An episode of a regular series which, for some reason, is not included when the series is shown in syndication (or is sometimes pulled when the series is first run and then shown in syndication or is never shown in syndication at all — and, in some cases, not included when the show is put on home video, DVD or online streaming websites). A missing episode is (almost always) an episode that plans to air, but something later comes up to prevent it. The circumstances are usually one, all, or any of the following:
- Offensive content: An episode may be too violent, profane, sexual, or controversial to be shown. Similarly, a tragedy makes the episode's story or jokes come off as being in bad taste.note This overlaps with Banned Episode, though the difference between a Missing Episode and a Banned Episode is that a banned episode is often an episode that used to have no censorial problems until complaints from Moral Guardians or a tragic real-world event drives it to being shelved.
- Legal issues (usually over copyright infringement, libel, defamation of character, or a class-action suit). Related to this, some episodes are pulled due to insurmountable licensing issues relating to music used in the episode, or perhaps imagery, that render the episode no longer viable if edited out.
- Bury Your Art: the people involved realize that the episode isn't as good as they thought it was (whether the audience agrees with them or not) and decide to pull it from reruns. The episode may come back on DVD, but either with no commentary or commentary about how audiences didn't like it or the creators didn't like it.
- A show is canceled (be it short-lived or long-running) and has some episodes that have never been aired (cf. Dinosaurs and King of the Hill) or, in the case of Mission Hill, the episodes were in pre-production and incomplete and had to be scrapped when news hit that the show has been canceled.
- It's literally missing. There are no surviving copies left. This applies to a lot of old films, radio shows and TV shows, as few people actually cared about preserving the works for future audiences at the time — often due to the high costs of magnetic tape and film at the time — which led to copies being either destroyed by the ravages of time, junked or taped over. This also tends to happen a lot with internet content, as most things in the Internet exist in only one copy and many internet users don't bother to archive content, hence why initiatives such as Archive Team and the Internet Archive exist. In addition, a lot of films in the silent film era have fallen victim to this, due to the high flammability of the nitrate film used at the time; many films from the silent era were lost in fires.
- Speaking of digital media, it's starting to become a real issue that works created with now obsolete digital technology are no longer accessible. Most obviously, websites and content that relied heavily on Macromedia/Adobe Flash are no longer playable on phones and tablets, and use of the plugin on desktops and laptops is strongly discouraged. The BBC's attempt to recreate the Domesday book in a modern format for the 80s is facing serious issues with the fact it was recorded on Laser Disc, for playback by a computer system that's been out of production for 30 years. This phenomenon has been dubbed the Digital Dark Age, and it highlights the importance of not just preserving media, but also the technology needed to play it.
- The executives have lost the rights to air the episode (or, in some cases, the entire show).
- If it's an episode of an anime or an overseas import, usually it's skipped over due to translation issues, the aforementioned content issues (often due to Values Dissonance as something benign in one country can be offensive in another), or the fact that it's filler and, therefore, considered a waste of time to show since it has nothing to do with the running story arc.
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.
Often overlaps with Keep Circulating the Tapes, which is when a work cannot be obtained easily and/or legally (and that's if it can be obtained at all). Can overlap with Denial of Digital Distribution if specific episodes are missing from the digital release. For an episode that never actually existed in the first place, see UnInstallment. See also Canon Discontinuity, for something that isn't recognized as part of the series, usually due to how out of place it is. See also Banned Episode, which is a Missing Episode that already aired at least once or twice, but was pulled due to complaints over content, legal issues, or needing to be Distanced from Current Events. See also Unfinished Episode, which is a Missing Episode that was in the middle of production, but for various reasons was never completed. Some supposed "missing episodes" are actually false Pop Culture Urban Legends.
There is even now an entire wiki devoted to lost media. Check it out for more details behind some of the listed examples here.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Comic Strips
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- The BBC note
- Doctor Who
- Game Shows
- Professional Wrestling
- Video Games
- Web Animation
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- When Chinese Lilo & Stitch Spin-Off series Stitch & Ai was finally released in the United States in December 2018 via DisneyNow (a TV Everywhere service servicing that country only), Disney decided not to bring over the show's ninth episode "The Phoenix" to the States for whatever reason.
- Around 2003, Microsoft planned to release a new version of their Windows operating system, codenamed Longhorn and being a minor update to Windows XP. However, due to the snowballing number of bugs and security holes inherited from XP, Longhorn had to be scrapped and replaced with a new branch. The only thing left is screenshots and a couple of testing builds.
- Happened even earlier, to Windows 96, codenamed Cleveland, later Nashville. The main features of this would-be new version, which revolved around tighter integration of Internet Explorer, were eventually shipped as the Windows Desktop Update in 1997, as an optional feature of Internet Explorer 4.
- And right after that, there was Neptune and Odyssey: after releasing Windows 98, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates stated that the next consumer version of Windows would shift to using the Windows NT architecture rather than be built on DOS. Neptune would fill this particular void, while a second project known as Odyssey was going to be the next business-oriented version, succeeding the upcoming Windows 2000. Only one known build of Neptune circulates — which was basically Windows 2000, but with early iterations of "user-friendly" concepts (such as a graphical login screen and "activity centers") bolted on, and a built-in firewall. Both Neptune and Odyssey ended up getting into Development Hell: the DOS-based Windows ME was released as a stop-gap while Microsoft began to work on a unified platform for both markets — the eventual Windows XP.
- The Boondocks: "A Date with the Booty Warrior" opens with footage of an fictitious unaired 2005 episode of To Catch a Predator, which is quickly revealed to have been because Chris Hansen was assaulted by the eponymous Booty Warrior during filming.
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace: There was said to be fifty episodes of the Show Within a Show of the same name made, but most were lost when Marenghi accidentally taped over most of them.
- An episode of Frasier reveals that Frasier keeps cassette recordings of every episode of his radio show, but that Daphne has accidentally destroyed one. As his radio station takes a very haphazard approach to archiving, he puts out an appeal on the show to find it. One of his listeners does have it, but when Frasier meets him he finds that the show has taken over his life, to the point that he quit his job to ensure that he can record it everyday. Perhaps realising that this is not a healthy obsession, Frasier tells him to keep the tape.
- "Dethwater" mentions that the band had recorded 16 individual albums, all deleted by Nathan Explosion because he didn't think they were good enough. He then proceeds to delete a 17th one.
- The Dethklok movie "Blood Ocean" was lost forever when a fire started on the oil rig the movie premiered at, burning the only copy of the film. It was no big loss, as what was shown was So Bad, It's Horrible and would have ruined Dethklok's reputation (and Grisnak was happy to do that, too, just to make a quick buck).
- The album 'Seething Vortex' was lost when all shipments of the record were destroyed in a freak hurricane, and Nathan under the influence of a water god destroyed the master copy because he took the destruction of the rest as a sign that the album shouldn't exist. This has consequences through the rest of the season, as not only did the economy take a downturn because of the album failing to release, this was the beginning of the rift between Nathan and Pickles that culminated in Pickles quitting Dethklok.
- In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, after Captain Qwark's Disney Death aboard Dr. Nefarious's ship above Zeldrin, Big Al finds the unreleased and classified fifth entry in the Qwark Vid-Comic series, which unlike the other entries is narrated by Slim Cognito and reveals what happened between Qwark and Nefarious after Qwark's victory in the fourth entry.
- Some Creepypastas are based on a fictional lost episode of a show that only aired once or hasn't aired at all because it contains very disturbing and horrific content. Some examples include Dead Bart (about a lost episode of The Simpsons where Bart dies, a photorealistic shot of his corpse is seen and the rest of the family spend the next year grieving Bart's loss and wasting away), Suicide Mouse (about a lost Mickey Mouse short where Mickey walks past buildings while oblivious of frightening noises playing in the background), Squidward's Suicide (about an unaired episode of SpongeBob SquarePants involving Squidward killing himself and featuring photographs of disemboweled children hidden in the animation frames), Axis Powers Hetalia Episode 23.5 (about a lost episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers where Germany and Japan resort to committing cannibalism and eating Italy to avoid starving to death), and Candle Cove (which is technically a lost series rather than a lost episode).
- Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose features a murder mystery whose solution hinges on the contents of Aristotle's lost second book of Poetics (dealing with comedy).
- The Da Vinci Code builds its central theme around a fictional account of the apochryphal and partially lost Gnostic Gospels.
- Batman: The Animated Series: The episode "Beware the Gray Ghost" has someone committing crimes as seen in the eponymous TV show. When Batman goes looking for episode recordings in order to find clues, he learns that the whole series has supposedly been lost after a fire in the archives, and this episode was never mass-produced. However, the actor who played him, Simon Trent, has a complete collection.
- Milo Murphy's Law: the Extra-Long Episode "Missing Milo" revolves around the characters getting ready to watch the now-found pilot episode of Doctor Zone from the 1960s, only for Milo to get caught up in a Time Travel misadventure. Naturally, the other characters are a bit taken aback to see Milo and Doctor Zone fighting pistachio monsters.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: "The Bad Guy Club for Villains" is a lost episode of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.
- One episode of Remote Control was supposedly a lost episode from 1975 (for reference, the show only started in 1987). Naturally, the episode was disco-themed, with groovy music, everyone donning 70s fashions and Ken Ober having a giant black afro (much like Alex Trebek's 70s 'fro, as seen on the surviving episodes of High Rollers)
- George Zebrowski's "Foundation’s Conscience": The conflict for the story comes from the unidentified researcher trying to make an Anthology of Hari Seldon's appearances in the Time Vault. However, they're initially prevented from doing so, because appearances two, three, and six are mislabeled. They eventually find the missing recordings, we see Seldon's final description of his Plan for the galaxy.
- Always Coming Home has as part of it the novel Dangerous People. The original book had a single chapter, while the extended edition has more, but is still missing its ending due to having been damaged in transit.