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Swimming in Unsolved Mysteries

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In my 2017 media review I mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of Unsolved Mysteries. I didn’t expect someone to ask me, “what’s that?”

Unsolved Mysteries was a television show that debuted in 1987 on NBC and ran there for ten years before moving to CBS for another two. Lifetime picked the show up from 2001-2002, and it was relaunched on Spike from 2008-2010. According to Wikipedia there were 580 episodes in all, although many of the Spike TV episodes simply recycled segments from earlier seasons.

While later seasons tweaked the formula slightly, the bulk of the show’s episodes were hosted by Robert Stack. Each episode consisted of four segments from different categories such as “Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, and Fraud.” Each episode pulled segments from different categories, ensuring that each show had something to offer everyone.

Believe it or not, Unsolved Mysteries had a fairly high success rate in solving mysteries. According to the producers, viewer tips were responsible for solving almost 25% of the mysteries presented. That number seems particularly high when you consider how many of the segments featured ghosts, UFOs, and old legends. Unsolved Mysteries was never resolved whether or not Bigfoot was real and was unable to locate Amelia Earhart, but thanks to calls from viewers, they managed to locate lots of people on the run from law enforcement.

Unsolved Mysteries was surprisingly popular, particularly with people my age and younger. Many of the episodes were legitimately scary, at least to younger viewers. Fellow blogger Dinosaur Dracula has conveniently compiled his top 15 spookiest Unsolved Mysteries episodes (part one, two, and three).

For a show that spanned three decades and put out more than 500 episodes, you would think finding and watching old episodes would be easy. Unfortunately, up until 2017, it wasn’t.

Instead of releasing the show one season at a time, First Look Studios decided to combine segments from different shows and seasons and release a series of themed DVDs. Six DVDs were released in all: UFOs, Ghosts, Miracles, Bizarre Murders, Psychics, and Strange Legends. This was followed by a Best Of DVD (with segments culled from the previously released six DVDs) and eventually one large Ultimate Collection. Some of the themed DVD collections sell for hundreds of dollars apiece today, and the 25-DVD Ultimate Collection is currently available on Amazon for $750.

The good news is, in 2017, Amazon Prime began airing original episodes of Unsolved Mysteries featuring Robert Stack. Amazon lists twelve seasons of the show and, if I counted correctly, 233 episodes. That’s nowhere near all 580 episodes, and based on the episode guides on Wikipedia I don’t think it’s every episode from the first twelve seasons, but it’s a lot, and it’s what we got.

Around the same time Amazon began airing the classic Robert Stack episodes, those same episodes disappeared from YouTube. They were replaced, however, by every episode from the Spike TV release. These are the episodes hosted by Law and Order’s Dennis Farina, who took over after Robert Stack passed away in 2003. If you don’t have access to Amazon Prime these versions are better than nothing, although Farina lacks Stack’s cool, deadpan, and occasionally creepy delivery.

In the Amazon releases, updates have been added to many of the mysteries. It takes away from some of the mystery, but it’s nice to learn about solved cases.

It’s tough to justify watching too many episodes of the show. While they’re not good for researching plotting or pacing, they’re good for putting on before bed and falling asleep to. Nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to a creepy ghost segment!

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