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14 Memorable Facts About Family Ties

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In 1982, thanks to Ronald Reagan, America was becoming more conservative. Back then NBC was struggling a bit in the ratings: its famed Thursday night comedy block hadn’t started yet, and sitcoms about nuclear families were scarce. To capitalize on the dearth of family-oriented sitcoms, Gary David Goldberg created a show for NBC about Columbus, Ohio-based couple—and former liberal hippies—Elyse and Steven Keaton, who were now raising three (later four) kids, one of whom was a Reagan-loving young Republican named Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox). Loosely based on Goldberg’s life, Family Ties was grounded in comedy, but also tackled intense issues such as alcoholism, incest, and death. “The show was more focused on getting Humanitas Awards than Emmys,” co-star Justine Bateman told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t know if there was anything the [writers] wanted to do that the network said no to.” 

Family Ties quickly became a ratings juggernaut; a third of all American households watched the show. Despite its success, Goldberg decided to call it quits after seven seasons, so the show went off the air in 1989, with Alex moving to New York City to take a job—though not before giving his family a heartfelt goodbye. Decades later the show is remembered for the Keatons’ wit, and the warm, fuzzy family values it enacted. Here are 14 “sha-la-la-la” facts about the show.

1. MATTHEW BRODERICK WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR ALEX P. KEATON.

Gary David Goldberg saw an audition tape of Matthew Broderick and wanted to cast him Alex P. Keaton, but Broderick turned down the part as he didn’t want to move to L.A. Goldberg saw Michael J. Fox’s audition tape but didn’t feel he was right for the role. “I just thought, ‘No,’” Goldberg later told Emmy TV Legends. “And Mike is such a gifted actor that he could make his choices very specific, and he could play any role any way, and he had made a very specific choice that day in the room at Paramount to play the darker side of Alex Keaton, and it didn’t work.”

But casting director Judith Weiner kept hounding Goldberg to cast him, and finally Goldberg agreed to see Fox again. “So, [Weiner] calls him in, and I say, ‘Anything you want me to tell you?’ He goes, ‘No, just do it better, huh?’ And he gives me this little smile, and I’m thinking, ‘Matthew who?’ It was like ‘boom.’ He nailed it. He just played who he was, he played another side. He was Mike. And as soon as he left, I turned to Judith and I said, ‘This kid’s great. Why didn’t you tell me about him?’"

2. MICHAEL J. FOX SAW ALEX AS A “SCARED KID.”

On Inside the Actors Studio, host James Lipton asked Fox, “Who is Alex Keaton?” “I always thought of him like a mansion made out of rice paper,” Fox replied. “He looked amazing, he felt good about what he presented to the world, but you could poke your finger through it any time you wanted to. And then the fun was watching him react to that and recover from that and hoist himself back up to that place where he thought he was.”

Fox said he saw a lot of himself in Alex, and that the role taught him quite a bit about acting. “What I learned about acting, especially doing that show, is that I thought of acting, when I was younger, as something [where] you put on a character. You’re trying to be somebody else, and really what it is, is trying to take stuff off. That’s the great fun of playing Alex: he is a kid who’s putting on all this stuff, and when it was really effective was when you see him naked. You see he’s just this scared kid.”

During an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Fox said he also based the character on his smart-ass brother, who had great timing. “My brother was so funny at the dinner table that you’d wait for what he had to say.” Fox said. “He’d put his glass of milk down and from the minute he took the glass of milk from his mouth you’re waiting for what he had to say. So later, all that became a part of Alex.”

3. BOTH CONSERVATIVES AND LIBERALS LOVED ALEX P. KEATON.

Finally, some good news on bipartisanship: Republicans and Democrats both loved Alex. Fox grew up in Canada and “wasn’t a part of any American political construct,” he told Emmy TV Legends. “As the character developed, Republicans really took Alex under their wing and made him a poster boy for the movement. At the same time, too, social liberals were writing me letters saying, ‘Way to go satirizing that point of view.’ So I was loved on both sides and that was uniquely about the character and uniquely about the show. It was one of the shows where it just caught a time. It just found its niche.” (So much so that Ronald Reagan reportedly expressed interest in making a cameo on the show.) “The central values, the family element of it, that part of it, I think, was a value that appealed to both sides of the spectrum. So it was unifying in that sense.”

4. MALLORY WASN’T ALWAYS SO DUMB.

Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton, told Variety that in the first couple of episodes, Mallory was “a normal sister.” “In fact, they have a line in the pilot where Alex brings a girl home to have dinner with the family and she says, ‘I really love helping people, and I really love cheerleading.’ And I say, ‘Oh, kind of like an Albert Schweitzer with pom poms.’ What Mallory became, of course … She would never have a line like that.” The transition from cerebral to dumb came from whenever Alex made fun of Mallory. Bateman would “pretend it was a compliment, and the writers saw that and went, ‘Oh, sh*t, if she thinks that’s funny, that’s so great.’ So we just started going in that direction,” Bateman said.

5. SCOTT VALENTINE THOUGHT HE WAS PAID TOO MUCH MONEY TO GRUNT.

Scott Valentine played Mallory’s boyfriend, Nick Moore, and felt the role was too dumbed down for him. “That was some tough stuff there,” he told Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM. “I'm so glad I went to the [American Academy of Dramatic Arts] and to all the other fine acting institutions so I could grunt on primetime television. The primal dig, the date from hell. It was a lot of fun, but literally there were times where I only had to utter two guttural utterances in a show and they paid me a bundle of cash for it. I felt bad at times.”

6. NICK MOORE WAS SPUN-OFF INTO THREE UNSUCCESSFUL PILOTS.

Moore’s Stallone-esque character was only supposed to appear in a single episode of Family Ties but became a series regular. He was such a popular character that the network decided to give him his own show. Three pilots were made, and all three failed. The first was a show called Taking It Home, where Nick (last name Morelli) moves home to Detroit and lives with his grandfather, played by Herschel Bernardi. Bernardi died after filming, in 1986, so the project was canceled.

The second show centered around Nick and a daycare center for juvenile delinquents. “They said kids telling Nick he was an idiot wasn’t as funny as adults telling Nick he was an idiot,” Valentine told Spy. The third time around wasn’t the charm Valentine was looking for either; Valentine shot a pilot where Nick lives with his sister and her kid in New York City in a show called The Art of Being Nick. The show featured a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who made a guest appearance as a lawyer on Family Ties), and did well when it aired in 1987. “It came in number two and they still didn't pick it up,” Valentine said. “Then [the network] hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally towards late summer said, ‘Geez, we’d like a shot at this again.’ And I said, ‘You know what guys? If I do this I’m gonna be Nick for the rest of my life. And we should put Nick to rest right now.’”

7. FOX WAS ALMOST FIRED BECAUSE HIS FACE WASN’T FIT FOR A LUNCHBOX.

Brandon Tartikoff, then-president of NBC, wanted to fire Fox after the pilot. “He said, ‘I love the show, you’ve just got to get rid of the kid. I can’t see that face on a lunchbox,’” Fox told Parade. “So years later, when Back to the Future hit and Family Ties was the number two show on TV, I made Brandon a lunchbox with my picture on it, and I wrote, ‘This is for you to put your crow in. Love, me.’ Brandon turned out to be a good friend and a great guy. He kept that on his desk until the day he died.”

8. FOX FILMED FAMILY TIES AND BACK TO THE FUTURE SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Because of his contractual obligations to Family Ties, Fox initially wasn’t allowed to do Back to the Future. But when things didn’t work out with actor Eric Stoltz, the filmmakers tried again for Fox. Right before Christmas break in 1984, Goldberg called Fox into his office and told him about the movie and asked, “‘Was I prepared to do both the show and a movie at the same time?’” Fox told Parade. “All of a sudden, I came back from Christmas break and I went to work on Family Ties, and then that night I was standing in the parking lot with flaming tire tracks running between my legs—and my whole world changed. I ended up getting about three hours sleep a night for the next three or four months, because they had to get the movie out that summer.” Of course the movie was a huge success and made Fox an even bigger star.

9. THE UBU PRODUCTIONS LOGO WAS ACTUALLY GOLDBERG’S DOG, NAMED UBU ROI.

The now-iconic production company signoff tag at the end of every episode featured a picture of a black lab—Ubu Roi—with a Frisbee in its mouth and a voiceover saying, “Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.” The photo was taken near the Louvre in Paris, during a trip where Goldberg and his wife hitchhiked across Europe. “As far as hitchhiking goes, most people who picked us up, picked us up because of Ubu,” Goldberg said in his memoir, Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair. “I just thought, you know, I want very little distance between who I was that day, and who I am now,” Goldberg told Emmy TV Legends. “I just don’t want a lot of distance there. So it was really nice to have that logo to always remind you who you are.” Unfortunately, Ubu died in 1984, but the logo lived on in Goldberg’s other shows like Spin City and Brooklyn Bridge.

10. WHEN TRACY POLLAN FIRST MET FOX, SHE FOUND HIM TO BE “FULL OF HIMSELF.”

At the start of season four, the producers cast Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed, a grounded love interest for Alex. On Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton asked Pollan what her first impression of Fox was and she said, “He was feeling good about himself. I think I thought he was kind of full of himself. And then we started to work together and I got a completely different impression and how completely opposite from that he was—just funny and so smart, and just all of these other things came through those first two weeks we worked together.” Fox had an immediate crush on her and credits her for helping him win his first Emmy. “But I had this moment where I was looking at her and thinking, ‘She’s really good.’ She was so present. I really learned the importance of presence. I’d been having a lot of fun playing this guy for laughs, but I really felt, ‘Now I gotta work here. I gotta show up and do this because this actress is really the real thing.’ It was a profound moment for me, in a way.”

Pollan (whose brother is famed food writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) appeared on the show for 13 episodes between 1985 and 1987. On July 16, 1988, she and Fox married. Today they have four children.

11. THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT FOX AND COURTENEY COX WERE AN ITEM OFF-SCREEN.

For the last two seasons of Family Ties, a then-unknown Courteney Cox joined the cast as Alex’s girlfriend, Lauren Miller. Rumors swirled that Fox had broken up with his former co-star, Pollan, and hooked up with Cox. “People always want to read there’s romance when it’s just two actors having a good time working with each other," Fox told People in 1987. “I’m having a great personal relationship with Tracy and a great professional relationship with Courteney." Cox also brushed off the rumor. “I’ve never been to a nightclub with Michael,” she said. “I’ve never even been to some of the clubs the tabloids named. Even my stepfather called me up and said, ‘So, I hear you’re busy for Thanksgiving.’”

12. BRIAN BONSALL HAS HAD A DIFFICULT TIME TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD.

Beginning in 1986, child actor Brian Bonsall joined the cast as the Keatons’ fourth child and second son, Andy. In real life, in the years since Family Ties, Bonsall has had a few run-ins with the law. After the show ended, Bonsall moved to Boulder and finished school. In 2004 he was arrested for drunk driving, and in 2007 he was arrested for assaulting a girlfriend. Then, in 2009, he went to jail again, this time for breaking a stool and hitting his friend with it several times.

13. SKIPPY IS A STAND-UP COMEDIAN.

Marc Price played the Keatons' lovably annoying, Mallory-loving neighbor Irwin “Skippy” Handelman for the duration of the series. Since the show ended, Price has kept the comedy going by touring the country with his stand-up routines. “A lot of people know me as Skippy, and that doesn’t scare me,” Price told the Sun Sentinel in 1993. “People want me to hate that, but I don’t hate that, because that’s how people know me. I accept that and I look to getting recognized as Marc Price in due time.”

Price says people come to his shows because of Skippy, “but I’m certainly Marc Price and they get to meet Marc Price.” He’s thrilled when people approach him about his comedy but is okay with people asking him, “‘Hey Skippy! Did you ever do it with Mallory?’ That doesn’t bother me either.”

14. JUSTINE BATEMAN GRADUATED FROM UCLA LAST YEAR.

After Family Ties, Bateman continued to act in TV shows—most notably playing a high-priced escort on an episode of Arrested Development called “Family Ties,” starring opposite her brother, Jason Bateman—but then decided to quit acting and go to college. She enrolled in UCLA’s undergrad computer science and management program, from which she graduated in June 2016.

“When I graduate, I will either run a division of a company that is tech and entertainment together, or I’ll get funding for my own company with a focus on taking current technology to film far more complicated stories,” Bateman told The Hollywood Reporter just a few months before he graduation. Bateman documented her college experience with a Tumblr account, where she wrote, “I especially want a job or a company that is playing with very high stakes, swimming with very powerful players, and working with very ambitious projects. I want a big knife to cut into a big cake. And all the responsibility that comes with that.”

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
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Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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27 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Unsolved Mysteries
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Join me. Perhaps you will learn some things you didn't know about the wonderfully spooky Unsolved Mysteries, a show that aired is finale 15 years ago, but still creeps people out to this day.

1. IT STARTED AS A SERIES OF SPECIALS.

An Unsolved Mysteries reenactment
NBC

The three specials, called Missing… Have You Seen This Person?, were hosted by David Birney and his wife Meredith Baxter and aired on NBC in April 1986. The specials were so successful that producers Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove decided to broaden the scope of the show to include all kinds of mysteries.

2. IT WASN’T ALWAYS HOSTED BY ROBERT STACK.

When what would become the pilot episode of Unsolved Mysteries (but was then just a special) debuted on January 20, 1987, it was hosted by Raymond Burr. Karl Malden helmed the next two specials, and then Stack took over hosting duties, narrating the next few specials and the weekly episodes until the show went off the air in 2002. Later, when the show was revived, Dennis Farina took over hosting duties. (Stack had passed away in 2003.)

3. IN EARLY EPISODES, THE SHOW DIDN'T USE ACTORS IN THE REENACTMENTS.

According to director David Vassar, who directed 100 segments of the show, "In the early episodes, if there were any reenactments, we actually had the real people play themselves." That's why, he said in DVD commentary, "the acting of these first seasons when we were just getting our feet wet was not up to snuff. As we went through the seasons we were able to pay top dollar and get good people, so it just got better and better."

4. AND THERE'S AN EASY WAY TO TELL IF THE ACTORS WERE BAD.

"This is an Unsolved Mysteries hallmark, and it’s a secret," Vassar said in DVD commentary, "but if the narrator talks a lot, and the actors don’t talk at all, it means the acting is really pretty bad, and the narrator is going to cover everything up. If there’s everything out in the clear between the actors, it means the actors were usually pretty good. So the game was, how many seconds of the sync sound takes could you get to play in the open? The more sync you got to play in the open, the better the scene. Pretty simple."

5. THE REENACTMENTS WEREN'T THE SHOW'S MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT, THOUGH.

"The interviews were so important to the way Unsolved Mysteries was produced," Cosgrove said. "People would think that the most important thing was the recreations, but really, having articulate people who can summon up the emotions of what it felt like [was key]."

"You trusted the interviews," added director Keva Rosenfeld. "If you didn’t have that, you didn’t have a good episode."

6. THE SHOW'S DIRECTORS CAME FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING.

A still from season four of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

"We were all used to real life," Vassar said, "and in the first couple of seasons, it shows. Only occasionally had we worked with actors, and if we did, we worked with actors as hosts because they were hosting a documentary we were making." In the beginning seasons, the show shot with a small crew, too: "On the first season, it was basically director, a director of photography, an assistant photographer, a sound man, a producer, and lighting or grip guy," Vassar said. "There were five or six of us, trying to make these little movies. It was like silent films in the 1900s. We did everything ourselves."

7. IT WAS CHEAP TO MAKE.

In the early ‘90s, an hourlong scripted drama cost about $1.5 million per episode. Cosgrove told the Baltimore Sun that Unsolved Mysteries could be made for 25 to 40 percent of that cost. “If you're the president of NBC Entertainment, which show are you going to buy?” the Sun asked. “The one that costs $375,000 to make and finishes 11th in overall ratings or the one that costs $1.5 million to make and finishes 40th?”

8. STACK COMPARED UNSOLVED MYSTERIES TO THEATER.

"We're balancing two needs here," Stack told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "We're trying to produce theater and we're trying to do a public service."

Stack’s stage comparisons didn’t end there: He saw his duty as host, according to Cosgrove, as akin to the stage manager of Our Town. The three-act play, written by Thornton Wilder, takes place in the small town of Grover’s Corners and features stories from a period between the years of 1901 and 1913. The stage manager served as the narrator.

9. THE SHOW’S FOUR-SEGMENT FORMAT WAS A DESIGN TO GET VIEWERS.

The show’s segments covered a number of themes, including Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, Fraud, and more. Each show consisted of four segments, plus an update on an older case. "Almost every show has an unexplained death in it, and almost every show has a lost love story," Meurer told the Los Angeles Times. "Then we'll mix and match in there a legend or a gold mine, or we'll put in one of our UFO stories."

“The idea,” Cosgrove said in DVD commentary, “was to have four different segments in four different areas so people would find something that they liked.” 

10. THE SPOOKY THEME MUSIC WAS COMPOSED BY GARY MALKIN.

Unsolved Mysteries’ original goosebump-inducing theme was written by Gary Malkin, who also served as the show’s main composer. “One of the things that really worked was the music,” Cosgrove said. “I had a lot of friends whose kids would run out the room because the music scared them so much.” Producer Raymond Bridgers agreed: “The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on,” he said. The theme was updated four times (you can hear the 1995 version here), and when the show was revived in 2008, it came back with a new theme (and new logo) altogether.

11. IT PULLED IN GREAT RATINGS.

In 1990, the show ranked #11 for all TV series that year. “Once a sleeper, the reality series hosted by Robert Stack, former star of The Untouchables, now is just a flat-out smash,” the Los Angeles Times wrote two years later. “In the last four weeks, for instance, the unshowy but rock-solid series has demonstrated its clout—ranking 3rd, 16th, 8th and 10th in the ratings.”

12. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR SIX EMMYS.

The category was the Outstanding Informational Series, and Unsolved Mysteries was nominated in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1995. Unfortunately, the show didn’t win, losing out to PBS’s Nature (1989), Smithsonian World (1990), The Civil War (1991), TNT’s MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992), PBS’s Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers (1993), and PBS’s Baseball and NBC’s TV Nation (1995).

13. PRODUCERS HAVE SOME IDEAS ABOUT WHY THE SHOW WAS SO SUCCESSFUL.

Robert Stack hosts the first season of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

Number one, of course, was Robert Stack, whose poker-faced delivery could send chills up anyone’s spine. “Bob’s contributions were immense, really impossible to calculate,” Cosgrove said in a tribute to the actor after Stack’s death in 2003. “His fame and charisma helped attract an audience.” Said Bridges: “No one could deliver a spooky line like Robert Stack.”

Number two: Curiosity. "People are fascinated by the idea that they might be living next door to one of these people, and might be able to help find them," Meurer told the LA Times in 1990.

And number three: “One of the things that attracted people to the show,” Cosgrove said, was that “they wanted to be scared.”

14. THANKS TO JACK THE RIPPER, THERE WAS AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

In its first year on the air, Unsolved Mysteries had a Halloween special—an entire hour devoted to ghosts. "Bob was pretty skeptical at this point about doing an entire hour about ghosts," Cosgrove said on DVD commentary. "He definitely, I don’t think, thought it was a great idea for us to change the formula of having four segments of different categories for this Halloween special. It was a little risky doing an hour on one topic."

NBC had asked the producers to create a one hour special, Cosgrove said, because the network "had gotten wind that there was going to be a Jack the Ripper special in syndication, one of those live event specials, that revealed the secret identity of Jack the Ripper at the end of the show. And they said, 'We want you to come up with a stunt program on Halloween.' But we said, 'Wait, we’re the people producing the Jack the Ripper special—we don't want to do that!' And they said 'We don’t care!' So we came up with this, which clobbered the Jack the Ripper special."

After this, though, the show would occasionally do single-topic episodes.

15. THE SHOW ONCE BLEW UP A CHURCH.

The segment "Lucky Choir" tells the story of a choir that met to practice every Wednesday night at 7:25 p.m. Except one night, when every choir member was late—and, as a result, avoided an explosion at 7:27 p.m. that surely would have killed them. The producers chose a church in Unadilla, Nebraska, that was slated for demolition, and planned an explosion. They flew a special effects expert to the site and surrounded the church with five cameras framed by plywood boxes that would protect the gear and the cameramen. "We were supposed to cave in the roof, and we framed [the shot] slightly above the roof," Rosenfeld, who directed the segment, recalled. "[The special effects guy] blew it up way bigger than we expected. A fireball went into the air, probably a quarter mile. We were all scared."

Shrapnel speared the plywood boxes around the cameras and their operators, and debris rained down for 20 minutes. "The cameraman walked up to the macho special effects guy, pretty angry, and said 'What did you put in there?' And this macho guy goes, 'Ninety-five sticks of dynamite and three 10 gallon tubs of gasoline,'" Rosenfeld remembers. "We immediately rushed the site to film the scene because we couldn’t recreate that. We knew we weren't doing that again."

16. A NUMBER OF STARS GOT THEIR BREAKS ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

Matthew McConaughey in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries
CBS

In his first professional acting gig, Matthew McConaughey appeared as a (shirtless, of course) murder victim in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. "They got the guy," the Academy Award winner told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. "They found him around Bryan, Texas, about two weeks after that show." Virginia Madsen also co-hosted the show with Stack in 1999. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines, MADtv’s Stephnie Weir, Saw’s Ned Bellamy, and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim also appeared in episodes.

17. ONE OF THE SHOW'S MOST POPULAR SEGMENTS WAS ALSO TOUGH TO SHOOT.

It was called "Mystery Hum," about the Taos Hum, so named because the low-frequency sound began to be reported in Taos, New Mexico, in 1992. (In other parts of the world, it's called the Bristol Hum, the Bondi Hum, or just "The Hum.") Director Bob Wise said the segment was particularly difficult to film because there weren't many visual elements for the audience—and the hum's low frequencies didn't come through televisions well. Still, he said, "we got a lot of response to this, because a lot of people around the country and the world are hearing this same thing, and there’s a whole network of people who hear this thing."

18. THE SHOW USED A VISUAL EFFECTS COMPANY CALLED AREA 51.

That company was tasked with creating the show’s effects, from sparking clocks to creepy ghosts to, appropriately, aliens. In fact, the “Allagash Abduction” segment featured some of Cosgrove’s favorite effects created by Area 51. “We had such detailed paintings and drawings from [the abductees], and we based our special effects session on their drawings and paintings, not just from the descriptions,” Bridgers said.

19. BUT SOMETIMES, THEY DID EFFECTS THE OLD FASHIONED WAY.

In Unsolved Mysteries's early years, visual effects weren't very advanced and the show didn't have a huge budget for them, either. "When you’re shooting ghost stories, it gets kind of tricky if you want to do it without special effects," director Bob Wise said in DVD commentary. The crew was forced to get creative: For the episode "Gordy's Ghosts," Wise chose to give the ghosts an overblown white look. "We put a lot of light on [the actor's] face," Wise said. "The poor little girl could barely keep her eyes open."

For another sequence that showed a ghost lying down next to the little girl on the bed, the crew took off the mattress and had the actor lie on boxes, and pulled on springs underneath to achieve the effect. Ghostly effects in other episodes were created in camera using double exposure and projection.

20. ROBERT STACK—AND THE PRODUCERS—WERE PRETTY SKEPTICAL OF THE PARANORMAL STUFF.

DVD cover of Unsolved Mysteries: UFOs
Alchemy

Though Stack was, in Cosgrove’s words, “terribly proud of our contributions to catching bad guys,” he was pretty skeptical of the show’s paranormal and extraterrestrial segments. “In some of those narration sessions, he’d be like, 'Come on, Raymond!'” Bridgers recalled. But even Stack found some stories—like the “Allagash Abductions” segment—pretty compelling. “[That] one even nailed Bob,” Cosgrove said. “[It] got under his skin. These guys were so normal and credible and stood to gain nothing by making up a story.”

As many as 80 percent of the supernatural cases were dismissed outright, according to Bridgers. But, like Stack, the producers found themselves swayed by certain stories. “When we pick a ghost story, we’re always mindful of those stories where there seems to be a historical reason for there to be a haunting,” Cosgrove said in the DVD commentary for “Black Hope Curse.” “I don’t think any of us, when we started Unsolved Mysteries, really believed in ghosts ... we’ve all had to take a second look at our preconceived notions after the experiences that we’ve had. Initially we’d be very skeptical of stories, but when you find that there is a story, that there are facts and history and accounts from the past that match up to what people see ... it takes your breath away, and makes the stories a lot more credible.”

21. NOT EVERYONE WANTED THEIR MYSTERY ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

In the early days of Unsolved Mysteries, it could be tough to get people who'd had supernatural experiences to appear on the show—they were afraid, Cosgrove said, of exposing themselves to potential ridicule. "Back then, people didn’t want to come out of the woodwork to say that they’d seen ghosts," he said. "It was really tough to get people to agree to do the interviews." Still, there seemed to be some therapeutic value in it for the interviewees. "Having us talk to them and pay such close attention to them and help them explain it to the public seems to help them," Cosgrove said.

22. THEY FILMED MANY OF STACK’S SEGMENTS AT A MASONIC TEMPLE.

The temple was located in Pasadena, California. “We liked it as a set because it evoked ghostly spirits and things like that,” Cosgrove said.

23. UNSOLVED MYSTERIES RAN ON FOUR NETWORKS.

The show spent 10 seasons on NBC before moving to CBS, where it aired for two seasons before being cancelled. It later ran on Lifetime and on Spike TV.

24. THE REALITY SHOW SPAWNED TV MOVIES.

Victim of Love: The Shannon Mohr Story, which aired in September 1993, was based on an Unsolved Mysteries segment from November 1987. In the movie, Mohr (Sally Murphy) marries Dave Davis (Dwight Schultz) in a quickie Vegas ceremony. She soon discovers that he’s a pathological liar who neglected to tell her about his first wife. When Mohr dies of what appears to be a horse riding accident, her parents become suspicious. John J. O’Connor, who reviewed the movie for the New York Times, wrote,

The parents embark on a 10-year campaign to seek justice. A journalist and a detective prove most helpful. Confronted with mounting evidence against him, Dave flees the country, finally ending up in American Samoa. How can he be found? There's one possibility left, says the detective: "Unsolved Mysteries." And so we find the actors in this movie recreating the interview the real parents gave on the "Unsolved Mysteries" broadcast. The repackaging turns out to be an ingenious plug for the series itself. … Actually, Dave wasn't captured for more than two years after the original telecast. Credit, it seems, must go to the reruns. Marketing comes full circle.

Other TV movies followed: Escape From Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story (1995), Voice from the Grave (1996), and The Sleepwalker Killing (1997).

25. IT HAD A DRAMATIZED SPIN-OFF.

It was called Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries. According to a synopsis from the New York Times, the show was “a reality-based series based on the NBC series, Unsolved Mysteries. [It] examines real-life cases of potential injustice involving convicted persons who, according to impartial observers, may be innocent.” Stack hosted. Final Appeal premiered in September 1992 and was cancelled shortly after.

26. MANY OF THE MYSTERIES ACTUALLY GOT SOLVED.

“Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery,” Stack said at the beginning of each episode. The show asked its viewers to call police or a tipline if they had any information on a crime, missing person, or lost loved one—and boy, did they. The LA Times wrote about one case that appeared on Unsolved Mysteries in 1988:

It was no mystery to Jerry Strickland and Melissa K. Munday when police showed up at their door in Moses Lake, Wash. Hours earlier they had been watching television as the show "Unsolved Mysteries" mentioned them in connection with the unsolved robbery and slaying of a gas station worker near Pontiac, Mich. Police got about 15 calls from area residents after the program aired, and Officer John Mays and Sgt. Dennis Duke arrived to find the couple waiting for them, Mays said.

Unsolved Mysteries covered more than one thousand cases, and according to its website, more than half of the episodes featuring wanted fugitives have been solved. Over 100 separated families have been reunited—including LeeAnn Robinson, who ran away from her father’s home when she was 16 and found her brother and sister years later through the show. "I was standing there in the studio (after the program ran) and this guy came over and said, 'I have your sister on the phone,'" Robinson said. "I just started to cry. I cried for a week."

27. AND YOU CAN STILL HELP SOLVE A MYSTERY.

Though the show isn’t currently in production, visitors can submit information that might pertain to an unsolved crime on the show’s website. But just because it isn't currently in production doesn't mean it won't be back: in April, the show's creators participated in a Reddit AMA where they said that they were actively "in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows. Let's keep our fingers crossed!”

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