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11 Great Television Shows That Are Lost Forever

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Much early television was broadcast live and never recorded. This included news and variety shows, of course, but also early dramas and comedy series. Even recorded shows have not been safe. Film recordings were disposed of, to clear storage space or make way for new equipment. Video—useful, but expensive—was frequently erased and re-used. Nobody back in the 1960s was thinking of DVD sales. While many of the TV greats are still safe for an eternity of reruns, these 11 are either partly or completely missing.

1. Mary Kay and Johnny (1947-1950)

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America’s first television sitcom starred a real-life married couple as a zany wife and her relatively normal husband, trying to stop her from causing too much mayhem.  It wasn’t I Love Lucy, or even the slightly earlier George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Nope. Mary Kay and Johnny was the first series to show the lead married couple sharing a bed (not The Brady Bunch, as you might have heard) and the first to incorporate the leading lady’s pregnancy into the storyline (once again, not I Love Lucy).

So why is it so obscure? Like most television in the 1940s, this DuMont production was broadcast live (from New York) and not recorded, so we don’t know for sure whether it would still make us laugh. Kinescopes were made of later episodes, to be broadcast on the west coast, but even most of these were destroyed. The Paley Center for Media owns one full episode from 1949, but only a few fragments of later episodes remain. John Stearns went on to produce comedy variety shows. His wife, Mary Kay Stearns, did very little else on television – though to the best of our knowledge she is still alive, aged 86. Here’s an interview with the couple from 1999.

2. Jerome I. Rodale’s death on The Dick Cavett Show (1971)

This episode is part of television folklore, but unless you were in the live audience that night, you probably haven’t seen it.

Rodale, head of a multimillion-dollar publishing empire and one of the very first promoters of organic food, appeared on the popular late-night show at the height of his fame, having just appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. According to Cavett, Rodale was “extremely funny” for half an hour, boasting about his good health. However, during Cavett’s interview with New York Post columnist Pete Hamill, the host and guest noticed that something was wrong with Rodale. He'd suffered a fatal heart attack during Hamill's segment. “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred,” Rodale had announced during his interview just a few minutes earlier. He was 72.

The episode was never aired, and the only way you could have seen the recording, Cavett believes, is “if you knew a couple of ABC engineers who ran off a copy that night to take home to spook their wives and girlfriends.” Nonetheless, he wrote in 2007 that he still meets people who swear that they saw the broadcast. Such is its reputation that they believe that they were there to witness history.

3. The Avengers (1961)

The first season of this classic British spy series now seems like an oddity. There was no sign of action women Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) or Cathy Gale (Honore Blackman). Even the dashing John Steed (Patrick Macnee), who would be the star through most of the series’ nine-year tenure, was relegated to second-billing. The original star was Ian Hendry (formerly of the short-lived series Police Surgeon) as Dr. David Keel, who teamed up with Steed to solve crimes. So it was different from the “classic” Avengers of judo and sexy leather costumes, but was it any good? Sadly, it’s hard to say. Of the 26 episodes produced that first season, only two still exist – including one that only features Keel, with no sign of Steed. Some of the other episodes were broadcast live in the UK but never committed to film.

4. A for Andromeda (1961)

The British Broadcasting Corporation produced countless hours of television in the 1950s and 1960s – and wiped over most of it to save space. Recently, thanks to a public appeal, they have been filling gaps in their archives. One show that is still largely missing is the science-fiction serial A for Andromeda, which made a star of Julie Christie. Only one episode is known to survive, returned to BBC by a private collector in 2005.

5. The first episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson* (1962)

Johnny Carson was king of the late-night talk shows for three decades – and he had a great start. In the first episode, the wisecracking host was introduced not by Ed McMahon’s famous call of “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!”, but by a monologue from Groucho Marx. The guest list was no less impressive: Rudy Vallee, Tony Bennett, Joan Crawford, and a young comedian named Mel Brooks. It sounds like a terrific 105 minutes of television, but – like most Carson shows in the 1960s – it’s probably gone for good.

6. Walter Cronkite reads the CBS News (1962-1967)

You have probably seen the footage of Walter Cronkite momentarily unable to hide his sadness at the news that President Kennedy had been killed. (A clip was featured in the film JFK.) You might have even seen the footage of Cronkite the previous year, informing the nation of the Cuban Missile Crisis (especially if you saw X-Men: First Class). If you remember any of Cronkite’s other broadcasts from the era, however, you must have an excellent memory. Though he was “the most trusted man in America” for decades, most of his bulletins from the 1960s no longer survive. Until 1968, those two stories were the only clips deemed worthy of saving.

7. The Madhouse on Castle Street (1963)

Another victim of the BBC’s wiping policy was this TV play by Evan Jones, about a man who has decided to “retire from the world,” much to the concern of his family and friends. The play is notable for featuring the first acting performance by a young American folk singer named Bob Dylan, who sang his new song "Blowin’ in the Wind" over the opening and closing credits. No video footage survives.

8. Doctor Who (1964-1969)

Probably the most sought-after missing episodes of any TV show. Again, the BBC destroyed many episodes from the 1960s, when it was a popular but low-budget kids’ show. Although several have been retrieved, 108 episodes are still missing. Fortunately, audio recordings exist of every episode, thanks to some fans. They didn’t have video recorders back in the sixties, but they still recorded the episodes on reel-to-reel tapes. (Media piracy is no new concept.)

Using these recordings, many audio adventures have been released by BBC Audio, with digitally enhanced soundtracks, and some of the original actors filling in the gaps with their narration. In 2006, the BBC released a digitally restored DVD of the 1968 story “The Invasion" in which the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) fights some of his greatest foes, the Cybermen. Two of the eight episodes of “The Invasion” are missing, so animation house Cosgrove Hall produced black-and-white animated versions of the two episodes using the vintage audio recordings.

9. Search for Tomorrow (1951-1968)

This daytime soap lasted for an amazing 35 years, finally giving everyone a happy ending in 1986. Yet little survives of the most fondly remembered (and highest-rated) first 16 years, when it aired as a 15-minute serial alongside its sister series, Guiding Light, before becoming a half-hour show. At the time, it was broadcast live, but from 1968, it was pre-recorded. Live episodes were a thing of the past… until 1983, when all copies of an episode were lost, and the cast were forced to perform it live for the first time in 16 years.

NBC was accused of making up the whole “lost episode” story as a publicity stunt – perhaps devised by someone who had seen this happen in the movie Tootsie. Fortunately, unlike Tootsie, nobody veered too far from the script, but the episode was still something of a disaster. Other classic soap operas fared better on kinescope: the entire series of Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless are still available, should you find yourself with a few years’ worth of free time.

10. At Last the 1948 Show (1967)

It wasn’t only the BBC that discarded great British television shows. This show, produced commercially, introduced the influential Cambridge Footlights comedy stars to television. The cast included two future Monty Python stars—John Cleese and Graham Chapman—as well as up-and-coming comedy legends Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor. Despite its significance and popularity, it lasted only 13 episodes, a mere five of which still exist in full.

11. The Magnificent Marble Machine (1975-1976)

Only two complete episodes now exist of this celebrity game show. Marble Machine was hosted by Art James, and a shining example of 70s kitsch. (In the 70s, this was all right.) Game shows didn’t survive well, in general. A significant number of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune episodes have also been destroyed.

Do you remember any of these shows? How about some others that didn't make the list?

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10 Far-Out Facts About Futurama
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In 1999, Matt Groening followed-up the monumental success of The Simpsons with an idea for a sci-fi comedy that he’d been tinkering around with for years. With influences ranging from groundbreaking sci-fi movies like Blade Runner to shows like The Jetsons and pulpy ‘50s comics like Weird Science, Futurama proved to be yet another winner for the cartoonist. Characters like Fry, Bender, and Leela quickly became fan favorites, rivaling Homer, Marge, and the rest of Springfield for quotability. The show was also a hit with the critics, winning plenty of Annie and Emmy Awards along the way.

Never a ratings juggernaut to a larger audience, the show only lasted four seasons on Fox before being cancelled in 2003. Neither the production staff nor the series’ loyal fan base would give up on Futurama, though, and the series was revived for an additional three seasons on Comedy Central from 2008 through 2013. Here are 10 things you might not know about Futurama

1. THE SHOW’S NAME COMES FROM AN EXHIBIT AT THE 1939 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Though Matt Groening’s Futurama takes a comedic look at what the future might hold for us, the name is based on a very real-world version of the world of tomorrow. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens, GM built a mammoth attraction called Futurama, which was a scale-model city showing off the predicted wonders of 1960.

The model was the brainchild of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes and his team of hundreds of artists and builders. It spanned an impressive 35,000 square feet, and gave audiences a glimpse at what a city might look like in the next 20 years, with the highlight being a monolithic utopia peppered with mountainous skyscrapers and a web of superhighways for futuristic GM cars to travel on. Visitors would sit in chairs that moved on a conveyer belt around the model, showing off all the wonders they could look forward to.

To pay homage to its namesake, the first thing Fry hears when he’s defrosted in the future during the pilot episode is the bellowing sound of a lab worker proclaiming “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow,” which was one of the heavily advertised themes of the fair.

2. THE THEME SONG WAS INSPIRED BY A TUNE CALLED “PSYCHE ROCK.”

Futurama’s main theme, composed by Christopher Tyng, bears a striking resemblance to the song “Psyché Rock" by French electronic artist Pierre Henry. The songs are so similar that the Futurama theme basically acts as a remix to Henry’s work. The song has also been remixed by Fatboy Slim, which is even closer to the Futurama version. 

3. GETTING THE SHOW ON THE AIR WAS A DIFFICULT PROCESS FOR MATT GROENING.

Though Matt Groening and the team over on The Simpsons have the freedom to mostly govern themselves, getting Futurama off the ground was a different story. When asked by Mother Jones in 1999 about getting the show on the air, Groening said, “It has been by far the worst experience of my grown-up life.”

He further explained that, “The second they ordered it, they completely freaked out and were afraid the show was too dark and mean-spirited, and thought they had made a huge mistake and that the only way they could address their anxieties was to try to make me as crazy as possible with their frustrations.”

Despite the battles with the network, Groening and his team didn’t cave, saying, “I resisted every step of the way. In one respect, I will take full blame for the show if it tanks, because I resisted every single bit of interference."

4. CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN IS A MATH WHIZ.

When Groening was developing Futurama into a pitch, he had one key Simpsons writer in mind to collaborate with: David S. Cohen. Cohen (who is credited as David X. Cohen for Futurama) was known for some of the most popular Simpsons episodes of the mid-‘90s, including "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie," "Lisa The Vegetarian," and "Much Apu About Nothing."

“After I assembled a few hundred pages of ideas, I got together with David Cohen, one of the writers and executive producers on The Simpsons, who is also a lover of science fiction and has a great knowledge of science and mathematics,” Groening told Mother Jones.

The emphasis on mathematics may sound odd, but it became a hallmark of the series. Dealing with sci-fi plots allowed Cohen to bring a certain authenticity to some of the more complex episodes; he was also able to sneak in all sorts of esoteric mathematical jokes for the like-minded viewers. This is similar to how math played a role on The Simpsons for years without ever becoming distracting to casual viewers. 

Cohen’s mathematical background goes far beyond the norm. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics, and from the University of California, Berkeley, with an M.S. in computer science. This knowledge gave way to plenty of in-jokes, including the creation of a numerical-based alien language and countless background gags that only the brainiest viewers would have a shot at deciphering.

5. ZAPP BRANNIGAN WAS GOING TO BE VOICED BY PHIL HARTMAN.

The character of Zapp Brannigan was originally written with actor Phil Hartman in mind for the voice, but he was tragically killed before he would have begun recording. The role then went to Billy West, who also voices Fry and Professor Farnsworth. In an interview with The New York Times, West says he based his Brannigan on disc jockeys from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There's also a bit of Hartman's signature, Troy McClure-esque sound in there. 

6. JOHN DIMAGGIO ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH USING BENDER’S VOICE.

Figuring out what Bender would sound like wasn’t an easy task for the folks in charge of Futurama. Would it be a human voice, or something more synthesized like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet? The crew auditioned dozens and dozens of voice actors in an attempt to find the perfect Bender, with no luck.

At the same time, voice actor John DiMaggio was auditioning for a role on the show against his agent’s wishes, who worried about both the money and contract being offered. At first he auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth, using a boorish, drunken voice he partially based on Slim Pickens. The voice didn’t work for the professor, but according to the DVD commentary for the show’s pilot, the producers asked him to try it out for Bender. The voice instantly clicked, leading to the creation of the show’s breakout character.

7. THE NIXON LIBRARY EVENTUALLY CAME AROUND TO HIS HEAD BEING IN A JAR.

Richard Nixon famously proclaimed that the media wouldn’t have him to “kick around anymore” back in 1962; little did he know the jabs would keep coming for decades in the real world, and centuries into the fictional future as a nightmarish version of the former president with his head preserved in a jar was proclaimed President of Earth in Futurama.

With Billy West providing the jowly voice of the former Commander-in-Chief, Nixon became a villain for a whole new generation. And the Richard Nixon Library wasn’t very happy about it at first.

“[E]arly on in the show the network got a letter from the Richard Nixon Library saying they weren’t pleased with his portrayal and would we consider not doing it,” Cohen told WIRED.

But a few years later, things changed.

“We didn’t really stop, however, because we liked it, but the strange thing is that … a few years later we got another letter from the Nixon Library saying can we provide some materials because they’re going to do an exhibit about Nixon in popular culture and they’d like to include Futurama, so they came around.”

8. WRITER KEN KEELER INVENTED A NEW THEOREM JUST FOR THE SHOW.

In addition to Cohen, Futurama is staffed by a roster of Ivy League graduates with backgrounds in science and math. But while writing one episode, the staff had created a plot so complex that the crew soon found itself stumped.

The episode was “The Prisoner of Brenda” from the sixth season, and it involved a brain-switching machine that could swap the minds of any two people that stepped into it. There was only one problem: once used, the machine couldn’t be used twice to swap the same two minds back to normal. This means numerous pairs of other characters would have to use the machine in a roundabout plan to restore everyone’s mind to their proper body.

Though the idea sounded like a winner to the writers, Cohen recalled that they soon realized they had to create a mathematical explanation that could get everyone’s mind back. It was like a nightmarish SAT problem for the staff. That is until writer Ken Keeler, who has a PhD in mathematics, created a completely unique theorem that proved this plot was possible.

“Ken comes in the next morning with a stack of paper and he said, ‘I’ve got the proof,’ and he had proven that no matter how mixed up people’s brains are, if you bring in two new people who have not had their brains switched, then everybody can always get their original brain back, including those two new people,” Cohen told WIRED. “So I was very excited about this, because you rarely get to see science, let alone math, be the hero of a comedy episode of TV.”

In the episode, the mathematical heroes that solve the problem are none other than the Harlem Globetrotters, who are among Earth’s elite intellectuals in the 31st century.

9. THE SHOW’S USE OF FORESHADOWING IS INTENSE.

Futurama touts more than just science and math cred; the show is also one of the more intricately plotted animated series of the past 20 years. The show is notorious for leaving morsels of foreshadowing in episodes that pay off weeks, months, or even years down the road.

Plot points like Fry being his own grandfather and Leela’s mutant heritage were all hinted at before they became reality, but the most obscure piece of foreshadowing came right in the pilot episode. It happens right as Fry is leaning back in the chair that would “accidentally” topple over and send him into the cryogenic chamber, leaving him thawed out in the 31st century. For a brief moment, a shadow flashed across the screen with no explanation—at the time, it likely went unnoticed by many viewers.

Fast forward to the season 4 episode “The Why of Fry,” and we learn that the shadow belonged to Nibbler, who had traveled back in time to 1999 to push Fry into the chamber because he was the key to stopping an alien invasion in the 31st century. It's just one example of the type of intricate world-building that the writers of the show poured into every episode.

10. EACH EPISODE TOOK ABOUT A YEAR TO COMPLETE.

Every episode of Futurama is a labor of love, with each joke and frame of animation put under intense scrutiny. Because of this, there is a lot of work involved in the show—about a year’s worth for each episode.

“It's usually somewhere in the vicinity of a year from the beginning of a Futurama episode to the day when you can see it on TV,” David Cohen told The Atlantic.

This starts with a story idea, which is then assigned to a writer for an outline and first draft. From there, the first draft is dissected in the writers’ room on a “word-by-word, scene-by-scene basis.”

Then it’s recorded by the actors—like an old-timey radio show, according to Cohen—and then it’s given to the animators. That process involves animatics and final animation, which can take around six months to finalize. 

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The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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