So, in conclusion, I don’t think the order really matters. Do you?
“Oh, she’s still got the dog in this one”. “Ah, but this must come later as he’s part of the team now.” “Where’s the bloke on the screen gone?” “Oh – he’s got the old car back!” All sentences of the sort uttered when my wife and I are watching a series and playing a game of ‘What Order Do We Think These Shows Were Made In.’
And Virtual Murder’s not alone in switching series title for episode title. Another ATV film series Man in a Suitcase (1967-1968) concerns McGill, a discredited American Intelligence agent working in Europe as an unlicensed inquiry agent. His most prized possession is his suitcase – packed and ready to go wherever a client needs him across the world (or the Pinewood backlot). He is the man in a suitcase. But – no! The show was initially called McGill, and the first episode which established McGill’s situation and why he had been set up by his own people was originally entitled Man in a Suitcase – referring to his former colleague who had been presumed dead and whose photograph McGill now carried in his suitcase.
And what most people don’t expect when – after the final episode of a season has gone out and Mork, Mindy and Mindy’s dad have demonstrated to each other how relationships work, illustrating each and every point with a classic extract that got boffo laughs first time around – they launch into a summer diet of reruns is to find themselves consuming something new and unexpected amongst the comfortingly familiar. Yes, the old season with the new shows should have finished at the end of June. But apparently it didn’t. Buried in there when you least suspect it is new content. Some of it badly out of sequence. Occasionally incompatibly so.
Back in 1969, the fans of Star Trek (1966-1969) – the devotees whose dedication got their favourite show that amazing announcement of a third year on NBC on the night of Friday 1 March 1968 – knew that there was likely to be another new mission for the USS Enterprise buried in the summer reruns. Turnabout Intruder had been due to conclude the cancelled show in the 10pm slot on Friday 28 March… but, sadly, President Dwight Eisenhower had died of congestive heart failure that morning. And NBC knew that Eisenhower out-ranked Kirk.
So, the fans knew that this episode was tantalisingly out there – they’d seen it in TV Guide and knew that there was one last mission to boldy go on. And even more frustratingly, the Enterprise had been AWOL on Friday 21 March as well – pre-empted by Hollywood: The Selznick Years (1969). So, surely, Turnabout Intruder would just be bumped by a week – yes? Nah – sorry boys and girls. Tune in next Friday and you can enjoy Spectre of the Gun all over again because you enjoyed it so much last October didn’t you? Okay – so how about the week after that? Nah – sorry, again… the Network still has some imported episodes of The Saint (1962-1969) to use up, so you’ll find Simon Templar encountering The Master Plan at 10pm…
TV Guide did bring good news at the end of May when their close up feature revealed that Star Trek was moving to ‘a new time slot with its final first run episode’. The Jerry Lewis Show (1967-1969) had come to an end the previous week, and so 7.30pm on Tuesdays was to be Star Fleet’s new home for the next few months – kicking off with Turnabout Intruder and so bringing the five year mission to a premature end in little under three.
And a last episode to a series wasn’t necessarily the last. Staying at NBC, the network were very impressed by an initial six episodes of a new police procedural called Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999) which had been in production since August 1992 – so much so that by the end of December they had ordered three more to be shot with an option on another four to give that magic number thirteen as a mid-season replacement. The plan was to premiere the show at the end of January 1993 on the same night as high-rating Super Bowl coverage… but already NBC were a little wary about the innovative approach and style of the show. The third episode to be made – The Night of the Dead Living – was a daring character piece set across one night shift and entirely within the office used by the homicide detectives. Although highly charged – and later to win awards – the script was a tad more static than the network wanted for a new cop show. The fourth episode – Son of a Gun – was instead scheduled for broadcast on Wednesday 10 February.
Thus, after nine episodes, the season actually finaled with The Night of the Dead Living on Wednesday 31 March. There were minor problems with this reshufflng – notably because television had moved on since the days where cop shows generally hit the reset button at the end of every hour enabling the pack to be dealt in different ways. The first season of Homicide had ongoing narratives – notably the investigation into the murder of young Adena Watson by Detectives Bayliss and Pembleton. The duo had been ordered to move on from the case in A Dog and Pony Show – which had aired sixth – yet while in the office in The Night of the Dead Living they were still engaged in this investigation. Furthermore, the deferred episode featured Officer Chris Thompson who had been shot and blinded in Son of a Gun but who here was still on active duty with his normal vision.
The solution? The addition of a caption at the start of the show: ‘One hot night, last September…’
Episode Threes appear to be particularly tricky – if not contradictory. Another real corker – courtesy of the Peacock Network – was what happened to V (1984-1985), a science-fiction series which was a continuation of a highly acclaimed mini-series of the same name that presented parallels with the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s. In this case the alien fascists looked like humans, but when their artificial skin peeled back they were revealed as lizards which ate human flesh. Believe me – the original mini-series is much better than this sounds…
Anyway, the third episode of V was a script called Breakout which was all good to go for shooting by the start of August 1984. This was the episode that would introduce a new, dynamic young male character called Kyle Bates – the wayward biker son of power-hungry biotech CEO Nathan Bates. Kyle is found as one of the prisoners at an Internment Center where two of our resistance heroes – former TV cameraman Mike Donovan and former CIA hitman Ham Tyler – are also forced into slave labour by the new alien overlords. During the course of the episode, Kyle works with Donovan and Tyler, and the three are amongst several escapees, along with Robin Maxwell, a former associate of Donovan’s who for reasons which are never quite made clear is also in the labour camp. The escapees then head off: Donovan and Tyler together, Robin in another direction, and Kyle in yet another.
Unfortunately, once Breakout had been filmed, it was a bit too rich for NBC’s 8pm Friday slot. There was a rather vicious fight between Donovan and Tyler on one side and some alien guards on another at the start of the show, and later in the adventure a couple of alien cops are torn up and killed by a brace of Alsatians. So, NBC decided to quietly forget about scheduling Breakout.
As such, could Episode Four – a script called The Deception – simply be brought forward with a few adjustments? Well – yes it could. In her traumatized state during Breakout, Robin had been told that her recently born daughter – fathered by an alien – had already grown into a teenager in her absence; but she could easily forget that … and she could now meet Kyle all over again at the start of the episode anyway. Also, early on in the narrative, Kyle needed to take a package to resistance HQ where he met Donovan and Tyler. In the drafts from late July 1984, this was a happy reunion with Donovan recalling how handy the youth had been previously during their escape. By mid-August, this scene had been amended to make Donovan and Tyler deeply distrustful of this newcomer that they’d never met before – right down to one of Tyler’s lines of dialogue on learning Kyle’s surname.
All sorted. And, as such, The Deception aired third in the run on Friday 2 November 1984.
Which was fine until the summer reruns from Friday 17 May. These kicked off with the first episode, Liberation Day… but then, instead of the second episode Dreadnought, Breakout was scheduled for broadcast on 24 May. Okay… so, that’s fine. This time, Donovan and Ham just meet Kyle in the labour camp rather than at Club Creole as they did six months earlier. Fine – that’s okay. I guess… Certain sense of déjà vu for odd lines of dialogue… but, okay…
… until the totally contradictory meeting at Club Creole appeared on 31 May when The Deception was also re-run.
So, you never know what odd new material is lying there, buried amongst the reruns.
Going back to Virtual Murder, regardless of order – I still loved it. I was hooked. And I was still there at the end when Dreams Imagic finally went out. So, maybe the order doesn’t matter?
So, let’s start at the beginning by attempting to define my argument for the following article. Although a series of programmes may be made in one specific order which shows strands of development and format change, having the episodes screened in a different order does not necessarily preclude enjoyment of the series itself.
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