The internet community unearthing lost episodes from your childhood faves

Digital detectives and archivists are hunting down missing and unreleased episodes of your favourite television shows and unearthing video games you never knew existed.

by Brenton Blanchet
21 April 2020, 12:00pm

When the breakthrough finally came on Christmas Eve 2013, Daniel Wilson had spent over four years leading a crack team on an extensive search, organising online petitions and speaking to huge multinationals. Daniel is the Australian founder of Lost Media Wiki, a 10,000 strong community of dedicated digital detectives who navigate the internet, contact content creators of the past and compile a list of “found,” “partially found” and still “missing” media on the community’s ever-growing list of forgotten episodes of beloved shows. Daniel's Christmastime holy grail? Only one of the most sought-after pieces of missing children’s television out there: the 1975 Sesame Street segment “Cracks.”

For many internet users, their love for lost media stems from a childhood recollection of something that few remember existing -- whether it’s a TV episode that only aired once or a song that never officially made their favourite album’s tracklist. Others, however, say it’s a drive to solve mysteries that eventually draws them to the internet’s expansive lost media community. To be fair, it’s easy to immerse yourself in a search for the once-missing episode of Blues Clues with a Julia Louis-Dreyfus cameo, or the unreleased Grand Theft Auto Nintendo 64 port, when a comprehensive archive chronicles all of that information in one place.

Daniel, also known by his moderator name Dycaite, started his crusade all the way back in 2011, when he discovered a Reddit hunt for Nickelodeon’s cult-classic 2000 film Cry Baby Lane. The movie aired just once in the U.S. and only saw the light of day again when a Reddit user uncovered a recorded VHS copy of the original broadcast. It was all the inspiration Daniel needed to build up the community.

“There weren't any big lost media hubs. There were parts of Reddit talking about it, there were boards on 4chan talking about it, but that was it,” Daniel says. “I just found it really interesting. So I started keeping a little notepad file of personal stuff I’d researched that was lost. Eventually someone suggested I turn the list into a real website."

Since launching in 2012, the site has grown to document over 3,000 articles -- organised by category and status (found, partially found, etc) -- with 9,000 users registered for the site and 120,000 unique monthly visitors. In turn, the community began to expand to the r/LostMedia subreddit, which moderator Emily Maureen says hasn’t had their “first big hunt” yet, but has still brought in over 10,000 members. The group is meticulous in their investigation, even offering a Discord and forum for discussions about active searches.

“I was amazed,” YouTuber Jorge Flores (blameitonjorge) recalls of discovering the site in 2015. “I was shocked there was this much lost media: from video games to books to YouTube videos -- which are notoriously hard to find -- to silent films.” The forum’s discussions have helped inspire some of Jorge's most popular mystery-based videos, in which he documents some of the community’s prominent searches. While his lost media content has drawn in millions of viewers, it’s also helped build up the community.

“I've definitely made videos in the past that I've tried to research and they just didn't really come up with much,” lost media YouTuber LSuperSonicQ says. “But I thought I might as well make them because someone might know something. And it's actually proven true a few different times.”

The search process though, can be incredibly tedious. From someone's vague memory of a piece of animation, sometimes with photographic evidence, sometimes without, the internet detectives begin meticulously reaching out to as many people involved in the project as possible, using just about every platform imaginable -- yes, even LinkedIn! -- in order to solve another mystery and archive it on the wiki. It can be incredibly time-consuming too: one search for an adult-friendly pilot of the mid-2000’s Nickelodeon cartoon Kappa Mikey, originally pitched to MTV, took eight months to track down. "I even sent the creator a message on Twitter and he just very straight up said, ‘I haven't seen it in 10 years. Good luck," says lost media YouTuber LSuperSonicQ, who eventually tracked down a copy via the director.

And some investigations become gargantuan. One search for an animated short known as 'Clock Man' began in 2012 and ended five years later when a wiki user finally discovered a YouTube video linked to the clip, which featured only briefly on Nickelodeon's 1980s variety show Pinwheel. “Just from one person's recollection to later finding an earlier recollection of it from 10 years prior… Up until we found it, there were some people who swore it didn't exist,” says community administrator Lucy Berry. “It was just incredible. All of us were in disbelief that it happened.”

And while hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of lost media have been discovered through the community, many are still being uncovered. Among the most popular ongoing searches, users are currently trying to locate a 2007 Japanese manga-based film, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood. While the series it's part of is wildly popular among anime fans, the film has been missing since its release in Japanese theatres, possibly due to a less-than-enthusiastic box-office reception. “There's quite a few users searching for that and they’ve made progress,” says Lucy. “There was an animated pilot made for the movie and one of our users -- Red Mango -- managed to get a copy of that on DVD on some auction site.”

But for the community, locating lost media isn’t about being the winner of an obscure online auction or proving that their memories haven’t failed them -- those are just extras. Instead, it has allowed them to relive their childhoods and has created a network of media lovers who track down, recover and archive some of history’s forgotten entertainment. “I never expected myself to classify as an archivist,” its founder says. “It’s been really nice to connect with like-minded people. It started as a really niche thing, I never expected it to be this big. But I think it just goes to show that really niche subjects can blow up like this.”

And if you're bored as hell during lockdown and eager to get involved? “I always tell people to look through their old VHS tapes, look through their old computer files. Because that’s where these things end up being found, in the most random places.”