Unsolved Mysteries (1987-1999): Gone But Not Forgotten

If you grew up in the 1980s and 90s, no doubt you also watched Unsolved Mysteries with host Robert Stack. In this episode of Gone But Not Forgotten we dig into what was considered nightmare fuel for a generation of kids.

True Crime is a part of everyday media that the TV series, specials, films, and documentaries all about it have been around forever.  But actually, that’s not the case.  The format we now see, wasn’t the norm at all in the 80s when Unsolved Mysteries began its iconic run.  A weekly series built around cases and interviews with the people who were a part of them, re-enacting the crimes…had never been done before.

But then one day a series came along that would not only showcase True Crime but would also give us ghosts, UFOs, and all points in between.  Not only that, but the theme song would cause PTSD in most kids my age who had the fortune or misfortune to hear it.  That series is Unsolved Mysteries, a series so popular that it changed not only pop culture but the way investigations within law enforcement were conducted.  

Unsolved Mysteries began as news specials on NBC in 1986. At that time, it was hosted by David Birney and Meredith Baxter Birney, not Robert Stack.  

The idea came from the minds of Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove.  The concept of recreating an incident and interviewing the people involved, as well as law enforcement, was intriguing for viewers.  It was also a way to get tips and leads on cases that had run out of steam or gone cold by vigilant viewers ready to call in. This was a few years before America’s Most Wanted would air.

The specials were a hit and led to the idea of branching out to not just missing persons.  In 1987 the first Unsolved Mysteries special aired hosted by Perry Mason himself, Raymond Burr.  Over the next couple of years, six more would air, with Karl Malden hosting the first two and the legendary and iconic Robert Stack stepping out of the fog to host the last four and cementing himself as the voice of the series.  Stack wasn’t as expensive as Burr or Malden, which is why he got the permanent gig, but I honestly couldn’t see anyone but him, much less hear someone else’s voice on the show.  But you can tell from the fact that the three hosts all came from the realms of crime TV series: Perry Mason, Mike Stone from Streets of San Francisco, and Elliot Ness. The series wanted viewers to equate their hosts with heroic types from the world of law.  This is funny, though, since many people equate Stack in the series as adding to the creep factor of the show.  You knew when he walked out of the shadows you were in for something.

Today on Gone But Not Forgotten, we’re delving into the question of what happened to Unsolved Mysteries.

About the Author

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Jessica was raised on a diet of Dark Shadows, Doctor Who, and a lot of things she saw way too young. She’s been writing for nearly a quarter of a century about the world of entertainment and her own fiction (and that sound you heard was her bones turning to dust.) Jessica loves being a JoBro as well as creating content for her site/channel/Podcast Fangirl Magazine/Fangirl Radio. Her favorite things are writing, movies/tv, video games, reading, and trying to summon the ghost of Vincent Price.