Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Bring Back UNSOLVED MYSTERIES! Jun25

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Kicking Back With Jersey Joe: Bring Back UNSOLVED MYSTERIES!


a blogumn by Jersey Joe

Missing persons, ghosts, UFO’S, lost lovers, lost heirs, the unexplained, and more!  For one hour a week Unsolved Mysteries used to scare the crap out of me, but I couldn’t stop watching.  The thought that I might hold some vital clue to solve a case was and still is irresistible!   So, join me.  Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery!

“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.”

Each and every episode opened up with a similar disclaimer and to stay true to the show, my blogumn shall to…

The original groundwork of what would eventually become Unsolved Mysteries aired on NBC as a series of three specials titled “Missing… Have You Seen This Person?” After good ratings, the format was changed to include more than just stories about missing people.  The title was also changed and the first official episode of Unsolved Mysteries premiered on NBC back on January 20, 1987 with Raymond Burr as host.  Six more specials were ordered with episodes two and three hosted by Karl Malden and Robert Stack hosting the final four for what turned out to be the show’s first official season.

In the fall of 1988, the show was officially picked up as a series by NBC with Robert Stack as the permanent host.  Stack’s trench coat videotaped intros and his spooky voiceovers, mixed in with the mysterious theme gave this show a winning format that lasted for more than a decade.

I always wanted to be an actor or extra in one of those great vignettes that were produced for each episode to help clearly tell the story.  Usually, three to four stories were presented in each episode.  Some episodes had a common theme, where the stories would be all about ghosts, or UFO’s, or missing millions. In the early years, these vignettes were shot on film, but in the later years were recorded on videotape, then processed to give them a film look in post production.

Each vignette would generally fit into one of four categories:  Criminal cases, lost loves, unexplained history, or the paranormal. In between each vignette, Stack would appear on screen and wrap up what just happened and begin to introduce the next segment.  (after a commercial break, of course).  At the end of each show, there would be an update with new details on a prior case.  A toll free number was also listed, where you could call in with tips.

The early years of the show, definitely have a 90’s feel.  The pink lettering on the marble background was replaced with more blues and spooky high tech animation as the years progressed.

By the mid-90’s the ratings on the show began to slide.  To gain more viewers, the producers added a telecenter, so you could see where your phone calls were being answered.  However, NBC canceled the show in 1997.

CBS would then pick up the show for two more seasons.  In their version, Stack was joined by several correspondents in the field and even gained a co-host, Virginia Madsen, who was a total waste of air time.

In 1999, reruns began to air on cable network Lifetime.  The ratings were so good for the reruns, that Lifetime ordered new episodes to be produced.  New shows were cranked out until 2002, when Stack had to retire due to his failing health and treatment for prostate cancer.

Reruns would continue on both Lifetime and Spike TV until 2008; when Spike decided it was time to revive the series and produce new episodes.

On October 18, 2008, the revamped Unsolved Mysteries began the series latest incarnation on Spike TV.  Actor Dennis Farina, known for his Chicago street cop attitude, became the show’s new host.  Spookier opening credits were also introduced, but with new rock beat music that was far less interesting.  The show’s classic logo also changed to simpler font with a lens flare.  A new multi-story call center was also constructed, while Farina would introduce segments from an upper level of the set looking down on the call center, as opposed to the Stack version, where the was always in some foggy field or deserted courthouse.  The show came back for the newest season on April 5th of this year, but was only on the schedule for a few weeks, before being pulled.

According to unofficial reports, this show has solved 40% of the featured cases!  Also, many future Hollywood stars took bit parts in their reenactments; including Matthew McConaughey, Daniel Dae Kim, and Stephanie Weir.

I can remember always running to the television on Wednesday nights and loving this show. To me, the murder and missing person segments were good, but my favorite was the paranormal stories.  Since all of the vignettes were reenactments, they used quite a bit of special effects to tell the story.  They had so many cheesy flying saucer and ghost animations that still scare the crap out of me today!  This is where most of America learned what the whole UFO and alien abduction phenomenon was.  I learned that there was a flying saucer crash not too far from my family’s home in rural Pennsylvania back in the 1960’s!  Another terrifying story I remember is one about a little girl who died and her walk down the tunnel of light after passing through to the other side.

Stack’s cold stare and dead pan reads as he narrated the stories were so compelling, you couldn’t turn away.  However, as with all shows, they started tinkering with the format, even to the point where the correspondent’s were voicing over the stories during the CBS years.  They simply never had the same power as Stack’s voice had.  Farina continued the same voiceover tradition in the latest series, but he’s no Robert Stack.

When the show moved to Lifetime in the early 21st century, the stories were still as good as ever. Had Stack not taken ill, I have no doubt that this show would have continued for a few more seasons.

A short lived spin-off also aired in1992 entitled Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries, also hosted by Stack.  The premise behind this series was to give those persons who were unjustly accused of a crime, a final appeal for help.  The show did terrible in the ratings and was very quickly and quietly canceled.

Stack passed away on May 14, 2003, less than a year after stepping down from the show due to a heart attack.

Six volumes of DVDs have been released including one “best of everything” collection since 2006.  Volume 1 is UFO’s, volume 2 is ghosts, volume 3 is miracles, volume 4 is bizarre murders, volume 5 is psychics, and volume 6 is strange legends.

This was truly a great show and the latest version that aired on Spike TV was good, but not as good as the previous years.  The major problem with this version is that nobody knew it was on.  There was little promotion and then when the new season started the network ran shows in blocks on random dates and times.  I have not read it’s been officially canceled, but most references have disappeared from the cable net’s website.  I’m really outraged (as are many long time fans of the show) with how sloppily Spike handled this last season.  But, when a show is pulled off of a network’s website, it’s usually dead.

My thought is simple… bring this show back to network television and restore some of the mystery and nostalgia that went along with it.  A new host is definitely in order.  Look for an actor who can truly sell a mystery, without being over the top.  Jack Nicholson would be my first suggestion, but that probably will never happen, William Shatner would be pure genius, too.  Also on the Star Trek front, Jonathan Frakes did a great job hosting a similar show, Beyond Belief: Fact of Fiction that aired on FOX a decade ago.

It would be relatively inexpensive for a network to produce new episodes, far cheaper than paying big bucks for actors on a drama or sitcom.  Also, they must buy the rights and switch back to using the old theme, which is certainly not dated.  Shows now shoot on inexpensive high definition, as opposed to film in the early days.  Computers have made special effects and animations much cheaper to produce and with much better results than some of those animations created in the show’s past.  I would also eliminate the whole call center set and get the host back out in the field doing the spooky introductions.  We could also text message or email our tips!  Nobody really knew this show was airing on Spike TV at all.  I only caught it flipping through channels.  It could certainly find a home on NBC, CBS, or even FOX.

THE 411:


Current Status: 6 volumes of DVDs released with classic episodes.  The new series has been pulled from Spike TV’s current schedule.

Number of Episodes: 553, plus 7 specials to date

Networks: NBC, CBS, Lifetime, Spike TV


JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Bring this show back to network television and return some of the classic nostalgia that we all loved about it.  Bring back the original theme and get a better host than Dennis Farina.  I also recommend checking out the DVDs.  I was able to rent them all from Netflix.  If Spike TV resumes production, run a few more promos for the show and schedule it at a descent time, instead of burning off blocks of episodes.