Spike Gets a Modernized Oldie

Unsolved Mysteries gets a manly makeover

Everything old is new again. Spike TV has picked up a repackaged, refreshed version of television classic Unsolved Mysteries that the male-focused cable network will start airing in fall 2008.

“We were looking for a great performer for early fringe,” says Rob Friedman, the network’s senior vice president of programming. “HBO came in and pitched us the newly re-edited Unsolved Mysteries. There are more stories per hour, more male-oriented stories, new graphics and a new host.”

Last June, HBO Television Distribution chiefs Scott Carlin and Tom Cerio started shopping an updated version of the 20-year-old show to cable networks. The sale offers a glimpse into the lengths owners of older syndicated fare are willing to go to polish and sell their library of content, generating a new income stream for dormant properties. The show format offers a unique chance to update and refresh, unlike other syndicated fare.

Friedman says the show is a “great a lead-in to CBS’ off-network CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and for many of our movies.” Spike paid an estimated $1.6 million per episode for CSI back in 2002. The refurbished edition of Unsolved Mysteries—which aired in originals on NBC from 1987 to 1997, CBS from 1997 to 1999 and Lifetime from 2001 to 2002—likely goes for a more reasonable $100,000 per episode cash license fee, according to industry estimates.

The deal should prove profitable for all participants, with Spike paying a fair price; the show’s production company, Cosgrove/Meurer Productions, continuing to make money on a show that by all rights should be retired by now; and HBO taking a cut.

“The show wouldn’t be spinning off anything just lying in the vault,” says one syndication analyst. “Right now, whatever the numbers are, it’s making money.”

With 900 hours of footage and 230 episodes in the can, Cosgrove/Meurer has plenty to choose from as it whittles the show down to 175 episodes.

To give the series a faster, more modern feel, the revamped shows will include five stories per episode, up from the original four. The show’s graphics are being swapped out for computer-generated versions, and the unsolved stories are being updated with new information.

“We asked Bob Cosgrove and Terry Meurer if they would consider the possibility of doing an off-the-body renovation, which is when you literally take the car off the body and replace virtually everything or upgrade everything to practically new condition,” Carlin says. “So we’re adding new music, finding a new host, and enhancing the video. We’re using all the editing bells and whistles that are available to post-production now. We thought: If we can find a way to keep all those stories intact, we may be able to regenerate this show and make it brand-new again.”

At some point, Cosgrove/Meurer also might produce new episodes for Spike, Carlin said.

Perhaps most importantly, Spike gets to cast its own host for the show, a role that the late Robert Stack made his own. Actor Clancy Brown (Carnivale, Lost) hosted HBO’s pilot, but Brown is not available to host any further episodes. Friedman says a decision will be made soon from a short list of candidates.

Even though the show has aired in repeats on Lifetime since 1993, both Carlin and Friedman think it stands to gain a new audience on Spike TV.

“The primary audience on Lifetime is women 25 and 35-plus. The audience on Spike is predominantly comprised of younger males age 18 to 34,” Carlin says. “They are too young to remember the show on broadcast, and there have never been a lot of guys watching programs on Lifetime.”

Carlin adds, “It’s really an opportunity for Spike to take an established brand and make it feel truly like a first-run show.”