The Universal Fire

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Frank Soyke, Aug 31, 2013.

  1. Frank Soyke

    Frank Soyke Screenwriter

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    I've read a lot about this on here over the previous few years and it was mentioned in a very recent post. Honestly, I don't even recall hearing about this in the press when it happened. I know they must have lost a lot of prints and a show list is probably miles long, but I'm curious as to what are some of the MAJOR shows that were lost. I know BJ has been mentioned previously.
     
  2. Vahan_Nisanain

    Vahan_Nisanain Supporting Actor

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    Regarding BJ and the Bear, I thought only the videotapes were lost, and that the original 35mm negatives for the series are safe and sound.
     
  3. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    It was a big story at the time because this was a fire that destroyed part of their backlot (including I believe a "Back To The Future" set) and the facility that had tape transfers of TV shows. The 35mm elements are stored in a different facility but what this meant was that in order for these shows to become available again, new masters off the 35mm would have to be made Universal has only done this across the board (that is with a large number of titles they were syndicating at that point) at two points in their history, the early 80s (which is when the last transfers for "It Takes A Thief" were made and why they look more washed out than later transfers) and the early 90s. Since the fire I know of only one vintage title where Unversal did a new remastering off the 35mm and that was the final season of "Emergency" (which for its previous releases had a lot of *really* ratty looking early 80s transfers save for the episodes that had been released on VHS in the Columbia Video House Club which had been cleaned up in the early 90s).
     
  4. JoeDoakes

    JoeDoakes Cinematographer
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    I don't think any shows were lost in terms of original elements. However, some transfers for shows were lost, which for purposes of getting the shows on DVD may as well be the same thing.
     
  5. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    Why Universal's in-house costs for transfer work has to be so high as to be cost prohibitive in contrast to how CBS/Paramount has done a *lot* of recent remastering of their titles is one mystery of life we'll never be able to figure out. I can't imagine that CBS is plunking down the exact same costs for doing their programs that Universal would have to pay for theirs.
     
  6. FanCollector

    FanCollector Producer

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    The remastering costs are indeed high, and they usually only get paid if there is demand from a cable or syndicated television outlet. Home video just isn't a profitable enough niche to warrant the expense of going back to the original 35mm. I'm hoping that some cable channel, or maybe the "TV Choice" type channels mentioned in that trade paper article, take an interest in some shows like Switch or Baretta or Hec Ramsey and provide the financial incentive to go back to the original elements. I fear that is the only chance we have to see any of them on DVD.
     
  7. John Karras

    John Karras Stunt Coordinator

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    Naturally, Universal is keeping extremely tight-lipped about the realities of what material was actually lost in the fire, and stories differ from sources within the organization. It does seem to be a common understanding that distribution tapes of many of their series were lost. However, sources from the music industry have indicated that Universal's music holdings took a more severe loss with one-of-a-kind masters gone forever (such as master mixes, alternate takes, unreleased material etc.). It has also been claimed that the master videotapes for some Universal videotaped properties were destroyed for which there were no other backups in another location. Luckily, Universal produced very few series on videotape compared with their film output.
     
  8. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    I did hear a report just after the fire took place that one casualty was the syndicated 1974-75 "game" show (but more a comedy talent show), "Don Adams Screen Test." but UCLA TV Archive has another set of that. (The pilot episode of that with James Caan, which he actually refers to in the commentary of the "Get Smart" episode he was in, circulates among collectors).
     
  9. Vahan_Nisanain

    Vahan_Nisanain Supporting Actor

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    I think just about every show that originated on film, but completed on tape was lost in the same fire. Harry and the Hendersons, a first-run syndicated sitcom based on the film of the same name, was one of them.
     
  10. Neil Brock

    Neil Brock Cinematographer

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    The most serious of the losses was to the music library, which sadly isn't even owned anymore by the same company. However, after Universal was bought by NBC, the owners of Universal music never bothered to transfer their holdings to a different facility. Reports differ as to what was lost but for the most part, any of the west coast labels, such as Decca, Kapp, Dot, Uni, ABC Paramount, Dunhill, Atca, A&M and many more, anything 4-track or less went up in flames. That includes tons of one of a kind cylinder discs from the era pre-audio tape. Unless it ever made it to CD, its gone. So, anything that was unreleased, is history.

    Next comes the Universal videotaped shows. As was previously mentioned, Don Adams Screen Test is gone. Universal didn't really do too much as far as taped shows go but some that I can think of are Sirota's Court, Together We Stand, Semi Tough, and I'm sure probably a bunch more from the 70s and 80s. Those are all likely gone.
     
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  11. Vahan_Nisanain

    Vahan_Nisanain Supporting Actor

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    I wonder if they lost the original negatives for missing footage exclusive to TV versions?

    One thing that has always intrigued me about Universal was that they always seemed to be the masters at adding leftover footage for TV versions of some of their films, more than any other company. They even had TV versions of some of their films feature footage that was shot AFTER filming, like Earthquake for example.
     
  12. Randy Korstick

    Randy Korstick Producer

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    In the 1970's Universal indeed added alot of footage to several of their movies when 1st shown on TV to make them a 2 night four hour event. Off the top of my head they did this for Earthquake, Two-Minute Warning, Airport 77 and Midway. I think the reason these versions have not appeared on Home video is a catch 22. All of these films were 2.35:1 Widescreen films and fans would rightfully scream if they were not released in their original aspect ratio. All the extra footage was filmed in 1.33:1 since it was for the TV version so it cannot be used in the widescreen version for a home video release. They could release a seperate version in Pan and Scan but they would need a whole new remastering job for this version and they know making money on that type of venture is not likely to happen as many would not buy the film twice and others would complain about the film not being in widescreen. I know Paramount also did this for the 1976 King Kong but I think the situation with the aspect ratio is the same which is why we have not seen this version either.
     
  13. Vahan_Nisanain

    Vahan_Nisanain Supporting Actor

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    There are some TV versions of Universal films with scenes added, in which the negative aspect ratio was 1.37:1. Problem Child 1 & 2 (1990 and 1991 respectively) immediately come to mind.

    As far as I know, ALL of the deleted scenes in both PC movies were part of the original filming.
     
  14. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    The DVD and Blu-Ray for "Midway" does have some of the TV footage as a bonus supplement. They included the new subplot with Susan Sullivan as Charlton Heston's girlfriend, but not the more extensive Battle of Coral Sea segment.

    "Airport '77s' bonus footage I'm pretty sure was shot at the time of filming and was not done later. A lot of the scenes added for TV in fact clear up some things in the theatrical cut that come off as totally incomprehensible. Since the TV cut was the one I experienced so many times in NBC's repeated airings in the late 70s and early 80s, that's the one I continue to watch, even if the aspect ratio isn't right (I have an early 90s off-air recording).
     
  15. Vahan_Nisanain

    Vahan_Nisanain Supporting Actor

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    One should try searching for a copy of Airport 77's final completed draft, prior to the beginning of initial filming, on Ebay. That should be the best way to find out if the bonus footage was during said initial filming or after.
     
  16. oldtvshowbuff

    oldtvshowbuff Second Unit

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    Watching a BIOGRAPHY episode which had Lee Marvin in it on A&E over a decade ago, they had clips from M-SQUAD which were taken from those off-the-shelf transfers. I figured all those videotape masters of this series were destroyed in the Great Universal Fire of 2008, so we have a complete series DVD set from Timeless which was slapped together with help from collectors of varying quality.
     
  17. Jack P

    Jack P Producer

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    I don't think "M Squad" *ever* had any videotape transfers. The series to my knowledge never played in syndication or on cable outlets after the early 80s when Universal made their first set of tape masters. This is true of most of the other Timeless series where the titles in question were ones Universal never did any tape masters of and the 16mm prints were the only ones available.
     
  18. oldtvshowbuff

    oldtvshowbuff Second Unit

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    I'd be curious to know if the brilliant western series LARAMIE ever had tape transfers made by the studio that were all destroyed in the 2008 fire. I don't reckon there will be a major upgrade of the color seasons 3-4 that other people have been clamoring for, but those DVD season set releases by TMG is about as good as it gets, because its owners at Shout! are not willing to spring forward for a new set of transfers!
     
  19. Neil Brock

    Neil Brock Cinematographer

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    I'm sure that the show exists on 16mm as that is what seasons 1 & 2 were taken from. Unfortunately, Timeless was hellbent on releasing the show come hell or high water and since no prints ever made it out to collectors and since they did the release before Universal uncovered all of these 16mm prints in their inventory, Timeless put it out off of someone's VHS off-air records.
     
  20. Gary OS

    Gary OS Producer

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    Actually, Timeless was/is supposed to be rereleasing seasons 3 & 4 in the better prints. Not sure if it's indefinitely on hold or what, but that has been the plan for some time now. Frankly, I'm shocked it hasn't already happened. Might mean something changed and we won't get the upgrade after all. But it was definitely on the schedule.


    Gary "hope we see The Rebel happen - that's one I'd really like to add to my collection" O.
     
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