Quick Picks from CMCL

August 8, 2014

Checking In: Imogen Q. TVbeard and the Curse of China Beach

Today’s blog post is brought to you in part by Imogen Q. TVbeard, ex-pirate, raconteur and expert in hidden televisual treasure. Any stray thoughts, exhortations of “arr!” and/or random parentheticals will be safely ensconced in parentheses.

(How many times must I tell ye – the “Imogen Qchinabchs1.” be silent! And yes, me parents perhaps didn’t quite understand how pirates of me era be named in an exclusively color-based way – me brother be named Twiddlebeard and me sister be Portabeard, and neither name be likely to strike fear into the hearts of any foe larger than a small-for-its-age sugar ant.)

TV shows become unavailable for any number of reasons. Live shows from the dawn of the TV age, unless kinescoped for posterity, were broadcast once and not recorded. Shows from the early videotape era were recorded, but videotape was so expensive at the time that many were kept only briefly and then recorded over. The British sci-fi show Doctor Who is one of the most prominent examples of this, as nearly a hundred half-hour episodes are believed destroyed.

(Arr. I be interjectin’ during this part of yer tale because this be an issue that be dear to me heart – I be travelin’ round the world lookin’ for missing TV. There be a yearly event in the UK that be named Missing Believed Wiped, celebratin’ the recovery of lost treasure.)

Some TV is locked away in a studio vault and still not available, and this is the fate that befell China Beach, a 1988-1991 ABC drama set during (and eventually after) the Vietnam War. Set at a medical evacuation hospital near My Khe beach in Da Nang, it focused on the medical, ethical and romantic entanglements of the base staff, primarily women. No other drama of the time had as strong an ensemble of actors that routinely passed the Bechdel test. The show flits between tones, often mixing surreal humor with drama and occasionally a fine-tuned sense of melodrama. The show’s setting is seen through an American prism (and further through a early-’90s network TV prism), but it doesn’t shy away from its subject.

(Arr! Dana Delany be one of the reasons I be trawlin’ the high seas, because she be awesome.)

Only briefly available in syndication, China Beach fell swiftly out of the public consciousness. While many shows have been revived by DVD releases in the last fifteen years, China Beach was twice unlucky – this time affected by music rights. Original recordings of music of the era backgrounded scene after scene, but music rights were originally negotiated for network and syndication airings only. Warner Bros. attempted a release in 2004, but music rightsholders demanded exorbitant fees for the use of their songs. Faced with the choice of substituting soundalikes that would diminish the show’s dramatic impact, Warners cancelled its release, putting China Beach back on the shelf.

(And here ye be finally gettin’ to the happy endin’. There’s always a happy endin’.)

China Beach is finally available – released last year in a complete series set and then as individual seasons. Out of the hundreds of songs used on the show, almost all of them have been licensed, and it can once again be seen and heard as it originally aired.

(Be clickin’ on the artwork if ye want to be placin’ a hold! I must be goin’. Me work here be done, and there be more missin’ TV to uncover. I hear tell The Wonder Years may be somewhere ’round the corner…)

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