Out of the Archive: TV Restoration and Media Histories

Curator's Note


Though media archives serve as repositories of clues about our past, the focus of media historiography extends beyond just the archived artifacts. The decisions involved in the archival process, from designing the archive to defining what goes in it as well as who gets access to it, contribute to media histories in their own right. Thus, archival practices and the histories of the archived media are intimately linked. But what about the process of restoration?

The attendant clip documents the painstaking process of restoring lost, then found, original Dr. Who episodes. Derek Kompare has already provided an insightful analysis into the meanings buried in finding the lost footage, linking the locations housing these artifacts to the ghosts of British colonialism. However, the restoration process also demands our attention. The film is meticulously cleaned, first by hand, then mechanically. Then, the film is digitized so further quality loss can be stemmed. This is only the first stage. David Grant and Ryan Adams from CBS Digital have led a massive remastering project of classic CBS TV shows, including Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. They will discuss this process in detail at the Flow Conference’s Core Conversation panel “Television Restoration: Pragmatic Realities and Implications for Media History” on Friday, September 12. However, it is worth noting that many of the episodes were completely re-cut based on the original TV scripts and color-corrected from scratch. Sound was re-designed and CGI effects were added altering the original content.

How does such digital restoration of media content affect its history and our study of it? Since the archival content is reconstituted, “remastered”, in the interest of preservation, and redistributed to new audiences its history continues to evolve. In reconfiguring and repurposing these artifacts, we must critically look at what digital restoration contributes to our ideas of the past. As media historians, such practices invite us to consider their impact on media historiography, to examine how they conceive of preservation, and to reflect on how they challenge the notion of the media archive. 


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