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Robin Bland

In Praise of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Infamous “Reset Button”

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Interesting article, if not canonically a bit 'cart before the horse' editorial.

B5 and DS9 came out in 1993 at the same time, were serialized, and were meant not to use the 'reset button' as much, so DS9 was going to go with story arcs from the get go, including the Bajoran/Cardassian thing, seasons 1 to 7, and the later Dominion thing that lasted four seasons., 3 to 7. Moore was one of those instrumental in that, as a Behr, and Braga. They were rival shows on different networks. B5 was often accusing DS9 of 'stealing their idea' although both were different. DS9 was basically Gunsmoke in space, or some fort based western, and B5 was more like Westworld meets Futureworld meets a little Bonanza.

DS9 did use the reset button in episodes like Meridian and Visionary,

Voy came later in 1995, when DS9 was just 2 season in, and it was 'TNG light' long before Ent. They wanted a show that was essentially 'Lost in Space meets Battlestar Galactica meets 'Mrs. Columbo'. They even cast Mrs. Columbo. (Mulgrew). It had to use the reset a lot because really the whole 'Maquis arc' never worked. They did try some of the Borg stuff later though, kind of defanging them, but at least it had the Borg. The show was gutsy enough to actually go into a part of the universe TNG went, where the Borg were, and do a Borg arc.

Ent refused to go to the Romulan war until season 4, but by then it was too late. They started within its confines and timeframe, but instead went to a new alien threat, the Xindi, and some time traveling future stuff, a literal reset button idea. In hindsight, a prequel is not a good idea for a Star Trek show, and the new one should probably change that now while they still can. Maybe that's why it's been pulled back to May.

If you're going to remake Wagon Train to the Stars it has to be forward into new territory. From the latest gossip it seems to be following the Romulans again. We've done that. Let's see something completely new.

Still the reset button is very useful if you've completely wrecked the story and can't get out of it. Sure, Q will show up now and do the 'it was all a dream'.

Sometimes that can be annoying.

 

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Thank you for sharing!  It is one of the more interesting articles on Star Trek that I have read in a while.  I especially like the questions the writer poses about the implications of serialization on Star Trek: Discovery:  

"Can we infer that the show won't be as uplifting or utopian as TNG?  Will it focus less on individual morality tales and more on sequential character experiences?  Will its characters be more traumatized?"

I do not entirely agree with the writer that serialization comes at the cost of individual morality tales.  I thought Star Trek: DS9 interwove morality tales into its serialization quite well during the Dominion War arc.  "In the Pale Moonlight" is an exquisite example of how morality tales are not abandoned by serialization.  However, the writer does have a point that the breadth of the storytelling and types of stories that can be told (the anthology element to TNG) might diminish the scope of moral dilemmas portrayed on screen.  

In terms of what we can expect from Star Trek: Discovery, we are almost guaranteed more sequential character experiences and development with Fuller at the helm.  I have been re-watching many of the episodes he penned for Voyager.  His writing strongly emphasized character development and creating continuity within the characters.  Three examples of this include "Raven", "Juggernaut", and "Gravity."  He uses character flashbacks in all of these episodes to good effect.  In "Raven", it is unraveling the origins of Seven of Nine.  In "Juggernaut", it is unraveling the origins of Torres' anger problems.  In "Gravity", it is unraveling the origins of Tuvok's stoicism.  

In Fuller, I can be confident that we will get stories with a great deal of sequential character experiences that may be traumatizing but shape the character's into stronger individuals as a result.  It will be hopeful.  That kind of storytelling does not have to come at the expense of Star Trek optimistic vision or effective morality tales.

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The soft reset was standard TV until the early 90's. You would see a character be in critical condition in one episode and perfectly fine in the next all the time. They did it because for two reasons.

Before vcr's, you had to be at home in order to watch a program. So if there was a serialized program and you missed the first two or three episodes, you probably weren't going to watch the rest of the season.

People didn't generally watch syndicated shows on an appointment basis like first run shows so you ran into the same problem. Watching a serialized show was a commitment people didn't want to make. That made a serialized show much less valuable in syndication.

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Thank you for sharing!  It is one of the more interesting articles on Star Trek that I have read in a while.  I especially like the questions the writer poses about the implications of serialization on Star Trek: Discovery:  

"Can we infer that the show won't be as uplifting or utopian as TNG?  Will it focus less on individual morality tales and more on sequential character experiences?  Will its characters be more traumatized?"

I do not entirely agree with the writer that serialization comes at the cost of individual morality tales.  I thought Star Trek: DS9 interwove morality tales into its serialization quite well during the Dominion War arc.  "In the Pale Moonlight" is an exquisite example of how morality tales are not abandoned by serialization.  However, the writer does have a point that the breadth of the storytelling and types of stories that can be told (the anthology element to TNG) might diminish the scope of moral dilemmas portrayed on screen.  

In terms of what we can expect from Star Trek: Discovery, we are almost guaranteed more sequential character experiences and development with Fuller at the helm.  I have been re-watching many of the episodes he penned for Voyager.  His writing strongly emphasized character development and creating continuity within the characters.  Three examples of this include "Raven", "Juggernaut", and "Gravity."  He uses character flashbacks in all of these episodes to good effect.  In "Raven", it is unraveling the origins of Seven of Nine.  In "Juggernaut", it is unraveling the origins of Torres' anger problems.  In "Gravity", it is unraveling the origins of Tuvok's stoicism.  

In Fuller, I can be confident that we will get stories with a great deal of sequential character experiences that may be traumatizing but shape the character's into stronger individuals as a result.  It will be hopeful.  That kind of storytelling does not have to come at the expense of Star Trek optimistic vision or effective morality tales.

My pleasure. I agree, it's a good article, and the comments beneath are also a good read with many salient points to make, also.

Raven is actually one of my most-remembered episodes of Voyager, and one of the few I've revisited (which I did before I knew Fuller would be showrunner of DSC). The other two eps I'm less familiar with, but I think I'll go back and take a look at those, now so thanks for the reminder. 

I think TV tends to be obsessed with character arcs these days, but it's not an exclusive trend. There's still some 'morality plays' out there, but maybe not in genre shows, which led the charge back in the 90s for this form of storytelling anyway. One of the comments makes the point that, since SF&F has become more character-led on TV, it has the effect of making a show's main characters seem more self-centred. It's an interesting side-effect of a cultural trend. The example of Stephen Moffat's Doctor Who is one of those cited, and how the Doctor has become a plot device in his own show rather than a character who gets caught up in adventures. I think there's some truth in that, although I also  think that's led to some great drama. But there's a balance to be had.

Fuller's approach to Trek sounds like it'll be a very modern take, time period notwithstanding. It'll be very character-led,  arc-led. Predictions like this always lead me back to DS9, which, as you observe, interwove morality plays into its overall plot extremely well (especially from the end of S2 onwards). To my mind, DS9 is the perfect mix of standalone vs. arc and this is probably why the show has stood the test of time so well - better, I'd argue, than any of the other Trek shows. Enterprise probably seems the most 'modern' but again, it's either too much arc (Season 3 & 4) or too may standalones (seasons 1 & 2). I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how DSC measures up.

The soft reset was standard TV until the early 90's. You would see a character be in critical condition in one episode and perfectly fine in the next all the time. They did it because for two reasons.

Before vcr's, you had to be at home in order to watch a program. So if there was a serialized program and you missed the first two or three episodes, you probably weren't going to watch the rest of the season.

People didn't generally watch syndicated shows on an appointment basis like first run shows so you ran into the same problem. Watching a serialized show was a commitment people didn't want to make. That made a serialized show much less valuable in syndication.

Very true. TV was a different experience back then. it's changed so much in the past two decades. Arguably, TNG did much to change that with its syndication-first business model. I like that the show's writer's snuck their continuity in almost through the back door, but fans picked up on it. IIRC, the-powers-that-be were less directly involved in the day-to-day running of DS9 (they were setting up Voyager and running the movie series), which is partially why that show, after S2, evolved into a more arc-led entity. There's a story where they finally noticed, at the end, what Ira Behr was doing, and of course by that point, it was way too late.

Hats off to Mr Behr, without whom we might not have got such a fine show.

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It IS possible to have a character traumatized on an episodic show, though. Take Jean-Luc and the Borg. It's an arc that pulls throughout TNG. Granted, the writers had to literally fight with Berman to get the episode "Family" done - Berman essentially wanted no long-lasting effects from Jean-Luc's assimilation but eventually gave in because Piller quite frankly told him that this was complete nonsense - and whatnot, but the Borg arc is always there. It starts in the second season with "Q Who", goes to "Best Of Both Worlds", to "Family"... and then lies dormant until it comes up again with a HUGE bang in "I Borg" and later, to a lesser extent (and also poorly executed, granted) in "Descent". And then it even gets its own movie with "First Contact". So it's really a bit of a myth here that TNG never had ANYTHING serialized and that it never allowed for ANY long-lasting trauma or moral effects. Of course, by today's TV standards the whole Borg arc is "tame", a show from today would linger on the effects for an entire season and endless talks and would show the nightmares and Jean-Luc's PTSD in much greater detail. But back then something like that just was neither wanted nor possible. As others have said, you couldn't binge watch the show on Netflix. The only shows that didn't operate with a reset button were soap operas but those had to be written in a particularly obvious way that it didn't really matter if you missed an episode, you still got back into what was happening simply by deducing what had happened last week. TNG was too complex for that sort of storytelling.

And yet they smuggled serialized elements in. Worf and his Klingon heritage issues are another example. Or Data, he evolves along with the show. They DID do things that weren't about hitting a reset button. Of course sometimes they didn't do enough - Jean-Luc's Cardassian torture trauma, for example. It's never brought up again, but then I suspect the reason for that was not just the episodic nature of the show - it was also the "family friendly" aspect. "Chain of Command" is already quite heavy stuff, and the aftermath would have been even heavier, sometimes not just bordering on non-con BDSM but literally overstepping the line - who knows what horrible things Madred and maybe also some of his soldiers REALLY did to Jean-Luc, and there was NO way the censors would have allowed frank and disturbing Picard-and-Troi discussions of this on TNG. The moment the writers would have chosen to go into this, the subject would have been a VERY VERY heavy one that would have sent their show right into R rated (or even NC-17 rated) territory. They could find metaphors for it with the Borg thing, they never explicitly had to call it what it was, meaning: mind rape, but they would not have had this "luxury" with "Chain of Command" because there was a huge physical element to it as well, it's not just the "How many lights do you see" pain button thing. This episode and the issues it created for Jean-Luc are, in the end, something that have to be left for for fan fic writers to deal with. It would have been too much for the show itself, episodic or not.  

 

Edited by Mr.Picard

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It IS possible to have a character traumatized on an episodic show, though. Take Jean-Luc and the Borg. It's an arc that pulls throughout TNG. Granted, the writers had to literally fight with Berman to get the episode "Family" done - Berman essentially wanted no long-lasting effects from Jean-Luc's assimilation but eventually gave in because Piller quite frankly told him that this was complete nonsense - and whatnot, but the Borg arc is always there. It starts in the second season with "Q Who", goes to "Best Of Both Worlds", to "Family"... and then lies dormant until it comes up again with a HUGE bang in "I Borg" and later, to a lesser extent (and also poorly executed, granted) in "Descent". And then it even gets its own movie with "First Contact". So it's really a bit of a myth here that TNG never had ANYTHING serialized and that it never allowed for ANY long-lasting trauma or moral effects. Of course, by today's TV standards the whole Borg arc is "tame", a show from today would linger on the effects for an entire season and endless talks and would show the nightmares and Jean-Luc's PTSD in much greater detail. But back then something like that just was neither wanted nor possible. As others have said, you couldn't binge watch the show on Netflix. The only shows that didn't operate with a reset button were soap operas but those had to be written in a particularly obvious way that it didn't really matter if you missed an episode, you still got back into what was happening simply by deducing what had happened last week. TNG was too complex for that sort of storytelling.

And yet they smuggled serialized elements in. Worf and his Klingon heritage issues are another example. Or Data, he evolves along with the show. They DID do things that weren't about hitting a reset button. Of course sometimes they didn't do enough - Jean-Luc's Cardassian torture trauma, for example. It's never brought up again, but then I suspect the reason for that was not just the episodic nature of the show - it was also the "family friendly" aspect. "Chain of Command" is already quite heavy stuff, and the aftermath would have been even heavier, sometimes not just bordering on non-con BDSM but literally overstepping the line - who knows what horrible things Madred and maybe also some of his soldiers REALLY did to Jean-Luc, and there was NO way the censors would have allowed frank and disturbing Picard-and-Troi discussions of this on TNG. The moment the writers would have chosen to go into this, the subject would have been a VERY VERY heavy one that would have sent their show right into R rated (or even NC-17 rated) territory. They could find metaphors for it with the Borg thing, they never explicitly had to call it what it was, meaning: mind rape, but they would not have had this "luxury" with "Chain of Command" because there was a huge physical element to it as well, it's not just the "How many lights do you see" pain button thing. This episode and the issues it created for Jean-Luc are, in the end, something that have to be left for for fan fic writers to deal with. It would have been too much for the show itself, episodic or not.  

 

There's also Picard's "life" on a long-dead world - the flute (and the music he plays) crops up again in Lessons when he has a romance with the new head of Stellar Cartography (whose name escapes me, sorry). These are the kinds of elements of character continuity that the writers would slip in, and others like you mention above. But that was fine for a long-running drama show of that era. I think that, and his Borg experiences, are examples of where that kind of character continuity really worked.

Where it didn't was elements like the the Troi/Riker romance and particularly (later), the Troi/Riker/Worf love triangle, which seemed totally throwaway and just not thought through. In broader terms, the latent Troi/Riker pairing gave rise to great episodes like Second Chances, but then in Season 7, despite playing with it in Parallels and hinting all over the place, the Troi and Worf match went absolutely nowhere and felt completely pointless. 

That they did this kind of character continuity at all was testament to the quality of the show and the ambition of the writers, I think. And yeah, it did give us First Contact. That approach played out properly in DS9, but Voyager stuck to the TNG model - and was the poorer for it. TNG's route worked, by and large, but it was a product of its times. Voyager could've been far more experimental.  

 

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It IS possible to have a character traumatized on an episodic show, though. Take Jean-Luc and the Borg. It's an arc that pulls throughout TNG. Granted, the writers had to literally fight with Berman to get the episode "Family" done - Berman essentially wanted no long-lasting effects from Jean-Luc's assimilation but eventually gave in because Piller quite frankly told him that this was complete nonsense - and whatnot, but the Borg arc is always there. It starts in the second season with "Q Who", goes to "Best Of Both Worlds", to "Family"... and then lies dormant until it comes up again with a HUGE bang in "I Borg" and later, to a lesser extent (and also poorly executed, granted) in "Descent". And then it even gets its own movie with "First Contact". So it's really a bit of a myth here that TNG never had ANYTHING serialized and that it never allowed for ANY long-lasting trauma or moral effects. Of course, by today's TV standards the whole Borg arc is "tame", a show from today would linger on the effects for an entire season and endless talks and would show the nightmares and Jean-Luc's PTSD in much greater detail. But back then something like that just was neither wanted nor possible. As others have said, you couldn't binge watch the show on Netflix. The only shows that didn't operate with a reset button were soap operas but those had to be written in a particularly obvious way that it didn't really matter if you missed an episode, you still got back into what was happening simply by deducing what had happened last week. TNG was too complex for that sort of storytelling.

And yet they smuggled serialized elements in. Worf and his Klingon heritage issues are another example. Or Data, he evolves along with the show. They DID do things that weren't about hitting a reset button. Of course sometimes they didn't do enough - Jean-Luc's Cardassian torture trauma, for example. It's never brought up again, but then I suspect the reason for that was not just the episodic nature of the show - it was also the "family friendly" aspect. "Chain of Command" is already quite heavy stuff, and the aftermath would have been even heavier, sometimes not just bordering on non-con BDSM but literally overstepping the line - who knows what horrible things Madred and maybe also some of his soldiers REALLY did to Jean-Luc, and there was NO way the censors would have allowed frank and disturbing Picard-and-Troi discussions of this on TNG. The moment the writers would have chosen to go into this, the subject would have been a VERY VERY heavy one that would have sent their show right into R rated (or even NC-17 rated) territory. They could find metaphors for it with the Borg thing, they never explicitly had to call it what it was, meaning: mind rape, but they would not have had this "luxury" with "Chain of Command" because there was a huge physical element to it as well, it's not just the "How many lights do you see" pain button thing. This episode and the issues it created for Jean-Luc are, in the end, something that have to be left for for fan fic writers to deal with. It would have been too much for the show itself, episodic or not.  

 

There's also Picard's "life" on a long-dead world - the flute (and the music he plays) crops up again in Lessons when he has a romance with the new head of Stellar Cartography (whose name escapes me, sorry). These are the kinds of elements of character continuity that the writers would slip in, and others like you mention above. But that was fine for a long-running drama show of that era. I think that, and his Borg experiences, are examples of where that kind of character continuity really worked.

Where it didn't was elements like the the Troi/Riker romance and particularly (later), the Troi/Riker/Worf love triangle, which seemed totally throwaway and just not thought through. In broader terms, the latent Troi/Riker pairing gave rise to great episodes like Second Chances, but then in Season 7, despite playing with it in Parallels and hinting all over the place, the Troi and Worf match went absolutely nowhere and felt completely pointless. 

That they did this kind of character continuity at all was testament to the quality of the show and the ambition of the writers, I think. And yeah, it did give us First Contact. That approach played out properly in DS9, but Voyager stuck to the TNG model - and was the poorer for it. TNG's route worked, by and large, but it was a product of its times. Voyager could've been far more experimental.  

 

Yup, "Inner Light" comes up again with Nella Daren (the name you were looking for), but it's only a brief moment when she asks about the Ressikan flute and Jean-Luc's answer is as brief as an answer can get, he clearly isn't really much into explaining the very personal experience. When it comes to "Inner Light", he is largely being left alone with his grief and the trauma - or so it seems because the show makes it appear this way. This is also why people continously think he hates children - they forget that he raised two kids on Kataan, because the show never really touches the whole second life he had again. He never really brings up Batai and Meribor, ever. It is - also again - up to us fan fic writers to set this one right. This time I also have no real excuse for their reluctance to follow up on this one other than the show being strictly episodic in nature, although I do feel the need to point out that they had planned on a sequel to the episode where they find a capsule and Eline is on board, in stasis/alive and Jean-Luc gets to deal with the problem of suddenly having a wife on the Enterprise. (I think they turned it into a comic though.) "The Inner Light" is a brilliant episode, but quite a bit of its impact gets lost in the episodic nature of TNG, sadly.

The show was always mostly dreadful at romances for the characters, they are all more or less cringeworthy, cliché or downright creepy (Troi and her Creeps of the Week, anyone), so I'd say this is a general pattern that would have been as terrible if the show had not been this episodic (I'd say it would most likely have been even WORSE). The Troi/Worf stuff was even repeated later on VOY with the whole Chakotay/Seven nonsense, so, the writers really learned nothing. Trek and romance hardly ever go well together - I tend to say this is yet ANOTHER area where fan fiction writers have to step in. This isn't meant in a purely negative way, though - I like having these kinds of things to work with. TNG, due to its episodic nature, leaves me a LOT of freedom when it comes to writing, and I really appreciate that. It's a personal reason of mine why I do like its episodic structure - you get the frame to work with, but it's up to you as a writer to make the picture come alive. I really love doing that, with the character of Jean-Luc Picard in particular, obviously.

I also agree that VOY should have known better than to try and return to TNG's format. DS9 worked as a serialized show - VOY should have continued with that, especially since its premise is one for a serialized show, not an episodic one. (A big reason why it never really worked.)

 

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Star Trek is an interesting case, because it can work either as serialized (DS9) or episodic, depending on which series of ST we're discussing.    

In some cases, the powers-that-be behind ST didn't seem to instinctively understand when to do one or the other.   VGR was a classic example of a show that should've been serialized; it's very nature dictated serialization (no starbases, no allies, etc.; it should've been more like 2003's Battlestar Galactica, and not a TNG-clone).  But instead VGR became risk-averse, and suffered creatively a bit as a result.  

TNG was (in format, not with characters) basically a continuation of TOS, so serialization wouldn't really fit within its format.  There were serialized elements (Picard's Borg and Ressikan 'life', Worf's discommendation, etc) but generally it was episodic.   You could usually jump right into the show with little preamble. 

In the age of binge-watching and the slow Netflix-ification of television, it'll be interesting to see what will happen with DSC, but it could do a nice mix of both. 

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It should also be mentioned Enterprise didn't hit the reset very often. The altercation at P'Jem was brought up every so often along with T'Pol's bout with the disease and how it happened. And unlike with Voyager, during the third season the ship was not looking new the next week after being in a battle.

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It should also be mentioned Enterprise didn't hit the reset very often. The altercation at P'Jem was brought up every so often along with T'Pol's bout with the disease and how it happened. And unlike with Voyager, during the third season the ship was not looking new the next week after being in a battle.

Even the episode "Dead Stop" in S2 (one of my favorites that year) had an in-universe explanation for how the NX-01 recovered so quickly after getting a piece of her hull blown off in a Romulan minefield.   And even the 'reset' in DS was kind of interesting and chilling. 

ENT had promise.    And I think S4 had the right balance between arcs and episodes with their bullseye 'mini-arc' format; stories that were told over 2-3 episodes by design.  They took their time, and allowed the stories to unfold organically.  I kind of hope that DSC finds a similar balance...

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ENT did good in this regard. They mostly found the right balance between serialized and episodic, and they changed the pace when it was needed (such as in season 3 when they serialized it quite heavily due to the Xindi arc). The show was flexible, and this is one big reason why I like it as much as I do these days.

For TNG's premise, episodic was the way to go. Exploring the unknown in a "state of the art vessel" (okay mostly, ahem) and seeking new folks to hang out with, carrying badmirals, diplomatic functions, doing flagship stuff... you don't NEED to serialize a show like that too heavily. It can be done, sure, but you REALLY have to pay attention to not lose track of your premise - if you waste too much time making the episodes all take place within a few days or so you don't get to do much exploring if you aren't careful - you'll get the ship stuck in one single plot or you'll start dwelling on unnecessary details. You NEED to have new adventures and new aliens to meet. I realized this when I first started writing post Nemesis TNG fic - I wanted to serialize it, but I quickly found out that this took something AWAY from the show's premise. So I tuned it down again but still kept serialized elements, just like they did on the show, only a bit more prominent and not as much in the background - and these days I HEAVILY focus on the characters when needed, something that the show admittedly lacked sometimes, I feel it's my duty to fill in a few gaps here and there. I do think that this writing treatment is the best way to go for TNG.

As for DS9 - the show is set in a "static" place. The aliens come to THEM. The premise is completely different, almost the exact opposite of TNG's. Therefore a heavily serialized format makes 100% sense. You need it, even - you can't have the characters run from one plot to the next, you need to explore THEM in great detail as well because THEY are the actual stars, not the aliens they're seeking out. 

VOY's premise absolutely would have called for serialization as well. A ship stuck in an unfriendly quadrant, hostile aliens, the ship looking worse and worse in each episode... THAT is the sort of thing they should have done. It called for dramatic character conflicts, mutinies, even, especially with the Maquis folks on board - but all it did was water everything down and go back to TNG's format. And that's why the show doesn't live up to any of its initial ideas - it can't unfold itself properly, it's being forced into a format that doesn't fit, not anymore. 

ENT did good on this, like I said above. 

The new show... it all depends on the premise and the story behind it. If you have an ongoing plot for your show, a premise OR a static setting (such as a space station), you need to serialize. Or do it like ENT and be as flexible as possible, pull out episodic moments when needed and serialize when you want to explore a plot in greater detail.

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^
I wouldn't mind a return to the latter season format of ENT; part serialized/part episodic.   Keeps it flexible.  

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I wouldn't mind a return to the latter season format of ENT; part serialized/part episodic.   Keeps it flexible.  

I'd say this format probably fits best indeed - with what we know about the new show so far, anyway.

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