At the beginning of the 1980s, PBS introduced a new program, which has now become an obsession for viewers – Mystery!
Seeing the success of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries that had aired on Masterpiece Theatre, WGBH general manager Henry Becton received a request from Mobil Corporation’s head of communications Herb Schmertz to create a series focused on mysteries.
Mobil Corporation had been the title sponsor of Masterpiece Theatre and had benefited from this relationship and Shmertz wanted to support another series.
Launched in 1980, Mystery! focused on British programming, featuring unique stories from classic and modern police officers and detectives.
The show’s first host was film critic Gene Shalit, and in its second year the host was Vincent Prince for the rest of the decade, when it was then hosted by Diana Rigg.
The show’s unique opening credits was an animated sequence created by noted illustrator Edward Gorey, with unique eerie music by composer Normand Roger.
Popular programming on Mystery! included The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984) starring Jeremy Brett, Rumpole of the Bailey starring Leo McKern, Inspector Morse with John Thaw, Brother Cadfael with Derek Jacobi and Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet.
Enjoying high ratings, the series first started airing on Thursday nights and was then moved to Sunday nights, alternating with Masterpiece Theatre.
For those of us who grew addicted to Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery! was soon a second favourite, showcasing the best of British crime drama. As tv changed and adapted to the changes in society, so did the British crime dramas, which in turn influenced North American crime dramas.
As someone who has faithfully watched Mystery! for years, I’ve enjoyed the investigation and pursuit of the killer – all done with a variety of Brit accents.
Still a popular program in the 21st century, Mystery! continues on as part of PBS Masterpiece, showcasing the recent creations such as Inspector Lewis, Foyle’s War, Inspector Lynley and Sherlock.