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Show Within a Show

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A shame we only get to see one of these. We're sure the others are just as good!

"They fight! And bite!
They fight and bite and fight!
Fight, fight, fight!
Bite, bite, bite!
The Itchy and Scratchy Show!"

A fictional show that takes place within an actual show; or, occasionally, a fictional installment or incarnation of an actual show.

Shows-within-a-show are usually of low quality. This is intentional: the low quality of the show is part of the joke or the misery of the characters involved. As a general rule, the more central the Show Within a Show is to the actual show, the better — or at least higher-gloss — it will be. On the other hand, Finagle's Law dictates that The Show Must Go Wrong, so don't expect to get through it without at least one catastrophe.

Many comedies have short one-off gags where they parody existing shows. Most of the following examples are recurring and they come in up to four varieties (which can be overlapping):

  1. The characters are involved in the production of the show.
  2. The characters are fans of the show, or only see it occasionally.
  3. The show-within-a-show is a plot point.
  4. The internal show, in either variety, is eerily similar to the real show.

Sometimes these shows can be shown as Separate Scene Storytelling.

For the pre-television history of this trope, once again we must go back to William Shakespeare, who featured plays within plays both in comedy — The Most Lamentable Comedy, and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe within A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew actually is one by means of a Framing Device — and in tragedy (The Murder of Gonzago within Hamlet).

If producing the show is important to the plot, see Hey, Let's Put on a Show. If the story baits the audience into thinking the Show Within a Show is the actual show, brace yourself for the Proscenium Reveal. If the Show Within a Show ends up being produced in reality as a Spin-Off, see Defictionalisation; while if the creator introduces one of their other works into the show as in-universe fiction it's Creator's Show Within a Show.

Super-Trope to Game Within a Game, One-Joke Fake Show, Prisoner Performance, School Play and Soap Within a Show. Sister Trope with Fictional Document and Fictional Video Game. Overlaps with Set Behind the Scenes.

Compare with Framing Device, Mutually Fictional, Plot Parallel, Postmodernism, Pushed in Front of the Audience, Recursive Fiction, Recursive Reality (of the "nested stories" variety), and Who Would Want to Watch Us?.

Nestflix is a Netflix parody site dedicated to these "nested" films and shows.

Please note that tropes existing within the fictional work should be placed in the work page of the actual, extant work.


    open/close all folders 

  • Seven Virtues: There are paintings within the painting, those on the ceiling of the church choir-like structure behind the woman more precisely.

    Asian Animation 

    Model Trains 

  • The song "Movie in a Movie" by Tony Goldmark is about a ridiculously big set of nested movies.
  • Selena Gomez's Love You Like A Love Song has a video where she is in a karaoke bar, with her singing in and out of the bar's TV.
  • The Michael Jackson music video for "Thriller" opens with Michael Jackson on a movie date with Ola Ray...which features Michael Jackson and Ola Ray in the lead roles.


  • The DJ in the Dark episodes on Hi Nay, where callers recount their experiences with the supernatural, often either foreshadowing events or revealing something in the background.
  • Trials & Trebuchets has the Diane Danger adventure novel series, which Player Characters Mira and Integrity are fans of, as well as the "Weenie Hollow" episodes, which are framed as horror stories being read by characters In-Universe.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Puppet Shows 
  • Dog City (the cartoon) in Dog City.
  • The Mr. Potato Head Show: This is actually the basic premise: the main cast films episodes of a TV show (not all of which we get to see) for a pair of network executives. However, what this show is or even its genre is different in every episode.
  • The Muppet Show on The Muppet Show.
  • In an episode of Dinosaurs (the early '90's animatronic puppet show), Earl watches a sock-puppet show where a woman refers to some skanky-looking characters as "cheap hose/ho's." (See Parental Bonus.) He says something close to, "I love this show. It's got one meaning that's funny for grown-ups, and one that's funny for kids!"
  • Up Late with Miss Piggy on The Muppets (2015).
  • In The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance episode "It's Time To Make...My Move", skekGra the Heretic and urGoh the Wanderer exposit the history of the Skeksis, Mystics, and the Dark Crystal through the ancient art of...puppetry. ("Yay.") So, in short, we have a puppet show performed by puppets for other puppets.
  • The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss has a home improvement show called "House and Home".

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • "If you ever find out what you're watching is a show within a show, sit back and hang on for the ride of your life." — Jack Handey

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS:
    • GURPS Technomancer:
      • GURPS Magical Items 3 includes a brief description of a setting where The Fair Folk battle with Magitek Humongous Mecha in the chapter describing such mecha. The vignette for an earlier chapter on magic toys suggests that this setting is a popular kids' TV show in the world of Technomancer, with its own line of living action figures.
      • The opening vignette of Technomancer has a police mage channel-surfing while on stakeout. What she finds are mostly news and commercials, but there's a trailer for a show where FBI agents Cat Morrigan and Dara Skuld investigate rumours of The Fair Folk.
      • A Pyramid magazine article on combining Technomancer with GURPS Action has a worked example called El Paso Vice, with an explanation that in the regular Technomancer verse it was a popular cop show in the 80s.
    • Transhuman Space:
      • Many InVid shows are mentioned in the text. The two that get the most attention (or at least a write-up of the fandom) are the space opera Starburst Station and the Arabian technofantasy The Golden Jihad. Starburst fans (described in High Frontier) have created a replica of the station in Earth orbit, where they live according to the (poorly defined) philosophy of the lead characters. Jihadis (described in Toxic Memes) are more into creating fanvids (which the original copyright holders encourage) and are slightly contemptuous of the Starbursters and their devotion to The Original Work.
      • The Pyramid article on combining Transhuman Space with GURPS Action uses the characters from Personnel Files: Martingale Security as an example. As with the Technomancer equivalent, it's explained that you can think of this as an action-adventure InVid series called Martingale!
  • Mention is made of a popular holoseries in Warhammer 40,000 called Arbitrator Foreboding, a member of the Adeptus Arbites who hunts down mutants and heretics with relish and a very big gun.

    Theme Parks 
  • Universal Studios:
    • The former Disaster! attraction at Universal Studios Florida was based around the fictitious Disaster Studios, which created "films" such as "Apocageddon", "Das Schurke", "Baboon!", and "300 Knots Landing"; with their upcoming production being "Mutha Nature".
    • The premise of Hell's High from Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights 1998 was that the actors of a horror movie being filmed at a school were possessed by murderous ghosts and started killing people for real when the director yelled "Cut".

    Visual Novels 
  • South Scrimshaw:
    • 'The Adventures of Seabun and Monaco' is a popular series of kids stories. Plots typically consist of Seabun's appetite for eating anything damaging a piece of underwater infrastructure, Monaco panicking about a terrible imagined outcome, a repair crew comes by to fix the damage, Seabun recognizing his fault and helps to fix it, and ending with Seabun returning to his burrow with a souvenir and sleeping until he gets hungry again.
    • Another of the optional lore sections mentions a second documentary team is creating their own multi-part documentary called 'Building Bugs', focused on the insects of the planet. The title refers to both the types of insects that build structures and what forces caused them to evolve that way.

    Web Video 
  • Dream Machine: West Chesterham, the Downton Abbey parody that brought Leah to prominence, and then Outlander, the Outlander parody that becomes the main project the crew works on.
  • Nightmare Time: The episode "Honey Queen" revolves around the titular Honey Queen pageant, and two contestants, Zoey and Linda. Parts of the show appear in the episode, namely the introduction, Zoey/Linda's talent segments, and the announcement of the winner.
  • On Cinema features Tim and Gregg working on the web series, and later a TV show, Decker. It also has the production of Eecker sometimes impact the plot of on cinema, especially if production has, in some way, created tension between the Tim and Gregg.
  • The Peter Engel-style series Hall Pass, starring characters Cassian and Elijah, features heavily in the second season of Pretty Dudes.
  • Stampy's Lovely World:
    • The Helpers put on a play in the Theatre in Episode 69, "The Show Must Go On", for Stampy's 4,000 subscribers special. The stories for the Halloween Episode "Secret Stories" (Episode 458) are shown through plays at the Theatre as well.
    • The TV shows on the Telly Box television broadcasting studio, as the characters are involved in producing them.
    • The films Renna, Block of the Dead, What Is This? and Beyond The Blocks: Far From Lovely are premiered in the Movie Magic cinema.
  • Minor character Lakitu is the news anchor for Mushroom Kingdom News, a news show in There Will Be Brawl.

Alternative Title(s): Show Within The Show, Story Within A Story, Play Within A Play, Film Within A Film, Shows Within A Show, Work Within A Work


The Love Ducks

In "That's a Baby Show!", Arthur becomes addicted to a Teletubbies spoof called "The Love Ducks", skipping "Dark Bunny". As the title of the episode implies, he fears judgment from his friends for liking a "baby show", but when he finally admits to watching it, they don't mind (not shown here).

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