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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Mystery! (also written MYSTERY!) is an episodic television series that debuted in 1980 in the USA, which airs on PBS and is produced by WGBH. The show has brought a large number of detective series and television movies — most of them British productions from the BBC or the ITV companies and usually adapted from mystery fiction literary sources — to air on American television. In 2002, they added an American produced series based on the novels of Tony Hillerman to their roster.

Mystery! is noted for its animated opening and closing title sequences, based on the cartoons of Edward Gorey, with music by Normand Roger. For the Hillerman episodes the American flag was worked into this opening title sequence.

One of Mystery!'s early successes was Rumpole of the Bailey. Other noted successes include The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Jeremy Brett in the title role, Inspector Morse with John Thaw, Brother Cadfael starring Derek Jacobi and Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren. The last one proved so popular that the series was moved to Masterpiece Theatre for higher ratings. Agatha Christie has been well represented with several seasons worth of stories featuring Hercule Poirot starring David Suchet as well as two versions of Miss Marple's mysteries. The 1980s and 1990s saw Joan Hickson in the title role, in Miss Marple, while 2005 and 2006 featured Geraldine McEwan as the small town sleuth in Marple. Beginning in 2009 (with episodes filmed in 2008), Julia McKenzie has taken over the role of Miss Marple.



The seeds for the creation of Mystery! were a result of the success of Masterpiece Theatre, in particular, a series of programs adapted from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Then in 1979, Henry Becton, General Manager of Boston PBS station WGBH, received a phone call from Herb Schmertz, head of corporate communications for Mobil Corporation, with an unsolicited offer to put together a series that was nothing but British mysteries. Mobil, as the sole underwriter of WGBH's enormously successful Masterpiece Theatre ever since its inception in 1971, had enjoyed tremendous public relations benefits from that association. Mobil had still more money to invest in prestigious television programs and was looking for new outlets.


The first host of the show was film critic Gene Shalit. After the first season he was replaced by Vincent Price, who hosted the series from 1981 to 1989. When his failing health forced Price to relinquish this role, he was replaced by Diana Rigg. She had the unique opportunity of introducing mysteries in which she was the star when the series Mother Love, and later, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries were aired. Beginning in 2004, shows began airing without a host. After airing on Thursday night for most of its history it moved to Sunday nights where it alternated with episodes of Masterpiece Theatre until 2007.

2008 format change

In 2008, the series was absorbed into Masterpiece (the former Masterpiece Theatre) and airs under the banner Masterpiece Mystery! Episodes air in the summer. In addition, its iconic theme music and opening titles, drawn by Edward Gorey, were changed. This version is hosted by Alan Cumming.

Mystery! in popular culture

  • Mystery! was parodied by Sesame Street's "Mysterious Theatre" sketches in the early 1990s, hosted by Vincent Twice (whose name was always said twice), a pastiche of Vincent Price.
  • The 1990s Mystery! opening was parodied on a 1998 episode of fellow WGBH program Arthur entitled "Binky Rules."

List of series presented on Mystery!

American Mystery! Specials

Unlike most of the series shown on Mystery!, the American Mystery! Specials features stories set in the United States.

  • Coyote Waits with Adam Beach: 2003 (1)
  • Skinwalkers with Adam Beach: 2002 (1)
  • A Thief of Time with Adam Beach: 2004 (1)



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mystery!" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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