A missing videotape forced a long-running soap opera to broadcast a live episode many years after live television was no longer part of the genre.
The August 4, 1983, episode of the soap opera Search for Tomorrow was very different…all thanks to a missing videotape.
Had it not been for a lot of publicity before the episode hit the airwaves that day, however, the home audience might not have realized it.
Back then, Search for Tomorrow was the longest-running show in daytime history. Guiding Light, which would take the longest-running title later, premiered about nine months after ‘Search.’
When soaps began in the 1950s, everything was done live. That was the way much of television was done at that time. It wasn’t until early 1967, nearly 16 years after it premiered, that Search for Tomorrow switched from live broadcasts to programs recorded on videotape.
And 16 years after that, when the majority of cast members were no longer accustomed to doing live television, they found themselves forced into exactly that scenario.
The mystery remains unsolved to this day.
When it was discovered there was a missing videotape in the program’s inventory, no one knew quite how it happened.
It was actually two tapes that had gone missing: the master tape and a backup copy. But both, apparently, were gone, and by the time it was discovered, the decision was made to bring in the actors and broadcast the script live for that single day.
Some believed the missing videotape story was all a publicity stunt. The show’s ratings, after all, had been on the decline for years.
In fact, they had dropped enough that CBS, the network on which the program premiered, had canceled it the year before. NBC took the unusual step of bringing the program “across the street” where it would remain until 1986.
But giving the program a second chance on a different network wasn’t exactly a success, either. That’s why many believed then (and still believe today) in the publicity stunt theory.
I recently stumbled across a complete recording of the live episode complete with the director’s track you’d normally never be able to hear:
The main thing I find curious about this show, aside from Don Pardo serving as announcer, was that its lead character, Jo, who Mary Stuart portrayed for the entire 35-year run of the series, didn’t appear in this show. Apparently, it was the luck of the draw: she happened not to be in that day’s episode as it was originally recorded.
Still, I think it would have been a great opportunity to work in a scene with her since she was an original cast member. On top of that, she was certainly familiar with performing live since at the time of the show’s premiere, that’s how it was always done.