Ahead of the premiere of the Lindbergh Kidnapping: Mysteries at the Museum special episode on Travel Channel, the network and Optomen Productions discuss the incredible access, the secrets to the series longevity, and more.
Premiering on the Travel Channel tonight (May 31) at 9 p.m. ET/PT, the special takes series host Don Wildman (pictured) outside of the studio and inside the crime scene of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, more than 80 years after the case was closed.
The hour-long special is the first of a series of Mysteries at the Museum specials to air, with others focusing on huge discoveries with NASA, Pompeii and more. The long-running series has been airing on the Travel Channel since 2010.
Dominic Stobart and Steve McLaughlin, executive producers for Optomen, and Travel Channel’s Jane Latman, take realscreen through what works about the Mysteries at the Museum series, and how the specials’ bigger budgets allow the franchise to flourish.
Mysteries at the Museum has had 250 episodes in its regular season so far, so what is it about the show that has led to its longevity?
Jane Latman: We unravel unexpected and remarkable stories that are laden with little-known history and surprising twists. Each episode features multiple unconnected stories that span a broad range of topics, time periods and genres, which come together as a cohesive and complex mosaic. Each story at its core is a fairly complex history lesson, but both the Optomen team and Anna Geddes, our network executive, manage to craft our segments into highly entertaining and easily digestible nuggets.
What is its appeal to Travel Channel’s audiences?
JL: We hear from people far and wide that it’s their favorite guilty pleasure, but the biggest honor is the cadre of loyal history teachers who share the show with their students in class. It’s hard to believe but our encore ratings on weekend mornings are almost as strong as our premieres on Thursday nights.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome in production on this series?
Dominic Stobart and Steve McLaughlin: Each special is different from the next, there’s not a concrete format. Figuring out how to tell the story of the Cold War’s greatest secrets is very different than retracing the who-done-it style mysteries of the Kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby or Watergate. It’s a big difference from the main MATM franchise, which is why it has its own dedicated team.
What can you tell me about the upcoming specials?
DS and SM: Some of the amazing access we’ve gotten includes filming at the actual scene of the Watergate burglary and throughout the infamous hotel; exclusive access to the Lindbergh Estate in New Jersey where the kidnapping happened, including the nursery; filming all around Egypt’s most famous sites in Alexandria, Cairo and Giza; witnessing a Space X rocket launch at NASA and visiting Mission Control and meeting an astronaut who walked on the moon.
JL: The new specials explore iconic, and very news-worthy topics right now, that take place in varied and spectacular locations around the world. In later specials, [Wildman] reveals hidden bunkers in Germany that helped the Soviet Union start the Cold War; and serves as witness to a Space X rocket launch as he examines the history of the Space Race and the future of space travel.
What are you able to do with a bigger budget for specials, that you can’t do for a series?
DS and SM: For the main MATM series, Don remains in studio and provides narration. With the specials, we get to take him out to history’s greatest locations where he can explore the stories first hand and bring viewers access and insight that no one usually gets.
What’s the delivery time like for the series and the specials?
DS and SM: The main series takes about five months for a story to go from zygote stage to air. In that time, it is constantly being refined and sharpened by the team until it’s perfect. For the specials, the production schedule runs about four months in total – but thought about future topics and research into new revelations is constant.
How does the first season of Mysteries at the Museum look compared to the new episodes and specials?
DS and SM: The addition of Don Wildman as a host in season two was a game changer. He brings an incredible energy and depth of knowledge to the series that is totally unique.
JL: The show has evolved over the years and we make sure it continues to feel fresh and relevant by carefully responding to what our viewers enjoy most.
Will there ever be a lack of mysteries to find at museums?
JL: We believe that these carefully curated stories that make up each episode are limitless. As museums update and rotate their collections and new objects are revealed, there will always be the desire to peek behind-the-scenes. Mysteries at the Museum will continue to explore the world’s most compelling history, in the world’s most interesting places for a long time to come.