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.