I was trying to recall TV shows that were aired in an order different from their production order, which even on “closed” shows with only something of a continuing story arc caused continuity and story-line problems. There’s often fan argument about the best order in which to watch the episodes.
The example that comes to mind is the Babylon 5 sequel “Crusade,” which famously-among-fans was aired in an almost bizarre order that created major continuity issues and probably confused a good part of the potential audience.
What other shows were aired out of order and have arguably different best-viewing orders?
Firefly was famously aired out of order. The order was: 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 4, 5, 9, 10, 14, 1, 11, 12, 13. Pretty damn scrambled. That, and they didn’t market it well, and kept moving its timeslot around. The show was practically sabotaged by the network.
To be fair, even in order it was confusing and had major issues.
The order of the original The Prisoner series has been reshuffled a few times. Most notably, episode 16 (of 17) was filmed sixth; by the time they produced episode 17 (which they did last) Leo McKern (who was rather shaggy in #16) had had a haircut for another role and they had to work that into #17 for continuity.
Star Trek had problems in each of its three seasons getting episodes finished on time, forcing episodes out of production order.
While not really a continuity problem, it’s obvious in things like the seemingly random star dates, the appearance, disappearance and reappearance of Yeoman Rand and a couple of minor characters, and some other details.
CBS ran Space Rangers out of order in 1993, running the second episode, “Banshees,” first. I could understand why, I suppose – it’s a slam-bang action episode and the first episode spends too much time with exposition (probably the same reason Fox ran Firefly out of order).
That seems to be a common reason - the origin/beginning/pilot show tends to be dull exposition and endless open-ended setup… and changes in cast and other details are often needed for series production. So the network chooses the most slam-bang, eyeball-grabbing ep from the early list and runs it first, no matter how confusing it might be to continuing viewers. (Some pilots are never aired, or re-aired.)
I think a number of shows have adapted to that, making the pilot far more slam-bang and leaving development and exposition to a second or third “flashback” ep or fitting it in over the first season - Arrow comes to mind.
There’s also the wish to run the most powerful eps during sweeps week, whether that fits the continuity or not.
Not a typical television series, but World Championship Wrestling was known for airing matches out of order.
“WCW one ups their decision to have Tom Zenk defend the TV Title after losing the belt by having the Freebirds win the tag titles from Doom at WrestleWar. However, they had already lost the titles six days earlier to the Steiners at a TV taping that was aired in March. Yes, you read that correctly. The Freebirds lost the titles before they ever won them. Once again, WCW is heavily criticized for this practice of not recognizing title switches until they appear on the air.”
I saw Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 in the aired order and a few years later in the intended production order. I usually feel things should be seen in the intended order and am a stickler about it. But I will grudgingly concede that the aired order for Apt 23 was workable. It pushed the best episodes to the forefront, ostensibly to accelerate the initial launch. The random inconsistencies from the incorrect ordering fit in with the manic vibe of the show, where random stuff often came in from left field.
However, the show ran out of steam later and there weren’t any gems left in the hopper to sustain the pace. A lot of episodes were unaired. The experiment ultimately failed and it’s easy to blame the network and the executive egos involved. But the show was marketed fairly often in the Austin market where I saw it (may not be the case elsewhere, if ads for other stuff were being sold off faster). They did additional social media marketing, such as the hilarious Bryan Cranston video. So the network did try.
The failure was with convincing the network to stick with the show, as there is a consensus among viewers and critics that it was cancelled too soon.
When I watched the show again in the intended order, certain elements made more sense, but the ping-ponging zingy zippiness was diminished. In-order felt more “ordinary”, somehow. IMHO, this is the rare instance when re-ordering may have improved this viewer’s experience. Especially if the other un-aired stuff never existed.
The acting talent was great. The writing was superb (I am a big fan of Nanatchka Khan now). The network (ABC) and the network executives were so-so. What I wish would have happened is for the production company to man up after the cancellation news came down the pike, tell ABC “thanks, but see you never!” and hop over to a different network, or to Amazon or Netflix. Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out.
“The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” was famously aired in a peculiar order.
From the Wiki: “It was originally aired in a nonlinear order, with the prologue and first seven chapters of the first novel intermixed with chapters from some of the later novels. The “next episode” previews feature two different episode numberings: one number from Haruhi, who numbers the episodes in chronological order, and one number from Kyon, who numbers them in broadcast order. The DVD releases start with “Episode 00” and are then shown in chronological order.”
American Gothic was broadcast out of sequence, with four episodes unaired. In addition, the DVD collection arranged episodes in broadcast order, not production order.
The debut season of The Simpsons was plagued with animation problems, and as a result, the first episode aired (“Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”) was actually the eighth episode produced. This didn’t affect continuity in any major way, though it does explain why Santa’s Little Helper doesn’t appear in several episodes.
In my mind, if the show’s an arc-based show, or that has strong continuity that affects later episodes, then the order is crucial. Or at least the order to arc episodes is crucial. Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica are shows where this is mostly true. So was How I Met Your Mother.
On the other hand, if it’s an episodic show, or a stand-alone episode, then order doesn’t matter very much. 90% of the Star Trek: Next Generation episodes could have been shown in about any order within their respective seasons for a good example.
A lot of shows are a weird mix of 80% standalone, but 20% callback. NCIS and Big Bang Theory both come to mind.
It happens to a ton of shows. Probably more often than episodes being shown in the right order. Here’s a list of applicable shows from TV Tropes, and it’s not comprehensive, because I know that Undeclared and Saved by the Bell were also out of order. I also think Freaks and Geeks was aired out of order for some of the episodes.
*Happy Endings *had an episode that ran later that should have been immediately/shortly following the pilot. It was odd since all of a sudden the group referenced Dave and Alex and if they could all still hang out - when they had been fine in the episodes before that.
My job centers around TV shows and I’m privy to production and air order information. Episodes airing out of order is an extremely common occurrence. You just don’t notice most of them. It happens at least once per season for the vast majority of shows.
Ellen had episodes that didn’t air in the original run, or were filmed in one season, and run in another, because the season they were filmed for was too long, and another season came up short, but they still air in reruns they way they played originally, which looks confusing, because Ellen had major cast changes from season to season. There is an episode (guest starring a very un-Benson-like Mariska Hargitay, and worth seeing just for that), which was filmed for the first season, but airs in the third, when the cast is totally different. It’s called “The Mugging.”