'Unsolved Mysteries' succeeds despite critics

February 19, 1992|By Mike Duffy | Mike Duffy,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

The real unsolved mystery is the success of "Unsolved Mysteries."

Tonight, the little reality program that could chugs into prime time for its 100th episode with a special two-hour edition at 8 p.m. on NBC (Channel 2).

Five years ago, "Unsolved Mysteries" was born amidst zero hoopla as a series of occasional specials. But quietly something clicked.

Host Robert Stack and the show's real-life mix of stories on missing persons, unexplained deaths, lost heirs, fugitives, mysterious treasures and legends have proved to have broad viewer appeal.

Television critics routinely ignore the show, but the public loves it.

In fact, coming into the February sweeps, "Unsolved Mysteries" ranked 10th among all TV series for the 1991-92 season. It has been averaging an impressive 16.7 rating and 27 audience share in its strongest season yet.

That makes "Unsolved Mysteries" the No. 1-rated weekly reality program by far, easily topping such fact-based brethren as "Rescue 911," "Top Cops" and "America's Most Wanted."

The viewer allure obviously goes beyond mere geek chic. Each week, viewers play a key role in the show's success by calling the "Unsolved Mysteries" toll-free number (1-800-876-5353) with various leads and information. And many of those leads have resulted in a solved mystery.

For the 100th episode, Stack introduces stories about two fugitive bank robbers, an investigative reporter obsessed with tracking down a serial killer and one man's bizarre UFO odyssey.

Hmmmm, two bank robbers, a serial killer and a UFO?

But even as TV critics yawn, "Unsolved Mysteries" merrily rolls on. Like so many TV shows subjected to critical disdain, nobody loves it but the public.

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"The Dennis Miller Show" wants to hear from viewers, both devoted and otherwise. So if you have anything cosmic to say to Dennis or if you just want to offer a helpful suggestion, ask a question or make a smart aleck remark, you can call "The Dennis Miller Show" voice mail hot line at 1-213-871-8198 any time.

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The Fox News Service has hired political satirist P.J. O'Rourke to do commentaries during a presidential election year that may need someone with a sharp tongue to cut through all the bushwa . . . Victor Love ("Native Son") has the title role in "Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story," a syndicated TV movie scheduled to air nationally in April on the life of the college basketball star who died of heart failure during a game in 1990. . . Dame Edna Everage, the deranged British socialite and entertainer played by Australian comic Barry Humphries, has been signed by NBC for new comedy specials in the bent tradition of last fall's "Dame Edna's Hollywood."

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"The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald," a "real-life" hypothetical trial of the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, airs at 10 p.m. weeknights next week on the Arts & Entertainment Network.

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