Today, the creators of Unsolved Mysteries, Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove, sat down for a Reddit AMA to discuss their delightfully creepy show, which started as a series of specials and ran from the late '80s to 2002 with Robert Stack as host. (The show was revived in 2008 and ran until 2010; Stack, who died in 2003, was replaced by Dennis Farina.) Here are a few things we learned.
1. THE CREATORS KNEW WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING FOR IN AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES STORY.
Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that they were looking for “a good mix of stories, murders, missing, wanted, paranormal, etc.” when deciding what to put on the show. Beyond that mix, they wanted mysteries that had more than one suspect or theory. Finally, they wrote, “we focused on stories we thought the show might be able to solve.”
2. THEY USED A NEWSPAPER CLIPPING SERVICE TO FIND STORIES.
Though the stories featured on the show came from a variety of sources—“we had viewers who sent in cases, law enforcement would contact us with cases, and we had a team of researchers constantly looking as well,” the duo said—they also used a newspaper clipping service with some grim keywords. “When we were producing the show, the internet didn't exist yet, so we had a newspaper clipping service that would send us articles from around the country keying off of words like ‘murder’ ‘missing’ ‘ufo’ ‘ghost’ etc.,” they wrote.
3. THE CALL CENTER FEATURED IN THE SHOW WAS REAL.
Unsolved Mysteries filmed host Stack in locations all over Los Angeles, including Griffith Park and the Hollywood Dam. Some shots also featured Stack walking through a call center. “That was a real call center with real people!” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Cases actually did get solved during the broadcast of the show.”
4. A FEW CASES NEVER MADE IT ON THE AIR BECAUSE THE SHOW’S RESEARCHERS SOLVED THEM.
“Sometimes when our researchers would start investigating a story, they would solve the case themselves, especially a lost love type story,” the duo wrote. “So those cases were abandoned before they aired.”
5. THEY WERE DUPED BY HOAXSTERS ONCE.
Meurer and Cosgrove wrote that “Our researchers did a great job vetting stories to weed out the ones that seemed suspicious.” But that didn’t mean their process was foolproof; at least one fake story made it past them. “We did a UFO story in which 30 people did drawings that looked like the same UFO, and it was a very convincing argument they made,” Meurer and Cosgrove revealed. “Months later we found out that one of the key proponents had a made a model of the UFO and photographed it against a highway. All those people were fooled by it, and so were we.”
6. SOMEONE SENT THEIR MOTHER’S LUNG TO THE PRODUCERS.
When one Redditor asked for “any funny stories or WTF moments while working on the show,” Meurer and Cosgrove came back with a whopper. “Someone sent their mother's lung to us in the mail. He believed his mother had been murdered, and he wanted us to send the lung out for testing,” they wrote. “On the lighter side, one of our directors was absolutely convinced that they were being haunted during the filming of one of the stories.”
7. A FUGITIVE FROM ONE OF THE CASES WAS ON SET FOR FILMING.
When asked about “creepiest thing that ever happened to you over the course of filming a segment,” Meurer and Cosgrove responded with a story that will send chills down your spine: “There was a case where the wanted fugitive was on the set while we were filming the reenactment and no one knew initially. No one on the crew had seen his photograph yet.”
8. SOMETIMES LAW ENFORCEMENT ASKED THEM TO OMIT DETAILS FROM THE SEGMENTS.
Featuring active investigations on the show sometimes meant that Meurer and Cosgrove couldn’t reveal everything they knew. “Law enforcement would often ask us to hold back clues in a case that they could use to help identify a suspect's innocence or guilt,” they said. And sometimes, in interviews, Meurer and Cosgrove could tell who was lying: “We can't name names, but there were often prime suspects that we interviewed whose interview was in direct contradiction with what witnesses and law enforcement were saying. In many cases the people we interviewed were later convicted.”
9. SELLING THE SHOW TO SPIKE TV MEANT MAKING SOME STYLISTIC CHANGES.
Meurer and Cosgrove rebooted Unsolved Mysteries with host Dennis Farina in 2008. The pair explained that because Spike “appealed to a younger, male audience,” the network “requested a version of the show that might better suit their audience. There was an effort made to try to update the show with more contemporary elements.” That meant new music and high-tech elements like shots of Google Earth. “We were glad to have the opportunity to update the show,” they wrote. “It was sad that Bob had died, but we felt that Dennis would be a good choice. He was a wonderful man to work with.”
10. THEY BECAME CLOSE WITH THE PEOPLE FEATURED ON THE SHOW.
It might seem strange that family members would participate in TV segments about crimes involving their loved ones, but Meurer and Cosgrove pointed out that “when family members participated, it was a cathartic experience for them. And they felt good about doing something active to help solve the case. That was reason enough.”
“We got to know people very well when we did their cases, and we became attached to them,” Cosgrove said. The duo reached out to those featured on the show to update their cases, but that’s not where the contact ends: “I still get a Christmas card from a woman in England who had given up her baby for adoption, and Unsolved Mysteries helped reunite her with her daughter,” Cosgrove wrote.
11. FOR LEGAL REASONS, SOME SEGMENTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE SEASONS THAT ARE STREAMING.
“We have a legal staff that keeps track of the cases to make sure that we do not infringe on anyone's rights,” Meurer and Cosgrove explained. “Sometimes a statute of limitations on a case has passed. We always try to be as respectful as we can be to the people who were featured in the segments.”
12. THEY’RE ACTIVELY TRYING TO GET UNSOLVED MYSTERIES BACK ON THE AIR.
“We are in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows,” Meurer and Cosgrove wrote. “Let's keep our fingers crossed!”