“Hope That Answers Your Question”: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 3
This is the third in a three-part series examining Auld Lang Gone, the long-rumored lost episode of the PBS game show Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Parts one and two previously appeared on Buzzerblog the week of August 23.
For a variety of reasons, my family was very late to the game in terms of owning a computer.
The idea of the internet flowing through my home was a wonder to me, albeit a wonder I wouldn’t know for the lion’s share of my childhood. The only game shows I knew were the ones that were shown on GSN, or the first-run stuff I got to watch with my dad while I was home over the summer. Many hazy summer afternoons were spent watching Michael Burger’s Match Game on the wicker couch and drinking Crystal Light lemonade. It was the 90s. It was fun.
Growing up, libraries held great significance for me. Although I’ve always adored reading—as a toddler, my dad taught me about words and letters using Scrabble tiles, and my mom would take me for walks and point to things as we saw them on the street so that I could verbalize what they were—the introduction of internet terminals at my public library was a game-changer. I had always heard that there was something on the internet for everyone. I had hoped that included me.
The first words I ever searched for on the Internet—on Yahoo, to be specific—were “game shows”. Plugging those words into a search engine was like opening a floodgate and being subsequently inundated with wave after wave of pure information. Home-spun websites with grainy RealVideo clips of old game show intros, sound effect .wav files, episode guides, and low-res screengrabs taken with a Snappy replaced most of my media diet. I watched, and listened, and read and read and read and read and read. Mike Klauss, Kris “Xanfan” Lane, Chuck Donegan, Jay Lewis, Brad Francini, John Ricci, Steve Beverly, Curt King, Randy Amasia…in my infinitesimal pocket of the universe, these guys—the guys who ran the sites, uploaded the videos, wrote the episode guides, took the screengrabs—were my favorite authors, my rock stars.
The library sold floppy disks for 50 cents each, and so I amassed a backpack full of data. I saved Mike Klauss’ entire Logo Library from tv-gameshows.com. John Ricci’s DOS games each had their own disk. I archived sound effects from shows I had never seen, because how else would I ever experience this media otherwise? I had ascended from being a kid who loved game shows to being a kid who lived game shows.
As I got slightly older, however, I realized that in my offline life, this narrow, esoteric interest I maintained was not easily shareable. I knew exactly zero people in real life who liked what I liked, let alone people who liked it with the same intensity as I did. To virtually everyone else around me, game shows were stupid, silly, not worthy of thought. Any attempts to share my passion with my classmates was met with blank stares, and occasionally a “shut up, Christian”.
Once, in high school, I had reached my time limit on one of the computers. The librarian, a tall woman whom I would guess was about my mother’s age, walked up to my desk and informed me that the library was closing. As I gathered my notebooks and hastily began to pack up, the librarian barked “What is this?!”
She snatched the mouse from in front of me and scrolled through my browser window. I was reading a Wheel of Fortune episode guide.
“You are so frustrating,” she said to me as she threw the mouse back down onto the desk in front of me with a loud clack and turned away in a huff.
In retrospect, I attribute my persistence in sharing my love of game shows to that wholesomely naive, piss-and-vinegar spirit that young kids have when they really love something and want to be “cool” and share it with everyone around them. Anyone my age who carried around a small binder of Pokemon cards everywhere they went can hopefully relate. I’m happy to have maintained that spirit in myself into adulthood, when my friends and I think it’s cool(!) to have narrow interests.
That being said, if I was going to solve the mystery of the lost 66th episode of season 2 of the PBS series Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego once and for all, it was going to happen now.
I emailed Howard Blumenthal.
Good afternoon Howard!
Before anything else, I need to let you know how important and beneficial Carmen Sandiego was for me as a child. Growing up in a swirling world of lights/bells/buzzers, etc, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego still stands out as one of my favorites. Thanks to you and your staff through the years for creating and producing such a wonderful show.
As my buddy Bob mentioned, I’m the news editor for Buzzerblog.com, a website dedicated to game shows and other unscripted television.
I’m currently working on a piece about examples of lost media in game shows, and I was informed of an episode of Carmen which for several reasons—one of them apparently being a contestant injury—was left unaired.
I’ve recently been in touch with Paul Byers, former Carmen post-prod editor and current 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 Boston. I’ve also been working with the archivists at WGBH, but they recently informed me that the episode is sadly not part of their archive.
The episode in question is season 2, episode 66 of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Episode title is “Auld Lang Gone”. The intended air date was October 12, 1992, but it was apparently replaced on the PBS schedule that day by a rerun of season 2, episode 1.
I’m looking to confirm existence of this particular footage, as well as gain insight into that day of taping with the help of any/all involved parties. Any information on your part would be appreciated. I’m more than happy to chat with you by email or phone, whatever you prefer.
Thank you—stay safe!
News Editor, Buzzerblog.com
Howard Blumenthal is the creator of the Carmen television series, in addition to serving as its executive producer from 1990 to 1994. To simply refer to him as the guy who made Carmen Sandiego, though, would be like calling Barack Obama a community organizer. Howard has had a hand in just about every important form of media for the past 50 years. The son of Concentration producer and rebus artist Norm Blumenthal, Howard started out as a researcher on game shows filmed during the golden years of the genre in New York City, including The Big Showdown and The Money Maze. He developed the pilot for what would eventually become MTV, as well as some of television’s first interactive content for Warner Cable’s experimental QUBE system in the late 1970s (if you’ve seen the obscure Bill Cullen-hosted How Do You Like Your Eggs, you have Howard to thank[?] for that). As head of marketing for Warner Audio Publishing in the 1980s, Howard was instrumental in raising the profile of the audiobook cassette, a then-new medium whose popularity went hand-in-hand with the proliferation of portable music players. He was noted for his ability to adapt to a dynamic, ever-changing media landscape; as such, companies like HarperCollins, Parker Brothers, Atari, and Merriam Webster enlisted his talents as CDs began to replace cassettes, the PC began to replace the family encyclopedia, and the internet began to replace almost everything else. He’s the author of dozens of books, as well as hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles.
And there was an email from him in my inbox.
Thanks for the kind words.
I think you’re looking at a clerical error. We made 65 episodes in season 1, and 65 in season 2, so there would not be an episode 66 in either season. Did we produce one episode that never aired? I don’t think we did, but we did complete the annual commitment for every season, so it’s possible that we produced one additional episode to replace “Auld Lang Gone.”
A replacement episode? Would they have just recycled the tape from the doomed episode and recorded over it? Was the archivist at WGBH correct after all? It still didn’t make sense to me. However, as has been evident throughout this research journey, stranger things have happened.
I asked Howard:
Would it be possible that the tape stock was re-used/recorded over to create a replacement episode? It seems expensive to just write off an entire taping session’s worth of work…
Also, was Gene Wilder somehow involved in this episode? I’ve seen a couple of references to him having made an appearance.
Gene Wilder – unlikely but possible. We worked with a lot (of) celebrities, nearly all in the same way (reading/performing a clue).
Erasure is very unlikely. Every episode was a big investment.
At the same time I received this email, I got another notification. This one was from Marc Summers.