Television is a big part of modern life, and this means that even the characters on TV are watching TV. Often, the TV programs that are shown during a series are only contained to that fictional world and serve as an important part of the show, whilst sometimes they are just used to take up a few minutes and add a distraction from the narrative. But a few of these TV shows within TV shows brilliantly parody real life television, with some even being more enjoyable than many of the shows that you find on real life TV.
10. Everybody Loves Hypnotoad (Futurama)
Although the show doesn’t appear frequently, you can’t talk about TV shows within TV shows without mentioning the brilliant Everybody Loves Hypnotoad from Futurama. Futurama regularly has fictional TV shows (more on this later) and adverts, but one stand out is Everybody Loves Hypnotoad. This consists of nothing more than a stationary camera filming Hypnotoad and the strange noise that he makes. He is a toad with large oscillating multicolored eyes and he emits a droning hum, and this glow appears to hypnotize anyone or thing that looks into his eyes. The toad has been used outside of the show in an episode where he entered a pet contest and hypnotized the judges and audience into awarding him first place, which spawned the popular line “All hail to the hypnotoad!” It has since become an internet sensation and creator Matt Groening states that it is one of his favorite characters.
9. Scandalmakers (Arrested Development)
Scandalmakers is one of a few fictional shows on Arrested Development, but it is the only one which lasted and is the most prominent. Similar to A Current Affair, this show within a show features re-enactments of real life scandals, with the Bluth family’s many embarrassments and scandals often featuring on the show. Hilariously, this is done with guest stars including Carl Weathers and Dave Attell. The show also features a narrator, which the narrator of Arrested Development suggests is terrible, but much of the burden of the story is placed on this narrator due to the poor acting on the program. At one point, aspiring actor Tobias appears on the show where he plays his father in law. Other popular shows within Arrested Development include Mock Trial with J. Reinhold, Wrench and El Amor Prohibido.
8. The Muddy Mudskipper Show (The Ren & Stimpy Show)
As if The Ren & Stimpy Show wasn’t demented enough, they also have the character of Muddy Mudskipper who is a bitter and aging comedian that hosts a popular and kid-friendly TV show. However, off air he is hateful and abusive to his co-stars (he calls everyone a “lousy bum”), and even villainous when he kidnapped the Pope (this was foiled by Powdered Toast Man). This makes him a terrible role model for kids, but they adore him because of his popular show. On air, Muddy is fantastic at his job and this contrast is what makes him such a brilliant character. He is a mudskipper fish, which is a species capable of crawling out of water and breathing air. This old and jaded comedian is somewhat an archetype, with Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons being another example of one.
7. Pawnee Today (Parks and Recreation)
As a very small town, Pawnee Today from Parks and Recreation is a very important show as this is how all of the residents are informed about many goings on. The show’s host, the hilarious diva Joan Callamezzo, is consequently one of the most powerful people in all of Pawnee and she can make or break your career. Although she has all of this power, Joan is constantly drunk or hungover and she is never impartial and often misinformed. As a result, things rarely go well for Leslie Knope and co. anytime that they appear on her show. In one brilliant episode, Joan is so hungover that she passes out which sees her guest, Ron Swanson, be forced to take calls for the duration of the show. Also worth mentioning are two other hilarious shows, Ya Heard? With Perd! and The Final Word with Perd.
6. Viking Quest (Entourage)
Although you do not see Viking Quest on Entourage, it is referenced so much and sounds like such a fantastic TV show that it still makes the list. In the same vein as Xena: Warrior Princess, this is a show which the character of Johnny Drama used to star in and now has a cult following within the Entourage universe. In the show, Johnny played the character of Tarvold who has the signature exclamation “VICTORY!,” which became an important part Entourage. The tagline for the show is “from the past…comes a warrior of the future” and it follows the exploits of Tarvold as a legendary Viking warrior who sails the seas with his clan. It is Johnny’s only claim to fame and he is desperately trying to work his way back into the industry. He later manages this with the fantastic animated show Johnny Bananas.
5. Terrence & Phillip (South Park)
One early criticism of South Park was that it was poorly animated and little more than crude fart jokes. Hilariously, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone then decided to create a show within a show which was solely fart jokes with worse animation. This is Terrence & Phillip, a show that all the kids in South Park love. Not only do episodes of Terrence & Phillip feature regularly (particularly in older episodes), but the characters themselves are also important to the show. Terrence and Phillip are often shown outside of the show in the South Park universe as two comedians, and this is most notable in the film where their movie leads to a war between Canada and the USA. Also from South Park, other fantastic shows include Jesus and Pals, Russell Crowe Fightin’ Round the World and Animal Close-Ups With a Wide-Angle Lens.
4. All My Circuits (Futurama)
A hilarious take on overdramatic daytime soap operas and borrowing its name from All My Children, All My Circuits appears semi-frequently on Futurama and is watched by the main characters. It features a cast of robots (except one human called Human Friend), which only adds to the humor of a show that is supposed to be packed full of emotion. Over the course of the show, All My Circuits deals with everything including comas, amnesia, long lost brothers, a horrific plane crash, adoption, kidnapping, murder and plenty more dramatic subjects which you so often see on daytime television. Calculon, the show’s protagonist, is sometimes shown outside of the show in the Futurama universe where he is portrayed as an A-list actor (also called Calculon). At one point, Bender becomes the star of the show, but most of the time it is used as a distraction from the main plot.
3. Jerry (Seinfeld)
Many shows are now meta, but Seinfeld was the first show to do it. Already playing himself, Jerry Seinfeld’s character and George create their own sitcom in season four, titled Jerry. They pitch this to NBC executives as a show which is about nothing, which is essentially what Seinfeld is about. The way the fictional executives react is the same way that real life executives reacted at first when Seinfeld was pitched. Jerry featured actors who portray the main characters on Seinfeld: Jerry, George and Elaine (with Jeremy Piven playing George). This self-awareness was considered groundbreaking at the time and certainly inspired many shows to follow. As it had not been done before, this greatly boosted the popularity of the show and is a part of why it is considered to be one of the funniest and smartest shows ever created.
2. TGS with Tracy Jordan (30 Rock)
Seeing as 30 Rock takes place at a television studio, it only makes sense to have shows within the show. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is the producer of the show TGS with Tracy Jordan, and the entire premise is based on Fey’s experiences writing for Saturday Night Live. First known as The Girlie Show, the show changed when executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) insisted on bringing in a male audience, and to do this they added troubled screen star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan). There are many classic moments on the show which add a huge amount to 30 Rock, and these include “Who Wants to Eat a Dictionary,” “Gaybraham Lincoln” and “Barack A-Lama.” Both pivotal to the show and also highly entertaining, TGS with Tracy Jordan is one of the great shows within a show. 30 Rock also features MILF Island, Queen of Jordan and previously Bitch Hunter.
1. Itchy & Scratchy (The Simpsons)
Very much Tom & Jerry taken to the extreme, Itchy & Scratchy from The Simpsons is perhaps the most famous TV show within a TV show. Not only is it the Simpson kids’ favorite program, but it is also central to the plot in multiple episodes and it is important to the show’s universe. The highly entertaining show parodies Tom & Jerry and all similar cartoons, but here the violence is extreme and blood and guts are common on the show (much to the amusement of everyone except Marge). It is such an effective taken on other cartoons that it could easily stand alone as a cartoon show, and you will often see entire episodes shown on The Simpsons (plus it has a very catchy theme tune). Honorable mentions from The Simpsons include The Krusty the Clown Show, Eye On Springfield and Channel 6 News with Kent Brockman.