Archivists dig up broadcasting's lost programs

In the first Super Bowl 32 years ago, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. There were 61,946 in attendance that day at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but those who weren’t there and would like to take a look at how our current Super Bowl hysteria began are sorely out of luck.

Why? Would you believe that the videotape of the very first Super Bowl, traditionally one of the highest-rated television programs of the year, no longer exists? The tape of the very first championship game between the then-fledgling AFL and the established NFL — recorded by two networks — was later erased.

As hard as it is to believe that this game could be eliminated from TV history, it isn’t the only high-profile program of which there’s no record.

How about the first televised address from the White House (Harry S. Truman, Oct. 5, 1947), the first six months of the “Texaco Star Theater,” which Milton Berle would go on to host, or the first night of “The Tonight Show,” hosted by Nebraska farm boy Johnny Carson? All are nowhere to be found.

The Museum of Television & Radio has made a concerted effort to find lost shows. If located, the museum airs them at its Beverly Hills facility or on Nick at Nite sister channel TV Land, with whom it has a partnership.

The cabler recently aired selected “All in the Family” episodes, including a never-before-seen pilot. Here, the Bunkers were the Justices, with Rob Reiner’s role played by Chip Oliver and Sally Struthers’ Gloria by Candace Azzara. If not for the work of the museum, these early episodes of a landmark series would be lost forever.

“People assume everything is preserved,” says museum president Robert Batscha. “When looking for lost programs, we try to research them as extensively as possible and contact the people who worked on the shows. Sometimes programs emerge when a spouse dies and people go through their belongings.”

The museum has been searching for lost tapes for a decade now, its first success involving the rediscovery of a half-dozen missing episodes of the classic “The Honeymooners.” Soon after, series star Jackie Gleason came up with the entire collection.

Says TV Land general manager Larry Jones: “We’re associated with the museum because we love television like they do. When you hear the stuff that’s missing, you can’t believe it. In television’s infancy, a lot was lost. We’re much more respectful of the art now.”

Jones echoes Batscha in suggesting that there could be scores of lost episodes just waiting to be uncovered in the homes of people who worked in television.

“I can guarantee you there are people living in Beverly Hills who have tapes sitting in their basement somewhere. It’s important that someone should be saving this,” Jones says.

The museum is currently is screening Bob Dylan’s “Eat the Document,” a documentary that has been out of the public eye for 20 years. It showcases Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe, in which the singer made the shift from folk singer to full-fledged rock ‘n’ roller. And opening the annual William S. Paley festival last March was the original, uncut “Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana” episode of “The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show,” not seen in its entirety since Nov. 6, 1957.

TV connoisseurs also can bone up at the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Research & Study Center, which houses nearly 220,000 individual holdings.

Three to five times a year, the center will screen a classic program at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood that is open to UCLA students and TV Academy members.

While shows like “All in the Family” and “The Honeymooners” are known to television buffs and novices alike, lower-profile shows also played a role in the growth of the industry while influencing and representing what was happening in the country at large at the time of the broadcast.

Dan Einstein, TV archivist at the UCLA center, points to a little-known show from the mid-1950s as an example of how Cold War hostilities gripped America.

“The most interesting stuff are the shows nobody knows about,” Einstein says. “There was a local show called ‘Adventures in Hypnotism.’ In this particular episode, a man hypnotizes this woman and asks her to look into the future, tells her it is now 1970 and asks what’s going on. The woman says that the Russians have invaded us. How deep did this fear go?”

Fifty years from now, however, there should be little fear that any TV programs from the late 20th century will have been lost. For what passes as primetime entertainment these days, though, perhaps some selective erasing wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

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