Unsolved Mysteries

This article is about a television program. For conjectures or open problems in various fields, see Unsolved problems.
Unsolved Mysteries

Logo from 2008 revival
Created by John Cosgrove
Terry Dunn Meurer
Starring Robert Stack (1987–2002)
Virginia Madsen (co-host, 1999)
Dennis Farina (2008–2010)
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 14
No. of episodes 572 (plus 7 specials)[1] (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) John Cosgrove
Terry Dunn Meurer
Producer(s) Raymond Bridgers
Stuart Schwartz
Jim Lindsay
(1997–1999 and 2001–2002)
Running time 44 minutes
Production company(s) Cosgrove-Meurer Productions
Distributor Buena Vista Television (1987–2002)
HBO Distribution (2008–present)
Original network NBC (1987–1997)
CBS (1997–1999)
Lifetime (2001–2002)
Spike (2008–2010)
Picture format 480i (SDTV)
Original release NBC: January 20, 1987 (1987-01-20) – September 5, 1997 (1997-09-05)
CBS: November 13, 1997 (1997-11-13) – June 11, 1999 (1999-06-11)
Lifetime: July 2, 2001 (2001-07-02) – September 20, 2002
Spike: October 13, 2008 (2008-10-13) – April 27, 2010 (2010-04-27)

Unsolved Mysteries is an American television program, hosted by Robert Stack from 1987 to 2002 and later by Dennis Farina starting in 2008. The show 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 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.

Currently, the show maintains a YouTube page where viewers can submit their own mysteries. If accepted, Unsolved Mysteries will post a video of the viewer describing the mystery.


Host Robert Stack (left, waving) defined the tone of Unsolved Mysteries.

Unsolved Mysteries used a documentary format to profile real-life mysteries[2] and featured re-enactments of unsolved crimes, missing persons cases, conspiracy theories and unexplained paranormal phenomena (alien abductions, ghosts, UFOs, and "secret history" theories).

The concept was created in 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 specials 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. Throughout the 1987-1988 television season, six more specials aired, the first two hosted by Karl Malden and the final four by Robert Stack.

In 1988, the show debuted as a weekly series on NBC. It declined in popularity after the 1993–1994 season. Until 2002, it was hosted by Stack. In its second season on CBS in 1999, Stack was joined by co-host Virginia Madsen. Episodes from 1994–1997 featured journalist Keely Shaye Smith and television host Lu Hanessian as correspondents in the show's "telecenter", where they provided updates on previous stories. A March 14, 1997 episode featured journalist Cathy Scott in the reenactment of rapper Tupac Shakur's 1996 unsolved murder.[3] The last original segment aired on September 20, 2002. 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 from a pulmonary embolism in 2013.

The show was known for its eerie theme song composed by Michael Boyd and Gary Remal Malkin, and for Stack's grim presence and ominous narration. The theme song was changed four times, in 1993, 1995,[4][5] 1997, and 2001. When it was revived in 2008, the theme and incidental music used were changed to up-beat rock music.

CBS had aired a similar half-hour crime documentary series during the 1955–1956 season entitled Wanted, hosted by Walter McGraw. It was not successful.


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:

Viewers were given updates on success stories, where suspects were brought to justice and loved ones reunited.

Broadcast history

NBC (1987–1997)

The show first aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997, 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.

CBS (1997–1999)

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 (2001–2002)

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.[6]

This repackaged series run was criticized by loyal fans for its presentation of past cases only, with no new cases being produced. Segments were edited to be shorter so the show could be expanded to present five segments in an hour rather than the four of the original series. As no new segments were produced, the host did not reference the years in which the segments presented originally aired. When updates for solved cases aired, Dennis Farina's voiceover would refer to cases "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 its run on Spike on April 27, 2010.



Notable actors

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.[7] Cheryl Hines, Stephnie Weir, Bill Moseley, Ned Bellamy and Daniel Dae Kim also appeared on the series before receiving more notable work in Hollywood.[8] Comedian Blake Clark was interviewed in the "Comedy Store Ghosts" episode. Hill Harper also appeared in an episode about a woman looking for a childhood friend whom she later discovered was indeed her sister.

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.

Season TV Season Rank Viewers
(in millions)
1 1988–1989 #17[9] 15.73
2 1989–1990 #11[10] 16.58
3 1990–1991 #16[11] 14.62
4 1991–1992 #13[12] 15.20
5 1992–1993 #21[13] 13.22
6 1993–1994 #36 11.99
7 1994–1995 #75 9.0
8 1995–1996 #59 9.4
9 1996–1997 #53 8.6
10 1997–1998 #86[14] 9.9
11 1998–1999 #75[15] 9.7

The original NBC telecast was nominated six times for an Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1989–1993 and 1995.[16]

DVD releases

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.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Volume 1: UFOs 26 September 7, 2004
Volume 2: Ghosts 34 September 14, 2004
Volume 3: Miracles 33 October 26, 2004
Volume 4: Bizarre Murders 32 January 25, 2005
Volume 5: Psychics 28 January 25, 2005
Volume 6: Strange Legends 27 February 15, 2005
The Best of 33 March 21, 2006
The Ultimate Collection 190 April 25, 2006

See also


  1. Unsolved Mysteries at epguides.com
  2. "Unsolved Mysteries". Unsolved.com. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  3. Cathy Scott. "Behind the scenes of 'Unsolved' Shakur mystery – Las Vegas Sun News". Lasvegassun.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  4. Commercials on YouTube aired during 1995 World Series, including an Unsolved Mysteries promo featuring a revamped theme song
  5. http://www.televisiontunes.com/Unsolved_Mysteries_-_Update.html Unsolved Mysteries theme song from 1995
  6. "Married with Children Comes to TBS This Fall, In Addition to Spike TV; Spike TV Fall 2008 Update". Sitcomsonline.com. June 24, 2008. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  7. "Before They Were Stars: Matthew McConaughey on "Unsolved Mysteries"". the-back-row.com. August 31, 2010. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
  8. "Before They Were Stars: Cheryl Hines on "Unsolved Mysteries"". the-back-row.com. February 22, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
  9. "TV Ratings > 1980's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  10. "TV Ratings > 1980's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  11. "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  12. "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  13. "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  14. "The Final Countdown". EW.com. May 29, 1998. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  15. "Final ratings for the 1998–1999 TV season". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  16. "Unsolved Mysteries". Emmys.com. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
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