ALL IN THE GAME
The "Lost" Episodes
The anathema of classic game show
enthusiasts are the network executives who
ordered the erasure of 1960s and '70s-era
episodes of viewer favorites. Those "suits"
are to game show fans over 35 as the
Alabama Crimson Tide is to Auburn football
Game shows are not all which have
bitten the dust. Try the first six years of
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
How about the first two Super Bowls?
When Carson ended his 30-year run on NBC, the opening of the premiere episode from 1962 had to be virtually re-created with video and graphics cheated from a 1968 edition and an audio tape miraculously discovered in the hands of a home viewer. A call has been extended for years for anyone who can produce those first two NFL-AFL championships of the Green Bay Packers. Don't hold your breath. VCRs were barely into the home market with cassettes by 1975.
Why were these gems and hundreds of classic game show tapes destroyed? Supposedly, because television was a young medium, most network brass did not grasp the historical value of the shows. When warehouse space became clogged, the bulky 2-inch wide tapes---which were the broadcast standard for years---were either erased and re-used or jettisoned. Mike Douglas remains furious today at Group W for erasing many of his classic talk show episodes without his knowledge.
Yet, another reason stands behind the tragic loss. Geoff Edwards, whose Jackpot! of 1974-75 is among the many which are 99% lost and gone forever, says even producers in that era did not realize the rerun value. "Nobody thought you'd have any reason to run those shows again after everyone knew the questions and answers," says Edwards. "Nobody knew cable was going to become what it is today, either." Veteran Jack Narz says virtually the same. "In the early days, you did them live and they were over," says Narz. "You just didn't think about reruns with game shows."
Why, then, were so many shows saved from the Goodson-Todman library of the 1950s through the current Price Is Right? One primary reason: in the days before videotape (and many local stations did not begin using videotape for delayed broadcasts of network programs until as late as 1967), live and videotaped shows were filmed on kinescope machines if local stations chose to air the programs at hours other than when networks fed them. This happened frequently in many markets outside the nation's top 50 where smaller cities were not served by three different network affiliates until the late '60s or early '70s. Some two-network markets saw stations "cherrypick" the best of more than one network's shows. (For example, in 1967, WRBL in Columbus, Ga., a CBS station, picked up several NBC shows because Columbus had no NBC affiliate. In the summer of 1967, NBC aired a nighttime version of Let's Make a Deal Sunday nights at 8:30. WRBL delayed Deal until the following Saturday at 6 on a kinescope).
Goodson-Todman's three classic panel shows (along with the now-revived The Name's the Same on Game Show Network) were all preserved in their nighttime versions on kinescope. Those alone account for nearly 2,000 episodes, just on weekly editions. G-T was cognizant of the value of the celebrity names who guested on those shows, as well. So why weren't the pre-color daytime versions of Password and To Tell the Truth likewise preserved (until late 1965)? According to a production executive of GSN during its first year, "It was just too expensive to save five two-inch tapes for daytime, as opposed to one kinescope for the nighttime shows."
A few oddities dot the landscape of the surviving game show libraries. The next-to-last episode of the CBS nighttime To Tell the Truth was inexplicably preserved on color tape, the only one in the series so saved. A classic 1962 Password with Jack and Joan Benny as the players is not shown as part of the GSN package but circulates in a poor quality kinescope among videotape traders. GSN has sat on seven years of I've Got a Secret episodes sponsored by Winston and Cavalier cigarettes (as well as two years of alternate-week To Tell the Truth shows sponsored by Marlboro and some Newport-sponsored Bill Cullen Price Is Right shows) because the tobacco logos were so prominently displayed on the sets. In the summer of 1997, for six weeks before GSN abandoned the G-T library, some of those episodes surfaced on Friday nights in a "Lost Episodes" package. The Federal Trade Commission okayed GSN airing the shows as long as the network agreed to air 30-second anti-smoking messages at the beginning of each commercial break.
Among the apparent tragic casualties of the purge of taped episodes: most of the Chuck Woolery Wheel of Fortune shows of 1975-82, the Art Fleming Jeopardy! shows of both Fleming versions, all but three episodes of the original NBC Match Game, the CBS version of The $10,000 Pyramid, Tom Kennedy's Split Second, Bob Eubanks' Rhyme and Reason, Kennedy's legendary You Don't Say!, Narz' Seven Keys and Video Village, the CBS daytime Beat the Clock of the 1950s and the daytime NBC Price Is Right. The Goodson-Todman catalog still lists the 1971-75 ABC Password episodes but we have been assured they were erased. Reportedly, NBC still has in its possession the original Hugh Downs Concentration on kinescope and the Jack Narz edition on tape but will not release them. NBC still owns the rights to the series, based on its purchase of Barry and Enright properties during the quiz scandals. The network merely licensed its production to Goodson-Todman for the Narz and Alex Trebek versions. GSN attempted to purchase those episodes in 1994 and NBC refused to sell them.
However, one bombshell has just been dropped on The Game Show Convention Center. One of the most sought-after shows of tape traders is the 1974-81 Tom Kennedy edition of Name That Tune. Only three known episodes circulate among the tape collecting contingent. The prevailing view has been those syndicated shows went to the same funeral home as many of their '70s brethren. Last week, TGSCC learned from a highly-placed source, the Kennedy Tune episodes are very much alive in the vault of their executive producer, Ralph Edwards. For reasons known only to Edwards himself, we were told the This Is Your Life legend is not anxious to release those shows. From this corner, they would be a prize of "lost" episodes akin to the sudden "rediscovery" by Jackie Gleason of his 1951-55 Honeymooners sketches in 1985.
Preservation of game shows, particularly with the advent of GSN, is now a much more precise science for that producer seeing potential residuals. Yet, very little of what has been produced in the '90s has been worth saving. Nonetheless, we will make you this wager. Regardless if it's a hit or a miss, Michael Davies will be certain to hang onto his episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? over the next two weeks. And thousands of VCRs will be rolling to keep network television's most ambitious effort at a prime time game in nearly 40 years as anything but a batch of memories or "lost episodes."
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