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Classic TV restoration-- why it pays to save **everything**!! (1 Viewer)

Kevin Segura

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A quick story from my work on the "Elvis Presley: The Ed Sulivan Shows" set:

First, as I've mentioned previously, we were exceptionally fortunate with this release, in that almost everything contained in the original 3 hours of shows was able to be cleared for home video release. As I recall, there were only 2 performances that needed to be substituted, and this tale of one of them is either an indication that the universe is a little more interconnected than it appears at first glance, or at the very least, a fascinating coincidence:

The story goes like this-- Once it became apparent that an act would have to substituted in the third show, we all had a phone conversation in which it was mentioned that it would be nice if we had a stand-up comedy piece in the show, because for whatever reason, there just wasn't much of that in any of the three shows. Well, we had other ideas, as well, and the upshot was that we weren't sure what to use plug the gap, but that I should keep a lookout for a tape to arrive, after a few more clips could be screened.

So, after a few days, they sent along the act that had been selected, and I got a marvelous surprise-- it turned out to be one of impressionist Will Jordan's appearances, from June of 1955, which was orginally part of a "Toast of the Town" (the show's title changed to the "Ed Sullivan Show" later that year) episode that was a salute to vaudeville. Now of course, I hardly have to point out that most of these old Sullivan shows haven't been aired since their original broadcast dates... even the TV syndication packages mostly skip over the years that are only available as kinescopes. And although he's justifiably famous for his Ed Sullivan impersonation, most of Will's appearances simply haven't been seen in the intervening years. But as it happened, I knew this bit that Will Jordan was now doing on the tape I was watching. I knew it very well. Not because I'd seen it rerun anywhere... in fact, to my knowledge, it never has been. No, I knew it because I'd heard it before... quite a few times actually...

[By way of background, let me back up for just a moment, and mention that about 2 years ago, I stumbled across something quite unexpectedly, as I was searching for something else online-- a dealer who knew of my bizarre interest in old recordings had picked up a box of old reel-to-reel tapes that were given away at an estate sale, and asked me if I was interested, because they had (to him) a bunch of weird titles on them. Well, I had him read a couple of the weird titles to me, and very carefully tried not to let my jaw drop to the floor as I calmly bought the box containing 40+ reels of tape from him. I'm pretty sure he felt he'd just made an easy $40.00. and (for reasons I'll mention in a moment) I think both of us felt that we'd made quite a deal.]

Now-- as impossible as it seems, there was a time (when many of us were kids), that there was no such thing as a VCR. If you wanted to record your favorite show, you'd have to do what so many of us did at one time or another-- chase everyone out of the room, and sit very quietly, with a tape recorder and a small microphone in your hands, pointed at the TV set. And if you were lucky, when you were done, you'd get a reasonably listenable recording, with only a **little** room echo and the neighbor's barking dogs combined with the show.

But for some people, this wasn't good enough. Many experimented with closing off their recording rooms, or with proper placement of their microphones, all in an effort to minimize room noise. What they overlooked was another option. Grounded jacks. Installed inside their furniture-sized TV cabinets, and hooked in series with their TV speakers. The results, of course, could have been incredible-- once the recorder was plugged into the jack ("in-line"), room noise and echo could not affect the recordings that were being made. Depending on the tape speed and the tape stock being used, a surprisingly high-quality recording would have theoretically been possible.

And of course, the point that any of us who are interested in preserving classic television are concerned with is: Did anyone think of this? Just how early could it have been feasible? And assuming someone did try it, with tape being a releatively expensive commodity back then (the equivalent of about $35-$40 per reel in today's money), what could have survived to the present day?

Well, I can answer a few of those questions now. Yes, someone **did** think of it. He was doing it as early as 1955. And he managed to save over 70 hours of his recordings, spanning from January 1, 1955 through 1958. And I know that, because **that's** what was in the box that I bought from the dealer that I mentioned earlier.

Among those recordings, which preserve a fascinating overview of music and comedy programs of his time, is the soundtrack to the very same 1955 Will Jordan routine that was selected for inclusion in show #3 of the the Elvis DVD set!

When I saw the footage begin to unspool in front of me, I simply couldn't believe my luck at finally seeing the complete sketch. After I then compared the sound quality of the 51-year old reel-to-reel recording to the kinescope's optical soundtrack there wasn't even a question about which source to use for the finished product. And of course, once the finished LiveFeed footage was added, I truly felt as though I was standing over this anonymous recordist's shoulder, in his New Jersey home, watching the same thing that he was capturing with his homemade reel-to-reel set-up, so many years ago. It's a feeling I'll never forget.

I was never able to discover this gentleman's name, and may never be able to find out who he was, but to me, he is truly a pioneer in television preservation. To have done what he did at the time was astounding enough, but to have saved so much of his work over the intervening decades is almost beyond all reasonable imagination.

We owe this man, and the few other pioneers back then that were doing the same thing, an incredible debt of gratitude... because not only did they manage to give us an ever-so-brief glance into what these programs really sounded like, they preserved a fragile and ethereal part of our heritage. In some small way, I hope this release honors their efforts.

And **that's** the story. Not bad, eh?

-Kevin
 

Greg_S_H

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It seems like a great story to me. I caught the tail end of this era, with my sister recording episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard to audio tape. None of those still exist, which obviously doesn't matter in any way as it does with the Ed Sullivan recordings.
 

Kevin Segura

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Thanks, Greg--

I have to admit, while I did this as a kid, too, I'm astounded at how far back this practice goes. And the idea of someone installing an in-line jack in their furniture-sized TV set back in the 50s is mind-boggling to me. I'm told that the idea originated with some sort of "Popular Electronics" article that appeared back then, but the fact that **anyone** followed up on it is just unreal.

I'm wondering if the initial impetus for the idea was from someone who was a 1950s "Hi Fi" bug-- as the tapes I've got demonstrate, such a system proved to be a very effective way to preserve musical numbers; and of course, in those days, there was a lot more classical & "serious" music programming on the air... Although I should point out that **my** anonymous recordist was obviously a big fan of Lawrence Welk... :D

I know some recordings were also made by people that discovered that they could receive certain TV channels over their FM radios... many radio/tape consoles allowed that kind of internal connection.

It makes me really wonder just how much of this material is out there, though... I mean, I can work quite a lot on the video side of classic broadcasts, but having the luxury a full dynamic-range soundtrack makes a great deal of difference in the final results. It's all well and good to try and polish an optical film soundtrack as best you can, but nothing beats a decent tape recording.

It would be too much to expect to get in-line recordings most of the time, but I'm told there some very good "microphone recordings" for many shows from this era... the 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein "Cinderella" being one of them. If it turns out that it doesn't have too much additional room ambience, I'd seriously consider using it for my own copy of the show...

-Kevin
 

Will_B

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He was a bootlegger and he should be shot! But he's already dead, so, he should consider himself lucky! We'd take him to the cleaners if we could!

-Jack V.

On a less ironic note, this is how some of the earliest Doctor Who episodes were saved in England, too.
 

Ethan Riley

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Well, Kevin, it would have been nice if they'd looked into those microphone recordings of Cinderella before they released the dvd. Although I'm not really complaining, because up until a few years ago they didn't even have that kinescope. Did they even have videotape back in '57 to save the actual color show on? Because I can't believe they aired it in color, presumably, just on the East Coast (where all 20 owners of color tvs saw it in its glory). I've always been very curious about the history of that special. In 1997, I actually ran into John Cypher (Prince Charming) on the set of "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and I was going to ask him about that 40 year old telefilm, but the old bugger was busy hitting on girlies so I let the moment pass.
 

Michael Alden

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One of the posters here preserved about 75% of the CBS Late Night Merv Griffin Shows in that fashion, which are probably the only existing copies as CBS in their infinite wisdom wiped all of the tapes.
 

Charles Ellis

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Reminds me of the story of how the one "lost' episode of Dark Shadows was reconstructed for VHS & DVD release. A fan had made a home recording of the 1971 episode. As it turned out, when MPI Home Video tried to locate the original mater videotape for that episode, it couldn't be located. Ironically, ABC had only stopped making kinescopes of DS episodes a few months earlier. So now, the only solution was to use the home recording that the fan had made, along with video footage of the cliffhanger of the previous episode (which was also the 'teaser' for the lost #1215) and opening footage from show# 1216 (which was the cliffhanger ending to #1215).

To fill the lost visuals for the remaining 20 or so minutes, still images of the characters from surrounding episodes were used, a technique used in restorations of films like Lost Horizon and the 1954 A Star Is Born. The resulting reconstruction is on Vol. 25 of the DS DVDs. Just another example of how a fan's home recording from lon ago can save the day for today's audiences!
 

Kevin Segura

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Well, I was informed by some of the old-timers that the show went out live (and in color) to the Eastern and Central time zones, but was videotaped in B&W for the west coast replay. [All CBS had was monochrome, at that point, having taken delivery of their first Ampex VTR in November of 1956.] This would not have precluded a west coast affiliate from taking the live color feed from the network, and airing it as it happened (for the 20 people on **our** coast that had color TVs), but it would have aired awfully early, if they'd done that. In any event, the usual backup kinescopes were made, as well.

The 2" quad videotape was subsequently wiped a few days after the west coast replay (the high cost and relative scarcity of tape stock would've guaranteed that, back then), but the kinescope managed to survive (somewhat mis-filed, evidently) through the intervening years. Unfortunately, given the somewhat murky appearance of the existing print, I'd say that CBS had some problems with properly capturing the broadcast on film-- either the proper filtering was not applied to the signal beforehand, or they took a page from the NBC engineering book, and tried to shoot the image off a color monitor. Either way, it results in a less than optimal B&W kinescope.

Still, if the Rodgers & Hammerstein folks ever want to try a true restoration of the existing material, I'm more than happy to help out... I'm sure I can improve what we've got, at the very least! :)

-Kevin
 

Kevin Segura

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I'm curious about this, Michael. Can you get him to tell some interesting tales to us?

I should point out, too, that there is at least one man that I hold in high reverence for his efforts in this area, since he was doing this sort of highly advanced audio taping from about 1959, through the early 70s, and has personally archived THOUSANDS of hours of lost broadcasts... his name is Phil Gries, and you can find his website (Archival Television Audio, Inc.) here:

http://www.atvaudio.com/

Prepare to be astounded... :)

-Kevin

And if anyone on the board has similar stories of what they've found, I'd love to hear them!!
 

Michael Alden

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He's a regular reader of the board so I'm sure he'll see this and respond if he chooses to.

Of course sports has always been horrendously saved. The famous Russ Hodges call of the Bobby Thompson home run only exists because a fan recorded it at home. And then there is the Raspoli collection of over ten thousand baseball radio recordings. When he died, the collection was bought by John Miley and another fellow and subsequently Miley has taken all of the credit for it's existence. But in actuality all he did was buy the collection. It was Raspoli who actually put it together.
 

Jack Theakston

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Kevin; thanks for the fascinating post. I'm anxious to see your restoration work on the Elvis/Ed Sullivan shows.

Did you work off the 16mm optical track negatives in the Andrew Solt library? I don't suppose these shows were kinescoped in 35mm with separate magnetic tracks. I know that NBC did some kines in that format, but I don't think CBS did.

Have you done any work with restoring 35mm lenticular color kinescopes? My friend worked for Jerry Lewis and he has quite a few of them. I believe other NBC variety shows exist in that format from the mid-50's, including Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen, Perry Como, etc.

In fact, if either the Milton Berle Estate or NBC have 35mm kines of the two Elvis shows from 1956, they are most likely lenticular color as well. Many people don't realize it though because these prints appear to be black and white. A special lens is needed to uncode the color information.

There are more surviving color records of variety shows than people realize. Somebody needs to come up with a method of restoring that material.
 

Kevin Segura

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Jack:

Thanks for chiming in... I did indeed work from transfers of the composite prints / negatives, and unfortunately, no, I didn't have separate magnetic soundtracks from the network to work with-- but then again, that's part of the glorious challenge of the job, isn't it...? :)

And there are indeed some nice examples of NBC's separate kinescope system out there in the marketplace... the Bobby Darin episode on the "This is You Life" DVD set utilized a separate magnetic track-- great sound!!

And I personally haven't had a chance to work with lenticular transfers, but then again, almost no one has. I know of only one person who has seen a partial transfer from a lenticular reel (it **can** be done, but it's an expensive, custom transfer set-up)-- he said the color was great, but that the process was a bit of a light-hog, which kind of makes sense, when you stop to consider that the color signal is derived from refracted light.

Of course, the transfer house wanted $10,000 for the half-hour transfer job, so things never really got past the test stage with that reel...

Having said that, though, I understand that Edie Adams is having UCLA work on a restoration of a lenticular kinescope of the original NBC broadcast of "Eugene", Ernie Kovac's Emmy award-winning program. I'm **very** much hoping to hear from them at some point, as I think we could really do right by that project, if given a chance to pool our efforts...

I've heard that Bob Furmanek searched Berle's archive when the film "This is Elvis" was first prepared a couple of decades ago, but found that they didn't have any 35mm prints at that time. Since NBC later claimed to have located their vault copies of Berle's programs, I would guess that if the 35mm lenticular copies are anywhere, they're tucked safely away next to Howdy Doody on their shelves. Hope so, anyway.

And I'd also been told that story about Mr. Lewis by a couple of people-- hope he gets an interest in properly archiving and restoring those prints at some point!

Thanks for writing!

-Kevin
 

Michael Alden

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In the collection of about 10,000 kinescopes that NBC donated to the Library of Congress in the 80s, I'd say that about 95% or more have a separate picture and audio track.
 

Kevin Segura

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Sometimes widely separated, according to the (minimal) cataloguing that's been done so far... there's more than a few picture elements with no accompanying soundtrack in the listings that I've searched.

And I was told that the number was about 50,000, actually, though that may not account for duplicate prints of certain shows. The real shame is that they've barely made a dent in cataloguing that collection, and don't seem to have a meaningful incentive to pursue it seriously...

But you know, the other thing about that LOC donation that I'm a little uncertain about is, what does it actually represent? Everything in the archive prior to a given year? Programs the network doesn't own, but had copies of? I can't believe it would consist of items that NBC actively controls, because that would be tantamount to listing a good portion of your corporate assets for everyone to see, and that's usually not considered a good idea by broadcast networks.

However, since I see listings for Jack Paar "Tonight" shows, there must be **some** current corporate assets in that pile...

Incidentally, did everyone notice that there is a treasure trove of (edited) AFRTS soundtracks to the 1960s Carson "Tonight" shows in the LOC catalogue...? Neat!! :D

-Kevin
 

Michael Alden

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There's actually 2 books of NBC kinescopes, those that were given to LOC and those that were held back. The held back book is as big if not bigger than the donated stuff. How the determinations were made, I have no idea. I can tell you for instance that there's about 1,800 Howdy Doody shows, all of the Bob Newhart 1961 variety show, several game shows that are all but non-existent (Match Game, Say When, Concentration, original Let's Make a Deal). When I worked with them at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the head librarian didn't even know that most of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics kines were donated. Just like what they saved and discarded, this seems to have been a very haphazard endevour. As for the cataloging, it's been barely touched in the 20 or so years LOC has it. They have neither the staff nor the budget to properly deal with a collection of that magnitude. It seems that among television archives, UCLA seems to be the only place, for all it's flaws, to be able to properly care for and archive this type of material.
 

Kevin Segura

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I was told of the existence of an incredible number of "Concentration" epsiodes (most of the 15-year run, it sounded like) a couple of years ago, by a person who was searching for something else and unexpectedly came across the vault listings for them... but I had absolutely no idea the network had retained so much else... two separate books-- I should've known.

The "Match Game" from the 60s... I **knew** those had to be around somewhere! And I'm sure Monty Hall would love to see those LMAD eps again... nice to know they're tucked away **somewhere**!

Not to mention the "Howdy Doody" eps that were supposed to be long gone... amazing!

It's almost enough to restore a tired archivist's faith in corporate network broadcasting. :)

You've made my day, Michael... thanks very much!!

-Kevin
 

Carlos Garcia

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I know they did 1 episode of What's My Line? from the 50s in color...It was the first game show episode to have ever aired in Color, but since videotape had yet to be used, it was never preserved. Also, I believe in Gil Fates' book, he lists that episode as one of the episodes that no longer exists. If only someone would've had the decency to have at least done a color kinescope to have preserved such an important event in broadcasting history!
 

Kevin Segura

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I always thought that was a bit surprising, too, but that's the way it goes, I'm afraid... there are still photos from that 9/19/54 show in the CBS archive, though-- in fact, a couple of them are used on the cover of the Dot Records "What's My Line" LP, so at least we have **some** idea of what it looked like.

On a happier note, the experimental color broadcast of "Toast of the Town" (Ed Sullivan Show) from 8/22/54 still exists, albeit as a B&W kinescope. So I guess we'll take our victories where we can...

-Kevin
 

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