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TV Shows That Got Caught Using Recycled Footage

In a world obsessed with "going green," recycling always sounds like a good thing. When it comes to recycling TV footage, though, we're not talking about saving the environment—just networks saving a few pennies. Whether you realize it or not, some of your favorite shows have been guilty of reusing scenes over and over. And we're not just talking about basic establishing shots of Seinfeld's favorite cafe in Manhattan or the Dunder Mifflin building in Scranton, or footage used in flashbacks; some shows reuse whole sequences to save money instead of spending the time to film something new.

This repurposing may take the form of a brief action sequence, a car speeding down a highway, or a massive pyrotechnics shot. It's arguably the most common in science fiction or fantasy genre shows, where extensive and expensive model work and CGI prove too costly to craft for each episode, driving producers to dig into a previous episode to find usable material. In some cases, a TV show even has the gall to steal a scene from a big-budget feature film, which can add production value for the cost of an intern retrieving the footage from a vault in the studio basement.

Whether you notice it or not, the practice is more common than you might think. Here's a list of TV shows that got caught using recycled footage.

1. Game of Thrones

Perhaps one of the hottest shows on the air during its run, the epic series "Game of Thrones" dazzled audiences for nearly a decade. Full of high-stakes, high-fantasy drama and some of the most incredible visuals on TV—not to mention jaw-dropping plot twists—"Game of Thrones" also boasted one of the biggest budgets in television history at the time. Even when spending as much as $15 million an episode later in its run (per Variety), producers still found themselves looking for ways to cut corners and save money. This resulted in them reusing an old scene. 

The series' epic finale came at the end of Season 8 and reportedly had a budget of $90 million. An awkward shot of Jon Snow petting his direwolf Ghost was inserted into the episode. It seems this was a reused scene from all the way back in Season 4. Producers probably thought nobody would notice, but not long after the finale episode of the show aired, social media commenters took them to task and pointed out the cheap trick. PopCulture.com chronicled the saga. Fans have remained frustrated by the half-hearted goodbye to one of the show's most beloved non-human characters ever since. The show's producers, meanwhile, have never officially commented on whether the scene was recycled, but we think their silence speaks volumes.

2. The Flash

Lengthy special effects shots can quickly drain even the biggest budgets. Nowhere is that more common than in the fantasy subgenre of superhero shows. With an increasing amount of comic book fare on small screens, recycling old footage has become more common. Case in point: The CW's highly rated series "The Flash," which stars Grant Gustin as DC Comics' Scarlet Speedster Barry Allen. According to some reports (via MajorSpoilers), the effects-laden series has a budget in the neighborhood of $2 million per episode, which is fairly low compared to other leading sci-fi series (via Yahoo). 

Fans may have become used to some disappointing CGI characters and low-rent FX shots, but recycled footage has drawn their ire. In the show's sixth season, the opening sequence of a "new" episode recycles a scene from the show's pilot episode more than half a decade before (per the Sun). Considering the opening is a glorified establishing shot of Central City, it becomes even more perplexing why filmmakers couldn't create a new opening shot for the episode. With such a tight budget, maybe they couldn't afford to send a crew on location to capture any new footage without cutting back on the catering.

3. MacGyver

It wasn't at all uncommon for TV shows in the 1980s to recycle footage, especially in action-heavy shows that required expensive location shooting and explosive pyrotechnics. "MacGyver" was no exception, but the series took the use of old scenes to an entirely different level, especially in its first season. In the show's second episode, ironically titled "The Thief of Budapest," MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) illustrates what a savvy driver he is when he escapes his pursuers in a nimble Mini Cooper while on an adventure in Europe. 

What exactly was MacGyver doing in Europe? Well, the plot necessitated it because the entire chase that forms the climax of the episode was lifted directly from the 1969 film "The Italian Job." What makes this theft all the more gutsy is that the sequence is among the most iconic car chases in cinema history. You can compare the two here and here on YouTube to see for yourself.

It's not just that single scene. Fans also noticed the similarities between the episode "Trumbo's World" and the Charlton Heston film "The Naked Jungle." The film and episode were both inspired by the same story, the novel "Leiningen vs. the Ants," which pits the hero against a horde of killer insects. Instead of reinventing the wheel, "Trumbo's World" just steals footage from the film.

4. Baywatch

The '90s beach action drama "Baywatch" may have been created as a vehicle for former "Home Improvement" star Pamela Anderson, but it also served as the TV comeback for "Knight Rider" star David Hasselhoff, turning him into a global icon all over again. Known for its bevy of beautiful beach babes, "Baywatch" also catapulted the likes of Erika Eleniak, Yasmine Bleeth, and Carmen Electra to short-lived fame. 

Like any low-budget action series that required plenty of on-location production, it also became known for recycling footage as a standard practice. Fans love to point out at least a few different sequences that are repeated throughout its run. Underwater search scenes were reused with regularity. As noted by vigilant viewers on Reddit, a scene of a gymnast was reused multiple times across a decade of episodes. Still another user pointed out that a shot of a car going off a cliff was recycled on more than one occasion.

For a series as formulaic as "Baywatch," though, it likely was done with at least a little bit of a wink, as producers always seemed to be well aware of the show's cheese factor.

5. Star Trek

One of the biggest landmark television series in science fiction history, the original "Star Trek" used high-quality model work and the most cutting-edge visual effects of its day to achieve a believable 23rd-century setting. Even Gene Roddenberry was not immune to budget constraints, and in the middle of the show's groundbreaking first season, producers found themselves running out of time and money (via StarTrek.com). Unable to continue meeting the network's tight deadlines to deliver the episodes, Roddenberry and his crew had the clever idea to recycle an entire episode to become a two-part story that would help solve both problems.

This would be no clip show, but a new story built around the original unaired pilot that the studio had famously rejected the year before titled "The Cage." In the new episode, "The Menagerie," Mr. Spock steals the Enterprise to help his former captain, Christopher Pike, but is caught and put on trial. More than half of the episode's runtime is a flashback, with Spock relating a previous mission he'd been on with Pike, all recycled from the original pilot episode. Because "The Cage" had never aired, viewers were none the wiser. More than a decade passed before fans realized there was an entire unseen episode out there somewhere.

"The Cage" aired for the first time in 1988, and is now included on DVD box sets and Paramount+, the studio's streaming service, for anyone to watch.

6. Battlestar Galactica

Though it's best known now for its dark, gritty reboot in the mid-2000s, "Battlestar Galactica" was originally a 1978 show that might be seen as the successor to "Star Trek." It was one of the first high-concept sci-fi shows to be constructed around an intricate backstory and lore, specifically the ancient astronaut theories that were popular in the day. The series employed "Star Wars" production alumni like Ralph McQuarrie and John Dykstra, and thus boasted some of the best visual effects ever seen on the small screen. Unfortunately, like "Star Trek," it didn't have a bottomless budget, forcing them to resort to constantly recycled footage to save cash.

Viewers of the series loved the characters, including gruff commander Adama, hotshot pilot Apollo, and devious villain Baltar. They may not have been quite as fond of seeing the same footage of starships racing across the screen in nearly every single episode. Shots of outer space dogfights, laser blasts, and ship explosions essentially became stock footage inserted in every battle scene, forcing viewers to just accept that some amount of every episode would be reused footage. Meanwhile, the short-lived sequel "Galactica 1980" was even guiltier of stealing earlier footage from old episodes, and even scenes from the big-budget disaster movie "Earthquake." 

They stole from other sci-fi, too. The Agro greenhouse ship seen in several episodes took footage and model work from "Silent Running," an underrated and under-seen sci-fi film that Dykstra also worked on (via Twitter).

7. Arrow

High on action, low on budget, and in need of any advantage to save some money, "Arrow" joined sister series "The Flash" as another superhero show that recycled old footage. Like "The Flash," one prominent double-up came in the series finale. Viewers would never have known if producers hadn't acknowledged it, because unlike most on this list, the recycled scene in question was from a deleted scene that had never aired. Series producer and writer Marc Guggenheim took to Twitter in early 2020 to talk about the scene.

According to Guggenheim, the opening of the series' final episode was originally filmed way back in Season 2. The scene saw Oliver Queen dreaming of saving his mother Moira in what was originally envisioned as a kind of wish fulfillment sequence. In the original episode, the scene was omitted— perhaps for time, though Guggenheim did not specify why—and ultimately used to open the last episode of "Arrow" that aired in 2020. In the final aired version, Queen's "dream" takes on a whole new meaning, as in this version, he actually did save his mother following the events of the multiverse-shattering "Crisis" storyline.

This might be the best use of recycled footage: less to save a few pennies than to cleverly flesh out an exciting new story with footage that had never seen the light of day.

8. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Every "Star Trek" series has been guilty of using recycled footage, including images from "Event Horizon" inserted into a nightmare sequence in an episode of "Voyager." "The Next Generation" also stole plenty of shots from the "Trek" movies for various episodes. The 1993 spin-off "Deep Space Nine" might be the worst offender when it comes to "Trek" reusing old scenes again and again. As the Federation became embroiled in a devastating war with a villainous new galactic superpower, the show needed to stretch its budget further and further.

Venturing into all-out action, Trekkies were treated to epic space battles unlike anything the franchise had seen before. Producers must have felt compelled to get the most out of the expensive action sequences they had created for a handful of key episodes like "The Jem'Hadar" and "Sacrifice of Angels," because for the rest of the show's run, snippets of battle scenes developed for those episodes were repeatedly deployed. Another extended action sequence in "Tears of the Prophets"—which itself was constructed from sequences in past episodes—had its own scenes of orbital weapon platforms duplicated and used again in the show's final 2-hour episode, "What You Leave Behind."

Of course, the most famous use of recycled footage came in "Trials and Tribble-ations," which saw VFX wizards digitally insert Sisko and his crew into a classic "Star Trek" adventure from 1967.

9. JAG

The military drama "JAG" aired for 10 seasons and more than 200 episodes beginning in 1995 and spawned an entire franchise of spin-offs. With the need for plenty of military scenes, including dramatic jet fighter action, the producers leaned heavily on footage shot for existing feature films to flesh out their episodes. In fact, "JAG" stole from so many movies that there's even an online quiz where fans can try to guess which movies the show cribbed from.

Creator Donald P. Bellisario, whose other hits include "Quantum Leap" and "Magnum P.I.," noted that despite having plenty of episodes showing F-14s in high-flying action, "We've never flown an F-14. In almost every episode ... we used some stock footage" (via FoxNews). We're not talking about forgotten films you wouldn't recognize either. Of the many big-screen blockbusters that had scenes repeated on "JAG," there are more than a few that audiences know well, including the Jack Ryan film "Clear and Present Danger," the 1980s war classic "Platoon," the Harrison Ford vehicle "Air Force One," and even one of the most famous Naval movies ever made, Tom Cruise's "Top Gun."

While Bellisario says they had always tried to use B-roll footage—extra shots and background footage filmed for coverage—they did indeed use a number of sequences that made it into well-known Hollywood hits.

10. Airwolf

"JAG" wasn't the first show that producer Donald P. Bellisario created that was rife with recycled footage. More than a decade before, he had another high-flying action series that found some success, "Airwolf." The series, which had elements of sci-fi, starred Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, and Alex Cord as the crew of an experimental stealth helicopter that gave the show its title. With their bleeding-edge war machine, the crew would undertake top-secret missions around the world for the CIA.

Some of those missions used plenty of old footage, as it proved expensive to shoot scenes of the titular chopper and they had a pretty skimpy budget. Explosions, in-air sequences, and action shots all were reused many times over, which didn't go unnoticed by fans on Reddit. It got worse as the series continued and the show's budget continued to be slashed. In the book "How Television Shapes Our Worldview," which mostly focuses on how TV portrays the military, "Airwolf" is mentioned prominently. The book highlights its disastrous fourth season, noting how a huge budget cut left producers in a bind.

To save costs, no new aerial shots were produced for the entire season. Every action scene and image of Airwolf were cobbled together from past episodes and re-edited to form new sequences. If you saw the Airwolf in action during its fourth season, all you saw was recycled footage.

11. Stargate SG-1

After "MacGuyver," star Richard Dean Anderson had a string of failed projects, but finally found another hit in 1997 with the TV adaptation of the sci-fi blockbuster film "Stargate." On television, though, producers weren't given the same mammoth budget as the Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich film. While the props and sets looked good for TV, SFX sequences were another story. Even at its best, the CGI of the mid-1990s had its limitations. Thankfully for "Stargate," its quality science fiction stories kept fans coming back for more than a decade. Still, fans couldn't help but notice how the show saved money by reusing the same old stock shots.

This included the standard opening and closing of the Stargate itself, which were created using computer-generated imagery and were apparently too costly to remake from different angles too many times. Fans on Reddit have been eager to collect instances of recycled sequences, which permeate the series. Action sequences and visual effects are repeated time and again, including ships in hyperspace. Perhaps most amusingly, a sequence in the episode "Divide and Conquer" reuses old footage that becomes obvious because one of the characters shown had been dead on the show for some time.

12. Newhart

You might not think that an ordinary Earthly sitcom would feel the need to recycle footage, but even the more mundane shows have been guilty of the practice. One popular series is notorious for including footage shot for another project in every single episode. Comedian Bob Newhart's 1982 series "Newhart" was a return to television for the comic actor, who'd previously appeared for six seasons on "The Bob Newhart Show" throughout the 1970s. He proved to be one of television's funniest sitcom leads at the time. 

Still, the producers of his new series still felt the need to recycle existing footage for the show's opening credits, rather than film something new and unique for their big television star. As many have noted, the show's intro cops an unused sequence filmed for the movie "On Golden Pond," as pointed out once more by viewers on Reddit. Coincidentally, both the film and "Newhart" featured actor William Lanteau, though he does not appear in the recycled footage.

13. Knight Rider

Before David Hasselhoff was on "Baywatch," he appeared in the 1980s action drama and cult classic "Knight Rider." The Hoff played intrepid crime-stopper Michael Knight, who drove an artificially intelligent, gadget-laden super-car called KITT. As you might expect, the cost of producing sequences showing KITT's many high-tech abilities—including Turbo Boost and Super Pursuit Mode, as well as shots of the various digital computer screens and even KITT speaking—were all stock shots used in just about every episode.

Whenever KITT returned to its normal mode of operation, the stock scenes would often just be played in reverse, such as when the car goes from Super-Pursuit to Cruise mode, as seen in this clip on YouTube. Further, shots of KITT speeding down various highways and roads were often reused from older episodes, which might explain why the car was equipped with blacked-out windows, so they wouldn't have to shoot anything new if Hasselhoff had a passenger. Though this technique wasn't uncommon for shows of this type, with the 1966 "Batman" adopting a similar approach, it stood out more in the somewhat serious drama of "Knight Rider" than in the tongue-in-cheek comic book adaptation from the 1960s.

14. Smallville

Long before "Arrow" or "The Flash" made it common practice to recycle footage in superhero sequences, another long-running DC Comics hero was doing the same on television. Over the decade-long run of "Smallville," audiences watched young Clark Kent discover his powers and become the hero who would one day be Superman. What they didn't expect to see were several scenes used more than once. 

According to online commenters who've compiled lists of repeated scenes, most involve moments between Clark and Kara. A Reddit user's review singles out Season 6 for featuring an increasing amount of recycled footage. It's not just its own scenes that "Smallville" has been guilty of repeating; producers also filched scenes filmed for big-budget movies and inserted them into the show. These include establishing shots of Gotham City filmed for "Batman Begins" and the destruction of Krypton, which was reused from "Superman: The Movie" (via YouTube).

If you think it's just previous DC movies the show stole from, think again. An episode that showed Lex Luthor's disturbing vision of the future was lifted straight out of the ending of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

15. NCIS

One of television's most successful franchises of the past 20 years, "NCIS" was spun off from "JAG." "NCIS" received multiple extensions of its own, including "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "NCIS: New Orleans," both of which enjoyed lengthy runs. Like their parent series "JAG," all "NCIS" shows were also caught recycling footage from big-budget military movies to improve their episodes. The original "NCIS" series was taken to task by Looper for swiping a scene from a movie that also happened to feature series star Mark Harmon and using it in the show's opening montage. 

The movie in question is "The Presidio," a military crime drama starring Harmon as a former Army officer turned detective who must investigate a murder with the help of an old rival played by Sean Connery. The kicker? The shot taken from the film for the opening credits of "NCIS"— that of a Naval aircraft carrier slowly charting a course under San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge—was also used for the opening credits of the film, giving viewers who'd seen both a healthy sense of déjà vu.