“Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery”: Critical Essays on Unsolved Mysteries

deadline for submissions: 
December 20, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Kevin Morrison
contact email: 

“Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery”: Critical Essays on Unsolved Mysteries

            Created by John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer, Unsolved Mysteries is an iconic American true-crime documentary series that has—since its initial broadcast as seven standalone specials in 1987—aired in more than thirty-five countries. For nine seasons on NBC (1988-1997), two seasons on CBS (1997-1999), and an additional stint on Lifetime (2001-2002), the show included a variety of segments, such as “Lost Loves” (in which individuals sought to reunite with someone from their past), “Murder” (usually committed by an unknown perpetrator), “Wanted” (known individuals responsible for a crime), “Missing,” and “Legend” (paranormal activity). Following the show’s cancellation, more than one hundred and fifty old episodes were repackaged, edited, and broadcast on Spike TV (2008-2010).  

            As a result, Unsolved Mysteries is one of the longest-running programs in television history. Utilizing interviews and reenactments, the show was the first to encourage viewers to help solve a mystery by submitting credible information through a telecenter hotline and, once production of new episodes ceased, a post office box. Owing to the persistence of its creators and the fascination and passion exhibited by its fans,the show’s YouTube page began featuring cases submitted by the public in 2017. Throughout its run, the show has featured more than 1,000 cases; hundreds of these have been cracked at least partially based on viewer tips.

            To mark the reboot of the show on Netflix in 2020, this collection aims to analyze the historical and theoretical dimensions of the Unsolved Mysteries phenomenon. Proposals are sought for essays that account for the enduring appeal of this venerable series by considering (among many other possible topics) its:

-use of hosts (Raymond Burr, Karl Malden, Virgina Madsen, Dennis Farina, and especially Robert Stack, whose ghostly silhouette appears in the opening credits of the narratorless reboot)

-forms of direct viewer participation (hotline, post office box, website, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) 

-creation of the generic conventions of true-crime documentary and its lasting influence

-use of music, particularly the credit sequence theme by Gary Malkin and Michael Boyd

-forms of narration and storytelling (including reenactment, interviews, special effects, segments)

-balance between what Robert Stack once called “theater . . . [and] public service”

-paratexts (opening credits, merchandising, DVD commentary, commercials, fan websites, etc.)

-translation, adaptation, or domestication in foreign markets

-spinoffs and related TV movies

Please submit proposals (250 words) and a brief bio (100 words) by 20 December 2020 to Kevin A. Morrison (kmorr2016@gmail.com), Provincial Chair Professor, Henan University. For accepted proposals, final essays between 6,500-7,500 words (inclusive of notes and bibliography) will be due 15 June 2021. All essays should be written in an accessible manner suitable for non-specialists. Instead of eschewing disciplinary jargon, contributors will be asked to carefully explain the theoretical terms on which their arguments rely.