Meurer never gave up on a revival. “There’s always mysteries that need to be solved,” she said. When the hit Netflix drama “Stranger Things” premiered in 2016, she noticed tweets and Facebook posts comparing that scripted series, which is set in the ’80s and goes big on the paranormal, to “Unsolved Mysteries.” So she brought a pitch to its producers at 21 Laps Entertainment.
Shawn Levy, who founded 21 Laps, had watched the original “Unsolved Mysteries” in college, admiring the way it meshed genre mystery with character-driven story. “There’s a finite number of true iconic brands in the world, especially in the world of storytelling,” he said. “‘Unsolved Mysteries’ is a true icon.” (He also called it “the Holy Grail of IP.”) Levy, whose company has a deal with Netflix, came on as an executive producer, as did Josh Barry, the president at 21 Laps.
Levy wanted to honor what he called the “DNA” of the original show, though longtime viewers will immediately recognize changes. Feeling that Stack, who died in 2003, was irreplaceable, producers omitted a host. Gone, too, is the party-platter format of the ’80s and ’90s, in which calamity followed calamity, separated only by commercial breaks. Now each episode, which runs 50 minutes, give or take, centers on a single mystery. There are no commercials.
These episodes — three unexplained deaths, one missing person, one wanted man, one paranormal phenomenon — move closer to traditional documentary, with fewer re-enactments and a greater emphasis on interviews and archival sources. The show assumes a somewhat more sophisticated viewer with a far longer attention span. One episode — a family annihilation chiller — is presented almost entirely in French, with English subtitles.
And the producers hope that a platform like Netflix, with its global reach and its more than 180 million subscribers, many of them now homebound, may lead to more solutions.
“The reach is so wide,” said Marcus A. Clarke, who directed several episodes of the new version.