“Hope That Answers Your Question”: Exploring the Myth of the Lost Carmen Sandiego, Part 3
This is the third in a three-part series examining Auld Lang Gone, the long-rumored lost episode of the PBS game show Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Parts one and two previously appeared on Buzzerblog the week of August 23.
For a variety of reasons, my family was very late to the game in terms of owning a computer.
The idea of the internet flowing through my home was a wonder to me, albeit a wonder I wouldn’t know for the lion’s share of my childhood. The only game shows I knew were the ones that were shown on GSN, or the first-run stuff I got to watch with my dad while I was home over the summer. Many hazy summer afternoons were spent watching Michael Burger’s Match Game on the wicker couch and drinking Crystal Light lemonade. It was the 90s. It was fun.
Growing up, libraries held great significance for me. Although I’ve always adored reading—as a toddler, my dad taught me about words and letters using Scrabble tiles, and my mom would take me for walks and point to things as we saw them on the street so that I could verbalize what they were—the introduction of internet terminals at my public library was a game-changer. I had always heard that there was something on the internet for everyone. I had hoped that included me.
The first words I ever searched for on the Internet—on Yahoo, to be specific—were “game shows”. Plugging those words into a search engine was like opening a floodgate and being subsequently inundated with wave after wave of pure information. Home-spun websites with grainy RealVideo clips of old game show intros, sound effect .wav files, episode guides, and low-res screengrabs taken with a Snappy replaced most of my media diet. I watched, and listened, and read and read and read and read and read. Mike Klauss, Kris “Xanfan” Lane, Chuck Donegan, Jay Lewis, Brad Francini, John Ricci, Steve Beverly, Curt King, Randy Amasia…in my infinitesimal pocket of the universe, these guys—the guys who ran the sites, uploaded the videos, wrote the episode guides, took the screengrabs—were my favorite authors, my rock stars.
The library sold floppy disks for 50 cents each, and so I amassed a backpack full of data. I saved Mike Klauss’ entire Logo Library from tv-gameshows.com. John Ricci’s DOS games each had their own disk. I archived sound effects from shows I had never seen, because how else would I ever experience this media otherwise? I had ascended from being a kid who loved game shows to being a kid who lived game shows.
As I got slightly older, however, I realized that in my offline life, this narrow, esoteric interest I maintained was not easily shareable. I knew exactly zero people in real life who liked what I liked, let alone people who liked it with the same intensity as I did. To virtually everyone else around me, game shows were stupid, silly, not worthy of thought. Any attempts to share my passion with my classmates was met with blank stares, and occasionally a “shut up, Christian”.
Once, in high school, I had reached my time limit on one of the computers. The librarian, a tall woman whom I would guess was about my mother’s age, walked up to my desk and informed me that the library was closing. As I gathered my notebooks and hastily began to pack up, the librarian barked “What is this?!”
She snatched the mouse from in front of me and scrolled through my browser window. I was reading a Wheel of Fortune episode guide.
“You are so frustrating,” she said to me as she threw the mouse back down onto the desk in front of me with a loud clack and turned away in a huff.
In retrospect, I attribute my persistence in sharing my love of game shows to that wholesomely naive, piss-and-vinegar spirit that young kids have when they really love something and want to be “cool” and share it with everyone around them. Anyone my age who carried around a small binder of Pokemon cards everywhere they went can hopefully relate. I’m happy to have maintained that spirit in myself into adulthood, when my friends and I think it’s cool(!) to have narrow interests.
That being said, if I was going to solve the mystery of the lost 66th episode of season 2 of the PBS series Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego once and for all, it was going to happen now.
I emailed Howard Blumenthal.
Good afternoon Howard!
Before anything else, I need to let you know how important and beneficial Carmen Sandiego was for me as a child. Growing up in a swirling world of lights/bells/buzzers, etc, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego still stands out as one of my favorites. Thanks to you and your staff through the years for creating and producing such a wonderful show.
As my buddy Bob mentioned, I’m the news editor for Buzzerblog.com, a website dedicated to game shows and other unscripted television.
I’m currently working on a piece about examples of lost media in game shows, and I was informed of an episode of Carmen which for several reasons—one of them apparently being a contestant injury—was left unaired.
I’ve recently been in touch with Paul Byers, former Carmen post-prod editor and current director of engineering at WQED in Pittsburgh, and Paul was kind and helpful enough to pull the tape from the archive…until he realized it was the wrong series. He then informed me that he is fairly certain that the tapes for the original Carmen Sandiego series were sent back to Boston. I’ve also been working with the archivists at WGBH, but they recently informed me that the episode is sadly not part of their archive.
The episode in question is season 2, episode 66 of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. Episode title is “Auld Lang Gone”. The intended air date was October 12, 1992, but it was apparently replaced on the PBS schedule that day by a rerun of season 2, episode 1.
I’m looking to confirm existence of this particular footage, as well as gain insight into that day of taping with the help of any/all involved parties. Any information on your part would be appreciated. I’m more than happy to chat with you by email or phone, whatever you prefer.
Thank you—stay safe!
News Editor, Buzzerblog.com
Howard Blumenthal is the creator of the Carmen television series, in addition to serving as its executive producer from 1990 to 1994. To simply refer to him as the guy who made Carmen Sandiego, though, would be like calling Barack Obama a community organizer. Howard has had a hand in just about every important form of media for the past 50 years. The son of Concentration producer and rebus artist Norm Blumenthal, Howard started out as a researcher on game shows filmed during the golden years of the genre in New York City, including The Big Showdown and The Money Maze. He developed the pilot for what would eventually become MTV, as well as some of television’s first interactive content for Warner Cable’s experimental QUBE system in the late 1970s (if you’ve seen the obscure Bill Cullen-hosted How Do You Like Your Eggs, you have Howard to thank[?] for that). As head of marketing for Warner Audio Publishing in the 1980s, Howard was instrumental in raising the profile of the audiobook cassette, a then-new medium whose popularity went hand-in-hand with the proliferation of portable music players. He was noted for his ability to adapt to a dynamic, ever-changing media landscape; as such, companies like HarperCollins, Parker Brothers, Atari, and Merriam Webster enlisted his talents as CDs began to replace cassettes, the PC began to replace the family encyclopedia, and the internet began to replace almost everything else. He’s the author of dozens of books, as well as hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles.
And there was an email from him in my inbox.
Thanks for the kind words.
I think you’re looking at a clerical error. We made 65 episodes in season 1, and 65 in season 2, so there would not be an episode 66 in either season. Did we produce one episode that never aired? I don’t think we did, but we did complete the annual commitment for every season, so it’s possible that we produced one additional episode to replace “Auld Lang Gone.”
A replacement episode? Would they have just recycled the tape from the doomed episode and recorded over it? Was the archivist at WGBH correct after all? It still didn’t make sense to me. However, as has been evident throughout this research journey, stranger things have happened.
I asked Howard:
Would it be possible that the tape stock was re-used/recorded over to create a replacement episode? It seems expensive to just write off an entire taping session’s worth of work…
Also, was Gene Wilder somehow involved in this episode? I’ve seen a couple of references to him having made an appearance.
Gene Wilder – unlikely but possible. We worked with a lot (of) celebrities, nearly all in the same way (reading/performing a clue).
Erasure is very unlikely. Every episode was a big investment.
At the same time I received this email, I got another notification. This one was from Marc Summers.
Marc was the alleged substitute host of the lost episode of Carmen.
We share a close personal mutual friend. I also had the pleasure of traveling to Maryland and covering the premiere of a documentary featuring Marc for a Buzzerblog feature a couple of years ago. I had forgotten he was one of the first people I had reached out to when I initially decided to pursue this story.
Hope you are well.
The show does not exist. I was a guest once for the first few minutes of the program until Greg kindly asks me to leave…all set up in advance of course.
Hope that answers your question
I had received a lot of information in the span of about 15 minutes. In addition to everything else I was working with, it was a lot to process.
- The producer of the show, who ostensibly would have been there, has no recollection of what would seemingly be a pretty noteworthy incident.
- The guy who everyone said was the host that day, who ostensibly would have been there, said in no uncertain terms that the episode “does not exist”.
- WGBH, which co-produced the show, has no record of it.
- WQED, which also co-produced the show, has no record of it.
When I started this project, I scoured the internet for every inkling of the Auld Lang Gone rumor I possibly could. I took a second and looked back at that initial research.
The existence of the episode is mentioned as fact on the Wikipedia page for Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, the Lost Media Archive, the Carmen Sandiego fandom wiki, and the Game Shows fandom wiki, among many other user-created and publicly-editable websites. Mental Floss and ScreenRant both mention Auld Lang Gone as a “fun fact” on their respective lists of “Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Carmen Sandiego’”. These references are not sourced, which leads me to believe one of the aforementioned wikis may have been the origin of that information. Curiously, I was also able to find a section on Wikiquote (again, editable by anyone—and again, no source) dedicated to the Carmen Sandiego series, with a subpage for Auld Lang Gone containing this, um, quote from the episode:
(Jasmine trips on the map and falls)
Greg: Uh-oh! Stop the clock! Stop the clock! (runs up to Jasmine and investigates) Somebody get a doctor! (cameras stop rolling and a doctor arrives to check)
Doctor: Umm, she broke her arm.
Greg: Oh, no!
(director) Dana (Calderwood): Can we end this episode? Like now?
Greg: We have to. The audience needs to leave the studio.
Dana: Unless… Ed Mann, to the Map!(Ed rushes to the map)
Greg: Hey, Ed! Do you wanna take Jasmine’s place in the map?
Ed: Of course. Why?
Greg: She broke her arm. You’ll win the trip to what Jasmine has wrote down for you. Does that sound good to you?
For the first time since I began work on this Carmen Sandiego project, I thought to myself:
This is ridiculous.
First of all, that “quote” is nothing more than bad fan-fiction. Secondly, at this point in my research, I was confident I had talked to anyone and everyone within reach who would have anything whatsoever to do with the episode’s pre-planning, production, stop-down, editing, archival, and broadcast, and I’ve more or less been met with a unanimous “nope, it ain’t real”. Thirdly, in everything I’ve read about this episode throughout the internet, not once did I run into a solid source that wasn’t a rabid, anonymous fan regurgitating a now-seemingly baseless rumor.
In the rush of pop-culture nostalgia we’ve all been subject to over the past decade, we’ve heard from host Greg Lee, director Dana Calderwood, and Rockapella member Sean Altman (who did not respond to my requests for comment) in various interviews, but has no one sought out Jasmine Doman and Ed Mann, the injured contestant and her replacement? Where do those names even come from? Searching for them on Facebook yields no results that look like the people in question would have been 12 to 14 years old in 1992. As far as I can tell, the incident has never been mentioned in any official history of the show, nor any interviews done by Greg Lee, Rockapella, or any other cast or crew members.
And another thing: how important is a bonus round, really? In a situation where a child is gruesomely injured, wouldn’t the first step be calling an ambulance and ensuring the child’s well-being? Wouldn’t you then wait for the ambulance to arrive, maybe even load out the horrified adolescent audience and temporarily dismiss the non-essential crew? After all was said and done—after the contestant was whisked through mid-day New York City traffic to the closest hospital, the set cleaned up, the audience and contestants calmed down, the proper production staff and building staff members notified, perhaps even a new tape date arranged—was anyone really so concerned with completing the map of Europe that they said “Nope, we need a winner, Ed, get out there, Carmen’s in Lichtenstein!”
I had reached the end. After over 80 hours of research, interviews, fact-finding, and wading through the murky depths of the internet, I was ready to come to an educated, informed conclusion.
Auld Lang Gone never happened. This fact is confirmed by “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” creator and executive producer Howard Blumenthal; Marc Summers, who was rumored to have served as substitute host for the episode in question; and the archivists at WGBH and WQED, the PBS stations in Boston, Massachusetts and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who co-produced the original Carmen Sandiego series and are in possession of every master tape, as well as paper records, of the show’s 295 episodes.
As pleased as I was to have put an end to a baseless rumor that had somehow been inflated to factual proportions as it was tossed about on its journey through cyberspace, and as much as I felt like I was doing my part as a responsible internet user by stamping out misinformation, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. I wanted the episode to be real. I wanted to share that title card with you. The production slate. The write-up. I envisioned that success so vividly.
Maybe I wasted my time.
Maybe Howard was right in the first place. Maybe there are more interesting topics than one unscheduled episode. Maybe it is, after all, an odd area for focused energy.
But the last email I received, as simple and understated as it was, made me look back on my journey differently, with optimism and pride for my infinitesimal pocket of the universe:
This story would not have been possible without the cooperation, patience, and assistance of: Paul Byers, Executive Director of Engineering at WQED in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Emily Balk, Samantha Driscoll, and Casey Davis-Kaufman, archivists at the Media Library and Archive at WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts; Howard Blumenthal, media icon and creator/executive producer of the Carmen Sandiego TV series; Marc Summers, television host and producer extraordinaire; and Bob Boden, a game show genius with whom I’m unfathomably lucky to have a professional relationship.
Special thanks to my wife/baba Catherine; the beautiful blue-haired wizard Cory Anotado; Pharaoh Bob Hagh; my very close personal friend and Marc Summers die-hard fan Mike Galbicsek; Tom Bastek and Mike Jacobs, co-hosts of the Tell Them What They’ve Won podcast who gave me the initial spark I needed to get this work done; and to all of my friends who were unfortunate enough to be pestered by me with samples of this article as I was writing it. Love, love, and more love.
If the subject matter of this article was even remotely entertaining to you, it is thanks to the tireless work of the men and women in public broadcasting. It’s sort of a cliche at this point, but programs like Carmen Sandiego were, are, and always will be successful with the financial support of viewers—and readers—like you. Visit pbs.org/donate to find out how you can contribute to the success of PBS. Thank you.