Mrs Howell's

Well, you of course realize that Mrs Howell’s REAL name was Natalie Schafer.
The point I’m making is that since she is a fictional character, she has no real name. This wasn’t Star Trek. There wasn’t the concern with continuity that we have come to expect these days. No one anticipated, I am sure, how deeply entwined this show would become in our pop culture. Therefore, her name was whatever the individual writer of each script wanted it to be.

When the first episode aired, it was reported on the radio as “Lovey”. Later someone wrote another episode naming her Eunice. So she had different names on different days.

How could that be, you ask? Cause she’s not real.

Oops. I forgot to link to the column.

In Gilligan’s Island, what was Mrs. Howell’s first name?


You’re holding up Star Trek as a bastion of continuity? That’ll come as a surprise to Phil Farrand, authour of the “Star Trek Nitpicker Guides”, who has made a living, or least a paying hobby, out of finding holes in the various Trek episodes. They’re quite easy to find, but no series could hold up under such scrutiny. Star Trek:TNG and DS9 do better than the original series, slightly, but theres a very simple reality-shock treatment one can give to a person who is ranting about a character’s name or birthday or whatever being changed. Give them the following challenge:

a- Write a detailed plot summary for an episode that fits perfectly with the continuity of all existing espisodes.

b- Make it dramatic (funny, thought-provoking, whatever) so it will entertain our viewers, and

c- Have it on my desk by Thursday, or your ass is fired.

At this point, the nitpicker might start to understand the demands of writing for a weekly series when consistanty or quality have to be compromised to meet deadlines. The most consistant shows are usually ones in which a single writer/producer/director retains creative control over the series’ run. Steven Bochco’s ensemble dramas can stay reasonably on track, despite their complexity, and Bablyon 5 did okay becuase J. Michael Straczynski had control of the story arc, though the series ran one season too many. Chris Carter’s X-Files had a storyline developing, but it became SO complicated that I doubt Carter or anyone else could write an episode that didn’t contradict something already established. Then again, that sort of contradiction seems to fit in with the show’s mystique. For now, they seem happy to play it safe with one-shot, self-contained “freak of the week” episodes with no lasting effect.

The only way to get strong continuity is to present a series with a well-defined arc and a definite ending, and a series with a finite run doesn’t seem too popular with American television studios, always looking for the show that will run (and generate revenues) forever.

You must be a writer or in the entertainment business.
That’s some opinion.

Nah, I’m not an entertainment professional, but I am a fan of Star Trek. I’ve written a few fan fiction pieces for my local sci-fi club, mainly becuase I was convinced I could write a better, more interesting story than what was appearing every week on Next Generation (at the time). I discovered a few things:

1-There is no such thing as a perfect Trek story. The various shows have covered such a wide variety of topics and used so many plot devices that it’s impossible to write something that doesn’t contradict what has gone before or come up with a problem that couldn’t be easily solved by something already introduced (“Whaddya mean Worf’s got a crippling spinal injury? Can’t we just run him through the transporter like we did with Picard back in episode #27 etc etc”). The show relied so heavily on its various technological miracles that 20th-century problems an audience can relate to (i.e. life after a crippling spinal injury) seem almost quaint.

2-It takes more discipline and determination that I had to crank out stories on a schedule. My fifth short story is “90% done” (code for “I can’t quite seem to summon the effort to finish it off”). It’s a good thing I’m not risking my career by stalling. That said, it’s harder to kvetch about some TV writer missing a detail, when I myself haven’t been able to crank out perfect storylines, and I don’t have directors, producers, rewrite men and sponsors to deal with.

One of my favourite TV mistakes was for the way it was handled. In an episode of “Cheers”, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) remarks whistfully that his late father was a scientist. A few years later when “Cheers” ended and “Frasier” was spun-off, the father was presented instead as a living retired police officer. In a Frasier episode guest-starring Sam (Ted Danson), the inconsistancy was pointed out. Frasier explained that on that earlier occasion, he’d had an argument with his father:

“You called me a stuffed shirt and hung up!”

Thus explaining the lie.

Not a great moment in comedy, but those of us with a fondness for detail could rest a little easier.


My favorite retcon (retroactive configuration, a Trek word) was in The Simpsons. A flashback episode has Lisa recalling a Valentine’s Day episode. Since all the main characters always wear the same clothes, we see Lisa in the flashback walking down the street in her weird short dress. Lisa, in the voiceover, comments, “… it was an unusually balmy February in Springfield…”

“Retcon” is “retroactive continuity”, and I am fairly certain it came from the world of comic books, which from time to time have to patch up history, not only because of mistakes, but because of the mere passage of time. (e.g., if Lois Lane was already a working newspaper reporter in 1939, howcome she’s still a hot babe?).

Hey, I know PLENTY of hot babes who were working as reporters in 1939. Yep, retirement communities are the best singles hunting grounds on earth.

Strictly speaking, though, Lois has been working since her first appearance in Action #1, cover date June 1938. That’s just plain too old for me.