Bad news is of course hard to tell to other people (unless someone is feeling malicious), which means it's preferable in those circumstances to try to break the news as gently as possible.
There are several methods. One of the most common in fiction is to tell the recipient to sit down before hearing the news, often in case the news is upsetting enough to cause them to faint. Often, to show how tough or badass they are, the listener usually says, through clenched jaws, "I think I'll stand" or "I prefer to stand" or some variation thereof.
Regardless of the delivery, how the recipient reacts can vary, before and after hearing the news. Before, some might be so anxious, they can shout "Just Tell Me!", while others might ask for a minute to prep themselves. After, some can be happy (if the news was actually in their favor without the bearer knowing it), and some can react even worse than the bearer feared.
A Dramatic Sit-Down is likely at some point.
- Played with in an old ad for Playtex tampons. When the endorser addresses the audience with a gentle, grave-sounding, "You'd better sit down," she is referring to the fact that the competing brand becomes longer when wet, and is therefore less comfortable and inconspicuous while the wearer is standing or in motion.
- Happy Heroes: In Season 7 episode 28, Little M. tries to bring Big M.'s attention to a slip stating he's lost his job as a general by indirectly giving it to him, so as not to witness him having a heart attack over it. His attempts fail due to various outside factors distracting Big M. from noticing the note.
- A Pearls Before Swine strip has Pig call Goat to ask if he's sitting down. Goat freaks out and asks what's happened, and Pig replies: "Oh, it's just comfy."
- In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, after the four meet and de-curse the Last Wizard but still don't know what's going on, she very gently explains:
The Wizard sighed deeply. "Ever since you have returned here, you have been distracted, tricked, betrayed in so deep and subtle a fashion that I am almost ashamed to tell you what happened, for it was partially my doing, though my involvement in it was opportunistic rather than initiatory. I protected you from something far worse, and I would have stopped it all had I the power. Please understand that I am deeply and permanently grateful to you for breaking my curse, and I profoundly regret that what I am about to say will cause you distress. It is my fervent hope that once you are fully cognizant of your circumstances, we can work together to alleviate them.""Right," said John after a short, unhappy silence, "we're no strangers to bad news and betrayal, so bring it on, let's get it over with."
- In All This Sh*t is Twice as Weird, Dorian shoulders the burden of informing Cullen that the Inquisitors and some of their companions have fallen into a Fade rift. He's pretty sure he fails at the 'gently' part, judging by the reaction.
- Enforced in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. After King John is told that the Sheriff of Rottingham has bad news, the corrupt Prince John orders the Sheriff to "tell me the Bad News in a Good Way." So the Sheriff puts on an overly affected cackle to tell of how Robin Hood is back from the Crusades, defeated the Sheriff's men, and is coming to see Prince John hanged.
"What are you, crazy?! Why are you laughing?! This is terrible news!"
- Used in Facing the Giants, when Coach Grant Taylor gets a call informing him that his team will be allowed into the playoffs after all because the team they lost to in the last game cheated. You only hear Grant's end of the conversation, but he repeats the callers question of "Am I sitting down?" with obvious confusion.
- Played straight in La Bamba. Donna enters the room after the news of Ritchie's death has been announced. She missed it but wants to know why everyone is so upset. Her sobbing friend warns her, "You'd better sit down, Donna."
- In 7 Zwerge, the Magic Mirror is reluctant to tell the Queen that Snow White is still alive.
Mirror: You are the fairest my Queen... although well, when one considers it globally, then...
Queen: What? I'm the fairest of them all!
Mirror: Yes, well, "of them all" is currently... a bit exaggerated. Now when you exclude the dwarven lands... then sure... But beyond the seven mountains by the seven dwarves... there is this Snow White and well...
- Inverted in Independence Day: When the President can't bear to tell his daughter about her mom's death, she breaks the bad news gently to herself by sadly asking, "Is Mommy sleeping?" The President quietly responds, "Yeah," and hugs her.
- Scary Movie 3: Parodied when George informs Sue about the death of Brenda, who was her teacher. It seems like he'll be considerate in telling her this news, since she's only a child. Instead he just loudly screams in her face and tells her he ran over her dog too. ("EVERYONE you love around you is DYING!")
- Attempted in Captain America: The First Avenger, with Steve Rogers waking up in a room set up to appear like his familiar 1940s setting in order to give him time to rest before being told that seven decades have gone by. Unfortunately, he sees through the setup and makes a run for it, running smack into present-day New York City.
- Averted in Voyage of the Rock Aliens.
Sheriff: Am I speaking to the widow of John S. Lamont?
Mrs. Lamont: You must be mistaken. I'm not a widow.
Sheriff: The hell you're not. [hangs up]
- A man goes on vacation and his friend is watching his cat. A few days in the man calls to check up, and the friend says "Your cat fell off the roof and died." The man says, "Ouch! Couldn't you have said it more gently, like 'Your cat climbed up on the roof, there was a loose tile, she fell, I rushed her to the vet, but there was nothing they could do'?" The friend apologizes and a few months go by. The man goes away again, and calls to check in. His friend says "Your mother climbed up on the roof..."
- A Remittance Man is arrested and hanged for stealing cattle out West. The lawyer charged with informing his father agonizes for some time about how to best break this news to the family, finally settling on "Dear sir, I regret to inform you of the death of your son. He was participating in a public function when the platform fell out from under him."
- In one of the sequels to The Princess Diaries, Mia's mother calls this "Cat on the Roof"ing. She explains that, if she had to tell Mia, living away from home, that her beloved cat had died, she would do it over a series of calls. She'd start by saying that she'd left the window open and Louie had gotten onto the roof (hence the name). Then she'd explain that she hadn't been able to catch him yet. And eventually, she'd explain that he'd died. Mia is horrified by the idea and spends her time Comically Missing the Point trying to explain better ways to lure Louie back home. Her mother's point is that, since Mia knows in advance that she has a scheduling conflict between her royal duties and a prearranged date with her boyfriend, she should begin hinting that something might come up, that maybe they should reschedule, so that she's not either leading him on or hurting his feelings by bluntly telling him she can't make it. Mia tries it, but finds it isn't her style.
- It's not quite "you should sit down", but in Thud! when Willikins the butler is reading Commander Vimes the Ankh-Morpork Times, while Vimes shaves himself, he advises Vimes to put down the razor before reading the headline about a vampire joining the Watch. When Vimes asks about the editorial cartoon, Willikins asks if Vimes has picked the razor back up, and then suggests stepping away from the sink.
- On The Andy Griffith Show, Andy once had to call a woman and tell her that her husband, whom they presumed dead and held a funeral for 2 years ago, has turned up alive. Knowing this will be a huge shock, he tries to get her to sit down.
Andy: I think you should sit down. No really, please sit down. Well ma'am, you can have it your own way. Don't sit down. All right: your husband is alive... hello? Hello? (hangs up) I believe she's sat down.
- In The Big Bang Theory episode "The Spaghetti Catalyst," Sheldon tells Leonard to sit down. Leonard informs Sheldon that he's already lying in bed, which should be good enough.
- One episode of Criminal Minds has JJ helping a young local sheriff with his first time notifying a victim's family. The rules she lays out are: Expect a physical reaction and try to get them to sit (she once had someone pass out and hit her head, then needed to repeat the news at the hospital). Be prepared to provide proof (to help with the 'denial' stage). Don't be afraid to show emotion and empathize with the person (they'll feel more validated if the authorities share their grief). The sheriff scoffs at the last one, but he winds up shedding a few tears.
- Played with in the Quantum Leap episode "Miss Deep South," in which Sam has leapt into a beauty pageant contestant. Al comes bearing bad news, and insists that Sam sit down before he hears it. Sam sits down and his skirt's crinoline cage hits him in the face. Al relents, "I think you better stand up, Sam."
- Dexter did this in the 2010 season opener when presenting news of his wife's death.
- Dateline NBC:
Chris Hansen: Why don't you take a seat over there?
- Sometimes happens on the PBS show Ghostwriter, as people tend to be freaked out upon seeing the titular character for the first time and receiving his outgoing, friendly greeting.
- M*A*S*H has this exchange over the phone:
General-of-the-week: Are you sitting down, Henry?
Henry Blake: [stands up] No sir!
GOTW: Maybe you should, I have some exciting news.
Henry: [sits down] Yes sir!
Hawkeye: They're giving you calisthenics over the phone?
- The police officers of Law & Order frequently ask relatives of victims to sit down.
- In Off Centre, Chau says that bad news can be softened by ending it with making your voice high and making it seem like a question. Later, Mike's girlfriend breaks up with him trying the same thing.
- In the World War II Mini Series The Sinking of the Laconia, Captain Sharp says tells Junior Officer Thomas Mortimer "You better sit down," before presenting him with a telegram. Mortimer doesn't sit down; he merely asks, "All of them, sir?" As one can probably guess, his wife and children have all been killed in an air raid.
- On ER whenever a doctor has to break the news of a patient's death. Results vary.
- In Horrible Histories, none of the courtiers, for obvious reasons, want to tell Henry VIII his wife is unfaithful, so they call on the court jester to deliver the news. The jester manages to do so in a way that keeps Henry from reacting until the jester's out of the room. "Hmm, do you think he was trying to tell me something?"
- In Three's Company, Jack lies to his grandfather about being a doctor to impress him and uses this to guilt Terri into letting him use an empty office at the hospital to maintain the charade.
- In Gossip Girl Dorota asks Blair if she wants to hear the bad news or the good news first. She considers, then says she wants to hear the good news first so that she can fully appreciate it. The good news, "There is a replacement," however, doesn't make sense without hearing the bad news first (her prom dress is ruined).
- Tout Va Très Bien Madame La Marquise: A marquise calls her servants to ask how things are going. They tell her that all is well (tout va très bien), except her horse died. Then they describe the series of events that led to this calamity, with each link in the chain more horrible than the one before it.
- The horse died in the stable fire, the stable caught fire because the castle was on fire, the castle was on fire because the marquis knocked over a candle, he knocked over a candle because he'd shot himself, he'd shot himself because he learned he was bankrupt. But other than that, everything's going fine.
- Done in The Navy Lark between Mister Phillips and the ship's Chaplain in a very confused conversation about a pregnant racehorse (which the Chaplain thinks is a girl Phillips has got knocked up due to how Phillips broached the subject), with the Chaplain being so shocked that after having had to sit down he declares "I think I better stand up again."
- Red vs. Blue: Grif couldn't sit down because both of his kneecaps were shattered, so Sarge ordered Simmons to prepare catching him when they had to explain (again) that his Sister had died.
- In Champions of Far'aus, the city guard who had to tell Wila that her sister and brother-in-law are dead, and that she'll have to take care of her nephew, nervously tries to lead into the news.
Wila: Why is my nephew with you?
City Guard: Well uh, Ma'am we understand you haven't talked to your sister or her husband in a long time and well — Unfortunately...
- During one page of Friendly Hostility, Fox and Colin are given some heavy news. Fox says he needs to sit down, to which Colin replies "You already are."
- In The Order of the Stick, Haley has some difficulty trying to figure out how to tell Celia that her boyfriend is dead (albeit only temporarily), which unfortunately is complicated by Celia being Literal-Minded over her metaphors. Sick of wasting time, Belkar decides it is best to just shout it in the bluntest manner possible.
Belkar: OK, that's IT! I can't take the euphemisms any more! Roy is dead!
- Questionable Content: Played for Laughs after Roko the robot is Squashed Flat. An AI counselor tries to ease her into the news that her previous body was unrecoverable, but...
Lemon: ...it says in your file that you're a bread enthusiast. How do you feel about... pancakes? Or, um, crepes?
- 6teen has an episode where Marlowe wants to break up with Wyatt, so Jonesy offers to tell Wyatt for her. He tries to do this, but it backfires when he takes Wyatt to a parlour where people break up and everyone in there thinks they're a gay couple breaking up.
- Barbara Gordon does this in The New Batman Adventures episode where she fear-toxin hallucinated that Gordon had turned against Batman and gotten both of them killed after she died in the tights. She intends to tell him the truth, and has him sit down before she starts. He cuts her off to maintain deniability, though, as it's implied he already knew.
- Played with in The Proud Family, where Oscar says they shouldn't bother sitting down 'cause they're just gonna stand up again before revealing something exciting.
- Spoofed in the TaleSpin episode "Bearly Alive", when Rebbecca got a call about a broken plane part. The guy on the other line said she should sit down, but she already was. The guy told her to stand up, and then sit down.
- In Dragons: Riders of Berk, Astrid calls it "the honey and the hatchet." First you say something nice to soften the blow, then you hit them with the bad news. When Hiccup tries it on his dad, Stoic sees right through it.