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"Y'know, I'm not new to live TV. In 1952 I starred in my first live sitcom... of course back then, we didn't wanna do it live, we just didn't know how to tape things! So I don't know what this show's excuse is..."
Betty White guest hosting Saturday Night Live, May 8, 2010

Not as much a plot as a gimmick.

An episode of a TV show transmitted live. Chances are someone will make a goof somewhere. In fact, maybe they'll make two different goofs, as often, American live episodes are performed twice — once for the east coast and once for the west coast.

For programs that are regularly shown live, see Broadcast Live.


  • Undateable had a fourth wall breaking live episode in its second season that was packed with celebrity cameos (mostly from Scrubs) and generated an enormous amount of buzz. So much that the entire third season was a Live Season.
  • The Bill did it for its 20th anniversary in 2003 (featuring the murder of Juliet Becker and Gary Best's confrontation with his father's killer) and did so again in 2005 for ITV's 50th anniversary (featuring a hostage situation at the station). In the first instance, its 'live' status was proven on screen when Jim Carver was seen reading that day's Daily Mirror.
  • The Drew Carey Show has done it three times, always playing off Whose Line Is It Anyway? which Drew Carey was concurrently hosting, and on which Drew Carey cast member Ryan Stiles was a constant presence. The only other Whose Line regular to appear on all three shows was Brad Sherwood, acting as MC. Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady appeared in the first two episodes but were inexplicably absent from the third. Pianist Laura Hall also appeared in the first two episodes, and Greg Proops appeared in the second and third. Chip Esten and Jeff Davis appeared only in the third, forming a trio with Greg of the "Stall for Time Players". Every so often Sherwood would force them to randomly do a scene over again or do a scene with a particular quirk... like on Whose Line. By the end of one episode, Colin had kissed Drew, outed himself as a cannibal and Ryan/Lewis had a horrible mouth fungal infection from licking door knobs.
  • ER has done at least one (also doubling as a Documentary Episode).
  • In the past, before video-recording was common (or even invented, as per Betty White's comment above), many programmes were necessarily live, especially soaps. A 1983 ep of Search for Tomorrow was done live after the master tapes were accidentally erased. But by the time One Life to Live did a week of live eps in 2002, live eps were more a gimmick than a necessity. (Even with the Search example, many people accused NBC of lying about the lost tape to generate buzz for the show.) Incidentally, the necessity of live episodes for soaps (plus later, the practice of video wiping) is why not many 60s and 70s soap eps are known to exist (Game Shows have also suffered from this as well).
    • The Search live ep is even more suspicious, happening not long after the movie Tootsie, in which an almost identical incident is part of the plotline, was released. Coincidence or contrivance?
    • Even after videotape became common, As the World Turns and The Edge of Night produced live episodes (only recording episodes when the shows were pre-empted to avoid double-paying actors for a single episode) until 1975...almost a decade after the other soaps had moved to tape.
  • Inside No. 9 has the Halloween episode, 'Deadline.' Even after We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties kicks in, most of the episode was filmed live, apart from the excerpts of Found Footage, "A Quiet Night In" and the prerecorded rehearsal. Lampshaded when Reece Shearsmith tweeted live on television.
  • Will & Grace did one in 2005, for the first episode of the final season, and another one several episodes later.
  • Fox sitcom Roc arguably started the modern-day trend for live episodes. After presenting one episode live in the first season, the entire second season was broadcast live. It went back to taped shows for its third (and last) season.
  • The West Wing, "The Debate". Done with east coast and west coast versions. It plays with the possibility for goofs: when Senator Vinick is first called upon to speak, there is a long uncomfortable pause, as if Alan Alda has forgotten his lines, but it turns out this was planned and in character. Vinick then spontaneously suggests dropping the pre-agreed debate format in favor of having a true debate on the issues.
  • Sent up in an episode of (what else?) Arrested Development immediately after its cancellation had been announced, which promised the "shocking final seconds" would be live. When the moment actually came, the live portion was just Lucille saying three forced-sounding words, followed by the cast pretending to celebrate getting through without a slip, and saying they had to get ready for the west-coast feed.
  • In 2005, BBC4 redid the 1953 serial The Quatermass Experiment as a two hour Made-for-TV Movie. Like the original serial, it was broadcast live (thus actually making it a 1:40 serial...) Despite being live, the picture was ironically treated to look like a film.
    • A few goofs present in the broadcast were replaced with filmed rehearsal footage for the DVD.
    • Only the first two eps of the original Experiment survive, while the sequels (also originally partially live) exist in full (thanks to the BBC recording the shows on to film), and have been released on DVD (with the 2nd sequel even "VidFired" to restore the original "live" look).
  • In fiction: Tootsie has Dustin Hoffman's cross-dressing actor taking advantage of a live scene on a soap to reveal himself to everyone.
  • In a similar vein, Soapdish has a live episode in its final act in which it is revealed which of Celeste Talbert (Sally Field), Jeffrey Anderson (Kevin Kline), or Lori Craven (Elisabeth Shue) will be fired from Soap Within a Show The Sun Also Sets to resolve the three-way impasse between the actors. The episode quickly derails, but in a way that resolves the conflict between the three actors, both from within and from without.
  • The LG15: the resistance video "Signal Lost" was originally recorded live. It appears in an edited form as a scene in Chapter 6.
  • Unlike US soaps of the same period, only the first few episodes of Coronation Street were shown live in 1960. Exactly 40 years later Coronation Street again did a live episode for its 40th anniversary. This one was notable for featuring one of the characters, Audrey Roberts meeting (the real) Prince Charles (albeit that particular scene was pre-recorded with the other characters watching Audrey meet Prince Charles in a TV broadcast).
  • Sticking with British soaps, Eastenders celebrated 25 years with its first live episode.
    • The 23rd July 2012 episode featured a live segment where Billy Mitchell carried the Olympic Torch through the square.
    • The 30th anniversary week featured predominantly pre-recorded episodes with occasional live segments throughout the week, culminating in a completely live episode on the Friday. One of these featured a famous gaffe in which actress Jo Joyner asked "how's Adam?" in reference to the character Ian Beale, played by the actor Adam Woodyatt.
  • Every year at Halloween, the Travel Channel does a live episode of whichever of their ghost shows is most popular at the time. People watching can view rooms themselves on the internet, and send in messages if they think they see anything.
  • 30 Rock - a sitcom shot with a single camera with no laugh track - did a live episode, complete with live audience, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss playing Liz in her flashbacks, because "My memory has Seinfeld money". The different look was immediately Lampshaded:
    Jack: Does it seem weird in here to you? (insert laughter from live audience here) Everything looks like a Mexican soap opera. (insert more laughter here)
    (at the end, Jack shares a drink with Liz, and the picture reverts to its usual filmed style)
    Jack: That's more like it.
    • Another lampshade was hung while Liz and Tracy talked about Tracy breaking character, with Liz saying "The audience likes it when things go wrong" as a poster on the background wall swung off its support. (It apparently had a better sense of timing on the West Coast broadcast.)
    • Not to mention the various threats of "slipping a nip".
    • The show also had fake commercials to give more time for set changes. Notably the jokes in these commercials were different on the East & West Coast feeds. (e.g. two phony PSAs done by John Hamm as his 30 Rock character Dr. Drew, announcing important breakthroughs in hand transplants. On one feed Hamm had an executed criminal's hand which attempted to strangle him; on the other feed Hamm had a woman's hand that molested him.)
    • 30 Rock did another live show, "Live from Studio 6H", in season six. In this one Jack Donaghy decides to end live broadcasts of TGS.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun had an episode with a live opening sequence, in which Dick interrupts Bryant Gumbel during a post-game report at the Super Bowl to warn people of an Alien Invasion.
  • Parodied in The Cleveland Show, where "Cleveland Live!" was advertised as the first ever live episode of an animated series - a patent impossibility. The episode poked fun of the various things that go wrong on live episodes, including Roberta having an on-air meltdown over her debate team subplot getting cut, and guest star Julia Roberts dying on stage.
  • The Simpsons
    • Parodied in "The Itchy & Scratch & Poochy Show", where The Itchy & Scratchy Show voice actor June Bellamy says "Few cartoons are broadcast live, it places terrible strain on the animator's wrists".
    • Played straight in the episode "Simprovised", where the last three minutes is dedicated to Homer interacting live with a phoneline. This was made possible with the latest advancements in motion capture technology. Fittingly, the plot of the episode involves Homer turning to improv comedy to become a better public speaker.
  • Yet again parodied on Childrens Hospital's "live episode", during which various mishaps happened on the set, such as camera breaking, actors bailing out mid scene and crew members appearing in shot multiple times. They also spoofed the above mentioned Tootsie example when Malin Akerman revealed herself to be Jon Hamm in disguise!
  • Music Video example: The video for "You Are A Tourist" by Death Cab for Cutie was performed and shot in a single take live via webcast on March 28, 2011.
  • Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "Live From The Grill-O-Mat", which isn't.
  • Done on Roadkill, they did an engine swap live over 3 days on a showroom floor.
  • The season three premiere of Nashville was live (staged twice, for the East Coast and West Coast).
  • Hollywood Game Night did a live, New Year's Eve edition in 2015.
  • Blue Heelers did this with the episode "Reasonable Doubt".
  • The Conners went live in February 2020 for the episode “Live from Lanford” designed around the New Hampshire Democratic primary.
  • Just Roll With It: The series did a one-hour Halloween special live which means instead of just the studio audience, the home viewers get to vote on things as well.