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.)
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.
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?
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