Unsolved Mysteries is an American television program, hosted by Robert Stack from 1987 until 2002 and later by Dennis Farina starting in 2008. In addition, TV presenter Keely Shaye Smith and actress Virginia Madsen contributed greatly to its success. Keely Shaye played the role of a reporter from the confines of an office interacting with Stack and responding to questions for further information. In this capacity, she was a welcomed addition to the cast and revered tremendously by Stack, who would "cut to" her for more detailed information. Academy Award nominated actress Virginia Madsen's contribution to the show included performing in Stack's role as announcer for several years. It was broadcast first as specials in 1987, then as a regular series on NBC (1988-1997), CBS (1997-1999), Lifetime (2001-2002) and Spike (2008-2010). Lifetime once again airs the revived version of the series, but only in reruns.
Although the show is not in current production, Cosgrove-Meurer Productions maintains a website for the show, featuring popular accounts and still unsolved crimes (murder or missing persons), with a link to an online form should a viewer have information on an unsolved crime.
Unsolved Mysteries used a documentary format profiling real-life mysteries and featured reenactments of unsolved crimes, missing persons, conspiracy theories and unexplained paranormal phenomena (alien abductions, ghosts, UFOs, and "secret history" theories).
The concept was created upon a series of three specials produced by John Cosgrove and Terry-Dunn Meurer which were pitched to NBC in 1985 and shown in 1986 with the title, "Missing... Have You Seen This Person?". The success of the three programs led Cosgrove and Meurer to broaden the program to include mysteries of all kinds.
The pilot of what eventually became Unsolved Mysteries was a special that aired on NBC on January 20, 1987 with Raymond Burr as host/narrator to a rousing success. Throughout the 1987/1988 season, six more specials aired with the next two being hosted by Karl Malden and the final four by its eventual host, Robert Stack.
In 1988, the show became a weekly run series on NBC, although it lost some of its popularity after the 1993-1994 season. Until 2002, it was hosted by Stack, and during its second seaon on CBS, co-hosted by Virginia Madsen in 1999. Episodes from 1994-1997 featured journalist Keely Shaye Smith and television host Lu Hanessian as correspondents in the show's telecenter, from where they provided information on updated stories. A March 14, 1997 episode featured journalist Cathy Scott in the reenactment of rapper Tupac Shakur's 1996 unsolved murder. The last original segment aired on September 20, 2002, and eight months later, on May 14, 2003, Robert Stack died of heart failure. In 2008, television network Spike revived the series with Dennis Farina as its host. Farina died of a blood clot in 2013.
The show was well known for its eerie theme song composed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin, as well as Stack's grim-faced presence and ominous narration. The theme song was later changed four times in 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2001 until the show ended in 2002. When it was revived in 2008, the theme and music used were changed to up-beat rock music.
Much earlier, CBS had aired an unsuccessful similar half-hour crime documentary series entitled Wanted during the 1955-1956 season, hosted by Walter McGraw.
Unsolved Mysteries featured segments in documentary film style, with actors portraying the victims, perpetrators and witnesses. In most cases, however, victim's family members and police officials were also featured in interview segments interspersed throughout the dramatizations. In the earlier episodes, the following message was related to the audience at the beginning of the program:
"This program is about unsolved mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in recreating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast."
In the specials that first aired on NBC, the last sentence of the disclaimer said:
"This is not an NBC News Production."
For other special episodes, like Mysteries of the Psychic Mind or Mysteries of the Afterlife, the message was:
"This program is about unsolved mysteries. The re-enactments and special effects are actual eyewitness accounts. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast."
Each episode of Unsolved Mysteries usually featured three or four segments, each involving a different story. The show's host offered voice over narration for each segment, and appeared on-screen to begin and end segments and offer segues.
While the show was in production, viewers were invited to telephone, write letters or, in the newer broadcasts, submit tips through their website if they had information that might help solve a case. The segments all involved actual events, and generally fell into one of four categories
Criminal cases: Accounts of abductions, suspicious deaths, homicides, robberies, claims of innocence, missing persons and other miscellaneous unsolved cases where the suspects were either unknown or could not be located.,
Lost loves: Accounts of individuals trying to reunite with someone from their past; often involving closed adoption, people separated by circumstances, or an unknown "Good Samaritan" that saved someone's life.,
Unexplained/Alternative history: Alternative theories of history (including the theories that outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy did not die as history recorded, that the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov survived the 1918 regicide that killed her entire family, that the assassination of Louisiana senator Huey Long may have been an accident, that the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr was in fact a conspiracy, and that Kurt Cobain may have been murdered).,
Paranormal matters: Accounts of miracles, alleged UFO/alien encounters (including examination of the Roswell UFO Incident and the Phoenix UFO Incident, the UFO incident in Eupen, Belgium observed by NATO fighter jets, or scientific questions about life on Mars), ghosts, Bigfoot, or other inexplicable phenomena.,
Viewers were given updates on success stories, where suspects were brought to justice and loved ones reunited.
The show first aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997, originally hosted by actor Raymond Burr as a television special. Karl Malden also hosted the show before Robert Stack took over full-time. Unsolved Mysteries was also one of the few prime-time shows of its era to appeal to fans of the supernatural and used effective special effects to enhance tales of the unexplained.
In 1992, NBC aired a short-lived dramatized court show spin-off series called Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries, with Robert Stack as host also. The premise of this series was to try to give the unjustly accused a final appeal for help, with the debut episode taking an in-depth look at the Jeffrey MacDonald case. The series was canceled after only a few episodes due to poor ratings.
Unsolved Mysteries' ratings had been declining ever since it was moved from its original Wednesday evening to Friday evening in the fall of 1994. At the end of the 1996-1997 season, it was cancelled by NBC. Upon the cancellation from NBC, CBS picked up the series. When CBS canceled its Block Party line-up with shows such as Family Matters, and Step By Step, the network moved the show to its 9:00 p.m timeslot. During the show's run on CBS, the series was limited to only six episode seasons.
In early 1999, Stack was joined by actress Virginia Madsen for hosting duties in hope to regain ground on the ratings, but to no avail and after two years, CBS removed the show from its Friday night lineup. Later cable reruns of segments originally narrated by Madsen were re-dubbed with Stack's voice.
Lifetime Television, which had been airing re-runs of NBC episodes since the early 1990s, began airing new episodes sporadically in 2001. Consisting of a mixture of new and old cases, these episodes were produced between that year and 2002, and usually aired on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
After Stack's death in 2003, old episodes continued to run in syndication on several television networks (notably Lifetime) in the U.S., Canada, and Australia; but as of August 14, 2006, Unsolved Mysteries switched to airing on Lifetime Real Women, which is mostly on digital cable. In 2007, the show was removed from the schedule.
During some shows, callers gave tips to the telecenter. When the show aired on NBC and CBS, the number was displayed on the bottom of the screen. When it moved to Lifetime, the number was removed and an address was put in place. Lifetime kept the telecenter segments in the broadcast, despite the fact that this would not make sense to a viewer who hadn't seen the show on NBC and/or CBS.
Spike TV (2008-2010):
According to Broadcasting & Cable, in 2007, HBO Distribution announced plans to bring back Unsolved Mysteries when the cable channel Lifetime contract expired in 2008. The show featured a new set, new logo, new music, and updates on old cases. In addition, actor Dennis Farina became the new host, as Stack had died five years earlier. The show debuted on Spike on October 13, 2008.
This series' run was questioned by loyal fans for its presentation of past cases only, with no new segment cases being produced. Case segments were edited in shorter length to expand having five segments presented in one hour. No time or dates were mentioned, as if to make the cases seem recent and contemporary when in fact most cases were at least 15-20 years old. When updates for solved cases aired, Dennis Farina narrated it with "in a recent broadcast...", when the case may have already been solved during the show's original NBC run or during the series' hiatus from 2003-2007. Initially, Spike's airing schedule for the show was sporadic. Some weeks the channel would air a marathon during the daytime hours (11AM-3PM), similar to Lifetime's schedule for the show. Unsolved Mysteries ended once again on April 27, 2010 while on Spike.
As of late August 2010, the revamped, Farina-hosted version of Unsolved Mysteries began to air in reruns on the Lifetime Television cable network again. It currently airs on Lifetime every weekday morning at 8 a.m. and Saturday morning at 11 a.m.
On September 18, 1992, NBC debuted a short-lived 6-episode spin-off series, hosted by Robert Stack himself, entitled Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries.,
On January 23, 1995, NBC aired a two-hour primetime movie called Escape from Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story.,
On April 22, 1996, NBC aired a two-hour primetime movie special entitled, From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries: Voice from the Grave.,
On April 28, 1997, NBC aired a new primetime movie called From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries: The Sleepwalker Killing.,
In 1992, Unsolved Mysteries filmed in Texas and cast Matthew McConaughey to play a murder victim. This was one of McConaughey's earliest on-screen roles.Cheryl Hines, Stephnie Weir, Bill Moseley, Ned Bellamy and Daniel Dae Kim also appeared on the series before receiving more notable work in Hollywood. Comedian Blake Clark was interviewed in the "Comedy Store Ghosts" episode.
U.S. television ratings and awards:
Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Unsolved Mysteries.
Note: U.S. network television seasons generally start in late September and end in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps.
The figure reflected starting with the 1988-1989 season and ending with the 1996-1997 season represents the total number of households viewing the program. Starting with the 1997-1998 season, the viewing figure is based on total number of viewers.
The original NBC telecast was nominated six times for an Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1989-1993 and 1995.
First Look Studios released six theme-based DVD sets in Region 1 in 2004/2005. The sets were re-released on June 21, 2005 with a lower suggested retail price. On March 21, 2006, a compilation set called The Best of Unsolved Mysteries was released, which contained selected segments from each of the earlier DVD sets along with some previously unreleased-on-DVD content. A special boxed set featuring the first six sets along with the new content from the Best of collection was also produced.
Volume 1: UFOs
September 7, 2004
Volume 2: Ghosts
September 14, 2004
Volume 3: Miracles
October 26, 2004
Volume 4: Bizarre Murders
January 25, 2005
Volume 5: Psychics
January 25, 2005
Volume 6: Strange Legends
February 15, 2005
The Best of
March 21, 2006
The Ultimate Collection
April 25, 2006
The Killing of Tupac Shakur by crime author Cathy Scott ("Unexplained Death: Tupac Shakur" episode, March 14, 1997)