Destination America isn’t exactly a top destination for most cable surfers, which explains why the Discovery-owned network would be eager to scare up viewers. Enter “Exorcism: Live!,” a two-hour special broadcast Oct. 30 marking the channel’s turn toward the paranormal that hardly merited an exclamation point, inasmuch as absolutely nothing happened. Yes, the various researchers and psychics who went into the haunted house — which provided the inspiration for the movie “The Exorcist” — spoke often of feeling cold and strange. But as is so often the case with these exercises, viewers at home simply had to take their word for it.
Frankly, the producers seemed to squander an opportunity with their taped packages, which relied heavily on over-the-top dramatic recreations, which looked pretty pallid compared to clips from the movie. Given that most people are familiar with the 1973 film, but not so much with the 1949 case in St. Louis that provided its underpinnings, a more scholarly approach to that material might have actually been interesting.
But no, this “live” stunt was really all about showmanship, and not incidentally promoting the gang at “Ghost Asylum,” which airs on the network. As for whether they approached the task with any skepticism, that was summed up by their poet laureate, Steven “Doogie” McDougal, who spoke of entering “a little bitty room that you know Satan was in.”
Although a lot of people believe in gh-gh-ghosts, “Exorcism: Live!” probably worked best as comedy, starting with all the tweets that kept scrolling across the screen from people professing to be terrified. At one point, someone also referenced the “millions of people watching,” which is an extraordinarily optimistic guess, given that the second-tier network probably struggles to reach that many viewers in a week.
Mostly, one came away admiring the salesmanship that goes into this sort of endeavor, with the live component adding an element of unpredictability to what otherwise would have been just another ghost-chasing reality show. That started with host Chris Jacobs, who wore a stocking cap on his head, raising the question of whether he intended to exorcise the house or burgle it; and proceeded to psychic Chip Coffey and Bishop James Long of the Old Catholic Church, a schismatic offshoot of the better-known one seated in the Vatican. (The Archdiocese of St. Louis, it’s worth noting, was not amused.)
OK, so it was mostly harmless, pre-Halloween fluff. But gee, guys, couldn’t someone at least have knocked over a glass or something, instead of just whining about how heavy and cold they felt, as if this were a lousy camping trip? Otherwise, there were lots of pregnant pauses (all backed, naturally, by dramatic music), including a long wait for a response that never came as the “Asylum” gang rapped the “Shave and a Haircut” notes on a table. Even the ghosts, it seems, realized this rather brazen stunt, when all was said and done, wasn’t worth the two bits.