But the first time, she fails to move after being shocked by his death, the Doctor takes her back to the same time and same place they already were at so Rose can go to him after their past selves leave. Current!Rose, instead, breaks cover, saves her father from being killed by the driver. This causes the past her and Doctor on scene to vanish as a major paradox has been created. In keeping with the combination of For Want of a Nail and In Spite of a Nail that Doctor Who leaps between periodically, saving one man in the past leads to... flying dragon demon reapers trying to unmake reality to clean up the paradox. The Doctor tries to fix things so the one thing that was changed stays changed, as he puts it, and brings back the people the creatures devoured, but he is devoured before this can come through. In the end, Rose's father runs back in front of the car that was meant to have killed him to set things right. The end result is that while he still dies on the same day from being hit by a car, Rose is there and comforts him while his life slips away, thus altering her own past in a trivial way that doesn't affect the greater march of time. This also affects the driver, as the accident is reported by the police as just that, an accident, and not a hit-and-run.
    • "Love & Monsters": Ursula forgets her phone when she and Elton dramatically storm out on Victor Kennedy, leading to her being absorbed by him when she goes back for it. On the other hand, the episode hints that had she not done this, the Abzorbaloff would have tracked down and absorbed Jackie Tyler before the Doctor could put a stop to him.
    • Lampshaded in "The Shakespeare Code":
      Martha: But are we safe? I mean, can we move around and stuff?
      The Doctor: Of course we can. Why do you ask?
      Martha: It's like in the films. You step on a butterfly, you change the future of the human race.
      The Doctor: I'll tell you what, then — don't step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?
    • This trope is the central premise of "Turn Left", exploring all the horrible things that would have happened if Donna had taken a different job three years ago and hadn't been there to assist a death-seeking Doctor who was mourning the loss of Rose. For example, the Doctor dies, lots of other companions and allies die, London is nuked by the Titanic, 60 million Americans get converted to Adipose, and the holocaust happens in England. Also, all of reality is unmade. But this being Doctor Who, that could have happened, anyway.
      • Noted in-episode that this is relatively unusual ("Just got lucky, this thing. It's one of the Trickster's Brigade. Changes a life in tiny little ways. Most times, the universe just compensates around it, but with you? Great big parallel world."), and is one of a number of coincidences around Donna that indicate how important she is to the entirety of existence (specifically saving every single universe from being wiped out by the Daleks' Reality Bomb).
    • "The Waters of Mars": The destruction of Bowie Base One comes about because of the failure of a water filter and the fact that the spares brought along from Earth are the wrong size.
    • "Rosa": When attempting to stop the antagonist from Making Wrong What Once Went Right, the Doctor expresses concern that Rosa Parks' bus protest not happening in the exact circumstances that history records could lead to serious repercussions in the future.
      The Doctor: We're one day out from a tipping point in Earth history. I don't want anything disrupting that.
    • "Resolution": The custodians' plans to split the villain's body into three pieces and bury them far away from each other for they and their descendants to guard for all time is foiled when the third custodian is killed by bandits before having left Britain, leaving the piece unguarded for archaeologists to dig up 1200 years later and expose to UV light...
  • Eureka:
    • As of the season 4 premiere, this trope is in full force. Lampshaded when Carter points out Kevin is no longer autistic as omething that logiclly shouldn't have changed and Henry says that no one knows what causes it in the first place.
    • Interestingly, a character later tries to fix something that happened in the 40s due to him being absent at the time. However, he realizes that this particular event can't be changed.
  • Farscape:
    • The crew go on a planet that commemorates/celebrates a peace between Peacekeepers and the race on that world, which at that time was barbaric/tribal. Stark accidentally sends them back to those events, and each of their actions is seen to have at least local effect on the planet: from the changes (rather stagnation) of the local language, to many deaths and even the total destruction of the planet while the crew from the past make more and more effects, and Pilot is horrified. They manage to pull a last-minute all-out old-fashioned killing, which actually saves the planet and puts the planet exactly to where it was...except the women and children who were instrumental in the peace process died, the memorial lamenting their senseless deaths and the peace that followed because of shame over them.
    • In other episodes, it's suggested that Crichton even thinking something different in a wormhole will create an alternate reality/timeline. Even the closest reality almost gets his father killed.
  • Frasier:
    • "Sliding Frasiers" is an episode based on Sliding Doors, in which two paths of Frasier's life are examined on whether he chose to wear a suit or a sweater for a speed dating service. After a week, Frasier's lives meet at the same point, showing no matter which choice he made, he ended up at the same destination.
    • Another example is when we're shown Martin and Daphne's extraordinarily efficient morning routine on several occasions, but on the last one Daphne puts Martin's cereal in a red bowl instead of a yellow one. The whole routine goes to hell, culminating in Martin accidentally throwing his toast on the floor.
      Martin: You know, I don't like this red bowl, it's throwing everything off!
  • Friends: Had an episode's opening end with the cast asking themselves how different their lives would have been if they had taken different paths in life, e.g., Ross' wife never leaving him, Chandler quitting his job and becoming a columnist, Monica not losing weight etc. This episode and the next are called "The One That Could Have Been."
    • "The One with the Flashback" shows that Joey almost never met any of the friends. When Chandler was looking for a roommate, he at first found a different one, but on a whim Mr. Heckles told the guy that he was Chandler's roommate, causing him to leave. This leads to Chandler finding Joey to be his new roommate and subsequently a member of the friends.
  • Fringe:
    • In "The Plateau", a man with artificially increased intelligence uses this concept to kill people. For example, putting a pen on top of a mailbox causes a chain of events that leads to a woman getting run over by a bus.
    • A later episode, "The Firefly", is pretty much an analysis of this trope.
    • In season 5, Peter manages to do this using the observers' technology, like blocking traffic for a minute in order to prevent two people from meeting.
    • A curious case with the two universe's versions of Lincoln Lee. Both are heroic, intelligent, respected, and badass FBI agents. However, the one in main universe is a slightly nerdy Badass Bookworm, while the version in the alternate universe is a slightly edgy all around cooler badass, who doubles as Fun Personified. They at one point compare their personal histories to see if they can figure out what caused such different mannerisms/personalities, but can't find any significant differences.
  • The Fugitive (2000 remake) Had he not been held up by a muscle cramp and by stopping to buy coffee and bagels, Richard Kimble would have arrived home with his wife after their run in the park and been able to save her from her killer.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Maester Aemon mentions that he refused his birthright to become king, so the crown passed to his younger brother, who then passed it to his son the Mad King and inspired Robert's Rebellion. How different might everything have turned out if Aemon had forsaken his vows and taken the job?
    • Jamie pushing Bran from the tower window appropriately ends the pilot episode, as this pivotal moment sets the events of the series in motion.
    • While Rickard Karstark is not a terribly major player in the War of Five Kings, it's his killing of two Lannister boys (and Rickard's summary execution) that causes the Karstarks to abandon the Stark cause, which plays a great part in losing them the war. On top of that, the killing of the two Lannisters also provokes the Lannisters to vengeance, leading to the Red Wedding. In a sense, Rickard Karstark set the entirety of Robb's downfall in motion.
      Karstark: Kill me and be cursed. You are no king of mine.
  • The Good Place: When celestial beings interfere on Earth, even in the most minor of ways, there are unanticipated side effects.
    Gen: Do you realize what you did? You meddled in human affairs! That ripples out, man! Do you know how much weird stuff has happened because of your little experiment? England left Europe. That Hugh Jackman musical about P.T. Barnum? It made like four hundred million dollars. Also, the Jacksonville Jaguars? Are good now.
    Michael: Impossible.
    Gen: I'm serious! They're gonna make the playoffs! Blake Bortles is... kind of okay? Maybe? I don't know, it's... being debated amongst experts, it's confusing. But whatever it is, it's yo fault!
  • Head of the Class: Discussed this when Mr. Moore brought up how the world (specifically America and Cuba) would be different if Fidel Castro was a better baseball player, and went pro instead of becoming President of Cuba. Alan thought it silly, and compared it to Ronald Reagan staying an actor instead of going into politics, which Mr. Moore thought was an excellent point.
  • Heroes: The episode "The Butterfly Effect" hinges around a future character's presence in the present horribly messing up the future, with things getting worse and worse the longer he stays and tries to repair things.
  • How I Met Your Mother: In the episode "Lucky Penny," Ted and Robin miss a flight, then recount the incidents that lead to the incidents that lead to missing the flight, which (Future-Ted points out) itself has a significant effect on his life. The nail was the titular lucky penny.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Den-O: Big Bad Kai uses this in an attempt to prove to Ryotaro that he's right to try and change history. Sending an Imagin back in time, he successfully kills Yuto Sakurai, AKA Zeronos as a teenager, resulting in a reality that seems to be happier overall. Airi, no longer burdened by her missing fiancée, is happier and more vivacious; her coffee shop, now frequented mostly by women, is much more successful; her former suitors have moved on and are actually in successful relationships; and Deneb is happily contracted to Ryotaro. The series' method of handling Time Travel soon restores the dead character to life, and Kai's attempt to sway Ryotaro fails.
    • OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders: This is a major plot point of the upcoming movie. Eiji and Ankh follow New Den-O into the past and Ankh drops one of his Cell Medals. Shocker finds the Medal and reverse engineers it, leading to a Bad Future where Shocker was able to defeat the original two Kamen Riders and conquered the world.
    • Super Hero Taisen GP Kamen Rider 3 uses the same base premise (history is changed so that Shocker defeated the Double Riders), but changes it up by having Shocker remnants who survived all the way up to the 2010s create a history-altering machine; this results in a timeline where most of the subsequent Riders are loyal minions of Shocker, while a small number make up La Résistance.
    • Weaponized by the Big Bad (Swartz/Another Decade) of Kamen Rider Zi-O, whose powers let him create "Another Worlds" of What If? scenarios where past foes of the Kamen Riders triumphed and succeeded in their goals. He can then summon these villains from their worlds to do battle for him, who are much stronger than their canon counterparts because they actually won.
  • In Lab Rats, the events of much of the third season can all trace back to an incident at the end of Season 2 where some kids stole a bunch of laptops.
  • Lost:
    • In season 6, the successful detonation of a bomb on the island in 1977 causes an alternate timeline where the plane never crashed; smaller details (also probably resulting from the bomb detonation) include Hurley having nothing but good luck and some people, such as Shannon, not being on the plane.
    • Now it appears that the bomb didn't cause it, since certain changes (such as Ben and Roger leaving the Island) may have occurred earlier. So we know that there's a nail wanting, but not what the nail is.
  • Lucifer (2016) the final bonus episode of season 3 is narrated by God who is observing an alternate universe where he made a single minor alteration: the bullet that kills the main protagonist Chloe Decker's father in the main timeline merely injures him and he survives, and then observes all the differences between the two versions of reality. Such changes include:
    • Chloe went into acting instead of being a police officer. Her father is still alive and well.
    • Lucifer has not started up his working with the LAPD as it was Chloe's looking beyond the most basic explanation for the death of a human friend of Lucifer's that interested him in helping them.
    • Without being a cop, Chloe never met Detective Dan, her ex-husband in the main reality, and so they never had their daughter Trixie.
    • Dan is fully corrupt in this reality where he was more a Cowboy Cop with good intentions.
    • Crime Scene tech Ella is now a car thief and mechanic.
    • Dr. Linda moved from being a therapist to being one on television.
    • Without having human friends, like Chloe, Linda, and Trixie, the demon Mazikeen has developed a cult of women who wear the same mask she does from the comic.
    • Charlotte Richards who dies near the end of season 3, is alive and well.
    • Amenadiel, Lucifer's brother, is still trying to convince Lucifer to return to his former duties, and is very lonely, not having the friends he had developed in the main reality.
    • And, in spite of this all when the death of a friend ends up bringing both Lucifer and Chloe into each other's circles, they develop a close friendship and Chloe is thinking about joining the police force and Lucifer will follow her along.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • Did an episode which shows two versions of the family's trip to the local bowling alley, with one parent taking the older kids while the other stays home with Dewey. Ultimately neither version is better or worse than the other, with the kids generally being happier with Hal than Lois.
    • Episode "If Boys Were Girls (during season 4 - the pregnacy season) has Lois at the mall with the boys. When they start their usual troubles, Lois phases into a fantasy world where all of their children are girls. It starts out nice and pleasant but later it turns out that they're none the better. Even worse: As they are female, themselves, they know much better how to deceive their mother. Lois still wishes for the new baby to become a girl. At the end of the season, Jamie is born. Some episodes later, it is revealed that Jamie is male.
  • The Man in the High Castle:
    • This is discussed when Joe mentions the fact that he would be a different, and worse, person if he had not met Juliana. This is later demonstrated to horrifying effect in a newsreel depicting an Alternate Timeline in which SS officers, including Joe, cold-bloodedly execute residents of San Francisco, including Frank.
    • There's also the much broader aspect of the Crapsack World Alternate History setting, which seems to have resulted from Franklin D. Roosevelt's assassination in this setting.
  • In Man Seeking Woman, Josh uses Time Travel pills he gets at a drug store to change the past so that Maggie never dumps him. It works and he gets back to the present and they decide to go to dinner, however Josh is still too poor to go where Maggie wants. So he goes back in time again to college to tell his past self to major in economics instead of philosophy. In the present he's rich and also with Maggie, however she says she loves men with beards. He goes back in time to his childhood self, who swore to always shave, and tells himself to stop shaving. When he returns to the present, he's married to Maggie. However, somehow these changes have led to an alien called Trackanon taking over Earth.
  • Married... with Children: Subverted Trope in a Christmas Episode. In a parody of It's a Wonderful Life, an angel (played by Sam Kinison) shows Al what the lives of his family would be like if he had never been born. However, it doesn't turn out as he'd hoped: Peggy is a wealthy socialite that is Happily Married to a handsome guy and is a wonderful mother, Kelly is is a college student genius and child prodigy in French and writing, while Bud is also a genius and a ladies man on top of it. To make things worse, Steve and Marcy are downright miserable in this reality, being much like Al and Peg in the real world. Still, this isn't a failure for the angel; being the misanthrope he is, Al decides that he would rather be miserable himself than see his family, the source of his misery, happy.
  • Mayday: Frequently a factor in accidents.
    • Fatal Distraction: A burned-out landing gear indicator light.
    • Flying Blind: A piece of tape accidentally left over a static port.
    • Flying on Empty: A few millimeters too little separation between a fuel pipe and a hydraulic hose.
    • Gimli Glider: A miscalculation between imperial and metric units during fueling.
    • Mixed Signals: A pitot tube possibly infested by a species of Dominican wasp.
    • Out Of Control: A missing row of rivets.
    • Blow Out: An engineer was unable to see the minute difference in size between old bolts and new due to dark working conditions.
    • Falling Fast: the installation of fuel quantity indicators designed for the ATR 42, in the larger ATR 72.
  • A DVD special feature from My Name Is Earl called "Bad Karma" was about this. The "nail" in question being if Earl, after losing the lottery ticket in the pilot, watched Stewie talk about revenge instead of Carson Daily talk about karma. The result is Earl making a list of people who messed with him in the past, rather than people he messed with. It ends with Catalina getting the lottery ticket, a bald Joy and Darnell running over Earl, and Randy taking over the show after Earl's death, and Jason Lee playing Patty the Day Time Hooker.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring Time Chasers, Tom and Crow build a time machine with the intention of going back and convincing Mike to live his dream as a rock star. Crow succeeds in convincing Mike and, when he returns, he learns that Mike died when someone threw their keys at him at a concert, knocking him out and causing him to fall off the stage and Mike's brother ended up being the one to be brought up instead. Since the man is abusive and a chain smoker, they get tired of it and Crow is able to fix it.
  • NCIS The 200th episode "Life Before His Eyes", is all about Gibbs getting to see what his life would have been like if a few key moments had changed, in what is either a hallucination or divine intervention. In order:
    • What if Kate didn't die?: She and Tony get married, as do Mcgee and Abby, and Kate has a baby that they name Kelly. But Ziva is never recruited to fill her position, resulting in her remaining with Mossad and NCIS arresting her, either because she became a terrorist like her brother, or for the illegal actions her father regularly sends his agents to perform.
    • What if he had never killed the man who murdered his family?: The bitterness turns him into an angry drunk who drives all his friends away, ending up miserable and alone.
    • And, heartbreakingly, What if his family had never been killed to begin with?: Gibbs remains a marine, and is eventually killed in action, leaving them to grieve and also leaving the fate of everyone he's ever saved, everyone he's ever helped, and every case he's ever closed, completely up in the air. The moral of the whole thing seems to be, learn from the past but don't live there.
  • The penultimate episode of the second season of The Orville has a time distortion bringing the Kelly from seven years in the past into the present. She's thrown to discover how she and Ed will be married only for Kelly to cheat on him. When she returns to her time, Kelly decides to turn down Ed's request for a second date in order to spare him the pain of their divorce. The season finale shows the horrific consequences of her rash choice: Because Kelly never felt guilty enough to help Ed out, he didn't captain the Orville. Because of that, Claire never joined the crew to help Ed out. Which means Claire and her sons weren't around to teach Isaac that humanity wasn't all terrible. Which means Isaac never turned on his Kaylon race when they began their sneak attack. Which means that the Kaylons have wiped out half of organic life in the galaxy. Kelly herself admits how her rash choice caused such a disaster and is trying to fix the timeline.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "In Another Life", this is explored through the lives of three Alternate Universe versions of Mason Stark. The lives of the clinically depressed former Eigenphase Industries project manager Mason and the more confident Eigenphase CEO Mason diverged when they were fifteen years old and they each arrived home late and got into an argument with their alcoholic fathers, who started beating them. In the project manager Mason's universe, he let his father beat him instead of fighting back as otherwise he would have beaten his mother again. In the CEO Mason's universe, he fought back and was able to stop him. As a result, his father entered detox and successfully turned his life around. The CEO Mason's life improved considerably as a consequence of this, allowing him to develop greater self-confidence. Unlike the project manager Mason, he finished graduate school and slowly worked his way up the corporate ladder at Eigenphase. The killer Mason's life followed an almost identical path to the project manager Mason's but the former shot most of the people in his office while the latter only considered doing so briefly, quickly realizing that he could never go through with it. The project manager was about to shoot himself when he was brought to the CEO's universe.
  • Just about everyone who knows about Press Your Luck knows about Michael Larson and his infamous $110K+ trouncing of the game. What far fewer noticed is just how close he was to losing every penny of it on his last spin. To wit, Larson ended up stopping the board too early, landing on square 17 instead of the desired square 8. Said square had just switched from $700 + One Spin to a trip to the Bahamas. The other value it could have switched to? A Whammy (incidentally, the very same one he hit on his very first spin). Essentially, Larson was spared being remembered for a very different reason by little more than the flip of a coin.
  • Primeval: In the Season One finale, while Nick and Helen are in the distant past, they accidentally let the offspring of a future predator run wild. When they return, they notice slight changes in the timeline that seem completely unrelated to that one change. Their tiny unnamed department in the Home Office has been turned into a full-fledged Anomaly Research Center. Also, Claudia Brown turns into Jennie Lewis, who, initially, has a completely different personality from Claudia, but later becomes more and more like her.
  • Psych: Shawn imagines an alternate timeline where he had given Juliet Chief Vick's pashmina instead of his own jacket when she felt cold. The events that lead to solving the next day's case diverge radically in his imagination from what actually happens, such as different people dying. Of course, the main difference is that had he given her the pashmina, she wouldn't have found out he was a fraud.
  • Power Rangers Mystic Force: In one episode, The Dragon makes a wish to a Genie that "there were never Mystic Force Power Rangers." As a result, their mentors disappear or go crazy, The Hero never came to town, and the dark forces have taken over.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • One episode had Sam leap into a younger Al, trying to save him from being executed for a crime he didn't commit. As the probability of the younger Al's execution approaches 100%, the older Al is replaced, but when Sam discovers a vital clue, Al is restored, and Sam completes the mission with the help of both Als. The nail? A cigar in Al's glovebox, belonging to his best friend at the time, who turned out to be the real murderer.
    • An earlier episode had the Quantum Leap Project about to have its federal funding cut off. When Sam helps a woman out in the past, however, she ends up replacing the committee chairman in the present that was about to cut off the funding, and renews it instead. And everybody thought he was supposed to prevent the 1960 U-2 Incident.
    • One could say that Sam is leaping to provide nails throughout the history of his lifetime.
    • The nail comes about when Sam is resting on a bed with the woman. Turns out she is studying for the bar exam, so he offers to quiz her. But the nail turns out to be the question he asks her because the wind blew some pages while they weren't looking. Interestingly, Al seems to notice while he was in court; and the shift occurs right when the decision was being read.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • It is revealed that the pathetic and cowardly Rimmer diverged from his ludicrously cool alternate-universe counterpart Ace at one critical juncture: one of them was held back a grade in school, and the other was not. Noteworthy in that Ace was the one held back - the humiliation drove him to fight back and improve himself.
    • More noteworthy, it is implied that every Rimmer in every dimension has the full unbridled potential to become Ace, provided they get the training and the wig.
  • Revolution: "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" reveals that the Georgia Federation not only still has a trading fleet of tall ships, but is in regular communication (and possibly a military alliance) with England. If only Maggie had travelled there instead of the Monroe Republic as well as survived past "The Plague Dogs", she might have made it home to her kids after all....
  • Scrubs:
    • The episode "My Butterfly", where two possible days are shown based on whether the eponymous butterfly lands on a woman's cleavage or a fat guy's... well, cleavage. Everything that goes wrong in the first version goes right in the second, except for one patient, who dies at the end of both.
    • Scrubs also utilizes this with an 8 year "feud" between J.D. and the Janitor being the result of a penny someone dropped in a sliding door. The Janitor saw JD drop the penny, and was hoping he would fess up so they could be friends. JD didn't confess because he didn't want Janitor mad at him, so they could be friends.
  • Seconds Before Disaster: This documentary series is centered on this trope and lampshades this a lot:
    Narrator: "A chain of critical events that led to the X disaster..."
  • Sliders:
    • This was the most common plot in the first few seasons, with such universes as "Exactly like ours, but the atom bomb was never invented", "Exactly like ours but antibiotics were never invented", "Exactly like ours but one of the heroes was Elvis", etc. This plot became less common as the series progressed.
    • This is directly referenced in one episode, wherein the device that creates the wormholes initially cannot be fixed because in this parallel Earth everyone had an almost superstitious aversion to higher technology.
    • An early episode also showed that, had the US lost the Korean War instead of it resulting in a stalemate, the Domino Theory would become a fact and would result in the US being conquered by the USSR.
  • Smallville:
    • Did this with its tenth season episode, "Luthor", in which Clark visits Earth-2, a world where he was found by Corrupt Corporate Executive and Diabolical Mastermind Lionel Luthor, instead of the Kents. In it, Lionel has literally taken over the world, using Clark as his muscle and Lex and Lutessa as the brains; he's far more evil than his Earth-1 counterpart, having had ultimate power thrust into his hands. Clark himself is Ultraman, a homicidal maniac and Psycho for Hire who serves as his "father's" Dragon. Lutessa (Earth-1 Tess Mercer) is acknowledged by her father, is living with him, and is sleeping with her adopted brother Clark. Lex is dead, having betrayed the family and tried to murder Ultraman. Lois Lane and Oliver Queen are engaged; Oliver is hated for having evicted most of the town of Smallville, just so he can mine for Kryptonite. The Justice League does not exist, and even Oliver isn't Green Arrow, just an angry millionaire with a self-esteem problem. All because Superman became a villain.
    • There is also that episode when Brainiac and Kara traveled to the past. Clark was aware of this, but he did not care since he thought everyone's life would be better if Brainic succeeded in killing him. Cue Jor-El giving him a sight of how the world would be then. Lex is the President, Kara was found and raised as a Luthor, Brainiac is Lex advisor, all the Meteor Freaks have been killed, and Brainiac soon will release Zod in a soon to be destroyed world.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1:
      • The two-parter "Moebius" shows how, by meddling with time, SG-1 created an alternate timeline in which the Stargate was never found in Giza, and how it affected (or, rather, ruined) their lives — that is, until the people of that universe set off to Set Right What Once Went Wrong.
      • The SG-1 direct-to-DVD movie Stargate Continuum had Ba'al causing this intentionally, with plenty of resulting changes. The Stargate was lost when the ship carrying it across the ocean to America was lost with all hands on board. One effect of one of those people dying was made explicit. The captain was Mitchell's Identical Grandfather, and he hadn't had kids yet. Unusually, some of it was quite positive—for instance, Jack O'Neill's son, dead in the original timeline, was doing just fine. The interesting thing here is that Jack's son died in a tragic accident which bore no relation to the Stargate program at all. So the butterfly effect must have been at work in really subtle and far-reaching ways...
      • Several alternate SGCs are seen to have been defeated by Apophis' invasion at the end of season 1. In the case of "There But For the Grace of God", the SGA is crippled by having had no Daniel Jackson on the expedition to Abydos, and therefore never learning the Goa'uld language.
    • Stargate Atlantis: In the season 5 episode "Vegas", it's implied that the single event that differentiates this alternate universe from the main one is that John Sheppard, during his tour as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, refused orders to retreat (because he was fraternizing with a female soldier who got trapped behind enemy lines) and instead performed a failed rescue mission that got multiple people killed. He's dishonorably discharged and is never stationed in Antarctica, which led to him being attached to the Atlantis mission in the first place, instead becoming a cop in Las Vegas.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: The entire Temporal Cold War appears to be based on this trope. In "Shockwave" Captain Archer is due to be interrogated by Big Bad Silik, so he's yanked off the turbolift by time agent Daniels and taken to the 31st century Earth—which is now in ruins because of Daniels' action. In "Storm Front" Nazi Germany is winning the Second World War, apparently because a temporal agent assassinated Lenin. And in "Twilight" the fact that Archer is disabled by a Negative Space Wedgie means he's unable to save the human race from being wiped out by the Xindi.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • "Yesterday's Enterprise": the Enterprise-C was originally destroyed while defending a Klingon base from a Romulan attack. In this episode, a temporal anomaly throws it forward in time to the time of the Enterprise-D. This changes the timeline into a Bad Present where the Federation is at war with the Klingons and on the verge of losing. The Enteprise-D is now a warship, Worf is absent for obvious reasons and Tasha Yar is still alive. Guinan is aware of the changes and convinces everyone to defend the Enterprise-C while it goes back to the past, knowing that everyone involved will be killed (and with Tasha taking the place of the C's tactical officer).
    • Also "Tapestry": Q shows Picard that by correcting one mistake in his youth, a seemingly beneficial act, he never becomes captain of the Enterprise. (He specified, however, just to assuage Picard's conscience, that he's "not that important" and that no one would die or otherwise be terribly affected by this choice except for himself.)
    • The final season episode "Parallels" has Worf jumping from parallel universe to parallel universe, where this trope is in full effect. La Forge is dead in about half of them, Picard is dead in about a quarter of them, Wesley Crusher's a lieutenant in a few of them, one has the Bajorans becoming a militaristic empire after defeating Cardassia, and the last gasp effort to set things right is almost disrupted by an Enterprise where the Borg have pretty much conquered everything. Worf retains his memories of everything, however, which inspires him to try to romance Troi.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: "City on the Edge of Forever". Specifically, the event here is a woman in the 1930s not getting hit by a truck and proceeding to lead a massive peace movement that keeps the US out of World War II for several years. This gives the Nazis time to develop nuclear weapons and win the war.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • The "Year of Hell" two-parter involves a Krenim timeship making subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the timeline hoping to create a perfect timeline where their empire is once again powerful and all their loved ones are alive. One part featured Chakotay offering to erase an insignificant-looking comet from history, thus preventing the Voyager's interference in Krenim affairs. The Krenim captain explains that Chakotay would be wiping out half the species in the sector due to this comet being involved in seeding most of the inhabited planets in the sector billions of years ago. The captain might seem like a bit of a hypocrite for pointing out Chakotay's mistake, but the whole thing is about him trying to fix the mistake he made in the first place. As the timeship itself exists out of time, destroying it at any point causes it to never have been built, and leading to a more or less happy ending for everyone involved.
    • The Voyager novel Echoes occurs when a planet activates a revolutionary new transport system that happens to shift the residents over one universe. When the Voyager is inadvertently summoned by the energy pulse, it is out of range of the shifts (which seem to be confined to the planet's surface, and specifically the people on the planet), though it does see the effects of it. Residents report small changes in the world around them as they're moved. This wouldn't be such a problem, except somewhere down the line, the planet was hit by a meteor. That universe's Voyager was tasked with trying to save a few billion people. And a few hours after that, a few billion more. And a few hours after that...
    • The episode "Non Sequitur" shows what would have happened if Harry Kim was not chosen to be among those who would be in Voyager's crew. The most significant change is that in the altered timeline, Tom was arrested on DS9 for getting into a fight with Quark and was left behind, finishing out his prison sentence and becoming a washed-up drunk with nothing to live for.
      • It's never expressly stated, but given how many times Tom played a key role in saving Voyager and the crew, it's likely that this universe's version of Voyager may have run into some moments of this too.
  • Supernatural:
    • In the Season 2 episode "What Is and What Shall Never Be," like in the Buffy example above, this trope combines with a subverted Wonderful Life so that Dean wishes that the fire that killed Sam and Dean's mother never happened. She and Sam's girlfriend, Jessica, are still alive, but Dean's a horrible asshole and he and Sam have a terrible relationship, and the Wonderful Life part comes in when Dean finds out that every person he, Sam, and/or their father had saved while hunting had died. And then it turns out to be All Just a Dream caused by a djinn.
    • Season 5's finale "Swan Song" opens with a narration from Chuck about the significance of Dean's 1967 Chevy Impala. He even declares it to be the most important thing in existence. Earlier in the season, Dean had been shown a vision of the future in which they were unable to prevent the apocalypse. The experience convinced him to stay closer to Sam, which in turn caused him to be present at the showdown between Michael and Lucifer. Dean didn't actually do anything to make any difference; simply his and the Impala's presence was enough to give Sam the strength to overcome Lucifer long enough to lock him away, thereby preventing the apocalypse.
    • In Season 6, an angel goes back in time and saves the Titanic from sinking. This resulted in thousands more people being alive today and many changes but the brothers are immune to this effect for the most part and their own lives are not significantly changed.
    • Season 12 introduces an Alternate Universe where Mary Campbell never made the deal with Azazel. Because of that choice she made, a number of changes ended up happening to this world in comparison to the main one.
      • John was never resurrected, which means that Sam and Dean were never born and became hunters. Since they were never born, there was no way for the Apocalypse to be aborted and humanity is on the verge of complete destruction.
      • Bobby was never killed by Dick Roman since the Leviathans were never unleashed in this world, and he is the leader of the La Résistance of the Apocalypse World.
      • Charlie was never killed by the Styne family and is one of the leaders of the La Résistance of the Apocalypse World.
      • Kevin Tran lost everyone he cared about and was coerced into helping Michael in order to see his mother again.
      • Zachariah wasn't killed by Dean; he's still serving as Michael's lieutenant and chief interrogator.
      • Castiel is an unhinged Torture Technician in Michael's army.
  • On That '70s Show, Eric has an It's a Wonderful Plot episode after he and Donna break up and he wishes he never dated her. An angel (Wayne Knight) shows up and offers to grant his wish. In the alternate reality, Hyde dates Donna instead, and Eric ends up being a spineless wimp (because Donna was the one who showed him to stand up to people) who is in chess club. He goes to prom with, and only ever dates, Big Rhonda. Also, because Hyde is with Donna, there is no one to take Jackie to prom, so Jackie and Kelso never get back together and Kelso ends up marrying Pam Macy. Additionally, Donna and Hyde end up getting married in a Shotgun Wedding and Eric's parents have another son.
  • Timeless has a trio trying to stop Flynn, a man who goes back in time to alter major events of American history. While they can sometimes stop him, often, he manages to do something that causes the world they return to to be slightly different.
    • In the pilot, the Hindenburgh ends up crashing a day later and only two people are killed. When she returns home, historian Lucy discovers that her life has been dramatically altered. One person who should have died in the original disaster went on to have a granddaughter who married Lucy's father, Henry, who never met her mother, Carol. Because she never met Henry, Carol never started smoking and thus never developed cancer that would put her in a coma. It also means Lucy's sister, Amy, was never born. Lucy is rocked to realize that the only reason she still exists is because Henry was never her real father, something her mother has been lying to her about all her life. Lucy also finds herself engaged to a man she's never met.
    • When Flynn tries to change the events of the Lincoln assassination, the team manages to fix things enough that most of the resulting changes are merely footnotes in history books that did not impact the course of history in a significant way. Also, Lucy now has a school named after her.
    • A funny effect is when the team is aided in stopping a Nazi rocket launch by Ian Fleming. When they get back to the present, they discover that Felming used the adventure as the basis of a "new" Sean Connery Bond movie.
    • When Flynn tries to ruin the Apollo 11 mission, the team gets Katherine Johnson to help them save the landing. In the present, they see that Johnson was credited on the front pages of newspapers for "single-handedly" saving the astronauts. Rather than live her career in obscurity due to her race, Johnson became the first female flight director of NASA and a major star for the women's lib and civil rights movements.
    • Flynn himself notes how things may not change as large as one thinks when, in 1777, he kills General Cornwallis. When Lucy brings up how Cornwallis is supposed to negotiate a peace treaty with the French twenty years from now, Flynn just snaps "so someone else will do it! You see one redcoat, you've seen them all!"
  • Ugly Betty: In one episode, Betty gets knocked out and dreams of a world where she was born with perfect teeth. This slight change results in her being hired as Wilhelmina's assistant leading to Marc being fired and becoming a meek receptionist with a baby, Daniel marrying Amanda leading to her cheating on him with Tyler, Betty becoming an Alpha Bitch leading to everyone hating her, Ignacio investing the money he would have spent on her braces leading to him becoming filthy rich with a gambling addiction and Hilda being the "ugly sister" leading to Justin never being born.
  • One episode in the final season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt shows what would have happened if Kimmy never got kidnapped. Without Kimmy's rebellious spirit, the Reverend was able to kidnap over twenty women before being caught. Jaclyn and Mikey are trapped in a loveless marriage and become the tenants of Lilian, now the the ruthless leader of a latino gang. Titus joins the Church of Cosmetology for nine years before quitting and becoming a successful actor, and ends up having an affair with Mikey. Kimmy graduates college and eventually becomes an alcoholic Rich Bitch news reporter, whose own marriage falls apart when her husband cheats on her. When they catch up to the present, Kimmy has married Titus and become his beard... only to be murdered by a Serial Killer (who they only invite in because Kimmy is not distrustful of strangers in this timeline; the real Kimmy scared the guy off at the beginning of the episode.)
    • The 2020 interactive special for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has it where you multiple choice your way through the story, and your choices will affect the story in major or minor ways.
  • Unsolved Mysteries: A lot of the stories have a sense of this. Were it not for an utterly mundane and random errand like a late night trip to the supermarket/coffee shop/ATM, many of the people featured in the "murder" or "missing persons" stories would still be alive today.
  • A Warehouse 13 Christmas Episode has Pete play with an Artifact (as usual), resulting in him finding himself in a world where he was never born. As a result, Artie never made his escape during the Blood Stone incident in the pilot and was caught by Myka on the charges of attempted assassination. Myka was never made a Warehouse agent and had no reason to go back to visit her parents; thus, her father died of a heart attack having never mended fences with her. With Artie out of the way, McPherson manages to convince Mrs. Frederick and the Regents that he was framed by Artie and is reinstated. He continues acting in his own interests but, being the top agent, manages to keep it hidden from everyone. Oh, and Claudia is still in the mental hospital, while her brother is trapped between worlds.


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