Trapped in TV Land

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"This is what I call a drive-in movie!"

Carlos, The Magic School Bus ("Spins a Web")

A group of characters, often a mix of heroes and villains, are trapped by some form of Applied Phlebotinum inside the world of literature, video games or the like, but most often, television. Either they must learn to cope with their newfound environment until some way can be found to escape, or they will jump from channel to channel, hitting a multitude of clichéd worlds and thin parodies.

A plot very much at home in a Superhero spoof or or other comedy show with a loose set of physical constraints. It's a wacky plot that allows the writers to have fun with the tropes this wiki catalogues, and make it all moot at the end without a snapback.

Most times, one of the cast members will be a Genre Savvy, or even a fan, and will use that knowledge to beat the system.

Most common in animation, where "building" all the new environments and sets is easy and cheap. Well, easy.

This plot can sometimes be connected to its opposites, the Refugee From TV Land and Welcome to The Real World. See also: Dream Land, with which this sometimes overlaps; Portal Book Type 1, where characters getted trapped in Book Land; and Fisher Kingdom, as the channels change the visitors. Compare and contrast Intrepid Fictioneer, for when the travel is deliberate. Frequently paired with a "Reading Is Cool" Aesop (provided it's "Trapped in Literature Land").

This is common Fanfic Fuel.

It's an unspoken rule that, somewhere in the universe, there is a show similar to Star Trek: The Original Series.

Examples of Trapped in TV Land include:

Anime and Manga

  • While not in a television per se, the 2nd part of the 1993 Time Bokan OVA has Dorombo Gang of Yatterman enter a sewer and find a world entirely populated by Tatsunoko characters. While attempting to cause havok and expect Yatterman to show up, they don't count on the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Casshern, Hurricane Polymar and Tekkaman arriving and trouncing them. Oh, and there's the obligatory Speed Racer cameo too.
  • The framing device for the anime exercise video (It Makes Sense in Context) Training with Hinako has one shot of a girl in the real world being taken into a glowing TV set, where she apparently becomes an anime character.
  • In Princess Tutu, the main characters are characters from the book The Prince and the Raven, which ended prematurely when its author, Drosselmeyer, died. While the characters have escaped from the book, the entire city is being controlled by a story, which in turn is controlled by Drosselmeyer's ghost. Some of the characters are Genre Savvy, while some aren't.
  • Episode 26 of Ghost Sweeper Mikami features a haunted video game which is an expy of Dragon Quest. Yokoshima and Okinu get trapped in it while Mikami uses her spiritual powers to participate in it from outside.
  • Detective Conan movie 6, "The Phantom of Baker Street". traps the main characters in a virtual reality game controlled by a rogue AI, and featuring Jack the Ripper.

Comic Books

  • The off-beat comic book series The Invisibles had an appropriately weird example where King Mob and Boy get caught in the mindscape of the Marquis de Sade (yes, really) during an attempt to pull him out of the past that goes somewhat pear-shaped. They end up having to witness the entirety of 120 Days of Sodom, which King Mob treats as a sick joke.
  • A mid-1980's Superman Annual had a secondary story in which Superman artist Curt Swan fell asleep while drawing a comic and woke up in Metropolis. It was All Just a Dream, except that Curt found two bullets in his hand from when Superman stopped a crook.
  • The Fantastic Four miniseries Fantastic Four: True Story does this in a homage to the Thursday Next books (see the Literature section below).
  • One storyline in Justice League of America involved the evil Queen of Fables trapping the League in a book of old fairy tales (the original bloody ones) and forcing them to live through the stories.
    • She's appeared since—one story had her work out that Superman shook off her Earth stories because he was really an alien, and she drew on Kryptonian stories instead. Luckily, this version of Superman had learned or remembered these stories, so he knew to look for the Striped River Witch and shatter the crystal soldiers with ricocheting light. It was all very Jungian. Interestingly, the benefits of biculturalism didn't come up; apparently your Collective Unconscious is determined almost solely by the conjunction of biology and what you hear in your first year of life.
  • This is the power of Supreme baddie the Televillain - entering into a TV show's fictional world and drawing others into it as he pleases. And, of course, changing the channel to whatever premise fits his need. In one outing he killed Monica on an episode of Friends to prove he wasn't kidding around.
  • She Hulk met old Howard the Duck foe Doctor Bong when he set about changing television shows' internal reality (just roll with it) and accidentally zapped her into them. Possibly the most infamously surreal Shulkie story ever.
  • Ellie Dee gets transported into a video game in one issue of Cherry Comics, where she has to Win to Exit.

Fan Works

  • This is the basis behind many Self-Insert fanfictions.
  • In The Blue Dragon series, the two primary protagonists (Demex in the first, Josh in the second) get sent to the The Legend of Spyro universe.
  • The famous Star Trek fanfic "Visit to a Weird Planet" eventually spawned a sequel, "Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited", which appeared in one of the early official Star Trek fanfic anthologies published by Bantam Books. While the characters were on set, the actors were struggling to deal with a crisis involving a Klingon ship.
  • Kyle-091 is about a Halo fanboy ending up (via sending himself there with Forerunner tech) on the ONI medical station orbiting Reach in the early stages of the Spartan program. Since he knows what's going to happen in the future, the ONI would've been after him had it not for Mendez and Halsey covering up the incident by giving him Spartan enhancements and sneaking him into the program. The sequel turns this around by the Covenant trying to invoke a Grandfather Paradox.
  • My Little Brony: Reality VS Fantasy (a My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fanfic) is about a brony who ends up in Equestria. The Equestrian natives are understandably freaked out, and he's forced to go live with Zecora and Apple Bloom. His arrival, however, is just in time for him to witness one of the great laws of Equestrian apocrypha: that which states that all shall go to shit. In this case, a mad scientist wants to get rid of the ponies, but it turns out that the (ponyfied) Doctor and his companion Derpy Hooves are watching.
  • Sleeping with the Girls is all about this, fused with semi-uncontrolled reality hopping. Before you ask, no, there's no sex, the title's just like that. A guy who is an anime fan in real life is, for unknown reasons, being teleported to the side of eight of his favorite anime characters. The problem? He is transported the instant he falls asleep, and the characters he likes are a) always asleep when he teleports to them, and b) they tend to run in the Tsundere category. One of the most realistic takes on a self-insert, he nearly dies several times because they can throw punches he can't survive, not to mention that he almost never gets enough sleep. He's cycling through eight separate worlds, each one one of his favorite anime/manga. Currently in the middle of its second of what the author claims is a three-volume story. See the trope page for more details.
  • Mass Vexations, is probably one of THE examples of Trapped in TV Land done right. Another self-insert story, it shows Art, a quirky college guy, suddenly transported to the world of Mass Effect. He doesn't gain super-powers, and it shows how a fan of the game could realistically interact with a fictional world, while trying to hide that he knows pretty much every single outcome from when he arrives (near the beginning of ME 1) to the end of Mass Effect 2.
  • The Wild Horse Thesis is a story about how, due to a magical spell, Ranma from Ranma ½ is trapped inside a series of video tapes, which contain Neon Genesis Evangelion. He finds himself replacing the character of Shinji, but has all his abilities and techniques intact. Unlike some of the other examples, we see Ranma having his Tokyo-3 adventures from the viewpoint of Ranma's family and fiancées, who are watching the tapes in the "real" world. The best part is seeing Ranma telling people in the show of his "previous" life, thinking no one knows what he's talking about, while the characters in the "real" world are subjected to his honest opinions of them.


  • Possibly first done in the "Murray in Videoland" sketches in the 1987 film Amazon Women on the Moon.
  • This was the plot of the 1992 film Stay Tuned, where couch potato Roy Knable (played by John Ritter) and his wife Helen (played by Pam Dawber) get sucked into a Hell-spawned satellite TV network. In an obvious nod to his TV career, Ritter's character was briefly trapped inside a demonic version of Three's Company, complete with lookalikes of Chrissy and Janet coming in and asking him "Where have you been?" He promptly fell over the sofa and screamed in horror.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you! Our Parents - Are Trapped - In Television!"

  • Two American teens (brother and sister) are sucked into a black-and-white 1950s sitcom series in Pleasantville, where they inadvertently take the role of two of the main characters.
  • Last Action Hero has a kid sucked into an action movie, and the characters following him back to the real world.
  • The Buster Keaton movie Sherlock, Jr. can be considered an early example of this trope. Keaton plays a movie projectionist who dreams he walks into the movie he is showing, and at first has a hard time dealing with a series of jump cuts.
  • In the slasher film There's Nothing Out There, the main characters come to realize that they have literally wandered into a slasher film. There's even a scene where one of the characters swings off the boom mic.
  • Some scenes in Tron evoke this trope for video games.
  • Last chase scene in the horror film Shocker has the protagonist and the villain fight their way through war documentaries, Leave It to Beaver, Frankenstein, a boxing match, newscast and Alice Cooper music video. When the villain tries to escape by diving into the nearest TV, the hero pulls the plug, making the villain simply bash his head into the screen.
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • "I'm sending you to cartoon land" Twilight Zone the Movie.
  • In Mary Poppins, Mary, Burt, and the children jump into a chalk pavement picture.
  • The Icicle Thief
  • Andy Colby's Incredible Adventure.
  • The Big Bad of 976-EVIL, seeking to frame the female lead, traps one of her friends inside a television program. It doesn't seem so bad at first, as she finds herself amongst the ending of Its a Wonderful Life. Then the movie is mashed up with Night of the Living Dead which is playing at the next channel and she is killed by the Creepy Child from it.
  • Anyone murdered by the killer in Midnight Movie becomes trapped in the black and white Hillbilly Horrors film he originates from.
  • In Delirious, a soap opera writer gets hit on the head and wakes up as a character inside his own show.
  • Deep in the Valley, a Porn with Plot where two friends get trapped in a porno, and find it's not all fun and games, as there is a Yandere and a cop after them.


  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels concern an invention called the "Prose Portal" which allows people to enter works of fiction. Later novels reveal a whole world of fiction, in which characters in books are like actors, and must "act out" the events of a story every time it is read.
  • The Incredible Umbrella and its sequel The Amorous Umbrella, by Marvin Kaye. The protagonist acquires a magical umbrella that allows him to access fictional worlds. Or nearly access them—he tended to be rather flighty and stray thoughts would often turn the realities he was visiting into Fanfic universes.
  • One of the first examples (if not the first), from 1940: Typewriter in the Sky by L. Ron Hubbard, a Deconstruction of swashbucklers with the main character having "fallen into" the role of the Designated Villain.
  • There's a Robert Bloch story (found in the anthology Hollywood Nightmare, edited by Peter Haining) about a woman who, after watching so many tv-horror-marathons that her brain melts (more or less), finds herself taking a walking tour of RKO Horror and the Universal Monsters canon. Hilarity Does Not Ensue.
  • Woody Allen's short story The Kugelmass Episode features a man launching himself into various classic novels. It being Allen, the protagonist enters Madame Bovary and Portnoys Complaint just to fuck female characters—though unbeknownst to him the texts change to reflect his intrusion. In the end the machine malfunctions and drops him into a Spanish textbook.
  • The humor book How to Survive a Horror Movie tells how to recognize if you've become a victim of this trope, and how to stay alive once you're there.
  • The Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Crooked World sees the TARDIS crew trapped on a cartoon planet populated by thinly-veiled parodies of Scooby Doo, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Wacky Races, Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, and others. The Doctor's interference means that for the behavior of those parodies, Reality Ensues.
  • Ms Wiz Goes Live has Ms Wiz take Caroline and her little sister inside the TV. In a variation they go to an actual TV studio where the sister causes uproar on a talk show, Ms Wiz reads her own version of the news and Caroline does a guest spot on a drama. The book ends with a producer calling the house to see if Caroline wants a bigger role.

Live-Action TV

  • My Name Is Earl has a small subplot when Earl was in a coma, in which Earl was in the only place he felt happy; 'TV Land'. A few episodes detailed his life in a fifty's television sitcom, while is friends tried to get him out of a coma. The older he got in the sitcom, the closer he was to dying in real life.
  • In a 1991 episode of Growing Pains, Ben is trapped in the show Growing Pains—that is, a world where his family life is the subject of a trope- and cliché-ridden Sitcom.
  • In the finale of The Famous Jett Jackson, Jett actually switches places with Silverstone, the character he plays in the Show Within a Show.
  • At the end of an episode of Clarissa Explains It All, Clarissa fakes this happening to her as part of a Zany Scheme to get revenge on her brother.
  • Power Rangers Time Force had an excellent two-parter based around this concept with the Big Bad and the Monster of the Week splitting up the rangers and sending them through westerns, Samurai films, Martial Arts Epics, Jungle Hero serials, Musicals, and even a Mad Max parody!
  • Weird Science had the boys explicitly thrown into a slasher movie and a soap opera, as well as into alternate universes modeled on The Twilight Zone and James Bond movies.
  • Amazing Stories has a cross between Be Careful What You Wish For and this trope in "Welcome To My Nightmare". Complaining that real life is nothing like the movies, and wishing it was, he lands in the movie Psycho—as the woman who gets killed in the shower scene. It gets bonus points for having plot relevant movie posters, such as "It's A Wonderful Life" when he escapes from the film.
  • That's So Raven has an episode in which Raven has a dream that she and her friends are in various TV shows and movies (such as I Love Lucy, The Wizard of Oz, etc.)
  • This is the plot of an episode of Lexx in which the heroes are plopped onto a literal "TV world," where they mysteriously transported onto the set of a show and are "rated" on their performance in whatever TV show they land in. High ratings lead to "primetime," whereas low ratings lead to gradually more degrading roles, ending with being decapitated on a snuff show and having one's head added to the mostly offscreen "audience".
  • New Zealand kids show Freaky had an episode where a girl with troubles at home gets sucked into TV and finds herself as part of perfect Dom Com family.
  • In Lost in Austen, Amanda Price finds a door through her shower stall that leads to the world of Pride & Prejudice. She accidentally trades places with Elizabeth Bennett and then promptly messes up the original storyline.
  • Used very nicely in Supernatural, as par for the course for the Trickster's shenanigans. Genre Savviness, breaking of the fourth wall, and hilarity all ensue.
  • The Doctor Who story "The Mind Robber" features the Second Doctor and companions getting stuck in the Land of Fiction, where characters from every story ever written are real (the Doctor Who Expanded Universe returns to the Land on a couple of occasions).
  • Reversed in Hi Honey, I'm Home!, which featured a family from a 50's sitcom that has been canceled. They are relocated to the Real World, in a typical 90's suburb. When overwhelmed by the complexities of the world in which they now live, they seek comfort by using a device known as a Turnerizer, which causes themselves and their home environment to revert to monochrome. The outside world (as seen through open doors, etc.), as well as anyone from the outside world, are unaffected.
  • The live-action Recycled: the Series adaptation of Honey I Shrunk the Kids has an episode where Wayne invents a remote control that picks up dead television waves for a bored Nick and Amy. However, when the kids bicker and accidentally spill juice on it, the remote causes Wayne, Nick, and Amy to be sucked into a vortex that lands them into various programs.
  • The live-action Recycled: the Series adaptation of Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure has an episode where the guys use their time machine to travel into Bill's stepmom's favorite soap opera, as a nod to the preceding Animated Adaptation (see the "Western Animation" section)
  • In Charmed:
    • The sisters are trapped in an old movie ("Kill it before it dies") in the episode "Chick Flick". Meanwhile, the handsome hero of that movie and villains from slasher movies escape into the real world.
    • The episode "Charmed Noir" has Paige and Brody sucked into a 1930's Maltese Falcon spoof while investigating the murder of a teacher at the Magic School. Also, outsiders could write plot twists which were incorporated into the narrative.
  • Happens to the Twist kids in the Round the Twist episode "TV or Not TV".

Theme Parks

  • Cinemagique in Walt Disney Studios (Disneyland Resort Paris) was about a member of the audience send in a montage of classical movies.


  • In the Japan-only Doki Doki Panic, the game begins with two kids trapped into a storybook by King Wart, and a family of four has to get them back.
  • City of Villains has "The TV Invasion", a Story Arc of missions for characters level 45 to 50 that takes you into a monster movie, a gangster movie, and a post-apocalypse movie, all at the bidding of Television itself.
  • Viewtiful Joe is basically Last Action Hero except with toku movies, it's a video game, the main character becomes an action hero, and it's actually good.
    • It's also probably deconstructed with Captain Blue, who went insane because his life kept on going downhill, even after an upside happened, fate would find some way to twist into something he wouldn't want, such as his rise to fame? Eventually forgotten. He gets sucked into his own movies? Goes insane because he can't escape to meet his family and eventually tried to destroy everything, it shows a lot, and is probably what would happen if people really did get trapped in a "Movie Land".
  • Old Game example: Seymour Goes To Hollywood, set in a film studio. Entering the various sets, Seymour would encounter actual characters from the films. Either that or the actors all followed The Method.
  • The Sega Genesis game Comix Zone features a Badass Normal comic book author trapped in his own comic. If he can't fight his way through the story (traversing the actual panels), the comic's villain will take his place in the real world.
  • This trope is the premise for the first Gex game. In the next two sequels he entered TV land(s) voluntarily.
  • The general plot of Wario Master of Disguise has Wario enter a TV program about a master thief out of both jealousy and wanting the money in the series locations for himself. He sadly realizes at the end that the Telmet (device used to warp into the TV) cannot transfer the money out as well as him.
  • This is where the main characters in Persona 4 fight.
  • This is part of Raving Rabbids TV Party: the Rabbids get sucked into Rayman's TV set, and in the single-player mode they set out to annoy him into busting up the set and letting the Rabbids out.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has the Sonic Storybook Series—two so far—in which Sonic is pulled into classical story books. The first one is based on the Arabian Nights, and the second on King Arthur. Both featured Sonic replacing the titled hero, along with the title itself.
  • The 1990's sidescroller Garfield: Caught in the Act plays this trope quite literally.
  • Spot Goes To Hollywood has the titular 7 Up mascot exploring levels based on movies.
  • In Disney's Magical Quest 3, Huey, Dewey and Louie are pulled into Storybook Land by King Pete. Mickey and Donald Duck, with the assistance of the Guardian Fairy have to rescue the trio by entering the book and defeat the evil ruler.
  • The sequel to the casual game Azada features puzzles embedded in books of fairy tales and of various literary classics.

Web Animation

  • Web Cartoon example: The International Moron Patrol has the dubious honor of having two episodes featuring this trope; Episode 10 centered around characters Hentai Boy and H Hog being sucked into a videogame console. The 2007 Halloween episode 2-parter had Henrik being sucked into the TV, too.
  • One of the episodes of the surreal, nonlinear flash series Sixgun revolves around a character who has been sentenced to a "maximum security sitcom," which apparently involves being forced to read corny one-liners and quips at gunpoint by robots. He gets his hands on the gun, tries to shoot his way out, and dies a happy man.

Web Comics

  • "The Adventures of Gyno Star" features a story arc in which the main character (feminist superhero Gyno-Star) gets trapped inside the world of beer commercials, and has to deal with sexist stereotypes and objectification of women.

Web Original

Western Animation

Chief Wiggum: "Magic ticket my ass, McBain"

This is the sincerest form of flattery.

  • The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat also did a plot like this, and like KP, it included a Friends sitcom called "Pals".
  • The cartoon adaptation of The Mask had this on the season two episode, "Channel Surfin'".
  • The cartoon Captain N: The Game Master used a variation of this as its premise; California teenager Kevin Keene was trapped in Videoland, whose reality encompassed pretty much every Nintendo-licensed NES game.
  • A variation is used in the Rugrats episode "Kid TV": When the television set breaks, the babies climb into a cardboard box and make their own shows, which they're randomly running in and out of by the end: a game show, a soap opera, a Perfume Commercial, a James Bond-esque show commercial, the news, and a COPS spoof.
  • The Magic School Bus did this in the episode "Spins a Web", where the class entered a Fifties Sci-Fi flick about a town being terrorized by a 50 Foot praying mantis. Oddly enough, the Topic of the Week was spiders.
  • The first half of the Darkwing Duck episode "Twitching Channels" follows this plot, as Darkwing chases his electricity-themed enemy Megavolt through the fictional universes of many TV shows. The second half of the episode becomes a Welcome to The Real World plot, as Darkwing and Megavolt both discover that they themselves are just TV show characters in our universe.
  • The 70s Superfriends did it at least twice, in one episode the Legion of Doom put them into random fairy tales, in the other Mr Mxylpic puts them in "The Wizard of Oz" with Aquaman as the Scarecrow, Supes as the Tinman and Wonder Woman as the Cowardly Lion.
  • The final season of the Animated Adaptation of Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure added the capability to travel into TV shows, movies, and literature to the guys' time-travelling phone booth, leading to a series of cheap thinly-veiled pop-culture parodies. (This was also used once in the following live-action Recycled: the Series, see the "Live Action TV" section)
  • The Ralph Bakshi-era Mighty Mouse had him stuck in a TV, going from one parody cartoon show to another at the whim of a bored kid constantly changing channels.