RANDI’S CHALLENGE: A Big “So What!”

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By

Loyd Auerbach, M.S.

Note: This essay was published as the majority of my “Psychic Frontiers” column in the February 2004 issue of FATE magazine.

I might actually title this essay “Why I no longer care about Randi’s One Million Dollar Challenge,” but honestly, “So What!” sums up my feelings these days.

Over the last several years, I’ve been somewhat outspoken about the specific details of the rules of Randi’s Challenge (http://www.randi.org/research/index.html). But recently, when being harassed by yet another disbelieving type about the test, some kind of light – an epiphany of sorts – went on in my head. The individual made a statement, with a question, that I often hear in variations from self-described Skeptics (actually disbelievers): “The Amazing Randi offers one million dollars for anyone who can demonstrate something paranormal. If psychic abilities are real, why has no one won the prize?”

Rather than responding as I have in the past with a discourse as to why I don’t believe anyone will win that money, I spontaneously switched gears.

The following is just an approximation of the conversation, with (yes, I admit it) a little dramatic license thrown in.

“What would that prove?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Why is Randi offering the money?” I asked.

“For anyone who can prove something paranormal,” said the Skeptic.

“If someone did win the million, what would that actually prove?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“I mean, if a psychic won the million dollars, other than the psychic walking away one million dollars richer, what would that prove to the skeptical community or to Science?” I asked.

“That someone could do something psychic,” said the Skeptic with some confusion in his voice.

“Would it? If someone won Randi’s million dollars, would YOU accept that psychic abilities are real? Or even just possible?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Would mainstream Science accept the probability of psi, if not the reality, if some psychic won Randi’s million?” I asked.

“Uh … uh … huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Would the organized Skeptics accept that psi is real, or would they be more likely to believe that Randi was simply fooled, scammed out of his million? Would you?” I asked.

I received a blank stare from the Skeptic, then saw confusion appearing on his face.

I continued to push at him. “The fact is that people who do not accept the laboratory and other evidence for psi that already exists are unlikely to change their minds or their beliefs simply because someone beats Randi’s challenge and wins Randi’s money. In the name of Science, many keep raising the issue of parsimony, of Occam’s Razor where psi is concerned. In this case, wouldn’t the simpler explanation as far as the Skeptics are concerned be that Randi was scammed out of the money? In the name of Science, many raise the issue of repeatability. If someone beat Randi’s Challenge once, how does this meet the criteria of repeatability? What does this prove?”

The Skeptic was silent, confusion and frustration (and a little anger) continuing on his face.

I finished with “If you can honestly tell me – I mean look me in the eye and tell me honestly – that you would be open to psi’s existence if a psychic won Randi’s money, I’ll give you 20 dollars** right here and now. It’s not a million, but to be honest, your opinion isn’t worth that much to me.”

He walked away (okay, he stormed off).

**[Note: Okay, I didn’t really offer the 20 bucks when this first happened. I only thought of it afterwards. But now, I often do!]

I’ve since used this argument on a few others, whenever Randi’s Challenge is raised like a weapon against the field of Parapsychology, and against the existence (real or just potential) of psi.

To recap: If someone wins Randi’s million, he/she will be one million dollars richer. However, as far as Science and the Skeptics are concerned, the simpler answer to this conundrum is that Randi (or his chosen panel of judges) was fooled.

In other words, So What if someone wins the money. It won’t change the prevailing attitudes towards parapsychology, or the prevailing beliefs of most who waiver to the disbelieving side of the center where psi is concerned.

As this is the case (go ahead…prove me wrong, somebody…please!), we waste our time even giving Randi’s Challenge the time of day (though I am somewhat in his corner where Sylvia Browne is concerned. – see his website at www.randi.org).

I respect the position of true skeptics, and even the beliefs and opinions of debunkers if they’re honest about their beliefs and opinions. But holding forth Randi’s Challenge as the benchmark for proof of the paranormal is as silly as someone telling Randi to “prove it does not exist.”

It’s not a benchmark for Science, or even for skepticism. So, why should we care?

“So What!” I say.

Let me finish with another observation.

In the September 19, 2003 issue of SWIFT, Online Newsletter of the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) entitled “Yellow Bamboo Surprise, Fear of Technology, and Answering Montague Keen…” (http://www.randi.org/jr/091903.html), Randi responds to comments by researcher Montague Keen, who (Keen) mentions me and FATE in his discussion of Randi’s Challenge. Randi had this to say about FATE:

“For those unfamiliar with Fate Magazine, from their own web page we see that they publish stories on ‘alien abductions, angels, archaeological hotspots, fringe science, ghosts, hauntings, life after death, monsters, paranormal investigations, psychic pets, psychics, readers’ personal mystic experiences, reports of the strange and unknown, spirit animals, spiritualists, and UFOs’ — to only begin. Not recognized as a scholarly journal, in my opinion.”

Randi’s correct. In no way could FATE be labeled a “scholarly journal.” It is a publication for the general public. While I’m not sure where on FATE’s website Randi got the quote from (as with many websites, FATE’s changes from time to time), what Randi lists is in fact a good description for FATE’s content coverage.

However, this could easily be a description of the contents of THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER and THE SKEPTIC magazines, neither of which is recognized as a “scholarly journal.” Of course, that’s my opinion.

Messengers Of Deception: The Scandalous Truth Behind Paranormal Reality Shows

 

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With all due respect, what you’re about to read has absolutely nothing to do with Jacques Vallee’s excellent book by the same name, and is not in any way related to our being socially manipulated by extraterrestrial or interdimensional beings with their own hidden agendas.  The manipulation you are about to uncover is far more insidious in every way than aliens potentially planning to invade and conquer the earth.

Right from the start, it’s important to acknowledge that TV is primarily a medium of entertainment and little else.   Of course there is news, which for the most part these days is all about ratings and follows the simple motto, “If it bleeds it leads”, which is why the first several stories of all daily news shows, whether on a broadcast network or on cable, are about violence and death.  We have truly become the purveyors and voyeurs of daily doses of dystopian morbidity, from music and video games to television and movies, it’s all about gorging on blood and gore.

The media has glorified and normalized violence, death and destruction, where murderous acts are looked upon as little more than another way to increase the ratings of a news show.  Where horrific images are replayed and rerun over and over again to keep us fixated upon the lowest common denominator………our fight or flight response (fear).  And yet we wonder why more and more young people are acquiring assault quality weapons and slaughtering each other and themselves?  What a surprise?  How many coincidences make a fact?

Remember several months ago when some bored teenagers went out and shot a famous baseball player to death?  If this level of murderous insanity prevails, our culture will descend into a the realm of Middle Eastern countries, where no one will ever be safe again.  What a shock, this degree of violence is now a normal part of our society!  We’ve met the enemy and it’s us!

Most people already suspect that our once-trust trusted news shows exaggerate, embellish, distort, manipulate and hype many of their stories strictly for ratings, where they re-run the most violent events over and over again, to make sure that we never forget the level of insanity now controlling our entertainment media.

Some years back, one of the local network affiliate news shows began each broadcast with the following words:  “death, destruction, mayhem, violence and murder” to attract a broader segment of the viewing audience.  They attracted more attention all right.  So much so that they received tens of thousands of complaints and then removed it.

If we can no longer trust the news to convey accurate and non-biased information to us anymore, why should anything on TV try to be any different?  The term reality has taken on a totally new meaning in the early 21st century; death and deception for dollars.

How many of you out there know where the term “news” comes from?   One belief is that it comes from North, East, West and South, a.k.a, the NEWS.

The most obvious and disturbing form of disinformation comes to us in the form of reality shows of every type imaginable.  From dating, to survival, to crazy housewives, to following self-absorbed, pseudo-celebrities all the way to chasing ghosts, spirits, demons and aliens.  If one digs deep enough into even the most seemingly normal, benign, non-paranormal reality shows, they soon discover that most, if not all, of the so-called reality genre is anything but real.  Where every event, every action and almost every line of dialog is well scripted and choreographed. Realty shows cannot just sit back and wait for their desired result to transpire, so they simply fabricate it.

I’ve met many people who’ve worked in production on various non-paranormal reality shows and they’ve all said that same thing.  Nothing on them is real,   If “smack down” wrestling was as real as it appears, the lethality rate would be enormous, where we’d actually be watching people kill each other on live TV.  To even the most skeptical, these manic wrestling shows are very carefully choreographed, or they would have been banned from TV long ago due tot he mortality rate.  And of course there are the occasional accidents and injuries, but even well-crafted stunts occasionally go wrong once in a while.

Bottom line here is that all reality shows are fraudulent, some very near criminal in their nature, in which they’ve forced their participants into signing totally outrageous contracts which prohibit them from ever revealing the truth behind said show.  Many production companies producing reality shows have been frequently sued for libel, slander, defamation of character and misrepresentation.  So these production companies developed the most insane release forms ever conceived.  But as many of the participants are so desperate to see their 15 minutes of fame, they’d sign their life away without giving it second thought.

Descending to the very bottom of the barrel here, let’s focus only on the totally fraudulent domain of paranormal reality, or as my very intelligent and most articulate friend and colleague Loyd Auerbach and I refer to them, paranormal “unreality” shows.

If you’re producing a paranormal reality show where something paranormal must occur during every episode, perhaps even several times per segment, you have a serious logistics problem on your hands, don’t you?  You cannot simply have talking heads on camera for forty- one minutes out of every hour, or your ratings be as remote as your chances of encountering real paranormal phenomena are.

Therefore, if one wants their reality show to get ratings worthy of renewal, one must do one of four things;  a) fake paranormal events.  b) populate the show with such colorful or outlandish individuals that they’re weekly rantings serve the same purpose as observing real phenomena would, c) dramatically exaggerate and embellish whatever really does occur to make it appear more important than it really is, or d) all the above.

Long before the air was littered with such unreal shows, I was approached by the creator of one of the first (whose name will remain absent as I do not wish to promote this clown in any way).  Years ago, when we first met, I made it very clear to him what the true reality was regarding investigating such paranormal events was like.  His reply was simple and straightforward.

Each episode of his show would fake such occurrences, and on the very rare occasion when they actually encountered demonstrable paranormal events, they would make it appear as if it were a hoax.  Compelling reverse logic indeed, but not for me.

I made it clear to this producer (who already had a well established track record by the way), that his thinking was certainly novel and provocative, but his show idea was nothing I could ever be associated with as it would be a blatant fraud.  I shook has hand and walked out.  About six weeks later, I once again met with this producer along with one of my colleagues at the time, and he again made his pitch.  But now, to the both of us.  We both shook our heads in unison to the negative as we were not even vaguely interested in his offer.

The most disturbing aspect of all these shows are that they’re doing a tremendous disservice and injustice to academic, scientific researchers within parapsychology by misinforming the public as to the real nature of these types of events, which in reality are not as frequent or intense as erroneously depicted in these juvenile, ludicrous entertainment shows.

If paranormal events were as consistently reliable as seen in these “unreality” shows, they wouldn’t be referred to as paranormal, as we’d already understand what they are, how they operate and why they occur.

Trust me on this, no one on earth really knows what’s going on with such otherworldly events, which is why they’re referred to as phenomena.  The primary reason that these shows follow the same intrinsic formula is that they are feeding a population that is totally ignorant as to what’s real in the paranormal world, let alone within science in general.

It’s very easy to fool and manipulate large audiences if they are unaware of the facts regarding a specific subject.  And when it comes to the paranormal, this applies to probably 99.99% of the population.

In the end, one must remember that all these shows are nothing more than Entertainment For the Ignorant Masses, or what I now refer to as “EFIM”. Now try and pronounce this acronym as if it was a real word with a soft “E”, and you’ll fully grasp what I’m getting at here.  It sounds like profanity, doesn’t it.  Yep, that’s what I think of them.

All too frequently, amateur paranormal investigators venture forth on their own attempting to emulate what they’ve seen on these shows.   The results of such copycat investigators is often nothing more than sheer fantasy and misinterpreting very normal, everyday events as something paranormal.

An interesting note here is that several of us (parapsychologists) have been officially banned from ever appearing on one particular cable network for consistently refusing to lie to the public on their behalf.   If you read enough of my blogs, you’ll immediately recognize what the network I speak of here.

With the exception of myself, the names of the three other gentlemen forbidden from appearing on this network will not be disclosed in order to protect their innocence and privacy.

My relationship with the SyFy Network who I now refer to as the Psi Lie Network as they cannot tell the truth about anything paranormal, has now degenerated to the point where one of their production companies, RAW TV (in the UK) actually offered to overtly defame, misrepresent, publicly discredit, humiliate, embarrass, libel and slander me for the paltry sum of $750 if I appeared on their show, Paranormal Witness in 2012.

When I first read their contract I was totally stunned by what it said, as was my agent.  We asked them to remove the threatening clauses related to such and they refused.

In fact, they were adamant about that if  I signed their agreement, I would not be allowed to show their contract to anyone or even discuss it with associates, attorneys, agents or even friends.  Can’t imagine why?  They were even very upset that I showed to my agent.  But as I had not yet signed it, I wasn’t legally bound by their demand.

Adding more fool to the fire was a provision in the contract clearly stating that even after their scandalous misrepresentation of me was complete, I would not be allowed to even mention their misinformative deception and criminal nature to the media or they could sue me, but I could not sue them for defamation of character, liable and slander.  Are these people insane or just criminals preying on gullible and naive people desperate to be on TV for all the wrong reasons?

The perfect contract, can’t imagine why I didn’t sign it?  It would have literally been a deal with the devil!

Actually, I should have asked them to add four to fives zero to the amount they offered me, write it up as damages, and then I could change my name and move?  Yeah, right?

Wow, and I thought that I’d previously heard the most absurd offer ever?  Guess I was wrong?  And all this to continue their disinformational campaign, specifically intended to increase the network’s ratings by consistently lying to the public by creating scandal and controversy.

Needless to say, I did not sign any contract or any form of release with these miscreants, and warned them that if they used my name, voice, image or likeness, or even if I was referred to for any purpose whatsoever on that show, that they would end up in court.

Since that event, I have come to learn that many production companies now use very similar release forms to avoid being sued, and there are always people who just don’t give a damn as to what it takes to appear on television.

When that episode aired in 2012, neither Jeff Wheatcraft or I appeared in the show, and for good reason.   And as usual, they grossly misrepresented the case in question.  Embellishing, exaggerating, distorting and simply lying, just to make the case appear to be much more than it really was.  The end result was a mishmash of stupidity, ignorance and lack of creativity.  Given the amount of video evidence on the case available to them, it was amazing how they went out of their way to turn gold into lead.  But I guess that uncreative, stupid, malicious and evil people make great alchemists?

After that, I foolishly assumed that my problems with Paranormal Witness and SyFy had ended.  I could not have been more in error.

In April of 2013, an episode of Paranormal Witness aired entitled, “The Manson Curse” (Season 3, Episode 7), which dealt with a case on Cielo Drive in northern Beverly Hills within Benedict Canyon that I investigated from July 2005 through June of 2006.  You can read the details of this case, which were almost totally fabricated and misrepresented in another blog on this website entitled, “Cielo Drive Convergence: The Ultimate Filed Laboratory”.  I didn’t watch the show when it first aired as it’s very difficult to stomach such disgustingly deceptive shows, but I did manage to record it off TV when it was rerun in late summer of 2013 as I was interested to see how much truth, if any, was present in 41 minutes.   What I saw literally floored me for the first time in my life.

Towards the end of that episode, a video was playing of a séance conducted at the Cielo Drive location in late winter of 2006.   I vividly recall that event because I was in attendance for it.  But what utterly shocked me was that I suddenly saw my face and body on-screen during this event, which was being videotaped by a new casual acquaintance I made the prior year.

Wait a minute, there’s something really wrong here. I never signed a release with, or for, the man who shot that video.  Nor did I sign a release with Paranormal Witness and/or SyFy.  Why then was footage of me allowed to air on Paranormal Witness?

Over the last 44 years I’ve appeared on hundreds, if not thousands, of TV shows regarding my research.  From network news shows to talks shows.  From documentaries airing on cable networks, to interviews appearing on various local network news affiliates, and of course occasional paranormal reality shows, (most of those turned out quite poorly in the end by the way).  Other than news shows that do not pay you, every other type of show did compensate me for my time and contribution to the show.

However, the one thing that every single show had in common was that I was required to sign a release in order for that show to air footage of me, even news broadcasts.  In fact, the very first thing a production company usually does when you show up for a shoot, is to have you sign a release form.  That is standard operating procedure in the industry.  Or at least it used to be.

Apparently, SyFy’s Paranormal Witness has now decided to arbitrarily change the law or the standard, in that they never even approached me regarding their intent to air footage of me on their April, 2013 “Manson Curse” episode.   However, given my pre-existing dysfunctional relationship with Paranormal Witness and SyFy, they wouldn’t have dared approach me for they knew what my response would have been.  NO!

But what did surprise me, was the reaction my attorney and I experienced when we recently contacted their attorney, Russell Smith, to inform him of what his clients did.

As opposed to offering me some type of financial settlement for their illegal use of my image in their show, Mr. Smith basically told me to go to hell and that if I bothered him or Paranormal Witness again on this matter that they would sue me for harassment.  What?  They’re the perpetrators of a crime against me and they’re now telling me that they’ll sue me if I pursue this matter?  Isn’t this an instance of the pot calling the kettle black?

Smith’s attitude was very condescending, for he knew that most attorneys would not dare touch a case like this, as it might require a great investment of time and money to legally pursue the matter, and whatever monetary compensation was recovered would be negligible and not worth the time and money put into it. 

This is the reason why these types of shows resort to this illegal mechanism, for they know, in the end, that most people do not have the financial resources to legally pursue them and no one will come to their legal assistance on such matters.  And if one takes them to small claims court, they frequently do not even show up, where a default judgment against them is imposed.  But then you must hire an attorney or any investigator to locate their financial resources and you’re right back to square one again.  And as RAW TV is in the UK as opposed to the USA, such legal efforts would be very costly indeed.

This is but the tip of a very large iceberg, where more and more production companies will produce such deceptively, misinformative trash and continue using such nefarious methods to break the law, for they know that they can act with impunity here and suffer no losses because of it.  We must all take a stand and draw a line in the sand now, or all of our rights in such matter will forever be lost. 

If you want to ensure that these types of events do not continue to occur, please contact Russell Smith, Paranormal Witness, SyFy and their parent company NBC, to let all of them know that such illegal practices will no longer be tolerated by anyone for any reason.  The law, justice and the truth is on our side here, and if we do not stand up for our rights, they will forever disappear and pass into history.  Perhaps it’s time to boycott Paranormal Witness and SyFy, if not the entire paranormal reality genre?  Let such begin here and now.

Mr. Russell Smith, of Smith Dehn, LLP:  Tel. 917-239-5047, E-mail: rsmith@smithdehn.com

 

 

 

 

 

TELEVISION: ON THE PLUS SIDE (Mostly)

TELEVISION: ON THE PLUS SIDE (Mostly)

My lengthy blog last week – which many have correctly called a rant — was perhaps a bit tough on paranormal TV shows, but rightly so. However, I want to underscore a couple of things said in the article, which perhaps people may have glossed over, related to the positives of TV and people I’ve worked with over the years.

Having read that blog, some might feel I’m mighty down on television. While that may be true with regards to most of the paranormal “reality”(unreality, in my mind) shows, there have been occasional shows that at least tell a good ghost story, and that don’t seem to have screwed with the story or the interviews with witnesses.

One that I’ve enjoyed from time to time has been Ghostly Encounters on BIO, which at least appears to allow people with all sorts of ghostly experiences (good, bad and neutral) to tell their own story, with re-creations happening on screen under their own narration. I don’t know for sure that the editing hasn’t screwed with the stories, but at least they fall more into the range of the experiences that parapsychologists have had reported to them for over a century.

On occasion, there’s a good portrayal of a medium or psychic at work, though all too often these days the show devolves into one where the camera is more interested in the non-psychic activities of the medium/psychic and her/his family. They also give the impression that these folks can walk up to anyone on the street and start giving a reading, no matter how intrusive – and I’ve had a number of people (viewers) tell me how off-putting that seems.

Those folks and everyone reading this should be reminded that almost anyone these days backed by a TV camera crew can walk up to just about anyone on the street, and often someone from the crew makes sure it’s “okay”(after all, the person does have to sign a release).

I’ve met a few of the psychics/mediums who do those shows, and none of them (they tell me) would walk up to someone on the street, in a market, etc. and start a reading uninvited without a TV crew to smooth the way.

Frankly, this isn’t much different than a street magician (a la David Blaine) walking up to someone saying “want to see a magic trick?”No camera crew, most likely the people would walk away – and that I’ve seen in person (I used to be a magician myself).

On to Positives…

Television has the ability to bring good information to the masses. It has the ability to educate while it entertains. It has the potential to be a tool to introduce concepts and experts to many millions of people, and the potential to push them to question all sides of a subject or issue.

As mentioned in that last blog, having grown up in a TV production family, I’ve been around TV people all my life, and absolutely through my formative years. My first appearance on TV, I was told by my parents, was when I was 6 months old and my mother was visiting the set of a NY talk show my father was working on. I worked as a “runner” (okay, a go-fer) for NBC Sports at a bunch of baseball and football games when my father was a producer, and ended up on camera a couple of times playing catch with Joe Garagiola. Had a great time as an extra on All My Children back in the early 80s (only one day, unfortunately).

I love television, and have known great people over the years, both through my family connections, and ever since I had my first job in Parapsychology at the ASPR. Some of the folks I’ve worked with – whether for actual shows or pilots or for proposed series – are still people I’d jump for the chance to work with, and a few of them have become good friends.

There are, in fact, people with real creativity and integrity working in the industry who have either a genuine curiosity about the phenomena and experiences, or even an abiding interest. But there are also folks who think the paranormal can make good television, yet want to make it“right” and have respect for the knowledge, experience and even creative ideas of the experts and the witnesses. They respect the ghost story and they respect the base of what’s actually known and the questions we, the researchers and investigators, ask. They might suggest new technology and new methods, but respect our reactions – positive or negative – to such suggestions.

In my experience, sometimes the right question that needed to be asked in a case that was being shot for TV actually came from a member of the production crew, and not from me or people with me. TV crew members should always be reminded to ask questions and even make observations (though some directors have gotten a little testy when a sound guy or production assistant points something out or asks a question, regardless of whether I’ve thought it was a good one or not).

WHAT TV NEEDS

There are three very important things to keep in mind when working with television.

First, it’s important to always remember television is a visual medium. That’s why producers are always looking for a way to “get something happening on camera.” TV is not just “Tell,” it’s Show and Tell.”

After the release of The Amityville Horror (the original film, ), and after Poltergeist (1982) in the 1980s, the media somehow got the idea that we could take a reporter or TV crew to places where they could pretty much get phenomena happening. Mainly, they thought they would see/record things moving of their own accord any time, as if what was on the screen was an actual representation of what really goes on. I still get people asking the same thing today – and my response is the same as back then: “If we could find places where phenomena happened all the time, or on demand or request, do you really think parapsychologists would be so under-funded (or non-funded) as we are? Or that the field would have little or no acceptance academically?”

Post Poltergeist, and especially post Ghostbusters (1984), there was this expectation that we had an arsenal of technology. Back then I had to remind them that Steven Spielberg had a much bigger budget for pretty equipment than we ever have had. That and “None of that stuff in Ghostbusters was real, guys.” Of course, once environmental sensors became reasonably available (and priced), we did have toys to use on camera – though for a long time some producers moaned about them not having pretty lights or sounds.
The reality is that while phenomena might happen during a shoot, it’s as likely as not to happen behind the camera, or simply out of frame from where the camera is pointed – if it happens at all.

Well, I totally understand the issue and desire of the producers and their networks to have visuals on camera. Hence reenactments/acting out of some of the stories with actors and even occasional special effects during the reenactments. If done well, if representing the story and reported phenomena correctly, this can be quite compelling and even of use to the investigative process.

There are other ideas along those lines which have yet to be done on TV which I’ve shared with a couple of producers who have been trying to pitch shows – but unfortunately networks see their shows as “too different”from the current crop of crappy ones (which still get the ratings).

Then there’s the need for dramatic events in the shows, especially around the phenomena.

But if there’s no phenomena, and you’re not willing to fake it (there’s the integrity thing), you have to get your “drama” from the people– who have to be able to tell a good story, and the story itself ought to be interesting. The experts need to be able to relate to the story, to the location, to the witnesses and above all, to the viewing audience.

To me, one of the reasons to dislike so many of the“investigation” shows currently on TV is that they’re missing the actual ghost story. And unfortunately, most of the shows that focus on the ghost story and reenactments have again and again been shown to play fast and loose with the actual story – even editing the witness testimony to give a particular focus or element to the story that was not actually reported by the witnesses.
Not that there’s always an easy fix to make a ghost hunting show interesting, visual, and accurate. But it is entirely possible, if the producers are willing to learn about the phenomena and science (Parapsychology) AND the experts are willing to learn something about the needs of television.

Now, the second point: TV people are often ignorant of the paranormal/parapsychology or have the same misconceptions as the viewing audience because what they know came from other TV shows.

I cannot possibly calculate the amount of time spent on the phone with producers, directors and production staff answering their questions about the phenomena, research and investigation methods, and findings– as well as misconceptions. In my last blog, the final point made was about getting paid. Yet other than extremely rare circumstances, I’ve not gotten paid (or asked for payment) for time spent educating TV folks about the basics and what they can and cannot reasonably expect. Just as I don’t charge average folks to consult (basically) with me – though I do charge for classes, and for mentoring people beyond the basic conversations.

It’s always been part of my mission in this field is to help educate the public, which is why my first job in the field, as “Public Information and Media Consultant” in the Education Department of the American Society for Psychical Research was so apropos. Even though there’s so much misinformation and misconception –crap – out there in the Media, as the late D. Scott Rogo told me just after I finished my Masters’ degree in Parapsychology, if there’s even one good, credible story in the middle of a lot of bad ones, someone will recognize the good from the bad, and follow up on that. If I and others don’t try to educate and correct the misconceptions, what chance is there that any good information will get out there?

So, I work with the Media, always hoping that the time spent informing and discussing with the production people will lead to occasional bright spots in the darkness that is unreality TV (and even TV news coverage of the subject).

People in TV, until they are assigned a topic or story, or get a request to develop a show, or even a contract for a show/series, may have no personal interest in the paranormal. Consequently, one cannot fault them for not knowing anything, especially how to separate the good info and experts from the oh so big pile of crap that’s out there on TV and the Web.

Most of them are open to what my colleagues and I have to say, even if they can’t follow up on it due to the constraints of the show/series as it has been pitched to a network, or as the network dictates. I’ve had great conversations with producers I’d love to work with on other projects, just not the one they’re calling me about (again, because of what the network wants/has dictated). Some of them have even gone back to the network with what they’ve learned to try to sway them in a different direction (usually fails given the network folks having their own ideas about what “works” without any clue as to what’s actually possible for credible coverage).

Some got so interested in the “real paranormal” that they contact me every now and again for updates, and even try to sell a decent series idea every so often.

In other words, not all people in television fall into the areas I covered in my “Unreality TV” blog.

The third point: What’s on the screen is a result of network executives/personnel ordering the results or intervening directly as much as or even more than what the producers had in mind.

Television is a business, and there are advertisers to be placated, ratings to be had, and politics and personal preferences within the networks. The production companies are in business, and the more the networks like their product, the more shows they sell – or they go out of business.

I totally get that. After all, my father worked for a network (NBC) and then was out on his own. No orders for programming means no business and no money.

Television does not purport to be educational in general, though naturally PBS has strived to be that, and some of the cable networks have claimed to provide educational programming (and some do) besides news programs.

But there’s much more to this. Even educational programs on PBS need sponsors, though we hope they don’t have a say about the content. Educational programs, such as they are, on cable networks do depend on ratings for continuation, and as with all programming, no ratings = no sponsors = no shows.

I have little problem with shows that at least admit to be attempting “entertainment,” but real problems when the folks representing the shows – producers, talent, network people – claim it’s all “real” or “as it happened” or “a true story” when it’s very clearly been edited or otherwise put together in a way that is not real, not a representation of what happened (or the order in which things happened), or a story that’s been altered in the writing or editing. Saying events represented on the show have been “edited for time” is fine, as it lets the viewers know something vital (and as long as the events are still presented in a fair representation).

I have a problem if the show utilizes naysayers who clearly have not looked at the actual evidence, or yea-sayers who accept everything happening as paranormally real, without question.

I don’t have a problem when a show spoofs the paranormal, parapsychology, psychic phenomena/abilities, psychics or ghost hunting. As long as it’s an honest attempt at comedy, even if I don’t find it entertaining, I can appreciate the effort.

It All Boils Down to Ratings

The most credible show we could come up with would still need to get decent ratings to stay on the air, though we’d have to get on the air in the first place, and hope the network sees the potential.

On the plus side, I’ve worked with many producers and writers who had great ideas or really wanted to portray this stuff correctly within the context of trying to build an entertaining show.

On the negative side, getting those shows past the network “deciders” is tough, since almost no one in the management of TV networks seems that interested in trying something really “new” – they don’t want to be first to fail, and consequently even if they think a new idea is a great one, they’re often unwilling to take a chance on that in favor of a retread of something they know does get ratings. They have to think bottom line, with little regard to credibility.

Can it be done? Absolutely. I’ve been involved in numerous show concepts that have real centers of good information and stories, presented in a variety of entertaining contexts.

Can it be sold? There’s the rub: how do you sell “credible” when it’s unclear that “credible” can get ratings and clear than non-credible (in-credible) does indeed get ratings (although as we’ve seen, not always).

If it’s sold, will they give it a fair chance? This is a problem in and of itself with networks. I’m sure all regular TV viewers reading this can recall at least one example of a new show they liked being bounced around the network schedule week after week, giving viewers no real chance to consistently even find the show, let alone watch it to help its ratings.

There have been several pilots or specials or single episodes – not just ones on the paranormal — for cable networks being scheduled in such a time period that it’s unlikely anyone would find it (unless they did a search of their cable provider’s schedule) if they even knew in advance the show was coming up. Network doesn’t want to give a show a fair shake? Schedule it at 1 in the morning on a weeknight or early to mid morning on a Saturday or Sunday and don’t do any promos for it. Series have been cancelled by being moved to the worst time slots so ratings would drop (remember the third season of the original Star Trek – moved to a network “death slot” of the 1960s, Friday nights at 10).

I’ve met and worked with and become friends with many in the television industry of good heart and great ideas when it comes to covering the paranormal – and here I’m talking about all facets, from ghosts and haunting to ESP and psychokinesis, from field investigation to laboratory studies, from psychics and mediums to the psychic experiences and encounters of “normal”people.

Great people, with lots of integrity.

Even met people at the network level with the same.

But the unfortunate reality is that such people in the are few enough, most especially at the network level, and often can’t get past the biases and expectations of others in the industry who have the buying power or decision-making ability for their networks.

If there were sponsors out there willing to put their money into advertising only on credible shows, we’d have a chance.

One Final Thought….

I came to my interest in psychic phenomena mostly from being a comic book and science fiction fan, with a little bit of the TV/movie watcher fascinated with ghost-infested comedies and dramas – NOT from the horror/scary side of things.

To me, and why I got into the field at all in any serious way, psychic abilities and apparitional phenomena indicate there is way more to human beings and our potential than what we might currently believe. Humans have potential to exceed what we are now, both when we’re alive and when we’re dead.

Too bad that the network named after science fiction, SyFy, has chosen to focus on scares and chills, rather than wonderment and inspiration, for its coverage of the topics involved. I love many of the dramatic and adventure shows on SyFy. But the only “wonder” their paranormal shows inspire in me is wondering why they consistently choose to buy and produce shows that hit almost all my “crap” points (from my last blog).

The Paranormal, when presented properly, can activate the Sense of Wonder! It can inspire!

Psychic phenomena is cool!

There are TV people who get that. Isn’t it time they get a chance, too?

*****

To any network people or sponsors reading this: Get in touch. I know great people in the industry who can put out a phenomenal (pun intended) product and know how to promote it to draw an audience, to give them awe and wonder, to keep them coming back.

Take a chance on credibility and real psychic experiences, research and investigation. Reach out to the majority of people who believe in this stuff (but who rarely watch your current shows) and make them feel wonderment at their paranormal experiences and attitudes about them.

Guaranteed it will get them talking more. It will make psychic experiences more “normal.” It will expand the potential audience exponentially.

More viewers = better ratings = more money.

This entry was posted in Articles, Entertainment, News, Paranormal in the Media by Loyd Auerbach. Bookmark the permalink.

About Loyd Auerbach

LOYD AUERBACH, M.S., Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations, is one of the world’s leading experts in Psychic Experience and Ghosts, and has been investigating and researching the paranormal for over 30 years. He is the co-author of author of the book THE GHOST DETECTIVES’ GUIDE TO HAUNTED SAN FRANCISCO with the late renowned psychic Annette Martin (2011, Craven Street Books/Linden Publishing) and the author of 7 other books, including A PARANORMAL CASEBOOK (Atriad Press, 2005), HAUNTINGS & POLTERGEISTS (Ronin Publishing, 2004) and GHOST HUNTING: How to Investigate the Paranormal (Ronin, 2004). His first book, ESP, HAUNTINGS AND POLTERGEISTS: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook (Warner Books, 1986) was named the “Sacred Text” on Ghosts in the 1990s and has been cited by numerous people as their inspiration for “getting into the paranormal.” He has a graduate degree in Parapsychology and has been teaching courses on the subject since 1983. He is a professor at both Atlantic University and JFK University and is the creator and Instructor of the Certificate Program in Parapsychological Studies at HCH Institute in Lafayette, also available for distance learning or in coaching form. Recently elected President of the Forever Family Foundation (for 2013 & 2014), he is on the Board of Directors of the Rhine Research Center, holds a position with the Psychic Entertainers Association and is on the Advisory Boards of the Windbridge Institute and the Forever Family Foundation. His media appearances on TV, radio and in print number in the thousands, including national programs such as The View, Larry King Live, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Stories, Sightings, Unsolved Mysteries, and specials on A&E, History, Travel and Discovery Channels, and more. He is a professional mentalist and psychic entertainer, performing as Professor Paranormal. He is also a public speaking and media skills coach, and has been teaching those subjects in university and corporate settings since the late 1980s, and currently coaches authors, entrepreneurs, corporate execs and others. As of 2010, he is also a professional chocolatier, producing and selling his chocolate under the business name of Haunted By Chocolate – with a book on the subject coming in 2013.

by Loyd Auerbach

Son of Things That Make Me Go Aarrgghh! (a bit on the longwinded side)

The Paranormal Network