Another thing that makes me go AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!
Paranormal Unreality TV
“If you’re such an expert, how come you don’t have your own series?” or
“You can’t be an expert (or someone knowledgeable) on the paranormal, because you don’t have a TV series.”
Yes, I’ve actually had people ask/say that to me, with a few variations. And what can one say to that, other than “Huh?” Frankly, for those people who think the “experts” are only those who have paranormal TV series (including students and plumbers!!!), I have little to say. Although when they are snide about it (and sometimes downright nasty), I have to come back with responses not only about my education and professional experience in the field of Parapsychology (you know, the actual field that studies this stuff, and has for over a century), but also my own TV experience.
It’s this experience which I discuss below, leading into some possibly unflattering opinions of the current state of what I have to call…
I’ve been involved in television coverage of the paranormal since my first job almost right out of graduate school, as Public Information and Media Consultant to the American Society for Psychical Research back in 1982/1983. Let me restate that – for over 30 years.
Over the years, I’ve appeared in a couple of hundred (maybe more — lost track) television shows, a large portion of which have been national, from talk and news show interviews, to appearances and full segments in other shows, including a few paranormal-themed series. Even appeared on Criss Angel: MindFreak and ESPN’s SportsCenter. In the early 90s, I did several episodes of the paranormal magazine show Sightings (and was a consultant on one of the two initial pilots), which aired first on FOX then on Paramount TV (which became UPN). Many, many of the shows I’ve done air in reruns on BIO, the Discovery Channel, TLC, the Travel Channel, A&E, and even SyFy (rare, mainly because SyFy seems to avoid any shows with actual parapsychological researchers whenever they can) – and the reruns keep coming back over and over. Last year, there was even a show I did back in the mid-80s that resurfaced in reruns on cable.
I also worked on several specials for Tokyo Broadcasting System at the time (and about to do some work for NHK Japan).
I’ve generally been pretty lucky with the television shows and interviews I’ve done. While many of the edited segments/interviews I’ve done have cut out important bits of information or cut down what I said to too little – mainly because of time crunch for the segments — or even had a slight change in context, it’s been pretty rare that my portion was too far off what I said or did. On occasion, some of the shows cut the footage so it appeared that I was “finding” a ghost when an EMF meter or two went off (I wasn’t, since they can’t detect ghosts, only changes in EM fields).
I’ve spoken with many dozens of producers and production companies, so many I’ve lost count. Had my name attached to numerous projects that failed to sell, both as on-screen talent and behind the scenes consultant or even production staff. Those shows generally failed to sell for a variety of reasons, from poor execution of the pitch by producers, to the networks – having asked for something “real” — deciding instead to go with “what already works, like the other shows already on,” to not being able to find the right “team members” to suit the production company or network. Would you believe one pilot got away from me because I was unable to find a young, twenty-something (preferably blond) “hot” psychic?
I’m actually surprised no one’s done a mash-up of a ghost hunting show with Bay Watch – a group of good looking, scantily clad ghost hunters investigating haunted beaches and beach resorts. (Yeah, I know, now that I put this out there, Paranormal Beach Babes is sure to be pitched to some network, or at least end up as a porn flick).
I’ve been a consultant on several shows, both fictional (such as a full day with writing staff of Shadow Chasers and a short consult with writers from L.A. Law a ways back), though mostly “non-fiction” specials and series. Even worked with a few screenwriters over the years.
On occasion, I’ve worked as production staff, including associate producer on one pilot in the 90s, field producer for a few segments of Mysterious Forces Beyond, and consulting producer on a big budget ghost investigation reality show pilot (still sitting with the network that paid for it, seemingly going nowhere). I helped with a proposed game show called Telepathy for the Game Show Network (which is GSN these days), in developing one of the games for the show, working with “contestants” for the run-throughs, and effectively “on camera” for the run-throughs. The show was apparently picked up, then dropped when management of the network changed right before it went into production.
Here’s the important piece: I’ve turned down working on several shows or with certain production companies. I’ve turned down working on or appearing in a few shows already in production.
Have you been taken aback? Are you gasping, asking “Why, Loyd, would you do that when it could give you so much more presence in the paranormal community?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love television. I practically grew up in the TV industry. My father, Dick Auerbach, was a well known sports producer (though he did news, including the Mercury and Gemini space shots) for NBC, and then on his own. My uncle, Larry Auerbach, was a director of soap operas (Love of Life, All My Children, One Life to Live), and heavily involved with the Directors Guild of America (still somewhat with the latter). I have a brother who works as a stage manager on The Today Show, and my other brother is co-owner of a major movie trailer (coming attractions) production house in NY.
TV is in my blood – perhaps my very genetics. But it’s not only TV.
I also have an uncle on my mother’s side, Herb Norman, who was a radio newscaster for WMCA Radio in NY, and later a professor teaching broadcasting. And I’ve appeared on literally thousands of radio programs (plus all the podcasts of late) over the years.
But back to my TV-turn downs…
In science fiction literature, there’s an adage from writer Theodore Sturgeon I read decades ago (partly paraphrasing someone else, I’m sure).
Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of all science fiction is crap. But then, 90% of everything is crap.
I just read a brief interview with Joel McHale of the TV shows Talk Soup and Community, referencing a similar adage, and applying it to television.
But perhaps, when it comes to paranormal (un)reality TV, it should be more like 95% or even more is crap.
Here I’m not talking about how entertaining the shows might be.
For many people, a number of the shows I’d throw in the “crapper” because of the lack of credible portrayal of the phenomena, investigation methodologies and conclusions, and even experiences (in some instances, especially the experiences/stories) are actually entertaining and worth watching.
For me, it’s tough to watch these shows and the people on them which proclaim they are even close to accurate portrayals of anything – including a supposedly close representation of what went on during the so-called investigation that was shot for the show. Because of this, I find most of them not entertaining, often boring, and often insulting to my field and the people who have paid their dues in it.
Crap: Manufacturing Evidence: While mainly driven by the production staff, or the network itself, it’s been clear that some of what has been shown on TV is made up, faked, or edited in such a way as to tie an unrelated (though explainable) bit of sensor equipment data or even explainable bits coming through the production camera or mikes to some other such thing or to the reaction of one or more members of the “team” on camera.
Crap: Misapplication of the Sensor Equipment: Either because of lack of education, inappropriate direction by producers/directors, or pure stupidity, environmental sensing equipment provides readings (data) that is used to support statements that cannot be shown to be true.
For example: “An EMF reading of 3.8” (or any other specific number) “indicates there’s a ghost present.”
No, Virginia, it indicates the strength of the electromagnetic field it’s sensing, or the change in the fields (depending on the device), NOT a ghost.
Please pay careful attention to the following (skeptics and debunkers also pay attention to this, something I’ve been saying since the late 1980s when EMF detectors were first being used by us, contrary to what Randi and others would have you believe about me):
EMF detectors, thermometers, static electricity sensors, and all other environmental sensing equipment ONLY are designed to detect the changes in the environment relevant to each specific piece of equipment. An anomalous (unexplainable) reading is only that. There has not been any real study to determine if specific environmental changes are indicative of a ghost or residual imprint or any other paranormal phenomena.
There have been correlations between certain environmental changes and peoples experiences of apparitions, hauntings and the like. In other words, a person is having an experience at the same time as or in the same space as (and without knowledge of) some environmental anomaly. Not cause and effect, but correlative.
If one does not believe in the paranormal, that’s fine. The correlations still stand, as saying this correlates to the experience of a ghost is not the same as saying the correlations are to the presence of a ghost.
Before anyone jumps on me regarding the issue of no consistent environmental conditions and the proverbial “cold spot” or dropping of temperature when a ghost apparently is in the room, I have to point out that this is an old wives tale (old psychics’ tale?), fully supported by the visual medium of motion pictures. The idea is that when a ghost “manifests,” he/she draws energy (heat, in this case) from the very air in the local environment. People report feeling “a chill” or even downright “cold” when they also see, hear, or sense a spectral presence.
1) The vast majority of ghost sightings (and here we’re talking between 90 and 99 per cent) is people who clearly perceive a relative, loved one or friend who just died. People do not report drops in temperature, or generally even a “chill up their spine.”
2) In many, many cases where people report feeling a drop in temperature, not everyone in the room feels it, even if they come to the same spot as the individual reporting this. Not everyone perceives the ghost, either.
3) In many, many cases where people report feeling a drop in temperature, temperature sensors do not support the actual change in temperature.
4) In some cases where people report experiencing a ghost, they report feeling warmer.
That’s not to say temperature changes are not recorded in apparition or haunting cases at all. Sometimes they are (temperature drops or rises a few degrees). But this is incredibly far from consistent. And in some cases, there have been physical cold spots recorded – but often there is a less than paranormal explanation for them.
Yes, there are exceptions – still unexplained temperature changes. That’s cool! (Pun intended).
Crap: Misapplication of Technology in general: Ghost Boxes and other devices supposedly designed to detect spirits or communicate with them have not been tested properly as to whether they, at rest (when no supposed spirits are around) are actually random scanners, as they purport to be. The developers and users have also ignored the decades of data in parapsychology showing psychokinetic effects on random event generators by living people, and it’s next to impossible (without very cooperative apparitions) to do a test of how well discarnate entities can psychokinetically affect such devices.
At this point in time, however, to say that any tech-related “communication” is definitely from a spirit is way too strong. It might be, it might be the intent and expectation of the operator working unconscious PK on the device, or it might be pure chance. One can certainly lean in one direction or another, but no definitive statements can be made – unlike what we see on TV.
Crap: Misapplication of the term “scientific”: “The investigators are conducting scientific investigations,” they tell us on the shows. I’ve yet to see any evidence of anything close to that being true. I do see lots of evidence that the producers and the team members on the shows seem to equate using technology to being scientific.
Okay, so I cooked bacon one morning last week with my microwave oven. So, I was being scientific in the way I cooked the food, right? (No, I was not, at least no more than using the stove and a pan – and I actually have some idea how a microwave oven works).
Using technology does NOT equate to doing science. And, by the way, any man-made tool is technically technology, including a tape measure and even stone knives.
Parapsychology, while often bringing in some of the tools and methods of physical sciences, is mainly a social science (like Psychology and Sociology). Parapsychologists study phenomena of the Mind, of Consciousness – and that means at least starting with people’s experiences.
Many of my own investigations, which are mainly in people’s homes, are not fully scientific, or sometimes even close. Our concerns are for the clients, and taking up their time to do measurements and observations over enough time to have enough data to play with “scientifically” is often to the detriment of their well being. I’m just sayin’.
Crap: Dismissal of all witnesses during the investigation, and dismissal of their experiences as “anecdotal.” On the first front, given that it’s the witnesses who have already had a connection to the reported phenomena, removing them from the location during one’s investigation does not do justice to the case. What if the ghost has a connection to them? Will he/she even stay around or will he/she head to the same hotel as the family? What if it’s poltergeist phenomena, caused by a family member???
It is not a bad idea to remove them from the place if you suspect a normal explanation, so you can really look into that.
As to the second, if witness experiences don’t count, what the hell are you investigating? For private home cases, or even “new” cases in workplaces, it’s the very report of a witness (in other words, a witness experience) that one is investigating. If you dismiss that, there’s nothing to investigate. All witness testimony must be considered – even though it indeed may be inaccurate or based on misinterpretation, faulty perceptions, or emotional reactions.
In public places, reputed to be haunted, without current witnesses you are investigating a rumor or folklore. That’s okay, but the investigation without witnesses should be aimed at finding why people might have concluded in the past that the place was haunted, then you can consider whether it might still be haunted.
Crap: Dismissal of all psychics and mediums in favor of technology. Okay, I understand there are lots of publicity seeking frauds or publicity seeking individuals who simply believe they might be psychic – same, by the way, goes for ghost hunters and paranormal investigators, who seem more interested in getting a TV pilot or series than doing a credible job of investigating.
I understand it’s tough to find a good psychic or medium, especially one whose talents actually work in given situations (contrary to popular belief, psychics and mediums, like artists and musicians, are often specialists – specializing in a certain application of their talents, like a violin player who could never play the flute or drums).
I understand that people often get turned off by many of the psychics and mediums they see on TV, thinking the behavior of all is represented by the behavior of the few (often flamboyant or diva-ish) on television. But that’s like saying the folks on Jersey Shore represent all the natives of the New Jersey/New York area. Not!
Given all that, let me say that the best piece of equipment IS a PERSON. This can be one of the witnesses, or it can be a psychic or medium. However, one must use this “sensor” like any other piece of equipment – what they “sense” needs to be correlated to all the other data, including witness testimony, history of experiences, environmental readings, and so on.
On the other hand, psychics and mediums – the right ones, anyway – are excellent at dealing with the living inhabitants of the home. In other words, there’s the accuracy issue, but more important is the usefulness issue. [Note: in the next few weeks I’ll post a short piece on the qualities of the best psychics and mediums]
Crap: Dismissal of outside experts or editing of the expert opinions. All good researchers and investigators seek alternate opinions. Why don’t you see scientists on Ghost Hunters? Because they might make more sense than the TAPS folks, and given who the stars of the show are, that just won’t do.
What’s worse is when an outside expert is invited on a show, to have his statements placed out of context during the editing process, or even having the comments edited in such a way that on-screen what’s said is the opposite of what the expert actually said. Yes, this happens a lot.
What also happens – and it’s happened to me and many of my colleagues – is having a director or producer during a shoot try to direct the expert to say something the expert does not agree with. Got into a bit of a fight with a director during an Unsolved Mysteries shoot in the 1980s when I refused to ignore evidence as to what I thought was actually going on and state I thought it was “demonic.” Got cut out of that episode, completely.
Crap (okay, the last one, for now): Investigators running scared from a location like frightened little children. An EVP that says “Get Out!” being declared it’s an indication there’s a demonic spirit present.
As to the latter, I not only see this on TV, I also hear it from individuals and groups out there. But imagine if you were the ghost, and a group of people came in and started invading your space, challenging you to appear or otherwise communicate, even insulting you and yelling at you. Wouldn’t you shout “Get OUT!” to them? Or simply leave so they get no “evidence” at all. Frankly, I’m surprised no one’s gotten a “Get the F*%K Out!” EVP yet.
I ask you, who was being “demonic” – the rude, obnoxious, provoking ghost hunters or the ghost who was just minding his own business?
As to the former, really? Running screaming from a house? Saying it’s “demonic” and that you’ll never enter the premises again? Really?
Wimps! (and certainly not like any professional or scientist I know in the field).
If it was me, it would take a pretty big spider to send me running (or a living person with a gun or big knife)….
That’s enough “crap” for now, on to other things.
Why have I turned down a bunch of shows in the past, and continue to do so?
My Top Thirteen Reasons
1. The producers are not interested in a credible portrayal of the phenomena or the ghost story.
2. The producers are so insistent on having “something” on camera, that they hint (or even blatantly state) that they might have to fake things.
3. The producers have little regard/respect for the people who need help (the clients), promise them one thing, but don’t follow through. [This happened with a couple of producers for Sightings during their last season or two, with producers promising resources for – meaning money to support — follow-up past the segment shoot.] Or they make the people look silly, ignorant or even psychologically disturbed when they are not.
4. The producers have little regard/respect for the statements of the expert (someone like me), and have proven this in past shows/series they’ve done. Editing statements out of context, or cutting so the expert says/does something other than what he/she actually did/said during the shoot. Making the expert look foolish.
5. The show is focused on “evil.” I refused to work with one show on principle, because the show’s opening indicated that all paranormal experiences are brushes with Evil. That’s about as far from my own position as it comes.
6. The producers are focused on demons as a major explanation for people’s paranormal experiences. Also about as far from my own position as it comes. I don’t even believe in demons (as defined by current religious beliefs).
7. The show is positioned to engender fear (related to #5 & #6). I love a good scary movie (scary, not gross-out). But “reality” television should not try to engender fear by portraying all paranormal experiences as potentially dangerous or evil or harmful. I won’t work with such shows. Nor will I work with such shows as try to focus on what look to be harmful experiences, as though all are that. The regular News is often scary enough.
Got a call recently from someone from a proposed show called When Ghosts Attack (anyone recall the old show When Animals Attack?). The person I spoke with was surprised to hear from me (though she heard this from others as well) that ghosts almost never attack. I had no cases for her, and explained that this is not exactly the kind of show that draws me in to help. Fear-mongering is not good for the field.
By the way, she was also surprised to hear (as so many other producers have been surprised to learn) that even if I had any cases like that, the people would most likely not want to talk on camera. Most people don’t even want their neighbors to know they have a “paranormal problem,” let alone broadcast it to the world.
8. The producers have not done any research/education about the actual field, and instead have bought into the “crap” on other TV shows as “how it really is.” This is not actually a problem, unless the producers are unwilling to take the time to learn about the actual experiences of people, the behavior of the phenomena, and the field of Parapsychology and its findings.
But more often than not, they don’t want to spend any time on that, given the network could care less about such things (or at least, that’s what the producers believe, and sadly often the case).
9. The production company’s track record. With some relationship to #s 3 & 4 – I sometimes hear from production companies that tout how “successful” their previous shows (paranormal and not) have been, thinking this is going to sway me to work with them, even if for only one episode of something. It’s not.
Ratings success is very different than critical success, and the amount of Crap that the shows have included, whether about my subject or something else. Producers of Crap have to prove to me that their new project won’t be the same.
10. The producers are unprofessional/idiotic. Do I need to say more on this?
11. Logistics: Sometimes, my refusal is simply a matter of when and where they want to do the shoot. There have been a few times when I did want to say Yes,, but the lead time was not enough for me to rearrange my schedule, or most frequently it conflicted with something I simply could not change or cancel.
One of the biggest such conflicts was back in 1995. I was slated to go to New Orleans with Tokyo Broadcasting for yet another TV special centered around Japanese psychic/medium Aiko Gibo. I really liked working with these folks, they were respectful, listened to me, and even paid well. Mrs. Gibo was a pleasure to work with.
The shoot was scheduled for early summer, 1995, then got pushed back, and again…I warned them there were absolute blackout dates for me in early September. I was getting married, and heading off to French Polynesia for our honeymoon (which was already paid for, and not alterable).
They changed the dates again…and again…until finally – you guessed it: the dates conflicted with our trip. Realistically, and as I told them, we could have pushed our honeymoon a week or two, but the production company would have had to cough up the money for the new trip, on top of what they were paying me. They were not willing to do that, so, regrettably, I had to bow out.
Had a great time on our trip, though!
12. Non-disclosures and crazy language in a release form.
A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is one that ties the parties from talking about any details of a deal, production, etc. for a designated period of time, or under certain conditions. In the past, I’ve had releases with NDAs that were workable – usually either stated that or I was able to change to I couldn’t talk about the production or what actually went on during the shoot and the case (if we were investigating). I have no problem keeping my mouth shut about a shoot until the specific episode airs. But once it’s on, all bets are off – if they changed the story, disrespected me, other experts or the witnesses, or did an exemplary job, I want to be able to talk about it, either way.
In the more recent past, there have been overly inclusive non-disclosure clauses in releases (which look more like contracts than TV release forms). Language restricting not only the ability to talk about the shoot, case or show in anything but non-derogatory terms (!!!), but limiting the ability to even use the name of the show (or that I was in it) in any of my own publicity materials without express written permission. On top of that, one I saw recently actually restricted one’s right to say anything other than the “non-derogatory” about the series, production company and even the network!
That last bit would mean that one could never say anything negative about the network going forward, whether for the particular show the release was related to, or any other. Talk about restriction of Freedom of Speech.
In all cases, when presented with something like that, I change the language, crossing things out, and changing the wording. If they or their lawyers don’t like it, I simply tell them I won’t do the show otherwise. It’s not like they’re paying for my silence (see the next item). In a few cases, including an interview I shot (via Skype) for Ghost Lab, they refused to change the language.
I refused to do the shows. In the case of the Ghost Lab show, that meant they couldn’t use the footage of me.
There’s been other crazy language in the releases, including signing what amounts to an admission that you (the signer) are aware they are able to (and even likely to) humiliate or otherwise defame you, make you look foolish, and you have absolutely no recourse, even if they had intended to do this from the moment they began speaking to you about being in the show. The last one I saw like this actually stated that you had no recourse even if they had “malicious intent” to do all that to you.
By signing without changes, you would give producers free reign to make you look as bad as possible (on purpose!) now and forever – and because of the NDA, you could not say anything but a non-derogatory word about it, let alone sue them.
So, when presented with such an agreement, you have to decide a) What’s your reputation worth? and/or b) What’s your ability to speak freely about the shoot, the show, or even the network, worth? and c) What are you getting out of doing the show, whether monetarily or otherwise, and is it worth as much as the potential losses (of a & b)?
To me, it’s simply not worth the losses here, and it’s not like they’re paying enough to make me think twice about it – or often even offering to pay anything at all.
13. Pay (or lack thereof).
I have been around TV production all my life. I know shows have budgets, and I know the reality of Reality shows is that they usually don’t have great budget (unless they’re broadcast network). In many, if not most, cases, the production company is simply “for hire” and gets a flat amount for the budget of an episode, with no piece of the action down the road (no residuals, no percentage of profits from DVD or online sales or rentals, etc.). Consequently, they often have to penny-pinch, and where that especially comes in is with on-air “talent.” This includes the principals in the show (e.g. the ghost hunting team, or the host(s)) and any outside experts or others being interviewed.
That said, it’s important to remember that the production crew is being paid, and any outside services (travel, food, lodging, equipment rental, even temp “go-fers”) are being paid.
The production companies have often been able to keep budgets down by not even paying the on-air “talent” (the team), at least for a first season series – though generally they pay travel, lodging and food. However, so many people are so hungry to get on TV that they don’t question the “sorry, but we can’t pay you – but you’ll be on TV!” statement. From what I understand, some have gone broke by giving up a paying job to take a non-paying gig for a short-term on TV, thinking it’ll lead to much more. Yes, sometimes it can, but most of the time, it does not.
Like everyone else who went through several years of education, and like everyone else who’s worked hard to establish a reputation as well as a strong knowledge-base in a subject, all that investment of time, money and experience should be worth something. In other words, like everyone else in every profession, I should be paid for my time.
Naturally, there are exceptions. News programs can’t pay (can’t pay for a news story, even though it may be more of a feature than an actual news piece). Talk shows usually don’t pay, unless you’re a member of AFTRA or SAG unions. The latter usually pays expenses, and sometimes the former does as well.
Radio can’t pay (not even for expenses – they don’t have the money).
The cable shows don’t usually have large budgets, but they do have some money they can spare for experts. I know this, having gotten to know a number of cable producers over the years (and because of my Dad’s looking into this for me many years ago).
“We can’t pay you, but we really want you on the show.” Okay, if it’s a show that sounds appealing to me, or there’s something I do in fact get out of it (such as doing the recent ESPN piece I did on the “Madden Curse” – fun to do, a fun piece, something different, a new audience, all of the above!), or perhaps one of the locations I work with regularly gets something out of it, or maybe as a favor to a colleague or if I have a friend working on the show.
All of the above had led me to do things for no payment. And I’ve done interviews for a number of documentaries for free (or next to nothing), and as long as they’re educational, have the right angles, and are from producers with integrity and/or are actually interested and care about the subject in a serious way, I’ll continue to do so.
When they plead “nothing in the budget,” logistics really do come into play for me. Do I have to take time off actual, paying work (in other words, do I lose money)? Are they willing to come to me, on my schedule, at a location of my choosing? How much time will be spent on this? I consider all of those – and have done a number for little or no money.
Otherwise, I turn them down.
I’m not going to list my fees for doing shows here. That’s between me and any show that wants to hire me, and it totally depends on what I am being asked to do, how much time will be spent –including getting to/from their shoot-location. Often, it’s logistics that makes me decide “No, sorry,” especially if the travel is long/time consuming compared to the money offered. I don’t ask for a huge sum, and I’m told I’m undercharging, especially given how much (free) time and advice/information I’ve given over the phone to producers.
But it boils down to whether I’m being treated as a professional, or an expert – which is what they want me to be on camera.
So, when people ask me why I don’t have a series, there are many reasons, but it boils down to “most series are crap…crap sells, good ideas don’t…I don’t do crap.”
Sometimes it sucks to have some integrity.
Of course, I am willing to do comedy…. I’m talking to you, Stephen Colbert!!!