The dead, it turns out, are a lot like the living: Once they sense the spotlight, they all want their 15 minutes of fame. Given the supply (of the dead), and what seems to be the demand (from the living), the economics make sense for ABC to bring us more psychic channeling of the deceased in this stand-alone hour “Contact: Talking to the Dead.” Medium George Anderson meets with a series of celebrities, who uniformly receive comforting words from loved ones who’ve died. Despite its emotional cuddliness, this is still about as tacky as “Celebrity Boxing,” and a lot more predictable.
Anderson and his fellow psychics have been overshadowed by the rising stardom of John Edward, whose Sci Fi Channel show “Crossing Over” has brought the dead renewed hipness. Anderson is like the staid IBM to Edward’s rasher Microsoft. Anderson’s far more formal, and he wears slacks and cordovan loafers; he’s bearded but groomed to extreme neatness. He also doesn’t talk as fast, although he does keep a pen in his hand and shakes it while he’s channeling. The producers and director Pete Delasho have placed Anderson’s antics in a more conservative environment, with plush chairs and a pleasant, earth-toned set. And, to be blunt, Anderson’s not as entertaining, not in this format anyway.
At least with Edward, there are moments that startle, that leave the disbeliever curious about how he pulled that off. Not here, where George Anderson sits down in front of Mackenzie Phillips and starts throwing out song titles from the Mamas and the Papas repertoire. One doesn’t need to be a medium to have seen that episode of “Biography.” When he meets less recognizable folks, in this case the mother and sister of Robert Blake’s murdered wife, Anderson needs to explain in an interview afterwards that, while they may “want” details of the crime, what they “need,” according to their deceased relative, is just to know “she’s OK.”
As with “Crossing Over,” the entertainment value of this show doesn’t come solely from the psychic but from the subject’s desire to believe him, from seeing Vanna White smile at being “contacted” by a former lover who died in a plane crash, or from watching macho Bret “the Hitman” Hart wipe away a semi-tear for his sibling Owen, who died doing a stunt. Anderson didn’t seem to channel the details of that one, either, and I was left with the sneaking suspicion that host Jim Moret, of “Entertainment Tonight” fame, probably could have done even better with these tabloid subjects.
Part of the purpose of these shows, of course, is to calm our fears of mortality. This is intended as feel-good TV with a mystical bent. No messages from those burning in Hell here, mind you, although that might be more entertaining.