Bob is feeling pretty bad. Maybe he's feeling insecure about something. Maybe he just got dumped. Maybe he just had a really bad day. Let's go ahead and say he got dumped. So Bob decides that he just needs a break from it all, and to get his mind off his problems. The best way to do that, of course, is by sitting on his couch and watching some TV.
The problem is, as soon as he turns on the TV, a soap opera turns on where a girl is breaking up with a guy. Of course, this is the last thing Bob needs to get his mind off his break-up. So he changes the station... only to see a stand-up comedian talking about the first time he got dumped. So he changes the channel again, and the first thing he hears is a commercial say "Having relationship problems?" No matter how many times Bob flips the channel, somebody is talking about relationships and break-ups. Eventually, Bob gives up and turns the TV off, at which point the scene usually ends.
This is a quick gag that's pretty common when you're trying to make the audience feel sorry for your character, or prove just how much the universe hates him. It's almost always never mentioned again. Can be justified when the character's circumstances are due to some supernatural agency that is also perfectly capable of controlling the programming on the TV.
A variant is growing where certain things individuals are trying to keep under wraps are revealed by a website advertisement, since these days they are picked by checking the user's browser history.
Compare Coincidental Broadcast, where this phenomenon is used as a plot device instead of a gag. May coincide with Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere if the thing that keeps popping up on TV or radio is something that the character is trying to quit. Potty Emergency sometimes has similar themes. See also Mocking Music for the radio version and Vengeful Vending Machine.
- One story in Archie Comics had Archie and the gang trying to find some way to escape the heat on a scorching summer day. Eventually they retreat into an air-conditioned movie theatre. the movie showing is called Way Down Below, which they assume will be a Sub Story. It turns out to be set in Fire and Brimstone Hell.
Tintin: Moon-Rocket to Earth. We're going to begin the repair work. Give us some music: it will help us keep up our morale.
- From "Explorers on the Moon"
Mission Control: Earth to Moon-Rocket. We'll switch on Radio-Klow for you. Keep your spirits up!
Haddock: Come on, come on, cry-babies! To work! And none of those gloomy thoughts. We're going to have some music. Thundering typhoons, there's nothing like a bit of music to cheer you up!
Radio-Klow: This is Radio-Klow. Our programme continues with "The Gravedigger," by Schubert.
Haddock: Impossible! They're doing it on purpose — it's a plot!
- In "Tintin and the Picaros", Captain Haddock inexplicably finds alcohol tastes awful (because Calculus has secretly given him a drug). After a very tiring day, he relaxes in front of the TV, only to find it's showing an ad for Loch Lomond whiskey.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager parody Hardcore Entertainment presents: Seven Does Voyager, Captain Janeway is trying to maintain her Celibate Hero status, only for the computer to screen a documentary on the reproductive habits of tribbles, another on Deltan society, and finally a porn movie called The Amorous Adventures of Captain Kirk.
- In Over the Hedge, R.J. discovers that he is being included as a member of the family (who don't know that he is exploiting them to pay back a hungry bear). When he turns on the TV they've given him, a Soap Opera is playing in which a woman says "We let you into our lives and you deceived us!" and so forth. An instance where this trope is both Played for Laughs and used for Character Development.
TV: Get real, Kevin! 'Cause when you feel like a dirtbag, it's because you're a dirtbag. So just own it! Just say it out loud: (RJ mouths along with TV) I am a dirtbag.
- Practically parodied in Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil. The poor Wolf just keeps flipping channels, and the TV just gets more ridiculously pointed.
- In the second Patlabor movie, a detective has been left handcuffed to a pipe while the bad guys carry out their Evil Plan. He rips the pipe free of the wall and runs for his car only to find it's been immobilized. Seeing airships and helicopter gunships flying off towards Tokyo, and him helpless to warn anyone, he wails: "Why can't I find a phone?!" Standing next to him is a huge billboard of an Pacific island beauty (this is winter in Japan) making a phone call.
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Bruce Wayne is trying to live with his retirement, but keeps getting either news reports on the crime wave in Gotham, or the movie that was playing the night his parents were murdered.
- Modern Times has one, even though the movie itself is Older Than Television. In one scene, the Tramp is in a waiting room sitting near a woman with a terrible and noisy gas problem. Eventually, he turns on the radio next to him, to a commercial for antacids. He turns it off quickly.
- In Stranger Than Fiction, Harold is told to take a day off to "do nothing," so he stays at home and watches TV to try to get his mind off of the voice declaring his imminent death. So he turns on nature shows, because he likes animals. Unfortunately, all the nature shows he turns on involve animals killing each other.
- In A New Life, newly-divorced Steve flips channels only to keep seeing the same mattress store ad with the jingle "have more fun in bed!"
- Early on in Earth Girls Are Easy, Geena Davis's character throws her doctor fiance out when she finds him cheating with another girl. The next day, as she's weeping at the kitchen table, a soap opera shows a doctor fooling around with a nurse, on top of his comatose wife.
- Bridget Jones' Diary: Bridget finds out that Daniel is cheating on her and wants to watch some comforting TV. However, the first show has a woman telling her boyfriend that it's her last chance to have a child, the second one features a woman being brutally murdered (it's a scene from Fatal Attraction), and finally, there is a documentary about wild lions: "The male penetrates the female and leaves. Coitus is brief and perfunctory." Poor Bridget!
- Phat Girlz: the main character Jazmine Biltmore is having a bad case of depression due to her love life and her Weight Woe, she turns on the TV where several weight-related programs: a cartoon with a depressed fat man being enticed into pigging out, an ad for a weight-loss clinic, an ad for a type of exercise, and a talk show with a woman crying over her weight and her hopelessness in dieting. This leads to Jazmine from having a Heroic B.S.O.D. to a Freak Out!.
- In Three O'Clock High, one of the first things the main character, a high school student, does one school day is inadvertently offend a bully who promises to beat him up at 3 PM. Before the scheduled fight, our hero goes to his biology class, where he sees a film about how poor defenceless critters like crickets get eaten (with crunching sound effects) by big mean predators.
- In a Deleted Scene of Lolita (1997), Dolores and Humbert are on their road trip with the car radio on, playing the comedy The Bickersons. There's Canned Laughter as Dolores flirts with Humbert, but when he talks about her going back to school they start arguing with the Bickersons doing likewise. When Humbert says bluntly that their holiday is over, causing Dolores to fall into a sullen silence, the announcer can be heard saying they'll be back after a few commercials for the Bickerson's in "The Honeymoon Is Over".
- In Bad Monkeys, after Jane's crime-fighting company finds out that she used to sleep with younger men, all she sees on TV is The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story and all she hears is Michael Jackson songs.
- Used for Gallows Humor in Nightworld, which has a Running Gag in that a particular cable channel is broadcasting horror movies for all the people who have locked themselves in their houses due to The Night That Never Ends and the accompanying swarm of Eldritch Abominations. The list of horror movies get longer as the days get shorter, and the titles always match whatever horror has just been unleashed on the world.
- Between Silk and Cyanide. Leo Marks is exasperated by SOE's pointless Interservice Rivalry with C, the head of British Intelligence. He thinks of going to see a movie to put his mind off it, but as the movie is Follow the Fleet decides it would be best not to listen to Fred Astaire singing about joining the navy to C the C.
- Animorphs: The team is somewhat uneasy about morphing flies, having previously had a traumatic time morphing ants. So of course, the day before it happens The Fly is broadcast, and of course they all watch it.
- It happens to Fran and Maxwell on The Nanny when she loses his Shakespeare original after being mugged. They were treated to Shakespeare plays, on their channels.
- True Blood has a moment where Jason — who's just been violently dumped by his current girlfriend, in part because he's jealous of the vampire she let bite her — starts gloomily channel-surfing and finding that every station is talking about vampires, including a nature documentary about vampire bats.
- In Married... with Children, this happens repeatedly to Al. He sits down to watch TV but only shows he hates are on: Oprah, Facts of Life, etc. This trope is averted in the episode where he has built himself a man's bathroom (with a mighty Fergusen - Bar-WHOOOOSH!). He just finished it, and went in to 'christen' it, but was constipated. He turned on the television and the array of programs loosened him right up.
- In the Sherlock episode "The Hounds of Baskerville", the man whose father was apparently killed by a wolf keeps getting wolf-related channels. There's a justification: he's under the influence of a fear-inducing drug.
- In an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton is depressed since his favorite race horse is gonna be put down. Will tries to take his mind off the horse by turning the tv on, only to find that Mr. Ed just so happens to come on. Carlton takes it as well as expected.
Carlton:' You Bastard!!!!!
- Played for Drama on an episode of Barney Miller ("The Hero"). After Chano kills a suspect in a bank robbery with hostages, he goes home and turns on the radio, where every news station is talking about the crime and his part in it. Even the Spanish-language station.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the end of "Innocence", in which Buffy's romance with Angel comes to an abrupt end when he turns evil, Buffy quietly watches a black & white romantic movie, in which Alice Faye is singing "Goodnight, My Love".
- Wiseguy. After Frank McPike is thrown out of his house by his wife, he's Drowning My Sorrows in a bar when the jukebox starts playing "Hit The Road, Jack" (and don't come back no more no more no more, etc). Frank calmly walks over to the jukebox and shoots it.
- A similar scenario to the Barney Miller example occurs on an early episode of Hannah Montana. Looking to get her mind off of flubbing the national anthem at a sporting event, Miley finds that every news outlet is running that specific story, including the Spanish one.
- A Very Special Episode about gangs has a montage of this type, with show parodies such as Northern Explosion and The Cartridge Family.
- Another instance takes this Up to Eleven as the shows that Lisa watches to get her mind off not being able to get a date for the school dance seem to be about... her not being able to get a date for the school dance.
- Hang Time: A twist in that it's also Your Book Hates You; in the episode "Fighting for Your Dreams," Kristy tries to take Antonio's mind off of blowing a shot at getting into the University of Kentucky after injuring his knee by watching TV... only to turn on the Kentucky Derby, and then a commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken (although she turns off the TV before the announcer says the full name). She then reads a mystery book to him, in which the character remembers the summers he spent in... you know where this is going.
- Come Back Mrs. Noah. The protagonists trapped on the Space Station reassure themselves that the people back home undoubtedly have a plan to get them back down, only to connect to Mission Control as he's saying "I've no idea how we're going to get them back down!" They're then switched to a talk show where an expert is saying that they'll be stranded in space forever before he's quickly hushed by everyone else.
- This seems to happen to Garfield every time he's on a diet; the TV seems to have a lot more food commercials. Worst example: He tried to watch TV to take his mind off food, and turned to a program called Bowling for Meatloaf. In the next panel, he and Jon were at the vet's waiting room with the TV lodged in Garfield's mouth.
- Some inconvenient scheduling affects a snowed-in Bruce and Roosevelt in the Housepets! strip "Snowed In, Part Two":
- Bruce: Sure the power's out, but we got food, we got blankets, we got each other, and it's not like we have any place to be! What's got you riled up?
Roosevelt: What was the marathon we just watched? The Thing, The Shining, Storm of the Century, 30 Days of Night, Misery—
Bruce: You could have changed the channel at any time!
- In Kevin & Kell, Rudy and Fiona found out that Lindesfarne was pregnant because a stray Google ad on a website she was showing them was for pregnancy tests.
- The MP 3 player of Sandra from Sandra and Woo thinks Sandra's relationship with Cloud won't last long.
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Tickled Pinky" Rocko is in a hospital bed where he is going to get his appendix cut out. He turns on the TV to take his mind off of it and sees an ad for a kitchen device called the Cut-O-Matic that looks like a mini guillotine, a chain saw competition, and a detective show with a seedy man taking out scissors to "cut someone out".
- In the episode of Spongebob Squarepants "Idiot Box", Squidward is trying to forget about SpongeBob and Patrick playing in their box, but everything on TV is about boxes, even boxing.
Squidward... I give up.
- The Looney Tunes short "Birds Anonymous", in which Sylvester tries to swear off eating birds. He turns on the TV, and there's a cooking show featuring a chef cutting into some poultry. The radio hates him, too: The playlist features "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along". Talk about Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere.
- In the first episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show, Stimpy leaves to become a big TV star, leaving Ren all alone. To take his mind off it, he turns on the TV... and wouldn't you know it, Stimpy's on every channel.
- In the Pilot Movie of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo has just learned that Mac has to give him up, and as he changes the channels late at night, every show is about having "the blues". One show even talks about the Grand Canyon being a "deep depression".
- The Simpsons:
- In the episode "Deep Space Homer", Homer, after losing an award to an "inanimate carbon rod" and being ridiculed by his family, sits down to watch TV, saying "TV respects me. It laughs with me. Not at me." He turns it on and the first thing that appears on screen is a man pointing at the camera laughing hysterically and saying "You stupid..."
- Episode "Homer Badman": After being publicly accused of molesting a college-aged baby sitter, Homer watches TV in the Troubled Fetal Position while David Letterman remarks "...and the number one reference I am running into the ground is...Homer Simpson!" followed by an episode of the Mexican Bumblebee Man's sitcom, in which the Bumblebee Man gets pinched in the butt while smelling a flower and yells, "Ai-yi-yi! Es Homer Simpson!" However, Homer finds solace in An Evening at the Improv, whose comedians are stuck in the 80's.
- In "The Last Temptation of Homer": Homer is attracted to a sexy female co-worker; back at home he tries his best to not think about cheating on his wife. When he tries to distract himself with watching TV, he cycles though several channels about sex and cheating.
- In "YOLO"note , Homer feels trapped in his routine life and that it's already wasted. (He was okay, but Kirk van Houten showed up in a new sports car with a skateboard and having just enrolled to a rapping course. They laughed at him with Marge, but she later upset him with emphasizing how his life will never ever change.) He watches TV and surfs through channels. The work titles were telling: "Same Time Next Year", "Life Stinks", "No Exit", "Point of No Return", "Dead End", and "Little League World Series".
- In "Krusty Gets Kanceled", Krusty is trying to get back in shape by sparring with Homer, but he's too depressed to punch. Then Maggie touches the remote, and The Gabbo Show (which is what caused Krusty's show to be cancelled) comes on; Krusty becomes angry, and starts punching Homer furiously. Then Maggie hits the button again, and a news report comes on saying the price of pork has gone up. Now Homer is just as angry, and starts punching Krusty just as hard.
- In "Homer Loves Flanders", Homer fails to win tickets to a football game and angrily hits his radio, which starts playing Two Tickets To Paradise by Eddie Money. Homer misses the irony and is actually cheered up by the song.
- Hey Arnold!:
- In the episode "Arnold's Hat", our hero is depressed because he lost his hat. To take his mind off it, he turns on the TV and sees that it's Hat Day at the local ballpark, and everyone in the stadium is wearing one. It doesn't help.
- In the episode "Suspended" Harold tries to spend part of his first day at home by watching cartoons, scary movies, and "those dumb talk shows", but as soon as he turns on the TV a cartoon is interrupted by news coverage of the World Economic Conference from Kyoto Japan. Much to his horror, he finds it playing on every channel.
- Turns into a case of Your Movie Theatre Hates You in the episode "Heat". Trying to find relief in the cool movie theatre during a heat wave, the only movies playing are The Day the Sun Exploded, Invasion of the People Melters and Hotter Than the Sun.
- A movie theater example: In "Hooky" Arnold and Gerald skip school and spend the whole episode narrowly avoiding getting caught, they take refuge in the movie theater and before the movie starts; A PSA is played of a politician telling kids to "stay in school".
- One more movie theater example in "The List". Arnold takes the day off to finally accomplish a bucket list of things he's always wanted to do, one of them being to see a new movie. After losing his ticket, he sneaks inside the theater and finally makes it inside only for the film playing the movie to break and the showing to be cancelled.
- "Sid's Revenge" had an inverted example. Sid vows revenge after Principal Wartz gives him a week's detention for something he didn't do. That night, his television seems to commiserate. He encounters a soap opera with a vengeful lead, a commercial for Sweet Revenge chocolate, and finally a National Geographic-esque program featuring the use of voodoo revenge dolls, which inspires Sid to make one in the likeness of Principal Wartz, using soap.
- One episode of Arthur had a character with a bed-wetting problem invited to Muffy's sleep over and with no way to politely decline. She's too embarrassed to put on her pull up, so she stays awake most of the night worrying. She turns on the television, only to be presented with images of running water, an ad with a Scot advertising a wee patch for wee leaks, and a kids' show sponsored by the letter "P".
- In a later episode, we see Francine trying to make it through her first fast during Yom Kippur. When she gets hungry midway through the day, she tries to watch TV only to first see a cooking show about sweet rolls, a commercial for a chicken restaurant, and then a sitcom with a girl eating sloppy joes. Instead of watching TV, Francine decides reading is a better option, only to be confronted by books including "Food of the Gods", "Breakfast at Tiffany's", and "Who Moved My Cheese?" She picks "Little Dorrit" by Charles Dickens, only to be confronted by a paragraph on roast beef.note
- Then, in an episode where Arthur is just trying to forget about his piano lessons for a while, every show on TV is about someone playing the piano.
- In Frisky Dingo, Killface, brooding over the betrayal of his friendship by 'Barnaby Jones' (in reality Xander Crewes), tries to take his mind of things by watching TV, except that every single channel is either about Xander Crewes, Barnaby Jones, friendship, or spells out 'Xander Crews' or 'Barnaby Jones' by judicious use of channel flipping. Eventually he just shoots the TV.
- Garfield and Friends:
Jon: I really gotta go on a diet.
- In one episode, after feeding Garfield, Jon slumps in front of the television:
TV Announcer: Do you have to go on a diet?!
Jon: Why does my TV always know what I'm thinking?
- In another episode, Jon accidentally buys a fern that turns out to be a Man-Eating Plant. After he, Garfield, and Odie are rescued from it by the store owner, they decide to watch a movie Garfield has been waiting to see, which turns out to be a science fiction movie about invading alien plants. They quickly change the channel.
- Something similar happened in Garfield's Halloween Adventure. After he and Odie escape a mob of Ghost Pirates, Garfield decides to watch TV before going to bed, and turns to a channel showing movie versions of pirate ghost stories. He turns it off quickly.
- Family Guy
- In the episode "Stewie Loves Lois", Peter feels sexually violated after his prostate exam and Brian tries to console him by turning on the TV, but every channel is about fingers and fingering.
- In "The Son Also Draws", Peter ends up driving the family to an Indian-owned casino because in the middle of a driving trip he really needs to go to the bathroom. He tries holding it in during the trip, but he keeps getting reminded with messages such as a sign stating "Dump Next Left", a trailer passing them with the notice "Wide Load", a nearby furniture store advertising "All Stools Must Go!", another car with a bumper sticker about how its driver loves their Shih Tzu, and another sign advertising "Bob's House of Feces" ("Oh come on, that one's not even real!").
- This happens to Robert Freeman twice in The Boondocks:
- In "Granddad's Fight", after Colonel H. Stinkmeaner (who's blind) beats up Robert with a cane, Robert's grandson Riley gives him the mocking nickname of "Señor Piñata". Later when Robert switches on the TV, he finds that all the news channels are reporting his humiliating story, including a Mexican anchorman who also calls him "Señor Piñata".
- In "The Story of Lando Freeman", after Robert and his (allegedly) long-lost son Lando appear on The Steve Wilkos Show, where Wilkos seems to confirm Lando's claims and shames Robert about it.
Robert: After all this time, a son.
Huey: Granddad, it's not all your fault. It doesn't make you a horrible person.
Steve Wilkos: (on TV) IT'S ALL YOUR FUCKING FAULT! YOU'RE A HORRIBLE FUCKING PERSON!
- The House of Mouse cartoon "Hickory Dickory Mickey" has Mickey becoming annoyed by Goofy's loudly-ticking alarm clock and decides to block it out with music. He turns to the "all-tick station" and the "all-tock station", then turning on the TV to "The Tick-Tock Channel".
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987); after the heroes fought a long, grueling battle against Krang for the first time during the Five-Episode Pilot, they turned on their TV to relax, turning on a science fiction movie called The Evil Brain From Dimension X. (Followed by groans, shouting, forehead slapping, and Michelangelo demanding to change the channel to cartoons.)
- The Angry Beavers Norbert is trying to get his mind off Daggett being taller than he. When he watches TV, everything suggests that being short means being a loser.
- In the As Told by Ginger finale "The Wedding Frame" Ginger, who is still reeling from her break-up with Darren and is hesitant about entering into a new relationship, is at home watching a music video where the curly and titian haired chanteuse is singing about being abandoned by the man she loves. This trope is soon turned Up to Eleven where Ginger soon imagines herself and Darren in place of the characters in the song and she finally drowns.
- In the Disney short Duck Pimples, Donald Duck tries to relax on a stormy night by listening to the radio. Given his usual bad luck, all the radio programs he listens to are either horror stories or violent crime dramas.
- This happens to Guy Hamdon of all people in the SheZow episode "Super Sidekick", when Shaverine is stealing the limelight away from SheZow, (and much like the above Barney Miller example) even on the Spanish channel.
- In the Season Two episode of Transformers Prime, "Operation: Bumblebee (Part One)", 'Bee has his Transformation Cog—- the biomechanism that allows a Cybertronian to transform—- stolen by the paramilitary group MECH. Stuck in the base, he tries to watch TV with the humans, but the first thing they see is a car commercial. To add insult to injury, said commercial was for the exact same model car 'Bee's alt-mode was based on.
- In an episode of Doug when Porkchop disappears, once Doug has given up searching for him, he tries to take his mind off with some TV. A folk singer can be heard singing "Every boy needs a dawg, every dawg needs a boy, a puppy dawg is just—" before Doug turns it off.
- Briefly used in the Oggy and the Cockroaches episode "Docu-Mentally". Oggy flips through the channels and finds the exact same thing: the cockroaches messing with his body. Taken Up to Eleven when a television on an airplane hates him, and lots of people are seeing the madness and LAUGHING AT HIM.
- Taz-Mania: There's one episode where Taz has been told by his mother to not touch the Sea Bird she's planning to cook for dinner that evening. Taz goes to watch TV and finds that every station - even the western channel - is showing something that's somehow connected to Sea Birds.
- The Powerpuff Girls: In "Daylight Savings", the Professor institutes a 7:30 curfew for the girls, giving all the villains and monsters a perfect opportunity to wreak havoc on Townsville. He tries to get his mind off of the temptation to lift the curfew by watching TV, but every channel is news about how Townsville is getting destroyed. The Professor finally finds solace in the time channel... where he realizes that he forgot to set the clocks back an hour, which gives the girls time to save the day. The trope is finally inverted when he flips through the channels again to hear that things are getting back to normal.
- The Bonkers episode "Stressed to Kill" had one scene where a stressed out Lucky Piquel tries to watch some television to ease himself over his trouble in capturing the Mole, only for every channel to mention moles or feature characters that look like the Mole.
- In the Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi episode "Yumi Saves Kaz", Yumi tries to escape from being bothered by Kaz trying to help her to show his gratitude for saving his life by watching some television. Somehow, every channel she watches has Kaz voice his praise for her heroism.