Before The X-Files, Unsolved Mysteries ruled the airwaves. For those of you who grew up in the late 80’s, seeing Robert Stack wearing his trusty overcoat was a weekly experience. True tales of strange disappearances, grisly murders, and spooky supernatural experiences gave viewers darker subject matter than they could handle. Considering the show ran for fifteen years before being cancelled, then again for two more years beginning in 2008 with Dennis Farina as host, apparently people were starved for cryptic content. Ranking high as one of my favorite television shows ever, Unsolved Mysteries consistently delivered disturbing content that kept me away from my college studies.
One of the more interesting concepts of the show was allowing viewers to contact the producers if they had any information about any of the cases they showed. This relationship is ongoing even today through their official website. People can even record their own cases and submit them to their YouTube page. Interviews with the real people involved with the cases and dramatic reenactments brought the stories to life, and for the most part were fairly well done, though a few of the reenactment scenes did fall into the ‘cheesy’ category. For me, the cases about UFO encounters and abductions, ghostly occurrences, even Bigfoot sightings, were creepy enough, sending my imagination into over-drive.
There’s no doubt Unsolved Mysteries is a cultural phenomenon, with many spins offs and look-a-likes over the years, and countless parodies of the show, often with actors imitating Stack’s dead-pan yet ominous delivery. Hell, actor Matthew McConaughey, who certainly needs no introduction, got his start on the show with one of his earliest roles playing a murder victim. The fact that the website is still active with viewers contacting the producers with information about cold cases proves that while it was a major part of television through the late 80’s into the next century, the show has actually done quite a bit of good putting criminals behind bars, and releasing those wrongly accused of crimes.
The takeaways are obvious. The show contains a plethora of story prompts, whether you write horror, science-fiction, or thrillers. Of course, some of the theories used in the episodes were later debunked, for example the Satanic Panic of the 90’s and regression therapy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something of value to spur your imagination. Amazon Prime viewers can now watch Unsolved Mysteries, and Hulu recently began adding episodes to their menu last month. No matter how you watch the show, the ghost of Robert Stack is waiting for you to walk with him down memory lane, examining strange mysteries that often cannot be explained by man or science alone.