Unsolved Mysteries

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Unsolved Mysteries
Unsolved mysteries logo.png
Created byJohn Cosgrove
Terry Dunn Meurer
StarringRaymond Burr (1987)
Karl Malden (1987)
Robert Stack (1987–2002)
Virginia Madsen (1999)
Dennis Farina (2008–10)
Country of originUnited States
No. of seasons14
No. of episodes581 (including 7 specials)[1] (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)John Cosgrove
Terry Dunn Meurer
Producer(s)Raymond Bridgers
Stuart Schwartz
Jim Lindsay
(1997–99 and 2001–02)
Running time44–52 minutes
Production company(s)Cosgrove-Meurer Productions
DistributorBuena Vista Television (1987–2002)
HBO Distribution (2008–present)
FilmRise (2016–present)
Original networkNBC (1987–97)
CBS (1997–99)
Lifetime (2001–02)
Spike (2008–10)
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Original releaseJanuary 20, 1987 (1987-01-20) – April 27, 2010 (2010-04-27)
External links

Unsolved Mysteries is an American true crime reality television series, created by John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer. Documenting cold cases and paranormal phenomena, the show began as a series of seven specials, presented by Raymond Burr, Karl Malden, and Robert Stack, beginning on NBC on January 20, 1987, becoming a full-fledged series on October 5, 1988, hosted by Stack. After nine seasons on NBC, the series moved to CBS for its 10th season on November 13, 1997. After adding Virginia Madsen as a co-host during season 11 failed to boost slipping ratings, CBS cancelled the series after only a two-season, 12-episode run on June 11, 1999. The series was revived by Lifetime in 2000, with season 12 beginning on July 2, 2001. The series aired 103 episodes on Lifetime, before ending on September 20, 2002, an end that coincided with Stack's illness and eventual death.

After a six-year absence, the series was resurrected by Spike in 2007, to begin airing October 13, 2008. This new, revived-version was hosted by veteran actor Dennis Farina, who mainly tied together repackaged segments from the original episodes. Farina hosted 175 episodes before the series ended again on April 27, 2010. Lifetime currently airs the Farina episodes in reruns.

Cosgrove-Meurer Productions maintains a website for the show, featuring popular accounts and ongoing cold cases (murder or missing persons), with a link to an online form should a viewer have information on an unsolved crime.

As of 2017, the show maintains a YouTube page where viewers can submit their own mysteries. If accepted, Unsolved Mysteries posts a video of the viewer describing the mystery.

FilmRise acquired worldwide digital distribution rights to the series and announced its intent to release updated versions of its episodes in 2017. These shows are currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Tubi TV in the United States and the United Kingdom.[2] Since February 2017, the Spike episodes have been officially posted on YouTube, split into eight seasons.[3] In July 2017, the series began streaming on Hulu in the United States.[4]

On June 22, 2018, Terror Vision Records released the official soundtrack to Unsolved Mysteries.[5]

Creators Cosgrove and Meurer are looking into reviving the series for television, or possibly Netflix.[6]


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

Unsolved Mysteries used a documentary format to profile real-life mysteries[7] 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 1987–88 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 program on NBC. Ratings steadily dropped after the 1993–94 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 released from between 1994 and 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.[8] In 2002, the series was canceled by Lifetime. In 2008, television network Spike revived the program with Dennis Farina as its host; the Spike revival ended in 2010.

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 music was changed five times, in 1993, 1995,[9][10] 1997, 2001 and 2008.

In 2018, the novelty brand Terror Vision announced that music from the program would be released as a soundtrack for the first time. The release, a three-disc vinyl LP, will include all of the musical cues written for the ghost and paranormal segments on the program as well as five versions of the show's opening and closing theme music. All of the music was re-mastered directly using the original tapes.[11]

CBS had aired a similar half-hour crime documentary program during the 1955–1956 season entitled Wanted, 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 contrast to many similarly formatted newsmagazines that air in the 21st century (including NBC's own Dateline NBC), NBC News disowned Unsolved Mysteries and requested a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode stating the show was not a newscast. 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.[This quote needs a citation]

In the specials that first aired on NBC, the last sentence of the disclaimer said:

This is not an NBC News Production.[This quote needs a citation]

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.[This quote needs a citation]

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:[citation needed]

The remains of Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee, as depicted on the show, discovered beneath the Lake Panasoffkee bridge on February 19, 1971.[12][13]


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

The show itself has been credited for bringing increased attention to certain cases and thus allowing them to be solved. One episode featured a video of an arsonist filming an unidentified house being burned down while he was giving strange commentary. Once it had been featured on the show, viewers were able to identify the house involved, and two suspects were arrested.[14]

Broadcast history[edit]

NBC (1987–97)[edit]

The show first aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997. The pilot episode was hosted by actor Raymond Burr. Karl Malden and Robert Stack was also hired to host further specials; when the program became a full-fledged series in 1988, Stack became the full-time host. 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 program called Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries, also hosted by Stack. The premise of this program 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 program was canceled after only a few episodes due to poor ratings.

CBS (1997–99)[edit]

The ratings for Unsolved Mysteries' had been steadily declining ever since it was moved from its original Wednesday evening timeslot to Friday evenings in the fall of 1994. At the end of the 1996–97 season, it was canceled by NBC. Upon the cancelation from NBC, CBS picked up the program for a tenth season. The first episode aired in November of 1997 as an Unsolved Mysteries special. When CBS canceled its Block Party line-up with shows such as Family Matters, and Step By Step in the spring of 1998, the network moved the show to its Friday 9:00 p.m timeslot. During the show's run on CBS, the program was limited to only six episode seasons, and airing on a sporadic schedule.

When the series returned for its abbreviated 11th season in the spring of 1999, Stack was joined by actress Virginia Madsen for hosting duties in an attempt to boost its female audience.[15] But the effort failed, and CBS canceled the show soon afterwards. Later cable reruns of segments originally narrated by Madsen were re-dubbed with Stack's voice.

Lifetime (2001–02)[edit]

Lifetime Television, which had been airing re-runs of the NBC episodes since the early 1990s, began airing new episodes in 2001. Consisting of a mixture of new and old cases, these episodes were produced between 2001 and 2002, and usually aired on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The program ceased producing new episodes when Stack was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2002, from which he later died.

After Stack's death, old episodes continued to run in syndication on several television networks in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

During some shows, callers gave tips to the telecenter. When the show was in active production, the number was displayed on the bottom of the screen at the end of each segment. When the show left active production following Stack's death and went into reruns, the number was removed and replaced with a P.O. box address.

Spike TV (2008–10)[edit]

According to Broadcasting & Cable, in 2007, HBO Distribution announced plans to bring back Unsolved Mysteries when the cable channel Lifetime's 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.[16]

This repackaged program run was criticized by fans for its presentation of past cases only, with no new case segments being produced. The existing segments were also edited to be shorter so the show could be expanded to present five cases in an hour rather than the four of the original program. Because the majority of the cases were now between 20 and 40 years old, the re-edited segments usually did not reference the years in which the events presented originally occurred. When updates for solved cases aired, Dennis Farina's voice over would refer to cases "in a recent broadcast...", when the case may have already been solved during the show's original run or during the program's hiatus from 2002 onward. Unsolved Mysteries ended its run on Spike on April 27, 2010.


Season Episodes Network Originally aired
Season premiere Season finale
Specials 7 NBC January 20, 1987 (1987-01-20) May 18, 1988 (1988-05-18)
1 28 NBC October 5, 1988 (1988-10-05) September 6, 1989 (1989-09-06)
2 30 NBC September 20, 1989 (1989-09-20) September 12, 1990 (1990-09-12)
3 33 NBC September 19, 1990 (1990-09-19) September 11, 1991 (1991-09-11)
4 37 NBC September 18, 1991 (1991-09-18) September 9, 1992 (1992-09-09)
5 35 NBC September 16, 1992 (1992-09-16) September 15, 1993 (1993-09-15)
6 33 NBC September 22, 1993 (1993-09-22) September 18, 1994 (1994-09-18)
7 29 NBC September 25, 1994 (1994-09-25) August 30, 1995 (1995-08-30)
8 30 NBC October 20, 1995 (1995-10-20) September 13, 1996 (1996-09-13)
9 27 NBC September 20, 1996 (1996-09-20) August 8, 1997 (1997-08-08)
10 6 CBS November 13, 1997 (1997-11-13) May 29, 1998 (1998-05-29)
11 6 CBS April 5, 1999 (1999-04-05) June 11, 1999 (1999-06-11)
12 55 Lifetime July 2, 2001 (2001-07-02) April 29, 2002 (2002-04-29)
13 48 Lifetime June 10, 2002 (2002-06-10) September 20, 2002 (2002-09-20)
14 175 Spike October 13, 2008 (2008-10-13) April 27, 2010 (2010-04-27)


Notable actors and celebrities[edit]

Famous actors and celebrities have appeared on the show, both as role actors (before finding stardom) and also in episodes where they had a connection with the events being portrayed.

As role actors[edit]

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.[17] Cheryl Hines, Stephnie Weir, Bill Moseley, Ned Bellamy, Holmes Osborne, Scott Wilkinson, Daniel Dae Kim, Brent Spiner, David Ramsey, and Taran Killam also appeared on the program before receiving more notable work in Hollywood.[18][19][20] Hill Harper also appeared in an episode about a woman looking for a childhood friend whom she later discovered was indeed her sister. In 1991, Jennifer G. Roberts appeared in one of her first on-screen roles, in the Phillip Breen episode.

Connections with episodes[edit]

U.S. television ratings and awards[edit]

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 1988–89 season and ending with the 1996–97 season represents the total number of households viewing the program. Starting with the 1997–98 season, the viewing figure is based on total number of viewers.

Season TV Season Rank Viewers
(in millions)
1 1988–89 #17[21] 15.73
2 1989–90 #11[22] 16.58
3 1990–91 #16[23] 14.62
4 1991–92 #13[24] 15.20
5 1992–93 #21[25] 13.22
6 1993–94 #36 11.99
7 1994–95 #75 9.0
8 1995–96 #59 9.4
9 1996–97 #53 8.6
10 1997–98 #86[26] 9.9
11 1998–99 #75[27] 9.7

The original NBC telecast was nominated six times for an Emmy Award for outstanding informational series in 1989–93 and 1995.[28]

Home media[edit]

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 No. of 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: Incredible Psychics 28 January 25, 2005
Volume 5: Bizarre Murders 32 January 25, 2005
Volume 6: Strange Legends 27 February 15, 2005
Special Volume: Treasures & Ghosts 10 September 14, 2004
The Best of Unsolved Mysteries 33 March 21, 2006
Unsolved Mysteries: The Ultimate Collection 190 April 25, 2006


In 2018, Terror Vision Records made a deal with program creator John Cosgrove to release the show's official score on vinyl, Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts/Hauntings/The Unexplained. Two sets on color vinyl were released on June 22, 2018 – the first, a three vinyl set collecting the scores written for each of the show's ghost and missing/wanted segments along with three theme songs; the second, a 34 tracks single vinyl collection featuring the best cuts off the first three vinyl set. Segment cues were taken from the show's original DAT tapes.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Unsolved Mysteries (a Titles & Air Dates Guide)". www.epguides.com.
  2. ^ "'Unsolved Mysteries' Solved? Amazon to Stream Updated Episodes in 2017". The Wrap. December 15, 2016. Retrieved 2017-01-21.
  3. ^ "Unsolved Mysteries with Dennis Farina, Season 1 - YouTube". YouTube.
  4. ^ "season-1-hulu-robert-stack - Unsolved Mysteries".
  5. ^ a b "Unsolved Mysteries: Ghosts / Hauntings / The Unexplained Single LP Version". Terror Vision Records and Video.
  6. ^ Rayne, Elizabeth (August 22, 2017). "Unsolved Mysteries could be creeping up on you shockingly soon".
  7. ^ "Unsolved Mysteries". Unsolved.com. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  8. ^ Cathy Scott. "Behind the scenes of 'Unsolved' Shakur mystery – Las Vegas Sun News". Lasvegassun.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  9. ^ Commercials on YouTube aired during 1995 World Series, including an Unsolved Mysteries promo featuring a revamped theme song
  10. ^ http://www.televisiontunes.com/Unsolved_Mysteries_-_Update.html Unsolved Mysteries theme song from 1995
  11. ^ http://www.terror-vision.com/store/unsolved-mysteries-ghosts-hauntings-the-unexplained-3xlp-version
  12. ^ Peter, Jamison (30 June 2012). "Clues emerge in cold case murder that may be tied to Tarpon Springs". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  13. ^ Waters, Robert (17 February 2010). "Searching for an identity: "Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee"". Retrieved 8 April 2014.
  14. ^ "Suspected videotape arsonists arrested". UPI. Retrieved 2018-09-03.
  15. ^ "True Crime Factor Interview: John Cosgrove". February 10, 2017.
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ "Before They Were Stars: Matthew McConaughey on "Unsolved Mysteries"". the-back-row.com. August 31, 2010. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
  18. ^ "Before They Were Stars: Cheryl Hines on "Unsolved Mysteries"". the-back-row.com. February 22, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
  19. ^ https://unsolved.com/celebrity-contest-answers/
  20. ^ "27 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Unsolved Mysteries". September 20, 2017.
  21. ^ "TV Ratings > 1980's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  22. ^ "TV Ratings > 1980's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  23. ^ "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  24. ^ "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  25. ^ "TV Ratings > 1990's". ClassicTVHits.com. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  26. ^ "The Final Countdown". EW.com. May 29, 1998. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  27. ^ "Final ratings for the 1998–1999 TV season". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009. Retrieved 2013-04-08.
  28. ^ "Unsolved Mysteries". Emmys.com. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  29. ^ "TnT Crime Watch". Retrieved 2011-06-04.

External links[edit]