I wrote in an earlier post about how few copies of Johnny Carson’s first ten years of hosting the Tonight Show survive because of NBC’s re-use of the 2″ Quadruplex videotapes on which the show was recorded, a practice that stopped once Carson purchased the show from NBC in 1972. One of our video preservation engineers recently found a vivid illustration of how videotape stock was repeatedly used when transferring the 19 November 1967 episode of Public Broadcast Laboratory (1967-1969), the first regularly scheduled public television series to be broadcast nationwide by National Educational Television affiliates. The show went out live on Sunday nights, and was also recorded on 2″ Quad for later broadcast by those stations that couldn’t carry the show live. We have 56 PBL Quads in our collection; we received them from PBS in 1984.
Included in the tape container for that 19 November show was a card called the “Video Tape Use Record,” which listed every time the tape had been re-used. It makes for interesting reading. The tape was first used by NBC in July 1966 to record three episodes of the Tonight Show, then was used again in mid-1967 to record the Tonight Show again, an episode of NBC’s evening news program the Huntley-Brinkley Report, a session of the United National General Assembly on 29 September 1967, episodes of Kraft Music Hall and Top Cat, two episodes of The Flinstones, and finally–presumably because the show was produced at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza television studios–Public Broadcast Laboratory.
While a fascinating glimpse into past television production practices, this Video Tape Use Record is also a sad reminder of how much television has been irretrievably lost.