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"Y'know, I'm not new to live TV. In 1952 I starred in my first live sitcom... of course back then, we didn't wanna do it live, we just didn't know how to tape things! So I don't know what this show's excuse is..."
Betty White guest hosting Saturday Night Live, May 8, 2010

Not as much a plot as a gimmick.

An episode of a TV show transmitted live. Chances are someone will make a goof somewhere. In fact, maybe they'll make two different goofs, as often, American live episodes are performed twice -- once for the east coast and once for the west coast.

Examples of Live Episode include:
  • The Bill did it for its 20th anniversary in 2003 and did so again in 2005 for ITV's 50th anniversary. In the first instance, its 'live' status was proven on screen when Jim Carver was seen reading that day's Daily Mirror.
  • The Drew Carey Show has done it twice, both times it was playing off Whose Line Is It Anyway? which Drew Carry hosted at the time and Drew Carey cast member Ryan Stiles was a constant presence. Cast members Colin Mochrie and Wayne Brady were even called in to be guest starts for each, with Brad Sherwood acting as MC. Every so often Sherwood would force them to randomly do a scene over again or do a scene with a particular on Whose Line. By the end of one Colin had kissed Drew, outed himself as a cannibal and Ryan/Lewis had a horrible mouth fungal infection from licking door knobs.
  • ER has done at least one.
  • In the past, before video-recording was common (or even invented, as per Betty White's comment above), many programmes were necessarily live, especially soaps. A 1983 ep of Search for Tomorrow was done live after the master tapes were stolen. But by the time One Life to Live did a week of live eps in 2002, live eps were more a gimmick than a necessity. (Even with the Search example, many people accused NBC of lying about the lost tape to generate buzz for the show.) Incidentally, the necessity of live episodes for soaps (plus later, the practice of video wiping) is why not many 60s and 70s soap eps are known to exist (Game Show s have also suffered from this as well).
    • The Search live ep is even more suspicious, happening not long after the movie Tootsie, in which an almost identical incident is part of the plotline, was released. Coincidence or contrivance?
    • Even after videotape became common, As the World Turns and The Edge of Night produced live episodes (only recording episodes when the shows were pre-empted to avoid double-paying actors for a single episode) until 1975...almost a decade after the other soaps had moved to tape.
  • Will and Grace did one in 2005, for the first episode of the final season, and another one several episodes later.
  • Fox sitcom Roc arguably started the modern-day trend for live episodes. After presenting one episode live in the first season, the entire second season was broadcast live. It went back to taped shows for its third (and last) season.
  • The West Wing, "The Debate". Done with east coast and west coast versions. It plays with the possibility for goofs: when Senator Vinick is first called upon to speak, there is a long uncomfortable pause, as if Alan Alda has forgotten his lines, but it turns out this was planned and in character. Vinick then spontaneously suggests dropping the pre-agreed debate format in favor of having a true debate on the issues.
  • Sent up in an episode of (what else?) Arrested Development immediately after its cancellation had been announced, which promised the "shocking final seconds" would be live. When the moment actually came, the live portion was just Lucille saying three forced-sounding words, followed by the cast pretending to celebrate getting through without a slip, and saying they had to get ready for the west-coast feed.
  • In 2005, BBC 4 redid the 1953 serial The Quatermass Experiment as a two hour Made for TV Movie. Like the original serial, it was broadcast live (thus actually making it a 1:40 serial...) Despite being live, the picture was ironically treated to look like a film.
    • A few goofs present in the broadcast were replaced with filmed rehearsal footage for the DVD.
    • Only the first two eps of the original Experiment survive, while the sequels (also originally live) exist in full (thanks to the BBC recording the shows on to film), and have been released on DVD (with the 2nd sequel even "VidFired" to restore the original "live" look).
  • In fiction: Tootsie has Dustin Hoffman's cross-dressing actor taking advantage of a live scene on a soap to reveal himself to everyone.
  • The LG 15 The Resistance video "Signal Lost" was originally recorded live. It appears in an edited form as a scene in Chapter 6.
  • Unlike US soaps of the same period, only the first few episodes of Coronation Street were shown live in 1960. Exactly 40 years later Coronation Street again did a live episode for its 40th anniversary. This one was notable for featuring one of the characters, Audrey Roberts meeting (the real) Prince Charles (albeit that particular scene was pre-recorded with the other characters watching Audrey meet Prince Charles in a TV broadcast).
  • Sticking with British soaps, Eastenders celebrated 25 years with its first live episode.
  • Every year at Halloween, the Travel Channel does a live episode of whichever of their ghost shows is most popular at the time. People watching can view rooms themselves on the internet, and send in messages if they think they see anything.
  • 30 Rock - a sitcom shot with a single camera with no laugh track - did a live episode, complete with live audience, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss playing Liz in her flashbacks, because "My memory has Seinfeld money". The different look was immediately Lampshaded:

 Jack: Does it seem weird in here to you? (insert laughter from live audience here) Everything looks like a Mexican soap opera. (insert more laughter here)

(at the end, Jack shares a drink with Liz, and the picture reverts to its usual filmed style)

Jack: That's more like it.

    • Another lampshade was hung while Liz and Tracy talked about Tracy breaking character, with Liz saying "The audience likes it when things go wrong" as a poster on the background wall swung off its support. (It apparently had a better sense of timing on the West Coast broadcast.)
    • Not to mention the various threats of "slipping a nip".
    • The show also had fake commercials to give more time for set changes. Notably the jokes in these commercials were different on the East & West Coast feeds. (e.g. two phony PSAs done by John Hamm as his Thirty Rock character Dr. Drew, announcing important breakthroughs in hand transplants. On one feed Hamm had an executed criminal's hand which attempted to strangle him; on the other feed Hamm had a woman's hand that molested him.)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun had an episode where only the opening shot was done live. It was aired after the Super Bowl, and the live segment was Dick running into the stadium to warn people of an Alien Invasion.
  • Parodied in The Cleveland Show, where it was advertised as the first ever live episode of an animated series - a patent imposibility. The episode poked fun of the various things that go wrong on live episodes, including a character having an on-air meltdown and guest star Julia Roberts dying on stage.
  • Also parodied in The Simpsons, where one of the characters states "Few cartoons are broadcast live, it places terrible strain on the animator's wrists"
  • Yet again parodied on Childrens Hospital's "live episode", during which various mishaps happened on the set, such as camera breaking, actors bailing out mid scene and crew members appearing in shot multiple times. They also spoofed the above mentioned Tootsie example when Malin Akerman revealed herself to be Jon Hamm in disguise!
  • Music Video example: The video for "You Are A Tourist" by Death Cab for Cutie was performed and shot in a single take live via webcast on March 28, 2011.
  • Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "Live From The Grill-O-Mat", which isn't.