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Classic TV series Cliches


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#1 of 93 Joseph DeMartino

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Posted January 25 2009 - 07:08 AM

Over in the SD TV DVD section there's a thread about series where the lead character goes blind temporarily. That brought to mind some of the other well-worn plots that every series of the 60s and 70s seemed to use at some point. (Many of which survive to this day.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to have a thread devoted to the broader topic.

So, can you think of specific series episodes that featured these overly-familiar situations?

Wrongfully Accused: The lead character is framed for (or just unjustly accused of) a crime he didn't commit and either goes on the run to solve the crime hm/hersefl or is stuck in jail while the rest of the ensemble proves his/her innocence.

Less-than Total Recall: Lead suffers a blow to the head and wanders around for 30 or 60 minutes not knowing who he/she is. Uusally develops a whole alternate life and falls in love, has bittersweet moment at the end of the episode musing on what could ahve been.

Vanishing Act: Lead character disappears at the end of the teaser and doesn't reapper (except sometimes as a hand or foot, or when seen from behind or at a distance) until the tag. The secondary characters spend the episode trying to find the lead, and constantly asking, "What would he [or she] do?" This kind of episode was often done so the star could go off and shoot a feature film during the season. This was also often the reason behind...

Body Double: In this episode the mind of the lead character was transferred into the body of someone else This was a staple of SF shows, but sometimes found its way into straight shows through dream sequences or by invoking improbably sophisticated plastic surgery techniques. (This happened to Number Six on The Prisoner while Patrick McGoohan was off shooting Ice Station Zebra.)

"I got better." A variant on "Vanishing Act" in which the lead is apparently killed in the teaser and the rest of the cast spend the episode feeling sorry for themselves and reminicsing - often with the assistance of copious flashbacks. The lead usually returns for the climax at the end of act IV, then explains his/her improbable survival in the tag. This kind of show, in turn, is a variant on...

The Album Episode. An album episode is any show made up primarily of footage from a bunch of earlier shows. Usually used in conjuction with the "I got better", album shows were also popular for milestones like 100th episodes character anniversaries, weddings or permanent deaths of characters. They often literally involved everybody sitting around leafing through the old family album and having memories (flashbacks) cued by photographs. Album show were sometimes produced when the network requested an additional episode in a given season, beacuse the "envelope" footage could be shot in a day and the rest of the show created in post-production. Also used, like Body Double, when one or more major cast members needed time off for outside projects or when late-seaon budget constraints required that they crank out an extra-cheap episode. This was also often the reason for...

"The bottle show." The lead, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, is trapped in a mountain cabin, desert shack, disabled vehicle by a blizzard, sandstorm, hurricane and has to survive by his/her wits. This immediately reduced the budget for sets and the need for lots of complicated camera set-ups. (If the characters were trapped in their own home or office, so much the better. No need to build any new sets at all.) These episodes often involved on the regulars or at most one guest star, which also saved money. If the lead's mortal enemy is one of the people who is also trapped, the two must work together to escape the situation, and in the process develop a grudging respect for one another.

(This was hilariously spoofed in an episode of Babylon 5 when the Narn, G'Kar, is trapped in a wrecked elevator with the Centauri, Londo, after an explosion. The Centauri occupy G'Kar's home world, and have decreed that for every Centauri killed by the reistance, 100 Narn will be executed. Londo gives the usual, "We have to work together or we'll die" speech, and G'Kar basically says, "I'm good with that. I'll die, but I'll get to watch you die first, because I'm in better shape than you. So I get to kill you by simply doing nothing, and there wont' be any reprisals because there won't be any proof." When the two are finally rescued they are still arguing and cursing one another. Posted Image)

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Joe

#2 of 93 Josh Dial

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Posted January 25 2009 - 07:25 AM

I think that my single most-hated cliche is the "jerk boss." I don't simply mean people in authority who just happen to be jerks as part of their character, but rather when an established show (say, at least part of a season) has a *brand new* character be introduced, and suddenly be placed in an authority position--and of course the character has a personal vendetta against the lead/ensemble.

Virtually every arc stemming from this cliche is ANOTHER cliche, which only adds to my annoyance. Sadly, this one hasn't died with the TV shows of old, rather, continues to rear its ugly head today (for example, on Fringe). Another reason why I dislike this one so much, is that it tends to span multiple episodes, often the better part of a season. A lot of otherwise-great shows have had it: House (Vogler), 24 (Driscoll), BSG (Cain), ST: TNG (Jellico) - I could go on, and on...

#3 of 93 Steve Berger

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Posted January 25 2009 - 09:11 AM

My hated plot is the "Whose turn is it to do something stupid and/or out of character" scenario. Usually an ensemble cast and each week one of them does something that the rest have to spend the rest of the show correcting. I suppose you could call it "Pandora's Box".

#4 of 93 Greg_S_H

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Posted January 25 2009 - 11:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joseph DeMartino
Vanishing Act: Lead character disappears at the end of the teaser and doesn't reapper (except sometimes as a hand or foot, or when seen from behind or at a distance) until the tag. The secondary characters spend the episode trying to find the lead, and constantly asking, "What would he [or she] do?" This kind of episode was often done so the star could go off and shoot a feature film during the season. This was also often the reason behind...

Body Double: In this episode the mind of the lead character was transferred into the body of someone else This was a staple of SF shows, but sometimes found its way into straight shows through dream sequences or by invoking improbably sophisticated plastic surgery techniques. (This happened to Number Six on The Prisoner while Patrick McGoohan was off shooting Ice Station Zebra.)

Stargate SG-1 S7 could be an entry course in this sort of thing. Richard Dean Anderson wanted to spend time with his family, so they found creative ways to remove him from the action. In one, he seemingly regressed to a younger age. I think they said the kid playing him did most of his scenes before RDA even reported in for the season, so he had to study him from tapes. They'd make up other reasons to get him out of the episodes quick in almost every episode.

Quote:
The Album Episode. An album episode is any show made up primarily of footage from a bunch of earlier shows.

You call it corn. We call it the "clip show." There were more than one of these during Stargate's run. Strangely, they were used for episodes of major importance to the ongoing storyline.

"Shades of Grey" is considered one of the worst ST:TNG episodes and a terrible example of the clip show, but I really didn't think it was that horrible. I mean, I don't like sitting through scenes I've already seen, but I don't get the hatred for it.

#5 of 93 mattCR

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Posted January 25 2009 - 11:46 AM

Here's a staple of mystery, action & sci-fi shows:

The person you THOUGHT you knew, even for multiple seasons, turns out to be an undercover agent who has always, all along, been waiting for the call of the bad guys, despite any/all good they did in previous seasons. (See: 24, Alias, Babylon 5, etc.)

OR, the reverse: someone you knew as a bad guy all along flips and suddenly become an accepted good guy who works to regain glory.

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#6 of 93 TonyD

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Posted January 25 2009 - 12:50 PM

the three's company plot.

someone over hears part of a conversation and completely misinterprets
everything everyone does during the episode.

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#7 of 93 Scott_J

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Posted January 25 2009 - 01:14 PM

It seems every sitcoms has had a Christmas episode dealing with the main character not getting his Christmas bonus from work and trying to hide that from his family.

#8 of 93 Joseph DeMartino

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Posted January 25 2009 - 01:19 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott_J
It seems every sitcoms has had a Christmas episode dealing with the main character not getting his Christmas bonus from work and trying to hide that from his family.

The other great Christmas show cliches are the lazy rewrites of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. Posted Image One of the few to really pull this off was Blackadder's Christmas Carol, which dispensed with three of the four ghosts and started out with the main character being terribly nice and turning into a bastard after discovering how much fun evil could be. Posted Image

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#9 of 93 Joe_H

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Posted January 25 2009 - 01:48 PM

I don't know if anyone saw the short-lived "That's My Bush" on Comedy Central, but if you ignore the fact that it was George Bush as a character (because it wasn't really making fun of him as much as you'd think), it did a really good job of spoofing most of the horrible sitcom cliches, such as what you refer to as the bottle show, but what it calls "Stuck in Small Spaces" or there's one about a character overhearing wrong, likesomeone mentions above, etc.

#10 of 93 Greg_S_H

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Posted January 25 2009 - 01:52 PM

How about "the regretted letter?" A misunderstanding causes a character to get his feelings hurt, so he writes and mails a nasty letter. He then finds out the intended recipient was doing something nice for him, so he goes to great lengths to get the letter back. Hilarity ensues. See: Three's Company, Perfect Stranger, and even some stupid Julia Roberts movie apparently did it.

#11 of 93 mattCR

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Posted January 25 2009 - 01:56 PM

Quote:
One of the few to really pull this off was Blackadder's Christmas Carol, which dispensed with three of the four ghosts and started out with the main character being terribly nice and turning into a bastard after discovering how much fun evil could be.

Let's face it, BlackAdder, though, was one of the best shows ever on TV, and the ensemble was flat out awesome. I keep waiting for some of them to show up on House, just as a throwback to a much younger Hugh Laurie.

The entire bit where he brains his idiot cousins who beg for money on Christmas.. CLASSIC. That entire episode is a Christmas tradition.

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#12 of 93 Steve Berger

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Posted January 25 2009 - 02:31 PM

I can't remember the show but I saw one "clip show" where all of the clips were scenes that had been cut out of the original episodes. You thought you saw what was coming and it always turned out to be something you hadn't seen before.

#13 of 93 Walter C

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Posted January 26 2009 - 03:27 AM

I've not noticed it in today's comedies, but in the 80's and early 90's, the gender bias would annoy me big-time. I remember my friends and I would complain about how shows always have the women ending up being right and men being wrong. Or the women beating the men in some contest. Full House and Family Matters quickly come to mind.

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#14 of 93 ThomasC

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Posted January 26 2009 - 03:40 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by mattCR
Here's a staple of mystery, action & sci-fi shows:

The person you THOUGHT you knew, even for multiple seasons, turns out to be an undercover agent who has always, all along, been waiting for the call of the bad guys, despite any/all good they did in previous seasons. (See: 24, Alias, Babylon 5, etc.)
"I'm the dude playin' the dude disguised as another dude!" Posted Image Posted Image

#15 of 93 Joseph DeMartino

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Posted January 26 2009 - 04:01 AM

Sitcom husbands and dads have traditionally been clueless idiots who constantly have to be rescued by their wives (and sometimes their kids.) It goes back to the 50s. Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show were actually exceptions to the rule. Ralph Kramden was the prototypical male sitcom lead for much of the history of American television. (And this cliche extends to commercials, as well.)

Regards,

Joe

#16 of 93 Steve Armbrust

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Posted January 26 2009 - 04:42 AM

The cute and precocious kid. As exemplified by Lassie, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Courship of Eddie's Father, Dennis the Menace, ad nauseum.

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#17 of 93 MatthewA

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Posted January 27 2009 - 01:25 AM

How about pointing out clichés (which is cliché itself), as they occur in an episode?

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#18 of 93 mattCR

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Posted January 27 2009 - 01:37 AM

The super damaging letter accidentally sent to JUST the wrong person by accident.

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#19 of 93 Josh Dial

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Posted January 27 2009 - 04:04 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatthewA
How about pointing out clichés (which is cliché itself), as they occur in an episode?

Examples? I can't really think of *one* instance of this in the shows I watch--certainly not enough to qualify it as a cliche in and of itself.

#20 of 93 Lucia Duran

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Posted January 27 2009 - 04:18 AM

In Seinfeld it was George trying to retrieve the answering machine tape to which he recorded a message he didn't want someone to hear. In Hannah Montana it was Miley trying to retrieve a video of her saying something she didn't want some guy to hear. In Boy Meets World it was Corey trying to get back a tape of an interview he did for the school newspaper in which he said something he shouldn't have.
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