Ken Levine, the writer, producer, and director who's done fantastic work on such shows as 'Cheers', 'Frasier', and 'M*A*S*H', has begun a weekly Q&A column each Friday in his blog. (You'll find the link to the left!)
Here's the first question he received a few weeks back:
How much attention do you pay to continuity on a long running show or character? For example, I believe that once on CHEERS Frasier's mother appeared being played by the woman who played Tony Soprano's mother and I think she threatened to kill Diane. In some cases continuity errors between CHEERS and FRASIER were kind of smoothed over, but was this a priority or just something done to shut up nit picky fans?
And here was his reply:
The problem with long running shows is that there is often turnover in the writing staff. After a few seasons it’s not uncommon for creators/show runners to flee to Hawaii or be admitted to Bellevue. And with new writers on board sometimes things fall between the cracks. Often times a background fact about a character is buried deep within an episode. Names of relatives, number of children, those sort of things are apt to change. But in fairness, who remembers their wife’s name or number of kids they have?
When we wrote the episode of FRASIER where Sam Malone visits we took a few minutes to cover a few inconsistencies (like Frasier saying he was an only child and his father was dead) and update what was going on at Cheers.
Some shows keep “Bibles” – detailed records of each episode. These are great for ensuring continuity. Unless you don’t want continuity.
There are times when writers will purposely just ignore something from years past that gets in the way of what they want to do now. Here’s their justification: Hell, no one’ll remember.
Unfortunately, there are reruns, DVDs, websites, chat rooms, and uber nerds who live in their parents’ basement and do remember. Anyone recall that in the second episode of CHEERS we establish that Sam’s divorced and we meet his ex-wife? She and the marriage are never brought up again. This policy of just pretending something never existed is now very popular in politics.
Casting changes also stretch the limits of creative license. Suddenly a different guy is playing Darrin Stevens on BEWITCHED without any explanation. (In that case it would have been so easy to have Sam just say “Mother, what have you done?!”) Harry Morgan first appeared on MASH as an insane general. He was brought back as Colonel Potter. On LAW & ORDER I see the same guest actors playing different characters every season. (Just once I’d love to hear a witness swear in and state his profession as doctor/guy at the deli counter/longshoreman.)
Bottom line, whenever possible we try to keep our facts straight. But it’s not like LOST where every miniscule of information is a clue and has great import. Someone in the room comes up with a great joke about Frasier’s sister. It gets a big laugh. It goes in the script.
And we get home before midnight.
I guess you could say that this has always been a bone of contention for televisiologists - why can't they just stick to their shows' bible? But speaking as one of those uber-nerds - but one who does NOT live in his parents' basement (at least not since I was 22) - I actually support Mr. Levine in his stance on the subject.
After all, if I didn't have these tele-discrepancies, these Zonks, to splain away, I would have no need to work on Inner Toob. And then how would I spend my free time?
Up to no good, I can guarantee that!
As things stand now, this O'Bsession keeps me from competing with The Brain for world domination.....