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11 Great Television Shows That Are Lost Forever

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)

Image credit: CBS/Landov

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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8 Surprising Facts About the Suez Crisis
Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images
Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images

Season two of The Crown opens on a full-blown catastrophe: 1956's Suez Crisis. This mass failing of diplomacy would diminish Britain’s world standing and severely damage relationships between multiple nations for years to come. It began with the seizure of the Suez Canal and ended with a UN ceasefire. But there was an entire secret invasion in between that. Here are a few key details on the very messy international affair.

1. GAMAL ABDEL NASSER USED A CODE WORD TO SEIZE THE CANAL.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970) with British Prime Minister Anthony Eden (1897 - 1977) in Cairo, 1955
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser with British Prime Minister Anthony Eden in Cairo in 1955, a year before the Suez Crisis.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly 90 years after the canal opened, Gamal Abdel Nasser became president of Egypt. He spoke extensively about the canal and its creator, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in a July 26, 1956 speech. The Economist estimates he said the name “de Lesseps” at least 13 times. This wasn’t out of admiration. “De Lesseps” turned out to be a code word. Upon hearing it, Colonel Mahmoud Younes and his men seized control of the Suez Canal Company offices in Cairo, Port Said, and Suez. Nasser declared the canal theirs, which is what led to the Suez Crisis.

2. IT WAS ALL OVER A DAM.

Nasser had a specific reason for taking the canal: He wanted to construct the Aswan Dam to control flooding and drought in the region, but he needed money to do so. The United States and Great Britain had offered him a $70 million grant to begin construction on the project, but Nasser was also considering an offer from the Soviet Union. Both America and the UK were growing increasingly frustrated with Nasser. They were outraged over his dealings with communist nations of China and Czechoslovakia, and believed he was playing both sides of the Cold War to his benefit. Britain withdrew its offer first; America followed on July 19, 1956. Just days after Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made the announcement, Nasser seized the canal, intending to use its revenues to finance the dam himself.

3. FRANCE, BRITAIN, AND ISRAEL WERE NO FANS OF NASSER.

Picture released on November 1956 of French troops disembarking at Port Fuad, Egypt, during the Suez crisis
French troops disembarking at Port Fuad, Egypt, in November 1956.
AFP/Getty Images

The Suez Crisis forged an alliance between France, Britain, and Israel, who all despised Nasser. Sir Brian Urquhart, a retired UN diplomat, told NPR, “The one thing I think they all agreed on was the unspoken phrase regime change. They all wanted to see the last of Gamal Abdel Nasser as the president of Egypt.” But they all had separate reasons. By that point, both Britain and France were major shareholders in the Suez Canal Company. France also believed Nasser was assisting Algerian rebels fighting for independence from their French colonizers. By Urquhart’s account, Israel had the biggest grievance: Nasser would not allow Israeli ships through the canal, and his government was also sponsoring Fedayeen terrorist raids into Israel. With these motivations in mind, the three nations hatched a plan to invade Egypt and take the Suez Canal back from Nasser.

4. THOSE THREE COUNTRIES COLLUDED ON A SECRET INVASION.

In October of 1956, representatives from France, Israel, and Britain convened just outside Paris, in Sèvres. They reached an agreement, which would become known as the Protocol of Sèvres: Israel would invade Egypt first, providing Britain and France with an alibi. They would invade next, as supposed peacekeepers. These joint invasions would allow the allies to take back the canal and punish Nasser. Once the protocol was finalized, UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden ordered all evidence of the plot destroyed. But the details did leak, and the impact was catastrophic.

5. QUEEN ELIZABETH HAD RESERVATIONS ABOUT THE PLAN.

Queen Elizabeth II at Badminton House, Gloucestershire in 1956
Tidmarsh/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what Queen Elizabeth II knew about the invasion, much less her opinion on it. Royal historian Robert Lacey has suggested that the Queen was not fully briefed on the Suez strategy. In Elizabeth the Queen, Sally Bedell Smith counters that the monarch had access to Suez documents through her “daily boxes” of important papers and correspondence. Regardless, it appears Elizabeth was not thrilled with the plan. Eden told Lacey that the Queen did not voice any disapproval, “nor would I claim that she was pro-Suez.” Elizabeth’s longtime courtier, Martin Charteris, put it much more bluntly: “I think the Queen believed Eden was mad.”

6. DWIGHT EISENHOWER WAS FURIOUS.

At least one person was openly livid about the plan: Dwight Eisenhower. According to J.P.D. Dunbabin, the American president anticipated some kind of invasion or strike after the U.S. elections. But when Israel took action on October 29, 1956, with France and Britain following just a few days later, he was blindsided. “I’ve just never seen great powers make such a complete mess and botch of things,” he said at the time. “I think that Britain and France have made a terrible mistake.” Eisenhower led the charge in squashing the invasion, pressuring the International Monetary Fund to withhold any loans to Great Britain until they agreed to a ceasefire.

7. THE SUEZ CRISIS SPURRED THE FIRST ARMED UN PEACEKEEPING MISSION.

United Nations troops enter Port Said, on November 15, 1956 during the Suez Crisis.
United Nations troops enter Port Said, on November 15, 1956 during the Suez Crisis.
AFP/Getty Images

UN Peacekeeping officially began in 1948, when a group of UN observers traveled to Israel to monitor a ceasefire between the new nation and its Arab neighbors, but the Suez Crisis marked the first armed UN Peacekeeping intervention. After Britain and France accepted a UN ceasefire on November 7, 1956, the UN dispatched a delegation to monitor the armistice and restore order. According to Urquhart, it was this mission that earned the group its nickname, the “blue helmets.” The UN had wanted to send the taskforce in with blue berets, but didn’t have time to assemble the uniforms. So instead, they spray-painted the liners of their plastic helmets blue.

8. THE CRISIS KILLED ANTHONY EDEN’S CAREER.

The Suez Crisis spelled the end for Anthony Eden. Soon after the ceasefire, he left Britain for three weeks to rest in Jamaica, on doctor’s orders. (He stayed at Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye estate.) When he returned, the British government was still reeling from the Suez Crisis. It was clear Eden would not survive the controversy. On January 10, 1957, he resigned with a report from four doctors stating “his health will no longer enable him to sustain the heavy burdens inseparable from the office of Prime Minister.” (Eden's reliance on Benzedrine has been a major plot point in The Crown, and many believe it's what clouded his judgment.) Eden would live for another 20 years, but the Suez Crisis was his legacy—one that defined his short term in office.

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11 Fast Facts About Cash Cab
Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel

Between 2005 and 2012, anyone hailing a taxi in New York harbored a secret wish: that they’d wind up in the Cash Cab. The mysterious vehicle was both a licensed city taxi and a mobile game show, one where passengers could win thousands of dollars just by answering a few trivia questions on the way to their destination. After five years away, it’s back on Discovery Channel with its original cabbie host, Ben Bailey. But before you slide into the Cash Cab seat once again, check out some trivia on the series itself. Who knows—it could come in handy during your next taxi ride.

1. THE SERIES ORIGINATED IN ENGLAND.

Before Cash Cab came to the U.S., it had a brief run in Britain. This Cash Cab aired on ITV with host John Moody. It kicked off in the summer of 2005 and, although producers had high hopes for the series, fizzled out by the following year.

2. THERE ARE CASH CABS ALL OVER THE WORLD NOW.

Since the American iteration of Cash Cab became a hit, the concept has expanded across the globe. Internationally, it’s earned airtime in India, Canada, Jamaica, Egypt, and many more countries. Just stateside, the show has had additional runs outside of New York. Check out a clip from Cash Cab Chicago, with host Beth Melewski, above.

3. BEN BAILEY HAD TO PASS A DRIVING TEST.

Before Ben Bailey was the host of Cash Cab, he was a stand-up comedian who drove limos to pay the bills. That side gig turned out to be useful when he auditioned for the show. According to NJ.com, Bailey demonstrated his skills behind the wheel by scoring a 92 on his taxi license exam. He got the Cash Cab job, and left his old chauffeuring job behind. But he still does stand-up comedy (in fact, he’s touring now).

4. BAILEY HAS SECRET HELPERS.

Cash Cab can’t run on one man or one vehicle alone; Bailey has a crew close by at all times. Esquire reported that a black van housing the audio and video team trails behind the car. Bailey also has assistants who hop into the cab after he has revealed his identity to passengers. They’ll get contestants to sign their release forms, then work the lights and music. These assistants also, crucially, keep track of how much money is on the line.

5. SOME CONTESTANTS ARE SELECTED AHEAD OF TIME.

Not all passengers are chosen randomly off the street. Some are prescreened, although even that process is a little sneaky. According to previous contestants, the Cash Cab staff often approaches people by saying they work for a made-up series called Show Me New York, where residents share their favorite spots in the city. They’ll give prospective contestants a quiz. If they do well, the staffers will tell them to go to a certain location to film their segment. That’s when they get in the cab, and Bailey reveals the ruse.

6. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO PLAY.

Ben Bailey and the Cash Cab
Discovery Channel

While most people shriek in delight when the lights go off in the Cash Cab, not everyone is into the game. Bailey told NPR that when the show was first starting out, people regularly declined to participate. “People would kind of look at me and go, 'I don’t know what this crazy cab driver is up to, but I am out of here,'" he said. After the show gained attention, more passengers stuck around. But Bailey still got some hold-outs.

“I’ve had a couple people who burst into tears in the cab when I’ve told them what was going on,” he told Thrillist. “One time someone seemed to have some sort of panic attack, and then another time, this one woman was having an awful day—she just wanted to get in the cab and get where she needed to go. I was like, ‘Why are you crying in the Cash Cab? This is supposed to be fun, man!’”

7. THE CASH CAB IS FREE.

Regardless of how well they do, contestants never pay a fare for riding in the Cash Cab. Bailey still runs the meter, because the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission requires drivers to keep a record of the trip, but there’s no fee at the end of the trip. As Bailey puts it: The Cash Cab is one of only two free rides in New York. The other is the Staten Island Ferry.

8. THE BIGGEST PAYOUT WAS $6200.

To date, the biggest winner in Cash Cab history is a man named Sam, who took a ride with Bailey in 2011. He correctly answered a Video Bonus question about the Bonneville Salt Flats, doubling his $3100 in prize money to $6200. Anyone looking to beat Sam this season had better study up on America’s salt pans.

9. THE ORIGINAL CASH CAB WAS A TOYOTA SIENNA.

During the show’s original run, the Cash Cab was a Toyota Sienna minivan, sporting the taxi number 1G12. According to the Associated Press, the specs were so well-known that fans would chant the taxi number at Bailey’s standup shows in New York.

10. THE OLD CASH CAB IS CURRENTLY IN BAILEY’S GARAGE.

When the old Cash Cab minivan retired, it wound up in Bailey’s own garage in Morristown, New Jersey. “My neighbors are like, ‘Are you a cab driver?’” he told Entertainment Weekly. Bailey admits that he sometimes takes the car out for a drive, to “get people excited just to disappoint them.”

11. NO ONE HAS EVER THROWN UP IN THE CASH CAB.

Bailey gets this question all the time and would like to set the record straight: Nobody has ever puked in the Cash Cab. “Surprisingly, no one has,” he told the New York Post. “Once in a while you get someone who is a little disgruntled when they lose, but no release of bodily [fluids] happens on my watch.”

Hopefully, that streak will continue with the show's return.

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