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The Ongoing Mystery of “ABC’s Wide World of Mystery” (1973-1976)

Sadly, in the Library of Congress’ Moving Image and Recorded Sound sections, we are no stranger to the concept of “lost” media.  Though our vast archives are a testament to all the movies, TV shows, music and other sounds that have been created and have endured to the present day, sprinkled throughout film/sound history are titles that have no existing copy.  (In fact, quite tragically, it is believed that well over half of all the silent films made in the USA are now MIA.)

While most “lost” films, not surprisingly, date back to the early years of the last century, it is not uncommon to discover far more recent works that also have seemingly vanished.  This is especially true of early television programs, local television productions, radio (of nearly every era) and various talk programs, TV and non.  (Having long worked with the David Susskind Estate, it’s truly staggering how many of Susskind’s famous talk programs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s are just….gone.)

Among the missing: “Book of Murder,” 1974

Still, it’s somewhat rare for examples of American network television, from as recent as the not-so-long-ago 1970s, to have, assumedly, just disappeared.  But that seems to be the case at least for one particular program.

In the early 1970s, ABC, in an attempt to counter-program against the dominance of Johnny Carson and his NBC “Tonight Show,” decided to air a series of suspense and action and mystery-based movies under the umbrella title of “ABC’s Wide World of Mystery.”

Beginning on January 8, 1973, “WWOM” aired, in 90-minute timeslots, on a rather erratic schedule, until January 10, 1976.  By its end, 131 “episodes” of “WWOM” were broadcast.

Assessed today, “WWOM” was kind of a hodgepodge of programming as the network made use of various types of product to fill its timeslot.  Over the years, ABC repurposed a handful of movie-length TV pilots (like “Get Christie Love”); some feature films, both US and foreign (for example, Canada’s “The Heatwave Lasted Four Days” from 1975); various TV movies (including some produced or directed by Dan Curtis, the creator of “Dark Shadows,” like his adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw,” in 1974); and all of ITV’s beloved British-made TV anthology “Thriller,” the work of writer Brian Clemens.  (“Thriller” is a series I’ve written about here previously.)

But “WWOM” also aired various original films, each about 70 minutes in length and each, no doubt to save money, shot on videotape.  Many of them also utilized talents from ABC’s daytime TV roster, including directors like Gloria Monty and Lela Swift.

Also missing: “Moving Target,” 1974

In their way, they, too, were a varied and unusual lot.  “WWOM” trafficked in tales of greed, intrigue, supernatural occurrences, a few mad doctors, a few crooked cops and lots and lots of MURDER!  They also featured a wide spectrum of talent—from the up-and-coming to the cult legend.  Over the course of the show’s run, Susan Sarandon, Tyne Daly, Kate Mulgrew, Bradford Dillman and Julie Newmar were just some of the stars featured in the teleplays.

In all, 64 original works were produced and aired by ABC for “WWOM.”

After their original network airing, a few of these productions popped up and were rebroadcast on local stations both in the US and even overseas.  Then, after that, they were never seen again.

Careful detective work by various fans—like fan Dwayne Morris—have unearthed some copies in various archives around the US.  Eight of the films reside in the film and TV archives of UCLA; there are five at the Paley Center in New York City; and 13 are here at the Library of Congress.  Two are in the hands of the estate of one of the show’s producers.  Then, this being the internet age, two of “WWOM’s” originals are on YouTube, where somewhat jumpy, fuzzy copies, uploaded by fans from old VHS tapes, have at least allowed them to endure and be seen.  One of these “Alien Lover,” a particular fan favorite, features a young Kate Mulgrew; the other, “The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer” features the late Peter Haskell, as well as Sheree North and a very young Lance Kerwin.

Of the 64 original “WWOM” titles, 35 of them have been located or are “findable” (via YouTube, Dan Curtis Productions, etc.).  But that leaves 29 (shockingly, almost half) of the productions that are…where?

Also MIA: “Chant of Silence,” 1974

Unfortunately, among some of those missing shows are appearances either by some young actors just starting out or by performers who are no longer with us.  “The Satan Murders” from 1974 features a young Susan Sarandon; “The Haunting of Penthouse D” features Tyne Daly; “A Prowler in the Heart” features the late Colleen Dewhurst; and “Too Easy to Kill” stars TV pioneer Imogene Coca.

The missing 29 then begs the question:  if these broadcasts are gone, where did they go?  Obviously, it’s hard to say for sure; every missing film or videotape probably has its own story.  But there is some evidence to suggest that there was a systematic “wiping” of videotapes at the network level at that time.  “Wiping” is the bulk erasing of tapes in order to reuse the tape again.

Still, despite this fact, there remains hope that copies of some of these MIA 29 can be found among fans, former production staff or others.  The Library has already surveyed the archives of all the major studios and of the ABC network as well as the archives noted above.  Listed below are the productions believed to be missing.  Along with reminding readers of this unique series, the Library of Congress hopes that this blog post might help unearth copies—on any format, in any condition—of some of these works and the mystery of “ABC’s Wide World of Mystery” won’t be a mystery anymore.

 

Here is a list of the missing films, their principal casts, brief synopsis and original airdates.  Should you have a copy, or know where one is, please let us know.

“A Beautiful Killing,” features Christopher George and Lynda Day George

Synopsis:  Murder at a spa.

Original airdate:  1/22/74

“The Black Box Murders,” features Julie Newmar and Leslie Charleston

Synopsis:  Some campaign money is stolen.

Original airdate:  1/3/75

“The Book of Murder,” features Fritz Weaver, Pamela Bellwood and Joyce Van Patten

Synopsis:  A once-successful writer turns up dead—could it be one of his three ex-wives?

Original airdate:  3/19/74

“Chant of Silence,” features Steve Forrest, Anne Francis and Rafael Campos

Synopsis:  A man on the run takes refuge in a monastery.

Original airdate:  2/5/74

“Death is a Bad Trip,” features Tisha Sterling and Tim O’Connor

Synopsis:  A bookstore is bombed.

Original airdate:  7/23/74

“Demon, Demon,” features Bradford Dillman and Juliet Mills

Synopsis:  Is a man’s new wife possessed?

Original airdate:  11/7/75

“Distant Early Warning,” features Mary Frann, Michael Parks and Tony Geary

Synopsis:  Aliens invade a group of scientists at work in the Arctic.

Original airdate:  10/21/75

“Hard Day at Blue Nose,” features John Astin and Patty Duke (Astin)

Synopsis:  A woman death at a dude ranch poses a mystery.

Original airdate:  2/12/74

The Haunting of Penthouse D,” features Tyne Daly, Farley Granger and David Birney

Synopsis:  A woman who is house sitting for a friend begins to experience strange occurrences.

Original airdate:  10/15/74

“House of Evil,” features Jamie Smith Jackson and Dabney Coleman

Synopsis:  A teenager, who had gone missing, suddenly returns with a baffling story.

Original airdate:  5/31/74

 “Moving Target,” features Harry Guardino and Moses Gunn

Synopsis:  A policeman dies—was it an accident or the work of a fellow officer?

Original airdate:  7/15/74

“Murder and the Computer,” features Gary Merrill and Barbara Anderson

Synopsis:  Six computer hackers try to use their tech skills to solve a murder.

Original airdate:  6/22/76

“Murder by Proxy,” features Edward Andrews and John Randolph

Synopsis:  A mysterious stranger offers a strange warning.

Original airdate:  4/23/74

“The Murderers,” features Gary Merrill

Synopsis:  Murder and blackmail.

Original airdate:  6/18/74

“Murder Works Overtime,” features Lee Purcell

Synopsis:  A woman has to work late at her job despite a series of violent crimes recently plaguing her office building.

Original airdate:  4/1/74

“Mystery at Malibu,” features Susan Strasberg and Robert Lipton

Synopsis:  The death of his bride-to-be sends a man off to find her killer.

Original airdate:  5/19/75

“Night Train to Terror,” features David Steinberg and Meg Foster

Synopsis:  Death on the railways.

Original airdate:  6/11/74

(NOTE:  This film is not to be confused with a 1985 theatrical film of the same name.)

“The Nurse Killer,” features Linda Kaye Henning and Lloyd Bochner

Synopsis:  A young nurse begins work in the psychiatric ward of a hospital.

Original airdate:  3/31/75

“Prowler in the Heart,” features Colleen Dewhurst

Synopsis:  A mystery novelist gets involved with a real-life crime.

Original airdate:  1/29/74

“The Satan Murders,” features Larry Blyden and Susan Sarandon

Synopsis:  A woman enters a pact with the devil.

Original airdate:  1/11/74

“Shock-a-Bye, Baby,” features Jill Clayburgh and Richard Mulligan

Synopsis:  A novelist’s newborn is kidnapped.

Original airdate:  4/20/76

“The Space-Watch Murders,” features Sam Groom, Barbara Steele and Tisha Sterling

Synopsis:  All but one member of an intergalactic crew disappears.

Original airdate:  1/4/78

“The Spy Who Returned from the Dead,” features Tammy Grimes, Orson Bean and Tom Ewell

Synopsis:  A spy spoof.

Original airdate:  1/8/74

“The Suicide Club,” features Peter Haskell and Margot Kidder

Synopsis:  A card game becomes a game of life and death.

Original airdate:  1/15/74

“Terror in the Night,” features Teresa Wright and Meredith Baxter

Synopsis:  A young couple visit a remote island and find themselves caught up in blackmail and murder.

Original airdate:  3/9/76

(NOTE:  This film is not to be confused with a 1994 TV movie with the same title.)

“The Two Deaths of Sean Doolittle,” features George Grizzard and Grayson Hall

Synopsis:  A man has no fear of dying.

Original airdate:  4/4/75

“Violence in Blue,” features Andrew Duggan and Henry Gibson

Synopsis:  Violence stalks a gathering of police and law enforcement officials.

Original airdate:  2/3/75

“Visit from a Dead Man,” features Alfred Drake and Stephen Collins

Synopsis:  A woman’s husband is dead…isn’t he?

Original airdate:  1/10/75

6 Comments

  1. Herb Flynn
    October 7, 2021 at 10:26 am

    “The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer” does exist in master form – it aired on FOX MOVIE CHANNEL over the years, so 20th Television should have the master elements!

  2. David Crosthwait
    October 7, 2021 at 10:29 am

    You stated: “jumpy, fuzzy copies, uploaded by fans from old VHS tapes”. Since VHS machines were not marketed till 1976 (Betamax 1975), stating that VHS was the source (for pre-1976 recordings) is inaccurate in my opinion (unless the VHS is a dub of something else as noted below).

    The predominate machine for recording off-the-air TV programs during the WWE pre-1976 era would have been 3/4″ U-matic. Other rouge non-broadcast recording devises were in sporadic usage at that time also i.e. EIAJ 1/2″ open reel.

    AS can be seen in this list, there have been many recording schemes throughout the years: https://www.dcvideo.com/formats

  3. B Donn
    October 7, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    Following up on Herb Flynn’s post:

    “The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer” was released on DVD (with Ivan Dixon’s “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” as 2nd feature). It’s on Amazon. I tried a few other titles there from this series but nothing else turned up.

  4. DeTroyes
    October 7, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    I remember watching “The Haunting of Penthouse D” when it ran on ABC. Depressing to think it may no longer exist.

  5. G. Rochon Loll
    October 11, 2021 at 6:15 am

    #2 is absolutely right about the technologies in use when these were first aired- however, several of these aired in repeats substantially after the 1970s (the circulating copy of “Alien Lover”, for instance, is from a February 1996 airing on the Sci-Fi Channel), so it would be possible for VHS recordings to exist of those at the least.

  6. zmbdog
    October 12, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    @Dave Crosthwait
    The uploads of “Alien Lover” and “Cloning..” are both from VHS recordings of cable broadcasts.

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