The Loot, The Warrant: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 2
I’m still getting used to Twitter.
I joined back in 2009 when I started college so that I could keep up with what I thought was the important stuff going on in the world, like what was being served for lunch in the student center or when the free Plain White T’s concert was starting. Otherwise, the system of retweeting, following, and replying never grabbed me the way other social media did. I host a podcast called Stranger Than Christian that’s been going strong for the past few months, and to that end I’ve gotten around to using Twitter @strangerthanC to engage with listeners, as well as communicate with potential guests and fellow podcasters.
Twitter would prove itself to be an invaluable resource as I continued my journey into the mystery of Auld Lang Gone.
Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego was co-produced for PBS stations by WQED in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and WGBH in Boston. WGBH, in particular, has become known to generations of film researchers and students for its Media Library and Archive, a behemoth undertaking containing thousands upon thousands of hours of video. WGBH’s immense collection spans their history in television, from the station’s 1951 inaugural broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra to footage from the present day. Research is open to the public by appointment in their offices in Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston located in the northwestern corner of the city.
Surely this was the place I needed.
A search for “wgbh archive” brought me to the official page for the archive project. Perhaps because I didn’t immediately see an option to contact the staff by email, or perhaps because I was impatient to solve this mystery, I reasoned that Twitter would be the fastest and most efficient way of making contact with someone, preferably an archivist, who could help me find the footage I was seeking.
Within minutes, I received a reply via direct message from Ms. Davis-Kaufman, inviting me to email her personally so that she could be of assistance. I sent an email explaining what I was doing and what I was looking for, and included:
I’ve recently been in touch with Paul Byers, director of engineering at WQED in Pittsburgh, and Paul was kind and helpful enough to pull the tape from the archive…until he realized it was the wrong series. He then informed me that he is fairly certain that the tapes for the original Carmen Sandiego series were sent back to WGBH.
I hit Send.
While I waited, I told my wife, Cat, that I may need to drive to Boston at some point in the very near future.
“Why?” Cat said, furrowing her brow as she struggled to catch a hammerhead shark in Animal Crossing.
“Well, I’m writing this thing about this lost episode of that old show Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego, and I already talked to someone at the PBS station in Pittsburgh but they don’t have the tape I’m looking for, but the guy said that the tapes are probably at the archive in Boston, so I tweeted to the archivists in Boston and I’m waiting for them to tell me they have it, but the show was produced by the stations in Pittsburgh and Boston, so if Pittsburgh doesn’t have it then Boston has to have it, but I’ll probably have to go watch it in person because research is open to the public by appointment in their offices in Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston located in the northwestern corner of the city.”
“Cool,” Cat responded. “Have you picked up your prescriptions yet?”
An hour later, I received a reply.
Thank you for your interest in historic WGBH programs. The episode in question, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?; 266; Auld Lang Gone, never aired and we do not hold a copy of this footage in our archive. We do hold paper documentation related to this season, but it has not yet been determined if the episode is included in this documentation.
It could also be possible that WQED mistakenly searched their archive for Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? instead of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? However, the media in question could have been sent back to us and recorded over or not saved at all.
Recorded over? Not saved at all?
From what I knew about television production, an episode of any series, whether it’s a game show, soap opera, or local news broadcast, represents an enormous financial investment. Between the time spent in the studio, the number of cast and crew members on the show’s payroll (in Carmen Sandiego’s case, it was approximately 150 people), the time spent in post-production, music rights clearance, the price of tape stock, and what I’m sure is at least a dozen other expenses I’m not aware of, the cost of making a half-hour of television could easily reach into the tens of thousands, if not much more. It didn’t make sense to me that the tape, and by extension all of that money, would just be trashed. Besides, a kid was hurt on this show. Wouldn’t Jasmine’s parents have wanted to see it? At the very least, wouldn’t the Domans’ family attorney, or PBS’s legal team, had some interest in holding on to that footage?
I felt lost. And, as in many other moments in life when I felt hopelessly lost, I reached out to a friend.