Why Unsolved Mysteries Made A Major Change From The Original Series

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As one of the most haunting unscripted shows of the '90s, Unsolved Mysteries holds a key place in a lot of TV viewers' hearts and minds. As such, it was a huge surprise when it was announced the show would be getting rebooted for Netflix after regaining popularity through streaming reruns. Anyone wondering how the new version could possibly replace former host Robert Stack quickly had those curiosities sated by discovering that the new Unsolved Mysteries chose to to go without a host at all.

Beyond the enjoyable discomfort that Unsolved Mysteries' tales would invoke, the most memorable thing about the original show's extended, multi-network run was Robert Stack's stoic, no-nonsense presentation. And while the late actor wasn't the only person to serve as the show's host during its run, he's no doubt the fan-favorite of the bunch. With that in mind, original co-creator and EP Terry Dunn Meurer made the "really hard decision" not to find a replacement for the Netflix version. Here's how he explained it to TVLine:

The final decision was that it’s very difficult to fill Robert Stack’s shoes, and his trench coat. He’s just such an iconic voice. He’s such a signature of the show. We also wanted the actual participants in the stories, the family members and law enforcement [officers], to be more involved in telling the stories.

Everything stated there makes a good amount of sense from any perspective. The Oscar-nominated Robert Stack memorably portrayed Eliot Ness in The Untouchables TV series, and later poked fun at his himself in films like Airplane! and 1941, but for certain generations of fans, he will always be best-known for Unsolved Mysteries. It had to be a very intimidating idea to think about replacing him for such a big project like a Netflix revival. Alas, it was eventually decided that the show would go completely without a host for these initial episodes.

robert stack unsolved mysteries

Even if it wasn't already difficult to find someone with the same hard-boiled energy and heightened gravitas that Robert Stack was known for, Unsolved Mysteries' creative team also wanted this new project to give more focus to the subjects of each episode's central mystery. Because the former version of the show featured a selection of mysteries in each episode, it made sense to have Stack deliver summarized accounts to set stories up and explain the aftermaths, especially since some of the stories focused on more historical enigmas.

However, the cases being explored in Netflix's version are more contemporary. Thus, the people involved have a chance to lay out their own stories without the need for a narrator. That's obviously the route that similar crime-centered shows go these days, so it might have been interesting for Unsolved Mysteries to adhere to its former presentation. But maybe they'll try something out on that front if Season 2 ends up happening.

Robert Stack was one of the original presenters when Unsolved Mysteries began as a series of TV specials on NBC, alongside The Streets of San Francisco's Karl Malden and Perry Mason's Raymond Burr. Stack became the standalone host when the TV show spun off in 1988. It aired on NBC for nine seasons before flipping to CBS for the next two seasons, with actress Virginia Madsen begin added as a co-host for Season 11. After CBS cancelled Unsolved Mysteries, it later got picked up by Lifetime, where it aired for two more seasons. Lifetime's iteration ended in 2002, coinciding with Stack's prostate cancer diagnosis that preceded his 2003 death due to heart failure.

Of course, Unsolved Mysteries did opt at one point to continue on with a different host beyond Robert Stack. For its not-so-well-received run on Spike TV from 2008-2010, which mainly gave updates on years-old cases, Crime Story vet Dennis Farina served as the new host. While he was a solid replacement that could have also been a solid choice for the new version, Farina sadly died in 2013.

The new version of Unsolved Mysteries is but one of many great shows that will debut on Netflix in July. To see what else is hitting the streaming service soon, check out our 2020 Netflix premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.