Patchy the Pirate: Oh, no! I've ruined the lost episode! Now it's lost forever!
An episode of a regular series which, for some reason, is not included when the series is shown in syndication. This can take one of two flavors:
- An episode which was produced but never shown.
- An episode which was shown during the initial run, but never rebroadcast.
The reasons for this can vary: with respect to relatively recent shows, there might be legal issues with respect to the rights on some of the content; the networks may have issues with the nature of the episode, due either to controversial content or because it's Too Soon after a tragic event; or it may simply have been lost in the shuffle when the program was repeatedly preempted. Missing episodes are somewhat more common for older shows, where syndication packages were not all-inclusive and might omit episodes based on nothing more than popularity. Episodes may also be deleted when a show is exported to another country with different standards of decency. In these cases, the missing episodes may be trotted out years later with much fanfare.
There may be a nascent trend of intentionally withholding certain episodes for a time in order to create a "Missing Episode" mystique around them. A promotional video for Power Rangers SPD created for the DVD release was broadcast as a purportedly "Missing Episode" of Power Rangers Dino Thunder entirely to rook people into watching a ten-minute infomercial.
A related phenomenon is the "Lost Episode". Older TV shows and movie series may not have a full library of old episodes to work from. The originals may have been destroyed, either accidentally or deliberately, or in the case of live programs there might never have been a recording. Most of the first ten years of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show is missing because videotape at the time was expensive and the network reused the originals. Hundreds of silent films are no longer extant because the original negatives were destroyed in order to recover the silver content from the film stock, lost in studio and vault fires, or simply decayed over time. This sort of thing plagues the early years of television; programmes from networks which failed or went bankrupt (such as DuMont) fared particularly badly. Of course, at the time few had any notion that people would want to watch "classic television" fifty or sixty years in the future, so they saw no reason to keep copies.
In this case, the episode is not rebroadcast because no one has it any more. Such episodes are lost to history until (as becomes increasingly unlikely) they unexpectedly turn up in the hands of a collector or a relative of one of the original producers.
Sometimes, a network may hold the rights to an entire series, but may not like some episodes for various reasons (personal preference, orders of the programming team, cheaper to run a selected block of episodes etc.) so an episode isn't really "missing" per se, but the term still applies. In some cases, a copy of the episode may exist, but in some format which is not broadcast-quality; the early "kinescope" recordings (made by pointing a film camera at a monochrome TV monitor) were one common example in the early days, as there was no videotape until at least 1956.
The terms "Missing Episode" and "Lost Episode" are not synonymous, but which term refers to which phenomenon varies. It can also be an abused term, such as the case of Entertainment Tonight finding "lost footage" for their shows which is already properly catalogued and digitized, but uses the "lost" term instead of "old footage" as the latter doesn't work to pull in viewers.
Can sometimes result from Old Shame. Frequently confused with Lost Forever, which is a Video Game Items and Inventory Trope despite having a name that sounds like this Trope. For an episode that never actually existed in the first place, see Un Installment.
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