Otherworldly powers influence nonfiction, scripted shows
There’s no indication that they predicted the trend, but psychics are all over the tube these days.
The most visible are the mediums who help the police solve crimes on Court TV’s “Psychic Detectives” and Biography Channel’s “Psychic Investigators.”
Those are nonfiction shows. Glenn Gordon Caron derives his scripted “Medium” on NBC from the real-life experiences of the psychic Allison Dubois, who works for the D.A.’s office in Phoenix while juggling her duties as wife and mother of three kids.
WE: Women’s Entertainment has reincarnated John Edward, a Sci Fi Channel latenight mainstay five years ago, sending him on the road to communicate with the dead relatives of grief-stricken people.
One sign that the trend is for real: USA is poised to make fun of the genre with “Psych,” a scripted series focusing on a private detective who pretends to be a psychic but really solves crimes through old-fashioned deduction.
Syracuse U.’s Bob Thompson says you don’t have to be a fervent believer in otherworldly powers to enjoy these shows.
“Because it’s spooky and mysterious, anything dealing with the afterlife and paranormal events has appeal,” says Nancy Dubuc, senior VP of nonfiction programs for A&E, which has commissioned a pilot called “Dead Time,” about a department of paranormal studies at Penn State U.
Fordham U.’s Paul Levinson has a different take.
“I see psychics as the equivalent of a wave of the magic wand to make your problems go away,” he says. “In a post-9/11 age of anxiety, with the Iraq war and rising gas prices, psychics can have the healing powers of the shamans and witch doctors of primitive tribes.”
From the pop-culture angle, Steve Frank, creator and producer of USA’s “Psych,” says he thinks people will soon start getting tired of the brooding forensic investigators on dead-serious shows like “CSI,” who probe grisly crimes in nauseating detail.
“I loved ‘Columbo’ because the show brought a fun element to the whole detective genre,” says Frank.
Caron says he jumped at the chance to write and exec produce “Medium” not because he has a thing for psychics but because the real-life medium is married to an aerospace engineer, “setting up a classic religion vs. science conflict.”
Kim Martin, exec VP and general manager of WE, says the “John Edward Cross Country” format has caught on with women, resulting in a second-cycle renewal.
Each week Edward visits the home of someone who’s in mourning. His chats with the deceased “help bring closure to the family’s grief,” Martin says.
Physicians stopped making house calls decades ago; thanks to Edward, psychics may be ready to fill the gap.