Wiping

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Captain Video and His Video Rangers, a DuMont TV program as one of the examples for Wiping.

Wiping is an infamous practice where master copies of old radio and television programs were removed or destroyed.

This practice was common in the days of black and white TV and early color TV, where the tape used would be expensive (often running to $1,000 per tape if inflation is accounted) but reusable because most of them are cheap, unlike film, which is also cheap, but wasn't reusable.

Examples

  • Most of the DuMont Television Network's programs were either melted down for their silver or (supposedly) disposed of in New York's East River. There has been no effort to recover the missing content in the river, leading some to believe it is an urban legend. All surviving DuMont programs have fallen into the public domain today.
  • Until 1978, the BBC was infamous for wiping many of its old TV series recorded onto videotape. Note that most of these are from the black-and-white era, as when color TV came around in 1967 in the UK, they felt it was not worth it to store black-and-white programs anymore.
    • Doctor Who is the most infamous case, with 97 episodes missing. Luckily, before they were wiped, the BBC sold some episodes to foreign countries, where many have been recovered. There are also rumors about the existence of many episodes, including a claim that late Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe had copies of the entire first series. Unusually, audio recordings of all the episodes exist, taped by fans at home, making reconstructions possible, and all the 1970s episodes are in full color after restoration.
    • Another example is Dad's Army, in which remarkably only 3 episodes are still missing.
    • The soap opera United! is a big example as all 147 episodes were wiped, meaning the show is now fully missing.
    • The pilot episode for Are You Being Served? survived only in black and white for many years until 2009, when it was restored in color using a technique also used for Dad's Army.
    • Z-Cars also suffered wiping, including the episodes directed by then-unknown director Ridley Scott.
    • Not even non-scripted shows are unaffected. In 1968, the BBC wiped several Top of the Pops episodes, including the only appearance of The Beatles. An 11 second 8mm home recording of The Beatles performance was discovered in April 2019.
    • Monty Python's Flying Circus was almost wiped by the BBC after the first series, but luckily Terry Gilliam managed to make a deal with them in which he would buy them new tapes in exchange for the survival of the master tapes.
  • Even ITV got in on this paltry practice, but thankfully they had a policy of keeping as many old recordings as possible, meaning all of Coronation Street survives.
    • An example of this is The Adventures of Noddy, a puppet series premiering in 1955 on ITV that had most of its episodes destroyed.
  • Many game shows recorded on videotape in the 1960s, and 1970s would often be wiped (e.g. the daytime version of Wheel of Fortune, the original 1960s version of The Match Game, or The $10,000 Pyramid).
  • Many soap operas from before the 1980s are lost forever because they were broadcast live or had too many episodes, Even pre-1980s telenovelas also suffer from this.
  • Most old sporting events were also wiped.
    • Before 1975, most of the baseball World Series games are missing a few innings or have been completely lost. The 1965, 1968, 1969, and 1970 series are all intact.
    • Despite getting taped over, the first few Super Bowls are still mostly intact, with a few quarters missing.
    • Before 1979, most of the NBA Finals are missing a few games. Only 1975, 1976, and 1977 finals are still intact.
  • In 1970, Metromedia (owners of KTTV 11 in Los Angeles) wiped the masters of The Paul Winchell Show (a children's show hosted by ventriloquist and voice actor Paul Winchell) even though he wanted to buy back the tapes. In 1986, Winchell successfully sued Metromedia for $18 million.
  • When Hallmark purchased the Filmation library in 1995, they converted all the tapes from NTSC into a PAL format and threw out the original masters. This meant that the videotapes were sped up by 4%.
  • While not a radio or TV program, some older films in the Golden Age of Animation had reissues to preserve the original film quality, with the older versions often discarded. Early animated cartoons of certain animated short film series like Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes were prone to reissuing, with the latter incorporating a "Blue Ribbon" program. While this allowed the color hues to remain unaffected and preserved, most of these cartoons often edit out the intro and ending sequences and plaster newer versions over them, resulting in the loss of original titles.
    • Many original titles and endings for the pre-1948 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons have been lost due to either the Blue Ribbon program stated above, or due to the 1995 dubbed versions, which used AAP prints (as the original negatives were stored at Warner Bros.) and attempted to restore the color hues for certain cartoons sold to AAP, but replaced the ending cards with a stock one used for all animated cartoons (either 1937-38 orange rings or 1947-48 red rings). While there has been effort to recover the original titles/endings from the Blue Ribbon releases/dubbed versions, there has been limited success, and some cartoons such as "The Bashful Buzzard" had their original titles recreated for DVD.
    • Likewise, many Famous Studios/Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoons prior to March 1962 have had their original titles/endings lost due to plastering when they were sold to U.M. & M. TV Corporation and Harvey Comics. Most color Popeye cartoons have also had their original endings lost when they were sold to AAP. Although some of the original titles have been found, most have not been officially restored to DVD or streaming services. While the majority of the 1950-62 cartoons sold to Harvey Comics have been restored, they often contain plastered titles from The Harveytoons Show instead of their original Paramount titles.
    • Some silent and golden age animated cartoons also suffered from being deliberately destroyed:
      • Columbia had a film series based on the Barney Google comic strips; the negatives to all of the cartoons were destroyed due to a contractual obligation with King Features Syndicate. Luckily, the original shorts were spared, and even then, they currently exist as silent home movie prints.
      • There was also a series from Winkler Pictures based on Krazy Kat. Most of the cartoons were destroyed by Winkler herself in 1948 because the films were made of nitrocellulose, a highly flammable material. Only a few shorts managed to resurface.
  • Almost all of NBC's The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and the first ten years hosted by Johnny Carson were taped over by the network and no longer exist. This is why late 1960s broadcasts look muddy. Selected sequences from these years still survive and have been released to the home video. Some audiotapes and still pictures of those years also exist. Some Paar episodes also survive and have also been released to home video.
  • Actual clips of Walter Cronkite reading the news in his studio every night for six years (1962-August 2, 1968) are mostly gone. Exceptions are his coverage of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and the November 1963 tragedies in Dallas, Texas: the JFK assassination, the shootings of police officer J. D. Tippit and Lee Oswald and all three funerals, as well as his introduction of the Beatles and his criticism of the Vietnam War.

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