When the characters in a show put on a play, radio show or television show, and everything goes horribly wrong. The Show Must Go On until the management decides the production is truly beyond hope and closes it down. Usually used in comedies, and is sometimes a School Play thanks to lack of experience.
Mishaps may include someone Pushed in Front of the Audience, Special Effect Failure up to and including the set collapsing, an actor Corpsing, or in the worst case Fatal Method Acting. If the cast is quick on their feet, they may be able to Throw It In!. One common payoff is for an important viewer (such as a famous critic or patron) to assume the catastrophe is All Part of the Show and give it a glowing review as a slapstick comedy.
A subtrope of Show Within a Show, Finagle's Law, and Failure Is the Only Option. Also an application of The Law of Conservation of Detail, since let's face it, how boring would it be to watch a show about a show where everything goes smoothly according to plan? The inversion of this is Springtime for Hitler, when people's attempt to make a show fail results in its success.
Not to be confused (however much the players want it to be) with The Show Must Go On.
- In Kamigami No Asobi, the characters (who are gods from various myths, united in a high school) put on a play of Cinderella. Thoth, the teacher, is the narrator... and a drink gets spilled on his script, so he ad-libs - in his own style. Meanwhile, Loki wanted to be the star, but gets the role of the prince's servant, and isn't happy. And then Anubis finds Dionysus' wine...
- De cape et de crocs:
- The heroes are forced to put on a play or die. At first it seems they're going to manage but then some of their friends show up followed by evil mimes and it all goes horribly wrong. The play becomes So Bad, It's Good and everyone is spared.
- And again later on, after which the Big Bad says "The Show Must Proceed On!"
- The finale of The Muppet Movie is performed while their first attempt at filming goes epically awry.
- The finale of Meet the Feebles does this too; fitting considering it's a Muppets parody.
- In A Night at the Opera, The Marx Brothers throw the opera performance into utter chaos with their hijinks and slapstick attempts to evade the police. Notably, both the stage crew and the police believe The Show Must Go On and try to avoid getting on stage and spoiling the show themselves, even long after it makes any sense for them to worry about interrupting.
- Brain Donors is a loose remake of the Marx Brothers film, substituting ballet for opera. Their intrusion onto Swan Lake is every bit as epic as the climax of the original.
- One of Gordon Korman's books, ''Macdonald Hall Goes Hollywood'', concerns a movie being filmed on a school campus. Bruno, a prankster, interferes with the filming. His attempts to befriend the movie star even get them stranded in the wilderness at one point.
- The Christmas play in Bless Me, Ultima. Two of the kid actors got into a fight, another urinated himself, and in the commotion the baby Jesus was decapitated.
- In Maskerade this is the mantra of the Ankh-Morpork Opera House, holding to it when the lead singer dropped dead just before the first act, when a dragon was perching on the roof, during a civil war, as a mysterious Ghost murders people, and ignoring said Ghost being chased from one box via the chandelier by a cat transformed into a human, showering the audience with glass ornaments. It eventually stops when a hostage situation breaks out on stage, and even then the orchestra continues to provide musical stings.
- The bledlows of Unseen University also determinedly follow their ancient and utterly meaningless rituals such as the Ceremony of the Keys (a simple exchange of keys added to over time until shouting "Oops! They were in my jacket pocket the whole time! Forget me own head next!" at the top of their lungs is an honored part of the procedure) while ignoring storm, great big things with tentacles, harpies, dragons, and faculty members who scream at them things like "Keep it down! What's the bloody point?".
- The one and only attempt Hogwarts ever made at a School Play, as detailed by Dumbledore in his commentary on The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The two leads had been dating until an hour or so before curtain-call, at which point the boy dumped the girl for one of the other actresses. The resulting disaster led to school plays being banned rather than just dropped.
- Frasier used this in the Mystery Theater episode. Frasier is reading a play for his radio show, and no one cooperates. Roz can't speak properly because she has a jaw full of Novocaine, Bulldog gets stage fright and can't talk, Gil gets arrogant and wants to tell a childhood story, and Niles gets fed up with everyone and "shoots" all of the characters (with the sound effects).
- Subverted in Seinfeld when Jerry and George film the pilot for their show. It looks like they're struggling and it's going absolutely nowhere, but they successfully make a pilot. The show doesn't get picked up, but not because of any problem with the show itself; it gets canceled because their main supporter, the president of the network, becomes lovesick for Elaine and runs off to join Greenpeace.
- This trope must be the motto of The Muppets. No matter what kind of chaos is going on backstage, the Muppets always keep the show going until the very end.
- In Modern Family, when Cam directs the school play, only one thing really goes badly wrong: the crane that's supposed to lift and lower Luke gets stuck with him at the top. Unfortunately, the premise is that Luke is flying around the world and landing in various places, and most scenes presuppose his return to the ground.
- Slings & Arrows' third-season production of King Lear is like this. It ends with the lead actor dying and everyone else involved in the production being fired.
- In Made in Canada, the Show Within a Show Beaver Creek does a Live Episode to celebrate reaching 150 episodes; however, since they have only a few days to prepare the episode from scratch using a previously rejected script, the production is a disaster. A crew member can be clearly seen through a window of the studio set; a door opens for one character but then gets stuck for another, who has to climb in through a window; one of the performers freezes up completely, while another forgets his lines (and the teleprompter on the camera to which he is to deliver them isn't working) and another begins ad libbing out of spite; and finally, a protester against violence on television invades the set and is punched out by the lead actress. The network quickly cuts to a documentary about beaver.
- The closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London faked this for fun during the "Symphony of British Music" stretch: A Human Cannonball act proving a dud turned out to be the setup for Eric Idle performing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", complete with a new verse about how The Show Must Go On. And the hijinks didn't stop there — midway through the number he had to deal with an intrusion by Bollywood-style dancers!
- An episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide has the school hosting a production of Romeo and Juliet, with Spender and Suzie playing the title roles. Ned and Cookie try to get Spencer out of the way so he can't kiss Suzie during the balcony scene, but stage manager Mose, assigned to make sure that "the show must go on", foils their every attempt. Eventually, Spencer is injured, and Ned gets to be the one to kiss Juliet... but unfortunately, Suzie is also injured, and Cookie has to play Juliet.
- Get Krack!n: In-Universe the show is primarily staffed by interns and is broadcast live at 2 a.m., which causes every episode to lurch from one dramatic mishap to the next.
- The Wall, more specifically "In the Flesh." It's more visible in the 1980-81 tours: before this song, the "MC: Atmos" prologue that kicked off the show was done a second time, but the MC looked and acted like a zombie the second time around (a consequence of the wall's completion). Also, the Face of the Band has suffered a fugue state, and isn't singing the words that he probably should be singing within the context of the show/album.
- Christine McVie's video for "Love Will Show Us How".
- Radio Active made mishap-prone live radio something of a staple of its episodes. For example, in the 1983 episode "A Probe Round the Back", a spoof of "behind the scenes" documentaries, presenter Anna Daptor (Helen Atkinson-Wood) interviews technician Eric Alcock (Michael Fenton Stevens) about the jingles he will be playing live for the upcoming show with Mike Channel (Angus Deayton). Then the show begins:
(a jazzy tune plays in the background)
Mike Channel: Hello, it's a sunny Monday here on Radio Active, and my name is ("Tra-ffic NEWS!") ... er, Mike Channel, traffic news will of course be coming up later in the show, but ("Tra-ffic NEWS!") straight off today here's our first record... (beat) ("Tra-ffic NEWS!") ... er, yes indeed, er, Radio Active, er, here, and I'm Mike Channel, er, w-which of course brings you the best sounds around, and ("Tra-ffic NEWS!") and of course, good old, er, traffic news. But, er, straight off today, here is our first record- ("Mike Chan-nel!") Er, Mike Channel here, and- ("Mike Flex!") er, Mike Flex will be here later on, but now- ("Mike Stand!") er, Mike Stand was on earlier, but now- ("Si-mon BATES!") ... Simon Bates is on Radio 1, but right now, here on the Mike Channel Show here on Radio Active, we have today's first record, that great hit of the Seventies, it's ("Commercial time!")
- Noises Off: It's both playing this trope straight and subverting it.
- Auntie Mame. In the musical, Vera Charles invites Mame to be in her "terribly modern operetta" about a lady astronomer as the singing moon-lady. Unfortunately, Mame enters at the wrong time and then falls off the moon, ruining the whole show. The exact details vary between productions, but it's bad enough that Mame gets fired right after the curtain call.
- "Pyramus and Thisbe" is sometimes played this way in productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, though it's already pretty awful.
- The second act of Gypsy opens with Louise in "Mme. Rose's Toreadorables," a tacky pastiche of June's turns that degenerates into a parade of flubs. Fortunately, it's only a rehearsal.
- Occurs twice in The Phantom of the Opera, first at the end of Act I when the Phantom turns Carlotta's voice into a frog's, strangles Joseph Buquet with a rope and throws him off the rafters for all to see, ending with the famous chandelier incident. At the end of Act II, Christine reveals the Phantom's face in front of the entire audience and chaos ensues.
- The Play That Goes Wrong is built entirely around this; according to what we hear about the in-universe group, their shows are generally absolute catastrophes. Bad "Bad Acting", mislaid props, miscued sound effects and actors coming on too early are only the start of it.
- Everything ever attempted by the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society.
- This is a popular premise for attractions at the Disney Theme Parks:
- Muppet*Vision 3D has Kermit and co. attempting to demonstrate their new titular technology through a series of colorful setpieces. By the end, the show has gone so wrong that the theater itself is partially destroyed.
- Honey, I Shrunk the Audience takes place at an award ceremony for Wayne Szalinski that also features demonstrations of some of his new and/or improved inventions. Before long, 999 mice are running loose in the audience, there's Stuff Blowing Up, and then the event that cues the Title Drop takes things From Bad to Worse.
- It's Tough to Be a Bug!: Flik tries to stage a talent show featuring such questionable critters as an acid-spitting termite and a stinkbug, and then Hopper crashes the show to turn the tables on the "honorary bugs" — aka humans — in the audience as revenge for how they've treated bugs all these years.
- The plays put on by the Stars of Destiny in Suikoden III can be played straight... but it's much more entertaining to, say, cast Romeo and Juliet with not-so-talented actors. Or ninjas. Or ducks. Or an all-dog cast. Then there's the performances of William Tell: guess what can happen when those go awry.
- Final Fantasy VII has one section where Cloud and one of his friends have a date and are put into a play. You can mess it up totally and get away with it.
- Homestar Runner has done this in "A Decemberween Pageant" and probably a number of other times.
Homestar: (While onstage) Wow. I can't believe the night of the big Decemberween pageant has finally arrived! After all the weeks and weeks of rehearsing and practicing and memorizing lines...Marzipan: Homestar, I don't think those are your lines.
- RWBY Chibi, Team RWBY puts on a play of Little Red Riding Hood. However, Yang keeps upstaging everyone, Blake loathes having been type-cast as the Big Bad Wolf just because she's a faunus and Weiss can't see the point of being the huntsman given that Ruby has written her gun-scythe into the play. When the team realise that Ruby has based the lead role off herself, the play comes to a crashing halt. At that point, their long-suffering narrator finally twigs that the kids are truanting from class, forcing the team to abandon the play and flee.
Weiss: Who wrote this stupid story anyway?Ruby: I did! Thank you very much!Yang: Ugh! No wonder. Red Riding Hood's a total Mary Sue character ... "Loved by many and known for her hood"?! You totally based her off yourself!Ruby: GRRRRRRRRRR! I like to think that art is open to interpretation.Professor Ozpin: Wait a minute. Aren't you kids all supposed to be in class?Ruby: CHEESE IT!!
- In Chowder, the main cast (minus Endive) put on a play, and it is nearly completely ruined by Chowder when he takes his role too seriously. And then it gets really weird
- In It's Christmas Time Again Charlie Brown, the school Christmas play goes wrong when Peppermint Patty, playing a sheep, first drowns out Franklin with her baa-ing, and then forgets what sound sheep make ("Meow! Woof! Moo! Whatever."). And it goes bad again when Sally screws up her one line, saying "hockey stick" instead of "hark".
- In King of the Hill, Hank tries to make a video to impress the Dallas Cowboys, but his friends and family are so stupid that they mess everything up.
- A number of Warner Bros. cartoons have a show gone hilariously wrong. In "Show Biz Bugs," Bugs can seemingly do no wrong while everything Daffy does is a full-fledged FEMA candidate. Bugs puts Elmer on the spot in "Stage Door Cartoon," and it happens to Bugs himself in "Rhapsody Rabbit."
- The 2012 CGI short, "Daffy's Rhapsody", centers around Daffy trying to perform a play called Requiem for a Hunt (based on a song Mel Blanc recorded in-character in the early '50s), while being chased by Elmer Fudd.
- The bumpers for Rocky and Bullwinkle have Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and failing each time (though the closest he comes is when he pulls Rocky out).
- In universe, every episode of The New Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show is a live show hosted by Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Needless to say, no episode goes as Mr. Peabody planned it. Disruptions had ranged from nosy neighbors (the show is filmed from their apartment building), a malfunctioning elevator, a black hole, an overzealous fan, and a viral outbreak leading to a government quarantine.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, "The Show Stoppers": The Cutie Mark Crusaders' musical performance goes horribly wrong since every task is placed in the hooves of the one least suited for it - the singer (Scootaloo) can't sing, the dancer (Applebloom) can't dance, and the backdrops and special effects are done by somepony who should not operate a hammer (Sweetie Belle). The irony that everypony except them can see is that they'd have done a great job if they just shifted those tasks around a bit...
- In an episode of The Simpsons Mr. Burns makes an industrial film to promote working at the plant. We see how terrible it is and assume we're watching the filming process; but no, it's the final product.
- In the Classic Disney Short "Symphony Hour", Mickey and friends perform Franz von Suppe's "Light Calvary Overture" on a radio program... after Goofy accidentally drops all their instruments down an elevator shaft. Donald tries to bail at one point, only staying because Mickey stops him at gun point.
- Kaeloo: In Episode 67, the characters (apart from Olaf, Olga and Serguei) put on a ballet performance for Olga's birthday. A chain reaction takes place which destroys all the props and injures the cast members.
- The Flintstones: "Curtain Call at Bedrock" has Wilma staging a local production of Romeo & Juliet with Fred, Barney and Betty playing parts. Things go wrong when Wilma loses her voice and Barney gets the mumps, from which he soon recovers. The cast is left to wing it, and what results is a theater full of patrons laughing their heads off. The critics in the next morning's newsslate praised it as "a smash comedy."