Informed Real Life Fame is a type of Audience Reaction that occurs when the luster of a real-life "superstar" seems oddly contained to the universe of a particular TV program or movie where he is appearing As Himself.
Sometimes, the Informed Real Life Fame can arise in retrospect such as when a One-Hit Wonder manages to land a guest-shot as himself or herself on a popular TV show just before his or her 15 minutes expires. At the time the episode originally airs, the One Hit Wonder may actually have a fair amount of fame and public recognition but in the reruns aired years after the One Hit Wonder has ceased being even the punchline to flash-in-the-pan jokes, people seeing the show will have no idea who the One Hit Wonder is and will be puzzled about why he (or she) is being presented as such a big deal. (This also makes the episode of the TV show an Unintentional Period Piece.)
Another way Informed Real Life Fame comes into play is when the "celebrity" depicted in the TV program as a hot new star is, in real life, a One Hit Wonder Without a Hit. Even people seeing the show when it's initially aired have little idea on who this heavily-hyped newcomer is and why he (or she) is being presented as such a big deal. In some cases, this example of Informed Real Life Fame comes about when a campaign of money, publicity, and hype to launch an unknown performer into superstar status fails spectacularly.
Increasingly, Informed Real Life Fame has become intermingled with Fan Myopia and Popcultural Osmosis Failure. As popular culture gets more fragmented, a person who's famous with one particular demographic may be completely unknown by another. Something similar can be experienced if someone from "Country A" is watching a TV show from "Country B" featuring a guest-star who's not known outside of "Country B".
- A commercial example: back in the 1970s, Alberto VO 5 hair products had a series of ads starring "international superstar" Rula Lenska. While she was recognizable as an actress in the UK, in North America she was famous chiefly as "that woman on the shampoo commercials nobody's ever heard of."
- This came up in an episode of Designing Women, when Pop-Culture junkie Charlene admits feeling pangs of guilt because the commercials made it seem like she should know who Lenska was, but she simply didn't.
- A 1980s Archie Comics story guest-starred, and featured on the cover, one Glen Scarpelli as a Teen Idol that the characters just couldn't stop gushing about. In fact, while Scarpelli wasn't completely obscure—he had a recurring role as Alex Handris on One Day at a Time—he wasn't known for his music. However, his father, Henry Scarpelli, had been an Archie Comics artist for decades, so draw your own conclusion.
- Wonder Woman is an example of a fictional character suffering this. DC Comics likes to bill her as part of their Big Three, alongside Batman and Superman. The reality is is that the latter two are far more well known than she is, and her own books are regularly outsold by DC's other big name superheroes. Her live-action TV show was the only adaptation of her that became ingrained in the public consciousness, with most other planned adaptations of her never getting off the ground. Any attempts at giving her a consistent personality, a long-term supporting cast and even an interesting rogues gallery have often failed to stick, with even Steve Trevor, the man who's supposed to be her main love interest, getting regularly ignored because most writers have no idea what to do with him. Ask the average person about Batman and Superman, and chances are they'll be able to tell you their abilities, their sidekicks and the names of some of their villains. Ask the average person about Wonder Woman and they'll likely tell you that she's the biggest female superhero, maybe the fact that she has a lasso and an invisible jet—and little more besides that. She became more mainstream famous with the Wonder Woman (2017) film, as it is both the first critically successful film in the DCEU and had the biggest opening weekend for a blockbuster directed by a woman. It was the highest grossing DCEU film domestically, beating out even Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
- A weird example in that Supergirl has never been a terribly prominent part of the Superman mythos. However, she is instantly one of the most recognizable superheroines in the world to both children and adults. Critics have said that may simply be because common-sense says a female teenager in Superman's costume is Supergirl but it is still true. Despite this, there have been literal decades where Supergirl has had little-to-no-major role in comics. Likewise, she rarely plays a major role in Superman's stories. This is changing in recent years with the Post-Crisis New Krypton storyline and incorporating her into the New 52 Superman stories from the beginning. So in a way, that would make her the opposite of Wonder Woman as she appeared very little but is well-known while WW appeared from the 1940s but isn't very widely read.
- While six of the traditional Justice League of America "founders" are iconic characters that have been adapted (albeit with vastly variable results) as the title stars in plenty of other media and generally have good sales for their solo comics, the seventh (either the Martian Manhunter or Cyborg, depending on what version of the league it is) has not had nearly as much success even within comics.
- Probably the best example of this occurred when the short-lived late 70s sitcom Hello Larry made a desperate attempt to garner higher ratings by getting Joey "Not John" Travolta to guest-star on the show as himself. Although efforts were made during the episode to convince viewers he was every bit as hot and famous as his older brother, even then people knew he was a lesser-known sibling trying to ride on his coattails.
- During the 1970s, there were several variety specials aired starring an unknown singer named Dora Hall. Hall was the 70-something wife of Solo Cup Company CEO Leo Hulseman who used his fortune to bankroll her recording career and produce her TV specials even though she hadn't performed publicly since the 1920s. Hulseman even lined up some recognizable-at-the-time guest stars for Hall's shows even though they were as much in the dark about who she was and why she was being presented as such a big deal as the TV viewers.
- The Muppet Show had this to an extent in the first season, when no-one knew how big it was going to be, and the special guests were mostly doing Lew Grade a favour. So there were several British celebs that American audiences had never heard of, but Kermit would still try and convince everyone that Bruce Forsyth was an international megastar. (It should be noted that there were also a number of American celebs that British audiences had never heard of - someone like George Burns was no problem, but Phyllis George?)
- And then there was Chris Langham, the only British writer on the show, who had to stand in as guest when Richard Pryor made himself unavailable. At the time, he would have been relatively unknown even in the UK though he subsequently became recognisable for his role in The Thick of It. For other reasons, he is now more infamous than famous.
- Not so much in the show itself, but NBC's advertising for The Master (aka Master Ninja) hyped co-star Timothy van Patten as "the supreme heartthrob." As our own page notes, "Timothy van Patten was never a supreme heartthrob, even in 1984."
- On reruns of What's My Line?, the mystery celebrities are often long-forgotten teen heartthrobs or Broadway stars. (Oh my gosh, it's...Van Johnson?) This was particularly prevalent by the early 1970s, after Line had been a five-a-week show for several years ... and producer Gil Fates was left to scour the streets, cast lists of those Broadway shows (for co-stars) and local New York-New Jersey personalities. Fates was guest one time, and the joke was "Very big mystery, very little guest."
- Parodied on one The Weakest Link special, which specifically used B list celebrities (or "People who are famous for one reason or another." as Anne Robinson put it).
- Also parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000 with "TV's Frank". "TV's Frank" is not famous for anything even though his name would suggest he's a well-known television star. The creators just thought the convention of adding "TV's" or "Hollywood's" to an actor's name is funny. In-universe he's just some guy Dr. Forrester met in an Arby's.
Max: Dear TV's Diary of TV's Son of TV's Frank...
- The joke is taken Up to Eleven in season 11 with TV's Frank's son Max, or as he prefers to be called "TV's Son of TV's Frank". Like his father, in Universe he's simply just a second banana lackey to a member of the resident family of Mad Scientists, and isn't known for being on TV (unless you count being on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is being broadcast as a Netflix show in universe).
- The show also has Gypsys obsession with the obscure actor Richard Basehart, which started as a random non-sequitur during her early characterization as The Ditz, as her answer to Whats two plus two? The crew then decided it would be a funny Running Gag for her to be a huge fan of someone most of the audience had never heard of.
- Parodied by Extras in its Christmas special. Andy Millman appears on Celebrity Big Brother and rants about the producers' definition of "celebrity", claiming they could be sued under the Trades Descriptions Act.
- It's been joked several times that networks play fast and loose with the definition of the term "star" for Celebrity Editions. Alongside the high-profile actors and world-class athletes, are quite a few people who are only known to a niche audience at best and completely unknown to the mainstream at worst. Finding a dozen or so people who have both the interest and the time available is rather tricky from a scheduling standpoint, so they have to cast the net wide to fill out their roster.
- Perhaps the most blatant example of this in Dancing with the Stars was when Bristol Palin was cast as a "star" on the show. For those not in the know, she's the daughter of Sarah Palin, who was running for vice president in the 2008 US election, and Bristol's only claim to fame is...becoming a teen mother while her mother was campaigning (and while Bristol was promoting teen abstinence).
- One of the contestants in the Celebrity version of The Apprentice was Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, whose claim to fame was... competing in The Apprentice.
- Happens in retrospect on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show had Bell Biv DeVoe, Tevin Campbell and Al B. Sure! as guest stars. Both Tevin Campbell and Al B. Sure were big at the time the show aired (early 1990s) but ended up being one hit wonders.
- Full House has been guilty of this. Many fans of the show, especially ones that became fans in the years since its cancellation, have been quite puzzled by some of the guest stars. Most noticeable was when singer Tommy Page was hired to sing at Stephanie's birthday party. Unless you were at least a teenager at the time of the episode's airing, you're probably thinking that he was an in-universe celebrity.
- Mallard Fillmore did a week-long series of strips promoting the drafting of conservative economist Walter E. Williams as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. In the strips, the groundswell of popular support for Williams' drafting is depicted as being so huge that it causes then-Chairman of the DNC Howard Dean to throw a tantrum out of fear and frustration. In reality, Williams was little-known other than by hardcore listeners of the Rush Limbaugh Show where he sometimes guest-hosted when Limbaugh was on vacation.
- Invoked in the Clone High episode "Plane Expectations", which features "special guest star" Ashley Angel from O-Town, who is almost invariably referred to in exactly those words. O-Town was a relatively obscure boy band even at the time, and is now nearly unremembered. All of the characters act as if he were a huge celebrity except for JFK, who mistakes his group for a laundry list of other (mostly more-popular) flash-in-the-pan boy bands before, after a beat, exclaiming (apparently sincerely), "Oh! Ashley Angel from O-Town!" as though he were the foolish one for not recognizing the name immediately.
- While most of the celebrity guests featured in the live-action segments of The Super Mario Bros Super Show! are more or less recognizable to contemporary viewers (Magic Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Ernie Hudson playing Winston Zeddemore under his own name), there are a few that will be complete unknowns for those who didn't grow up in the '80s. Moon Unit Zappa? Lyle Alzado? Shabba Doo?