UFOs and the unexplained are slowly becoming more acceptable in the mainstream cultural landscape, as a big part of the equation has been media; namely television.
There’s been a significant change in the attitude towards the subjects of UFOs, the unexplained and other phenomena, as the stigmas are slowly starting to fade regarding these once taboo topics. The New York Times Pentagon UFO story, the Tic-Tac and Go-Fast To The Stars initiated video releases, and increased mainstream news coverage from print/online outlets like Politico, the Washington Post, and the New York Times have made it acceptable for the CNNs and Fox News Networks of the world to join in on the coverage. Often print media and reporting helps legitimize what makes it on broadcast.
In addition to the cable television coverage, which is mostly driven by a “mainstream bias” of reporting hot topics, production studios have also jumped on board. There’s been an influx of UFO and paranormal shows like CW’s “Mysteries Decoded,” History’s “Unidentified”, Travel Channel’s “Alien Highway”, History’s scripted series “Project Blue Book” and others all popping up within the last two years. A second season of “Project Blue Book” has been ordered after outperforming most new shows last year in in the 18-49 age demographic according to tvbythenumbers. History’s “Ancient Aliens” is currently on season number 14. And for every show that we see on the subject, there have been plenty that have been plotted, pitched, piloted and in production that haven’t made the air, or currently being produced.
“One of the big thing at the networks regarding getting the green light for any ‘unexplained’ show, mystery or conspiracy is ‘why now?’”, said Gary Tarpinian, president of Burbank-based film and television production company MorningStar Entertainment. “Why are we producing this show now? If you can’t answer that question successfully, you’re not going to sell your show.”
“Unidentified,” which is now airing globally and a second season has been officially confirmed by Tom DeLonge,played a large part in helping legitimize what the New York Times reported, and what To The Stars released regarding the Pentagon UAP videos like the Tic-Tac, and the Go Fast. The show spent the majority of the six-episode season documenting Luis Elizondo investigating the Tic-Tac case with the eye witness military personal on-camera testimonials, which was representative of what the media was giving serious coverage.
“This has happened in the past –– in the early 50s; UFOs were national news, which prompted the creation of Project Blue Book – and now, the Navy's recent acknowledgement that UFOs exist is highly significant,” said Steve Ascher, senior vice president of A+E Originals and one of the producers of “Unidentified.” “History’s series ‘Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation’ played a major role in that moment. In our series, former military intelligence official and a Special Agent In-Charge Elizondo, interviewed then Lt. Ryan Graves whose words and shared experiences with UAPs as an active duty Navy pilot got us here. Graves was the first USS Theodore Roosevelt pilot to come forward to identify the two videos of UAPs setting the internet ablaze. Our series has presented information that has never been disclosed before, and sparked conversations that have initiated true government action regarding this topic. We are thrilled to have played just a small part in making history.”
Television reaches 90 percent of the U.S. population, and the broadcast industry is a $150 billion per annum enterprise according to Business Insider. Due to the cheaper production costs and consistent ratings, reality-based TV are at the forefront of the industry, and these informative, yet slickly produced paranormal / UFO-based shows are a part of the machine. The machine is also in direct competition with each other for new and groundbreaking content.
“When developing and selling a UFO based series or documentary there are a couple of things that most companies are looking for; what is different about this story that hasn’t been told before?” said Chase Jeffrey, development producer at Megalomaniac Inc. “ Is there new access we have yet to see? Is this newly declassified information? Did some event recently happen that had made this topic relevant? Did a public figure recently make a statement or involved in the movement? In our industry we always be the ‘first’ to tell the story- and if it’s an iconic story that has already been told then what’s the new angle? We always seek to find news way to break through the clutter in hopefully a new fresh take … It’s a very competitive industry.”
Director Seth Breedlove and his Small Town Monsters productions has garnered the attention of Hollywood with their DIY films, and the positive press they have received. For the time being, Small Town Monsters remains independent of any TV contracts. Breedlove argues the homogeneous nature of some of these cryptozoology shows have clouded the creativity of the production companies.
“My experiences with television production regarding the paranormal has been the same story told over and over, “Breedlove said. “Basically, they all want to copy whatever the next guy is doing, regardless of whether or not the model is a success. There is very little, if any, actual knowledge of the phenomenon they're making a show about, and all the focus is on personality and how to portray that personality onscreen. I've been pitched at least a dozen versions of a show called ‘Small Town Monsters’ by various production houses that all boil down to ‘you and so and so are out in the woods hunting for monsters.’
That's not to say that all TV development people think this way, as I believe that may not be the case, but the ones I've dealt with have all been that same sort of experience.”
Despite having TV opportunities, Greg Newkirk and his Planet Weird media company skipped Hollywood and went straight to the streaming services like YouTube with its paranormal series “Hellier.” “Hellier” received positive press, and was a different feel than the usual TV paranormal investigation series by avoiding the status quo network shows followed.
“When we made the decision to create, produce, edit, and distribute ‘Hellier’ on our own it was because we couldn’t bear the thought of changing it to fit the formula,” Newkirk said. “ We’d created a very real look at the inherent messiness of researching paranormal phenomena complete with dead ends, high concepts, and the incorporation of elements like UFOs, cryptozoology, ghosts, witchcraft - and we didn’t segregate them - a concept that makes networks nervous. There’s a real-life narrative that pushes our show through every episode. To boot, our director Karl Pfeiffer shot the series with an anamorphic cinema lens and color graded it like a film; something no one has ever done for a paranormal television show. In the early meetings we’d had with network folks they told us we couldn’t do any of those things.”
While many of the programs that cover UFOs or cryptozoology have the same themes, and experts, studios are trying to break away from that trend by introducing new voices and concepts. A lot of these concepts don’t ever make it to TV at times.
“I think that what we look for in paranormal/UFO stories is primarily driven by a new approach or way to explore them,” said Alex Hoff, vice president of Hoff Productions. “It could be new footage, unique accounts and experts, and even just a new story-telling method. Like most shows there’s an finite amount of these stories out there, so you have to find new and engaging ways to tell them to people who often times consider themselves experts and have a pretty good BS detector.”
Ultimately, these shows exist because there is a demand, and an interest from the audience. These shows are being taken seriously in tone, which could be a reflection of how news media is now treating these cases. If the show can make an impact on the audience it is more likely to come to fruition and be successful.
“Another thing the network brings up is ‘Why should our viewers care about this story?,’” said Tarpinian. “You also need to answer that question, too – or you’re not going to get an order. Though there is more than one answer to this question (depending on the topic and who the viewer is), I believe that if we show the viewer how the story may effect or impact them, then you are going to get their attention, and you are in business.”
-By MIKE DAMANTE
Disclaimer: author of this story Mike Damante did shoot a pilot with Hoff Productions in 2018 that never aired.