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The King of Town: All right, gentlemen, this is how this is going to go down. I'm gonna write a number on this piece of paper.

Strong Bad: Uh, King, you “wrote” a piece of lasagna on this piece of paper.

The King of Town: And I ain't budging!
Homestar Runner, Strong Bad Email #182

When negotiating Important Business, characters in television are too embarrassed to actually speak their offers. Instead they write their offer, usually a number and usually in US dollars, on a piece of paper, napkin, or similar and give it to the other party in a way such that the offer is concealed. An offer might be placed face down, folded in half, or placed in an envelope. A table to have the negotiation across is almost mandatory. Large tables are fine, in which case a minor functionary will have the duty of carrying the offer from one party to the other. This is always done very seriously, and everyone involved in silent as the offer trades hands. The recipient will usually discretely examine the offer as though afraid of spies. Sometimes the offer has been written down in advance, sometimes it is written on the spot. When written down on the spot, it's frequently accompanied by the Stock Phrase, "I'm going to write a number on this piece of paper." A key element is that the offer only contains a single number or more rarely an object, a person, or an action. No other context is included in the offer; notable what is expected in exchange is never included in the offer. Sometimes the value is in Undisclosed Funds, but frequently the actual number is shown to the audience. The characters will not mention the specific number in the scene but may nod or whistle as though impressed or make a comment like, "That's a lot of zeroes." Occasionally the offer is insulting, being zero or blank. When played for humor, the offer is frequently zero or nonsensical.

Why do this? In world, a number on paper cannot be overheard with an audio bug, nor is a context-free number specifically incriminating if found by law enforcement. If the number is never revealed, like Undisclosed Funds, this can avoid numbers sounding silly after real-world inflation. A silent offer is also frequently used to add gravity to the situation, emphasizing how Very Important this moment is as silent characters exchange Meaningful Glances.

Examples of Silent Offer include:

Live Action Television

  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode "Past Prologue", Garak negotiates the price for a terrorist with two Klingons, using an electronic tablet instead of paper.
  • Leverage
    • In "The Nigerian Job," a bribe is handled by handing a number to someone. The trope is used to mislead both the person being conned and the audience; the envelope does not originally hold a number, but a check, and is switched out as it is handed over.
    • In "The Juror #6 Job", Sophie writes $100,000,000 in Quint's Zen sand garden.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, when Marshall is being interviewed for a law position over dinner; his starting salary is written down and pushed across the table to him.
  • In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Lorelei is receiving a loan from Luke and insists on writing numbers for a payment plan on a scrap of paper and passing it across the counter to Luke despite the fact that this seems to agitate him. When they finally come to an agreement, Lorelei writes one last thing which is apparently "Thank you," because Luke answers "You're welcome."
  • A favored tactic of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, even when negotating with himself.

Newspaper Comics

Film -- Live Action

  • In True Romance, the protagonist makes an offer in an envelope for his "peace of mind." The envelope is empty.

Web Original

  • In Homestar Runner, Strong Bad Email #182, the King of Town and Strong Bad negotiate in this way. What is being negotiated over is never revealed, and the King of Town's offer is "a piece of lasagna."
  • Played for humor in the "E3 2011: Part II" episode of Hey Ash Whatcha Playin set at E3, which has Ash making an offer to someone. When he unfolds the paper, there is a childish drawing instead of the expected offer.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: In "Bart Gets Hit By a Car", Homer sues Burns for hitting Bart while in a car. After Burns destroys Homer's credibility in the eyes of the jury, he offers to settle with Homer.

 Burns: I'm going to write a figure on this piece of paper. It's not quite as large as the last one, but I think you'll find it fair.

[Burns draws a giant zero]

Hutz: I think we should take it.

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