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When something really shocking happens on the air, especially if it happens in the newsroom itself, the program being shown will suddenly switch to this message or something similar.

Sometimes played for Black Comedy if the presentation of the message sharply contrasts with the horror of the scene. An even darker version is when the message is displayed, but the horrible noise in the background indicates what is actually going on.

On other occasions, the message is used even if the difficulty is not technical in nature, such as a fight breaking out on live TV or a performer (or news anchor) having an emotional breakdown, disrobing on live TV, dying, or saying something so controversial that it will cause backlash from the network censors or, worse, the FCC. When this message appears in fiction, usually one of those things is exactly what happened. Actual technical difficulties are vanishingly rare in fictionland, and thanks to many stations now being run by their corporate owners from one hub (for instance, Fox runs many of their owned stations from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston), in reality also.

Compare with Relax-O-Vision and Do Not Adjust Your Set.

Examples of We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties include:


Anime and Manga

  • In one episode of Death Note, the cult of Kira is being broadcast live worshipping him. Since they are presented as basically a scam, Mikami uses his death note to kill all of them. After their gruesome heart attacks, the screen changes to a "cutesy" "be-right-back" message.

Comic Books

  • In Tintin and the Picaros, San Theodoran television shows a Kangaroo Court sentencing Castafiore to life imprisonment, at which point she starts to sing an aria. It quickly cuts to a "PLEASE EXCUSE THIS INTERRUPTION" message, followed by a cartoon interlude.
  • Used in The Sandman when Dr. Destiny makes the world go crazy and a kids show host encourage children to commit suicide.

Film

  • Shaun of the Dead features a sequence where a character flips through the channels and sees nothing but Technical Difficulty screens, even on the satellite channels which normally only stop working due to bad weather affecting the signal (such as the Discovery Channel).
  • In the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead, Johnny switches off the radio just as an announcement of this kind is being made.
    • The original Dawn of the Dead starts with two of the main characters leaving the TV studio where they work, as this type of message is put on.
  • This ultimately happens on every single channel shown by Clamp Cable in Gremlins 2 as the titular critters wreak havoc throughout the building. Bonus points because the technical difficulties title card bear the image of a grinning gremlin.
    • Even better when Clamp authorizes the "Final Broadcast" where a peaceful female voice over images of nature scenes and wildlife says, "Due to the end of civilization as we know it the Clamp Cable Network is now ceasing transmission."
      • This is a parody of an alleged legend that CNN has a tape narrated by Ted Turner over nature scenery ready to roll to close out world history just in case of global annihilation.
  • The original Gojira has this when a radio newsreader is killed. Interestingly, we see the scene from his perspective.
  • A humorous example in the film I Am Curious (Yellow): Lena and her friend Börje are about to make love in her archive room. There's no bed, so they drag in a mattress and some sheets and pillows from another room, and make all sorts of elaborate preparations. At the moment they actually begin intercourse, a test pattern flips up on the screen. Cut to a pleasant looking announcer fixing her hair, not realizing she's already on camera. She says "We regret that we have had some technical difficulties owing to erection fault" (or "faulty coupling", depending on the translation).
  • Network lampshades this and references the Chris Chubbuck tragedy after Howard Beale sarcastically announces that he's going to commit suicide on camera. At first the studio staff don't realize he's said it, mumbling gossip while the commercial is on; then panic, they open the studio mike to communicate with Howard, the immortal words "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON" go out to 67 affiliates, he replies that he can't hear what they're saying, they come back from commercial and Howard is being pulled away from his desk by the floor crew -- and just as the mayhem really starts the TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES PLEASE STAND BY card flips up.
  • Happens in a bonus feature on Finding Nemo when Jean-Michel Cousteau loses it thanks to Nemo, Dory and Marlin.
  • In Terminator 3 a Gas station clerk flicks though multiple channels, each with a test card on. Further proof that Skynet is taking over
  • Problem Child 2 has a patriotic puppet show suddenly hijacked, with the Uncle Sam puppet explaining "We are experiencing technical difficulties," and the bald eagle puppet chiming in with "Yeah - I had to scratch my butt!" Naturally, Ben assumes that Junior is the culprit - but he's not.

Literature

  • This has happened at least twice in the William Weaver series of novels by John Ringo. Once it was in connection with Dead Line News, another time a reporter "failed a SAN check" and started to scream, "I'm reading this on my TelePrompTer, but it's not really happening!"
  • Happens in Stephen King's novel The Stand with the offending scene being a live assassination game show.

Live-Action TV

  • There was a non-notable Sitcom called Please Stand By named after this.
  • The Outer Limits was originally titled Please Stand By. However, the title was changed because the producers and the network were afraid that between the title and the famous Opening Narration ("There is nothing wrong with your television set..."), people might mistake the opening sequence for a real emergency alert. (To add some historical perspective, the series premiered not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis.)
  • Home Improvement's Show Within a Show Tool Time would sometimes cut to these when Tim injured himself somehow. Such as the time he nailed his foot to the floor, and one of these pops up. Then we hear the sound of his co-host pulling the nail out...
  • During a Brass Eye special on Paedophilia, there is "technical difficulties", as a member of the militant paedophile organisation "Milit-Pede" attacks the studio.
  • Seen on The Colbert Report during the week the show spent in Iraq when Colbert is tranqed with a dart in his neck and secretly transported to an "undisclosed American military location in Iraq".
    • Something of a Running Gag on the Report, usually when Stephen is doing something that would get him arrested or at the very least result in a lot of viewer complaints.
  • Played for laughs on an episode of Empty Nest. Womanizer Charlie Dietz becomes a meteorologist on the local news and compares the size of some hailstones to the anchorwoman's breasts. Cue the trope.
  • A common subtrope for British shows that use this is to cut away to the classic Test Card F girl or a humorously modified version to fit the show. Used for example in Zero Punctuation.
  • Subverted in real life with Christine Chubbucks's suicide: after she shot herself, the prevailing camera stayed focused on her while slowly fading to black. The camerawoman simply could not believe this wasn't a stunt or gag on Christine's part, but more likely because the producer of a 10am show in Sarasota in the early 70's usually doesn't get a lesson on "What to do if your host shoots themselves on the air".
    • Outright averted with the similar suicide of Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania Republican treasurer who was convicted of a lot of fraud charges, including embezzlement.
  • British one-off Halloween Special Ghostwatch does this just as things start heating up in the Haunted House
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Severed Dreams", an ISN reporter interrupts the news broadcast to announce that several Earth colonies have seceded in protest of President Clark's bombing of Mars and that armed troops have invaded ISN headquarters. An explosion is heard, then the broadcast goes off the air and is replaced by a network logo (without an explicit "Technical Difficulties" message, but with the same implications).
  • A Saturday Night Live sketch involved a children's show called "Jingleheimer Junction", with characters personifying Friendship, Unity, Caring, and Kindness. And yes, they all had their initials written on them. Naturally, this trope was used repeatedly.
    • Another SNL example: on the season 35 episode hosted by Drew Barrymore (for the sixth time, making her the show's most frequent female celebrity host), there was a sketch featuring a cooking show on the roof of a building. The show cuts to a "Please Stand By" placard every time the show hosts (played by Drew Barrymore and Andy Samberg) are attacked by crows (which are attracted to the bread crumbs the two are using for chicken parmigiana).
      • Another SNL example: the TV Funhouse sketch "Conspiracy Theory Rock" immediately cut to a "Please Stand By" card (with the NBC peacock sweating nervously) as the song continued to accuse NBC of being GE's lackey. The song even pointed out that this trope is used as a cheap way to censor out anything sponsors or the network may deem inappropriate ("'Please stand by'/'Please stand by'/It means there's technical difficulties, supposedly/So if you see/A "Please Stand By"/You know it's all part of GE's big lie...")
  • In one rather hilarious example on Bill Nye the Science Guy this happens when Bill flicks a red-kneed tarantula onto the cameraman, causing the cameraman to drop the camera onto the floor. The cameraman screams "THE TARANTULA'S CRAWLING IN MY PANTS!!" while the trope name is broadcast on the screen.
  • Dead Set features any number of them. In this case the hopelessly non-descript "PLEASE STAND BY" of the messages serve to underline just how quickly and violently overrun everything was.
  • The "Commentary by Gernot Hassknecht" in the German political satire show Heute Show always ends with this, after Hassknecht starts his inevitable Cluster F Bombing.

Music

  • Used repeatedly in the intro piece "SCG03 Special Report" to the Lordi album The Arockalypse as reporters are clearly taken out by monsters while on air.
  • "Technical Difficulties" by Julien-K, a rather indistinct song done for Transformers.

Radio

Video Games

  • Played for drama in Modern Warfare 2, where the intro sequence to the mission "Of Their Own Accord" is an emergency broadcast system alert containing evacuation instructions for residents of Washington, D.C..
  • Early in Ape Escape 3, Specter's taunting message to the heroes is interrupted by Dr. Tomoki's overdramatic posturing. When Specter loses his patience, the screen briefly cuts to a "Technical Difficulties" card showing a sad monkey.
  • A move named "Devour" in Final Fantasy VIII involves characters running up to the target of the attack and... a picture of a pleasant, flower-covered field, along with a scrolling message indicating technical difficulties. After a few seconds, the screen changes back to scene of the fight, where the target has mysteriously vanished.
  • Bioshock is littered with TVs that show nothing but a flickering test card reading "PLEASE STAND BY", emphasising the theme of Rapture being essentially abandoned.
  • The hotel-room-esque Relaxation Chamber you start Portal 2 in has a TV in the corner; the first time you wake up it's off, and the second time it displays this message. It's pretty redundant with everything else going on.
  • Shattered Union has this in it's intro. News repoter is giving report from Washington when a nuke goes off.

Web Original

  • The Spoony Experiment combines this with Heroic BSOD when Spoony sees the VHS case for Highlander II the Quickening call itself "the smartest sci-fi thriller since Blade Runner."
    • It pops up again in his Ultima 8 review.
  • The Nostalgia Critic sometimes switches to this when he really loses it; the "Technical Difficulties" screen shows him in a straitjacket (much like the one on the season five Simpsons episode "Marge on the Lam.")
    • Subverted at the start of his review of The Magic Voyage where he goes bezerk until he breathes fire, then a cartoon of him taking his "meds" appears with the phrase "One moment please".
  • Linkara has occasionally cut to a Relax-O-Vision screen while music from Pokémon plays in the background. See Countdown to Final Crisis Pt. 1 for an example.
  • Nash often uses these when a news story is just too much. They usually have a message along the lines of "Shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down."
  • Homestar Runner has used this both ways. In the Strong Bad Email "pizzaz", Strong Bad is interviewing himself, and at one point the interviewee gets mad and shouts "This interview is OVER!" Cut to the card shown at the top of the screen. Later, the cartoon "Fall Float Parade" cut to a similar card with a turkey instead of The Cheat when the Marshie balloon crashed into the hosts' booth (and, presumably, broadcast equipment).
  • Ashens cuts to his logo card with a plug sticking out a flip-top rendering of his head whenever he runs into difficulties with camera focus, tat malfunctions or it takes a long time to put a 'some assembly required' product together.

Western Animation

  • This has happened several times during Kent Brockman's news reports on The Simpsons, with technical difficulties graphics that included a puppy that has pulled a plug from the wall, a bird flying into powerlines, and Kent Brockman wrapped in a straitjacket with a cuckoo clock bird coming out of his head.
  • The Critic has many ridiculous technical difficulty signs, such as "Be right bark!"
  • Happens on the Beavis and Butthead episode "Tornado" where B&B are watching "Barney Bakes a Cake". Barney the Dinosaur sets himself on fire and we hear him [the guy in the highly flammable Barney suit] screaming "Ow, ow! I'm burning! Kids, help! This sucks!" behind the caption (the Edited for Syndication version immediately cut to the technical difficulties card featuring a blue Big Bird rather than show Barney's hands catching fire and shortened his line to "Kids, help! This sucks!") Heh-heh. Heh-heh.
  • Happens on Total Drama Island Show Within a Show Celibrity Manhunt. As Eva angrily throws objects at the covering hosts we get a black and white, "Technical Difficulties" screen... Of Blainley getting choked by the Drama machine while Josh looks on in melodramatic shock as jazzy Elevator music plays in the background.
  • The Futurama episode "Bender Should Not Be Allowed On Television" had one after a child actor robot breaks down (literally) during an episode of All My Circuits. The technical difficulties card had a broken robot shrugging his shoulders and the words, "Oops! Broken Actor" and the show cuts to an episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad (which Fry remarks, "...has been going downhill since season three").
    • Also used during the episode "The Problem With Popplers". When the Omicronians return to Earth, and the news station starts falling apart from the shaking.

 Linda: We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties...

Beam falls in the background

Linda: and crap like I've never seen before!

  • One episode of Freakazoid starts like this, while you hear Freakzoid hastily try to put the finishing touches on the show in the background.

Real Life

  • One of the stranger causes of technical difficulties in the 50s and 60s was the weekly CONELRAD or EBS test. Before the two-toned attention signal was devised, stations would begin an alert by quickly switching their transmitter on and off. This was so stressful to the equipment that the procedure became known to engineers as the "EBS Stress Test".
  • During times of extreme political turmoil, European radio stations have been known to switch to an all-classical all-the-time format.
    • As happened most notably after the Chernobyl disaster, while officials were working out how to efficiently communicate what has just happened to the public.
  • On 4 June 1989, what was then known as Radio Beijing began its shortwave broadcast with a brief statement that protesters in Tiananmen Square had been killed by army troops. The announcer then apologized for not being able to provide any more information or to continue the regularly scheduled broadcast and then played classical music without interruption for the rest of the hour.
    • Roughly 2005 or so, in Chinese news, there was a statement, "Censorship has relaxed in China, however, it is still present, as in the case of..." The screen blanked out for two minutes, presumably when they were going to talk of something like, perhaps Tiananmen Square. Nobody died though, as the reporter was still around to announce the news.
  • In the 60's, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, Mississippi, which was owned by an insurance company looking to deny the Civil Rights Movement was happening and protect the interests of Jackson's white business community (which was hotly opposed to the movement), would often suddenly have "technical difficulties" (and throw up a slide to that effect) whenever a network news report about the Civil Rights movement and its activities would be broadcast, and even NBC primetime programming which showed African-Americans in any positive light would suddenly be knocked off the air due to "a network problem". Many, including the NBC network itself protested this and in 1968, the station became the first and only television station to ever have their FCC license to broadcast revoked for non-technical reasons. The new ownership group and future owners made sure the station was fair and evenhanded in their news coverage after they took control, and somehow magically fixed those "technical difficulties" permanently.
  • While not quite technical difficulties per se', anyone who thought to flip through the channels as 9/11 happened (and no one can blame folks who didn't), saw that many non-news/non-kids stations had some sort of card up saying they would be off the air for the rest of the day due to the events going on.
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