Familiar TV Plot Lines
Television has many common episode plots. It is possible to have a television series that runs over 100 episodes without using an original plot line and without repeating a plot line. Many long running television series repeat familiar plot lines. So a series can in theory go on indefinitely without using an original plot line. Considering the number of shows and the decades television has been around common episode plots was probably inevitable. This article will mention a few of the more common plots.
Ten Little Indians
Agatha Christie published the mystery novel “And Then there Were None” in 1939. It was based on a nursery rhyme where 10 characters are killed off one at a time. The novel was highly successful and there have been at least 9 film adaptations of the novel. Many other movies had similar plot lines. With such success it is a natural choice for a television episode plot.
The series that have used this plot line include Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Death Ship and Star Trek, The Conscience of the King. Some series have used the plot without actually killing off the characters. Examples of non-lethal adaptations of this plot are Lost in Space, The Space Creature, and The Facts of Life, Seven Little Indians.
Some other examples of the Ten Little Indians plot are:
- Remington Steele – Steele Trap
- The Avengers – The Superlative Seven
- Rawhide – The House of the Hunter
- Get Smart – Hoo Done It
- Laverne & Shirley – Haunted House
- The Monkees – Monkee See, Monkee Die
Which of these plot lines do you like the best
Fight the Nazis
Regardless of the settings many TV shows manage to have an episode where the cast fights against the Nazis. Captain Kirk and his crew fought the Nazis in the episode Patterns of Force. Captain Janeway and her crew fought as partisans against the Nazis in the two part episode, The Killing Game. The short lived television series Galactica 1980 in the second part of the episode Galactica Discovers Earth went back to World War II to prevent the Nazis from winning World War II.
Some other examples of the Fight the Nazis episode are:
- Designing Women – I’ll Be Seeing You – A Broadway play type episode
- The Name of the Game – The Inquiry – An inquiry as to what happened during World War II
- Green Acres – Wings Over Hooterville – Oliver is a fighter pilot and Lisa is a partisan.
- Sanford & Son – Sergeant Gork – A Casablanca type setting
- The Time Tunnel – Invasion – The time travelers show up in Normandy just before D-Day.
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - Death from the Past - A pair of Nazis who accidentally ended up in suspended animation revive and not knowing the war is over plan to follow through with a nerve gas attack.
- The Simpsons – The Curse of the Flying Hellfish, and a number of other episodes.
The Military Episode
There is the episode where at least one of the main characters is in the military, or pretends they are in the military. An example of the pretend version is the It Takes a Thief episode Hans across the Border, where Alexander Mundy pretends to be a USAF pilot who crashed over East Germany. Sometimes the characters are called up for reserve duty. An example is the Get Smart episode “Temporarily out of Control.” This is where KAOS arranges to have Maxwell Smart and The Chief called up for reserve duty so they could carry out their latest fiendish plot.
Other examples of characters in the military are:
- Married With Children – T*R*A*S*H – Where the male characters join the National Guard.
- Malcolm in the Middle – Reese Joins the Army – An underage Reese joins the army and does well until is parachuted into Afghanistan. It is then it dawns on him the gravity of what he did.
- The Name of the Game – The Prisoner Within – A reporter is allowed to join some Air Force members who are going through training where they are treated as POWs.
- I Dream of Jeannie – G.I. Jeannie –Jeannie joins the WAF[i] so she could be Captain Tony Nelson’s Secretary.
- Charlie’s Angels – Bullseye – The army lets the women of Charlie’s detective agency pretend to be in the Army so they can investigate a murder.
- The Dick van Dyke Show – Body and Sol – There are flashbacks of Rob when he was in the army.
[i] WAF – Women’s Air Force.
The Gothic Episode
This is the episode that involves some of the classic Gothic characters. The series could be set in 65 million BCE, Dinosaurs episode Little Boy Boo and the character was a werewolf. The series could be set in the 25th century, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode Space Vampire. There always seems to be a way to fix a classic Gothic character into the plot.
Here are examples of television series using Gothic characters:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation – Sub Rosa – Vampire
- Star Trek – A Wolf in the Fold – Jack the Ripper[i]
- The Time Tunnel – The Ghost of Nero – Ghost[ii]
- The Parkers – Mummy’s the Word – The Mummy
- Family Guy – Death is a Bitch – The Grim Reaper
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – The Very Important Zombie Affair – Zombies
- The Monkees – I Was A Teenage Monster – Frankenstein
[i] Jack the Ripper was the nickname given an unknown serial killer rather than a make believe character but the use of the character in this and other movies and television episodes fits the Gothic character type.
[ii] Anyone who doesn’t get the twist at the end needs to study up on World War II history.
Which of these plot lines do you like the least
The Out of Time Episode
This is the episode that takes place in a different time setting than the normal time setting for the show. Out of time settings has been a common plot line in the Star Trek genre. Many different genres have used this plot line. The Name of the Game episode Los Angeles 2017 is set in 2017. This was 46 years in the future when the episode was first broadcast. This episode shows a polluted earth with a decimated population where the corporate dictatorship had the U.S. at war with England. The episode was meant to scare people about the long term effects of pollution. Today we can watch this episode and be happy 2017 is not the dystopian future some 20th century people feared.
There were out of time episodes long before Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. The Adventures of Superman episode, Through the Time Barrier, had a scientist send the cast back to the Stone Age. Unlike the Superman Movie and comic strip character in the television series Superman couldn’t travel through time.
Here are examples of television series with out of time episodes:
- Moonlighting – The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice – 1946
- The Avengers – Pandora – 1915
- Murder She Wrote – The Last Free Man – Ante-Bellum South
- Lost in Space – Visit to a Hostile Planet – 1947
- Magnum P.I. – Flashback – 1930
The Amnesia Episode
This is the episode where a main character forgets who they are. It's usually cured by a blow to the head. Please don't try this at home.Here are examples of television series with out of time episodes:
- The Six Million Dollar Man - Stranger in Broken Fork
- Gilligan's Island - Forget me not
- Charlie's Angels - Angel on my Mind
- Star Trek - The Paradise Syndrome
- Smallville - Fortune
- The Adventures of Superman - The Secret of Superman
- It Takes a Thief - The King of Thieves
- The Rifleman - Outlaw's Shoes
- The Simpsons - The Yellow Badge of Cowardge
- Get Smart - Where-what-how-who Am I?
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - The Nowhere Affair
33 - Familiar Plot Lines
Set on an airplane
Vacation other than camping
Trapped with a nemesis
Real holiday besides Christmas
Going back home
When the first met
Grief with a gun
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2017 Robert Sacchi