I believe the term willing suspension of disbelief reconciles the difference between realistic television programs where:
worlds have more coherence
and fantastic television programs where:
actions in one episode do not seem to have consequences in the next
Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested that authors could induce the reader to suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of their narrative:
transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of
truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that
willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.
Some television programs create a fictional universe that closely resembles the real world. Grey's Anatomy roughly approximates the world of surgical fellows, residents and attending physicians in the realistic fictional world of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Some patients get better, others die, and from time to time the doctors bring their patients back from the dead. Except for the pace of action, everything is consistent with a real-world scenario. Fans willingly suspend disbelief of the pace to follow the romantic intrigues of their favorite characters.
Other programs create a fictional universe that departs immensely from the real world. For his first five seasons in the fantastic fictional world of South Park, the cartoon character Kenny McCormick dies repeatedly:
Prior to season six, Kenny died in almost every episode.[note 1] The
nature of the deaths was often gruesome and portrayed in a comically
absurd fashion, and usually followed by Stan and Kyle respectively
yelling "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" and "You bastard(s)!".
Shortly afterward, rats would commonly appear and begin picking at his
corpse. In a following episode, Kenny would reappear alive and
well, usually without any explanation. Most characters appear
oblivious or indifferent to the phenomenon, although occasionally one
will acknowledge an awareness of it.
The comical absurdity of Kenny's serial death and resurrection compelled such an intense human interest in Kenny that some fans erupted in protest when the writers refused to bring Kenny back after Kenny Dies:
["Kenny Dies"] was the one episode where [all the characters] cared [he was dying] for once. After that, we said, 'Why doesn't he just
stay dead?' And it was like, 'Okay, let's just do that.' It was that
easy of a decision. I think a lot of people probably haven't noticed.
I couldn't care less. I am so sick of that character. —Matt Stone,
from a 2002 article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel
...fans were significantly
angered by Kenny's absence to threaten a boycott of the cable channel
Comedy Central, on which South Park is aired.
When Kenny came back at the end of the sixth season, the fictional universe of South Park still permitted Kenny to die and return again, but the writers shifted the human interest of the program away from Kenny to other characters.
Nevertheless, Kenny returned from the year-long absence in the season
six finale "Red Sleigh Down", and has remained a main character since,
and has been given larger roles in episodes. His character no longer
dies each week, and has only been killed occasionally in episodes
following his return, at least once per season. Only Season 12 and
17 do not feature a single death regarding Kenny.
Whether the fictional universe was realistic or fantastic, the continuity of the viewers human interest in the characters and their situation compelled them to willingly suspend disbelief. Overlooking the inconsistencies between their real world and the fictional universe of the story, they they simply enjoy the story.