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“Gone” But Not Forgotten: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 1

“Gone” But Not Forgotten: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 1
Christian Carrion

Friday, August 14.

The next morning, I received a text from Tom.

“Dude. I need to figure this out.”

Attached was a screenshot of the Trivia section of the IMDB page for Auld Lang Gone, which read, in part:

“This episode, which never aired, was plagued with on-screen chaos…During the final round, the winning gumshoe, Jasmine Doman, slipped and broke her arm on the floor map of Europe. WQED-TV Pittsburgh stopped production for a moment until the runner-up, Ed Mann, completed the map round for her, with 13 seconds remaining. WQED-TV has declined to comment on whether they still have a tape of the episode. They confirm taping the show, but not editing it.”

I opened another tab in my browser and searched for “carmen sandiego auld lang gone”. Among the results were tidbits of information that I had heretofore not heard. Host Greg Lee suffered from laryngitis on the day of taping, so Nickelodeon host Marc Summers was brought in as a substitute emcee for the episode. Lee took the place of Lynne Thigpen that day and played the role of the Chief. During one question, Gene Wilder made a walk-on appearance. 

This didn’t make sense.

Marc Summers had stated in several interviews that he was witness to a contestant’s broken bone on the set of his own show, Double Dare. Was he the only game show host that tended to two compound fractures on television, let alone one of them occurring on the only episode of the show he hosted? Why would Gene Wilder have been there? What was he promoting? His NBC sitcom Something Wilder wouldn’t happen for another two years, and his last big-screen role had been opposite an ailing Richard Pryor in the financially and critically unsuccessful 1991 film Another You. Why was Greg Lee given another on-screen speaking role that day if he had no voice? Where was Lynne Thigpen? Nothing was adding up.

The last discussion I could find online regarding anything resembling a serious inquiry into Auld Lang Gone was a thread on the Game Show Forum message board from back in 2009. The results of that exploration provided nothing that the trivia section of IMDB hadn’t already told me. Perhaps I could use my journalism school experience and put some legwork into finding this tape once and for all. Holy shit, that would be cool.

I set to work at once.

In my mind, one of the enduring images of Carmen Sandiego was the animated globe that appeared at the top of each episode, accompanied by the Chief’s announcement: “Today’s caper is presented by WQED Pittsburgh and WGBH Boston.” The show was a joint production spearheaded in tandem by the two PBS stations, meeting somewhere in the middle and producing the show’s 5 seasons at various television facilities around New York City.

Pittsburgh is only a few hours’ drive away from me. Let’s start there.

A search for “WQED archive” yielded a page containing contact info for Paul Byers, Executive Chief of Engineering and 50-year veteran of QED. I sent Paul an email:

Good morning!

I’m the news editor for Buzzerblog.com, a website dedicated to game shows and other unscripted television…and I’m hoping you may be the right person to contact. 

I’m currently working on a piece about examples of lost media in game shows, and I was informed of an episode of the 90s children’s game show Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego that, for several reasons, was left unaired.

How would I get in touch with whoever maintains WQED’s video archive, so that I may inquire about this particular episode? Any information appreciated. Thank you—stay safe!

Christian Carrion
News Editor, Buzzerblog

The following Monday, I received a reply:

Christian,

We have the “Carmen” tapes in our archive, so if you tell me the episode number that you’re looking for, I’ll dig it out.

Paul

There was no way it could be that easy. Maybe once I tell him what episode it is, he’ll shriek and his face will melt away like that part in Indiana Jones.

This would/should have been season 2, episode 66. Intended air date was October 12, 1992, but it was replaced with a rerun of season 2 episode 1 (Disturbing the Heavenly Peace).

Thank you so much!

– Christian.

I hit Send and tried to go about my day in as normal a fashion as I could. In the back of my mind, however, I was fixated. Could this be the end to a years-long rumor? Was I going to be the one to unearth a holy grail of the game show world? Can I get a day off of work to drive to Pittsburgh?

I was always told that the first step to success is to envision yourself enjoying the success you want. As clear as day, I could envision my trip to WQED, being led through their archive to a dusty monitor and a tape deck. The man in charge of the archive, who may or may not have a mustache, would hand me a pair of headphones, smile warmly, and say “Welcome, friend.” Then I would watch a child break her arm.

I was driving to the supermarket in the next town when my email notification sound went off.

I pulled over and saw a new message on my phone with the subject Re: Archival Question:

Christian,

I have the episode.

Paul

Continued in part two.

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