We all have a list of shows we’ve been meaning to check out, but haven’t gotten around to just yet. But what about a list of shows you wish you could check out that don’t really exist?
Here at TVLine, we’ve always been fascinated by the show-within-a-show trope — the fictional series that exist inside an actual show, and typically appear to be of very low quality (with few exceptions). These fake TV shows exist either as series our favorite characters obsess over (think the Futurama soap opera All My Circuits, or the Insecure docudrama Looking for LaToya) or as series our favorite characters write, produce or appear on (such as Jane the Virgin‘s The Passions of Santos, a Rogelio De La Vega-fronted telenovela that’s, well… straight out of a telenovela).
It’s a trope that dates back more than half a century (one of the earliest examples being The Alan Brady Show on Dick Van Dyke’s eponymous CBS sitcom) and continues to exist today in shows such as CBS’ Ghosts (where two of the deceased recently got hooked on a Love Island-esque dating show) and Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building (wherein Steve Martin’s Charles-Haden Savage once starred on a 1990s police procedural called Brazzos).
Below, TVLine has rounded up more than two dozen shows within a show from the past seven decades that we would absolutely binge (or at the very least sample) if they were real series. Scroll down to see if your personal favorites made our list…
THE ALAN BRADY SHOW, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW
It’s amazing to think that throughout 150-plus episodes of this classic sitcom, we barely saw the comedy show that Rob Petrie, Buddy and Sally wrote for more than once. We know that Carl Reiner played the show-within-a-show’s eponymous, egotistical, toupee-wearing star, and there was a Christmas episode in which Alan Brady had his writing staff (and Rob’s wife Laura) perform. But having seen Rob, Sally and Buddy winningly riff in the writers’ room, it’d be great to see how their jokes actually landed.
ALL MY CIRCUITS, FUTURAMA
The Planet Express crew was hopelessly hooked on this long-running soap opera featuring an all-robot cast — and we would be, too. C’mon, leading man Calculon is a living legend! (Well, not technically “living,” but you know what we mean.)
BIG HOUSE, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
One of the highlights of Dear White People‘s fourth and final season was this hilarious Big Brother sendup, which assembled a group of college students — including Coco — under one roof to compete for a cash prize and the title of Head of Class. Between the shady alliances, ridiculous games (like one based around very specific trivia about Chicago landmarks and famous figures) and thrilling twists (including the Detention House, in which eliminated contestants compete for a spot back into the house), we’re wondering how this isn’t already a real thing.
THE BIG LEAP, THE BIG LEAP
We feel no shame whatsoever about our adoration of Fox’s dance dramedy — aka the feel-good series of the fall. But the same-named show within it we’d have to consider the guiltiest of pleasures. We could tell ourselves we watch for inspirational numbers like the one embedded above, but let’s be real: We’d be glued to our TVs to see if any more chairs get thrown along with shade.
BRAZZOS, ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
We thought we had had our fill of 1990s cop shows back when they actually littered the airwaves. But Steve Martin as Charles-Haden Savage as a jaded detective in hairpiece and oversized leather? Well, that sends our interest in a whole new direction. The cold open of OMITB Episode 2 gave us a taste of Brazzos, as Mabel sampled an episode on YouTube; watch it on Hulu.
COOKIE PARTY, THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM
The gist of this animated deep-cut is as simple as it is nightmarish: A guy named Michael is so good at making cookies that they come to life. The catch, however, is that the talking cookies only want to be eaten by him — not shared with anyone else. (The fact that this show stemmed from the mind of Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland should surprise no one.)
COUGARTON ABBEY, COMMUNITY
Whereas we have a pretty good sense of what an episode of Doctor Who parody Inspector Spacetime looked like, we saw very little of this fictitious UK sitcom, which apparently predated Cougar Town and ran for just six episodes in the ’90s. Plus, we’d really like to see how the Brits fared at Penny Can — ‘ya know, before they all drank poison (!) and died (!!) in the series finale.
GOTHAM GHOSTS, EVIL
Anyone who’s ever gotten sucked into Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures or Paranormal State knows the allure of these gritty-looking supernatural series. The shaky, night-vision footage; the intense musical cues; the “What was that?!” that’s inevitably panic-whispered in every episode. And while we like to think we’d make like resident skeptic Ben and write Gotham Ghosts off as pure silliness… who are we kidding? (And not for nothing, even Ben got sucked in, courtesy of Vanessa; watch on Paramount+.)
THE HAPPY HOMEMAKER, MARY TYLER MOORE
In her day, Sue Ann Nivens — the hostess of WJM’s cooking show — fancied herself quite a snack. On-camera, the peppy hostess (played by the great Betty White) would guide us through wholesome segments such as “A Salute to Fruit.” But off-camera, Sue Ann was a man-eater with a large appetite, veritably licking her chops as she invited Lou Grant to her place (how forward!) for dinner and surely some “dessert.” Knowing of Nivens’ duality would make watching her show on the regular a tasty treat.
IT'S GETTING HOT IN HERE, GHOSTS
Thorfinn and Sasappis’ reality-show addiction finds a bunch of sexy singles bundled up inside a very cold house, forcing them to get to know each other on an emotional level. When a contestant is eliminated, they strip off their parka, revealing to the others what they’re missing. Then as the thermostat rises each week, the remaining hotties slowly start to peel off their clothes until everyone is naked and, ideally, in love at season’s end. If that doesn’t scream “guilty pleasure!” we don’t know what does.
THE JOHNNY KARATE SUPER AWESOME MUSICAL EXPLOSION SHOW, PARKS AND RECREATION
We only got to see one full episode of Andy Dwyer’s variety show for kids, but that sample was enough to sell us on the local-access series. Light-hearted, earnest and a bit bizarre — not unlike Parks and Rec itself — the Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show was, in Johnny Karate’s own words, “all about learning, music, animals, fireworks, water skis, and above all, ice cream, pizza, ninjas, getting stronger, sharks versus bears, and above all, karate!” We may not be the target demographic, but we’re hooked.
THE KRUSTY THE CLOWN SHOW, THE SIMPSONS
Hey hey! We’re not fourth-grade brats like Bart Simpson (anymore), but we’d still grab a sugary bowl of Krusty-O’s and plop down in front of the TV for Krusty the Clown’s madcap variety show. If nothing else, it’s the home of the hilariously violent Itchy & Scratchy animated shorts, which people of all ages can enjoy… except Marge, of course.
LARRY SANDERS SHOW, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW
The fake late-night show hosted by Garry Shandling’s neurotic title character was straight out of the Leno/Letterman mold… and not nearly as interesting as the behind-the-scenes chaos that made Larry Sanders a classic. But it did have its moments — Carol Burnett jumping onto Larry’s back to avoid a spider, for one — and we’d tune in just for the uncomfortable banter between Larry and his punching-bag sidekick “Hey Now” Hank Kingsley.
LOOKING FOR LATOYA, INSECURE
Only the Emmy-nominated Insecure could turn the media not spotlighting missing Black women into something funny and edifying. The true-crime docuseries (and its Webby award-winning companion podcast) searched for a fictional missing Black woman named LaToya Thompson (played by singer SZA). The ensemble also included Martin‘s Carl Anthony Payne II as LaToya’s father; Ray J as her suspicious ex-boyfriend; and The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Kandi Burruss and Porsha Williams as her mother and friend, respectively.
MAC AND C.H.E.E.S.E., FRIENDS
Before Marvel served up S.H.I.E.L.D., Friends served us C.H.E.E.S.E. And honestly, if we’re going to watch a generic procedural, we’d much rather watch one fronted by Joey Tribbiani and a robot sidekick — or rather, a Computerized Humanoid Electronically Enhanced Secret Enforcer.
MILF ISLAND, 30 ROCK
Would we admit to anyone that we watched this scandalously trashy reality show (hatched from the devious mind of NBC executive Jack Donaghy) that stuck “25 super-hot moms” and “50 eighth-grade boys” together on a tropical island with “no rules”? No, we would not. But would we watch it anyway? Yes, we would. (For even more of 30 Rock‘s shows within a show, click here.)
MOCK TRIAL WITH J. REINHOLD, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
Judge Reinhold is neither a real judge nor has he ever received acting’s highest honor, but we’d still rise for the honorable J. Reinhold as well as house band William Hung and His Hung Jury. (Gosh, remember William Hung?) At the very least, we’d tune in to this syndicated courtroom show whenever we’re home sick from work.
THE PASSIONS OF SANTOS, JANE THE VIRGIN
Starring Jane’s father Rogelio De La Vega as North Ecuaduras’ El Presidente Santos, who is lost at sea with his love Blanca, the telenovela is equal parts absurd and addictive in its outrageous storytelling. And it’s so popular that it spawns an American remake, The Passions of Steve & Brenda, about the first co-presidents of the United States, which then gets redeveloped into the sci-fi telenovela This Is Mars. Yes, it’s all wild, and we’d totally binge-watch all of it.
PROFESSOR PROTON, THE BIG BANG THEORY
Before there was Bill Nye the Science Guy, there was Professor Proton — a point that Bob Newhart’s Arthur Jeffries made during one of his many memorable appearances on Big Bang. What little we’ve seen of Professor Proton on prequel series Young Sheldon has looked incredibly charming. Plus, it’s the show that inspired a future Nobel Prize winner to pursue a career in the sciences, so it must have been superb.
SICK, SAD WORLD, DARIA
What do those Supreme Court judges wear under their robes? Can monkeys surf the net and corrupt our kids? And are fish using our oceans as their own private toilets? These were just a few of the hard-hitting topics covered by Sick Sad World, the Hard Copy-esque “news” program that fit perfectly within the cynical, sarcastic world of Daria.
SPORTS NIGHT, SPORTS NIGHT
A SportsCenter-esque recap — within the comedy of the same name — hosted by good friends/longtime collaborators/witty broadcasters Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause)? With Aaron Sorkin baked into its DNA and pithy catchphrases aplenty? Setting a (fictional) series recording as we speak!
STUDIO 60, STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP
Matt Albie and Danny Tripp supposedly saved Studio 60, yet the few sketches we saw were bad. Like, really bad. Like, worse than the worst sketches to ever make it to air on MADtv and Saturday Night Live bad. But we’d have loved to see at least one complete episode of NBS’ flagship late-night series — or at the very least “Crazy Christians,” a sketch so controversial when it aired in a post-9/11 world that it got Matt and Danny fired.
TERRANCE AND PHILLIP, SOUTH PARK
We’re not sure how else to say this, but if you don’t see the appeal of a charming Canadian comedy in which two gassy besties regularly fart on one another, we’re not sure there’s much we can do to help you. Good taste is something you’re born with, not something you can acquire.
TOOL TIME, HOME IMPROVEMENT
Assuming Tim Taylor hasn’t gotten any less terrible at fixing things — and a recent crossover with Last Man Standing suggested he hasn’t — a present-day Tool Time would generate oh-so-many viral moments.
WAKE UP, SAN FRANCISCO, FULL HOUSE
It may seem like your run-of-the-mill local morning show, but where else can you see local San Francisco rock band Jesse and the Rippers perform any number of classic Beach Boys tunes on the regular? And for all you parents out there, Rebecca Donaldson surely has some tips and tricks to share for getting your kids accepted into a prestigious university!
What are some of your favorite shows within a show? Sound off in Comments.