10 Best Shows-Within-Shows in TV History

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There's something ironic about a TV show featuring a TV show. The idea is often used as satire or criticism of television as a genre; other times, it's used as a sort of strange narrator moving the plot of the show along from scene to scene. But most often, a show within a show is a ridiculous comedic tactic that puts an ironic spin on an already funny concept. Many of the best-known shows in television history have featured a show within a show, and if you think carefully you might just remember some of them even if they only made short (but unforgettable) cameo appearances. Here are the 10 best shows-within-shows in TV history:

  1. "Sports Night," Sports Night

    The short-lived comedy-drama TV show, Sports Night, was about a fictional sports show called "Sports Night," which broadcasted from the made-up Continental Sports Channel (CSC) studio in New York City. The "SportsCenter" like sports show within the show features a team of anchors, producers and editors that share their friendships, shortcomings, and problems while attempting to maintain the network's approval, as well as their own sanity. The characters in the show may have been patterned after real ESPN anchors. While the show struggled to find a loyal audience, it has become a cult classic amongst sports broadcasting fans for its quick-witted dialogue and mix of realism and comedy.

  2. "TGS with Tracy Jordan," 30 Rock

    The hit NBC series, 30 Rock, follows the cast and crew of the fictional sketch comedy show "TGS with Tracy Jordan." Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan, is the eccentric star who is known for saying whatever is on his mind. The show was originally entitled "The Girly Show (TGS)," and after Tracy joined the show it was revamped to target male audiences for NBC in order to compensate for the failed show, Bitch Hunter. As you can see, the foundations for this show within a show are as bizarre and hilarious as the show itself.

  3. "The Larry Sanders Show," The Larry Sanders Show

    The Larry Sanders Show was a hit HBO series depicting the behind the scenes life of a late night talk show host. The fictional late night show was actually filmed in front of a live studio audience and featured celebrity guests that played themselves, such as Jon Stewart, Hugh Hefner, and Adam Sandler. Many big name stars made appearances on this show, including Rip Torn, Janeane Garofalo, and Bob Odenkirk. The show had a great run for more than six years on HBO and still sells very well in the DVD market.

  4. "The Alan Brady Show," The Dick Van Dyke Show

    The Dick Van Dyke Show was a classic American television sitcom that was centered around the work and home life of Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke. Petrie is the head writer of the fictional comedy variety show "The Alan Brady Show." Viewers get an up close and personal look at what it was like to write and produce a TV show in the '60s. The show is still popular today and is often shown in re-runs. Many of the plots for the show came from creator and producer Carl Reiner's everyday experiences, giving them a human touch that makes the show and its characters easy for anyone to relate to, even 40 years later.

  5. "Jerry," Seinfeld

    The legendary TV show Seinfeld utilized the show within a show to allow main character Jerry Seinfeld to play a semi-fictional version of himself as a touring comedian. The show is the perfect ironic mix of reality and humor, and it mastered the ability to find humor in even the most mundane details of everyday life. The fact that Jerry Seinfeld plays a semi-serious version of himself placed in hilarious situations is one of the most unique and successful parts of the show. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Seinfeld has been called by many the greatest television program of all time.

  6. "When the Whistle Blows," Extras Extras was a mockumentary British sitcom created by the writers of the successful British series The Office, which would later be adapted to a hit American version. Extras follows a group of extras working on TV, film, and theater sets. The show within a show "When the Whistle Blows" was created by one of these extras, and BBC eventually picked up the show. It featured low-brow humor and a cheesy laugh track, features lamented by the would-be sophisticated extra, Ricky Gervais, who originally co-conceived the script. The hilarious excerpts from the show make it one of the most memorable shows within a show in TV history.

  7. "Coming Attractions," The Critic

    The Critic was a short-lived animated series about a unlucky film critic named Jay Sherman, who reviews bad movies on his TV show "Coming Attractions." The best part of The Critic were the hilarious movie parodies he had to review, including Honey, I Ate the Kids, Abe Lincoln: Pet Detective, and The Cockroach King. These hilarious movie parodies made The Critic a hit, and, while it had a relatively short broadcast career, it has been one of the strongest TV show DVD sellers on Amazon.com since its premature cancellation. Indeed, The Critic has developed a cult following and was recently ranked by IGN as number nine on their list of the top 25 animated primetime series of all time.

  8. "Mock Trial With J. Reinhold," Arrested Development

    Arrested Development may have been a short-lived sitcom, but it's easy to see why the comedy had a strong cult following. One example the off-the-wall comedy Arrested Development is famous for is the show within a show "Mock Trial With J. Reinhold." In desperate need of legal representation, the central characters turn to Attorney Jan Eagleman, who offers to represent the family, on the condition that they participate in a mock trial in a new reality courtroom show called "Mock Trial with J. Reinhold." Musical accompaniment for the show's theme song and perceived jokes from testifying witnesses is provided by "William Hung And His Hung Jury." Let's just say the trial doesn't go as planned. This show within a show is one of the most hilarious on this list and reflects the comic genius behind Arrested Development.

  9. "The Krusty the Klown Show,"The Simpsons

    Krusty is televisions' No. 1 crotchety clown whose kiddie variety television show, "The Krusty the Klown Show," is Bart and Lisa Simpson's favorite TV show. His show features a combination of television hijinks and bizarre cartoons, like "The Itchy and Scratchy Show." Krusty was so successful early on as a show within a show that, as the series went on, Krusty began to take on larger and larger parts, eventually becoming one of the most common and central characters outside the Simpsons family. Krusty is the quintessential sad clown; and his show within a show is one of the most recognizable in television history.

  10. "Single Female Lawyer" and "All My Circuits," Futurama

    The animated science fiction sitcom, Futurama, follows the life of Philip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy who accidentally flash-freezes himself until the 31st century. Fry finds work at the Planet Express delivery service and makes friends Bender the robot and Leela the mutant-human. The Planet Express crew watches the TV shows "All My Circuits," a soap opera featuring robots instead of people, but the same sappy storylines. Excerpts from this show pop up at hilarious times. Then there's "Single Female Lawyer", a show created by the regular characters to appease aliens hell-bent on finding a civilization worth televising. Some last minute heroics allow the cast to save planet Earth, but only to lukewarm reviews from the aliens. This show cleverly uses the show within a show with perfect timing to add great depth and humor to an already successful show.

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