Unexplained phenomenon has always been a huge attraction to our curiosity. Answering the question of weather or not we’re alone in the universe is something we’ve always wondered about. This subject has always been a hot topic for discussion for skeptics and believers alike. With both sides ardently defending their stances, and trying to establish what the truth is, and that the other side is completely wrong in their claims. Sightings, a short-lived television show, attempted to shed light on some of these matters. It ran for a few brief seasons on the FOX Network from 1991 to 1993, and was later renewed on the Sci-Fi channel after its initial syndication. In a strange bit of trivia, Henry Winkler of ‘Happy Days’ fame was at the helm of production from the very beginning.
Air force general Tim White was the shows host and presenter. Each week there were segments covering a wide variety of subject matter, all relating to the paranormal and the unexplained. White carried himself much like a professional TV anchorman, being objective, and presenting each case with the poise of a poor mans Ted Koppel. Even when a story seemed completely unbelievable and far-fetched, he still upheld his journalistic integrity. In a show that once featured a story of aliens crossbreeding with humans, this wasn’t always the easiest task to uphold.
While the show did broadcast some very provocative stories, it also had its fair share of moments that would leave you scratching your head in utter disbelief. Although Sightings did feature experts in their respective fields, and give us some interesting looks into the tools and techniques used by parapsychologists’ and other ghost hunters—there were also a few people of a less than credible nature on the show. Not to mention your average crackpot who would spin wild and unfound accusations about topics that had no business being in the public eye.
One episode in question featured a full half hour devoted to Satanism in America—that is, the myth of Satanism brought on by the ‘Satanic Panic.’ This had been a media fueled epidemic that was noting more than widespread paranoia throughout the 1980’s, and a subject matter for many talk shows, tabloids, and Jack Chick comics. By the early 90’s, it had been thoroughly debunked as nothing more than wild accusations and speculation that had spiraled completely out of control. As memory serves, a teaser for the episode had boasted “A new form of Satanism that could threaten your family!” While the episode might have been provocative then, looking back now, it all seems wildly implausible. Stories included a woman claiming to have once belonged to a cult. Her claims of having murdered several people in her teenage years, were unsubstantiated, and probably just a ruse to get on television. A convicted Texas killer on death row was also featured, claiming he wasn’t responsible for the murder of his girlfriend, but his “master Satan” was.
Other highlights featured cases that influenced popular movies, and the people involved with them. The story that influenced The Entity is the first one that comes to mind. Not to mention an appearance from Travis Walton, the subject of the film Fire In The Sky, based on his novel of the same name chronicling his alleged alien abduction. When I look back, it was a bit coincidental that this segment was aired just before it debuted in theaters.
The bulk of the show focused a great deal on alien abduction, and the possible cover up regarding UFO’s and extra terrestrials. Events such as crop circles, the continuing debate over the existence of Area 51, and the mysterious events in Roswell, New Mexico just to name a few. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the cold war, a great deal of paranoia was finally laid to rest regarding the threat of mutually assured self-destruction. As the iron curatin fell, stories of alien encounters from that past of the world began to surface, and the obsession with beings from outer space spiraled into an enormous phenomenon. In many of the years that followed, aliens and visitors became an enormous part of popular culture. Ask anyone who grew up in the early/mid 1990’s, it was almost impossible to go anywhere and not see images of grey skinned-black eyed aliens on t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, and just about anywhere else someone could put them on. In an odd reversal of life imitating art, the show chronicled the similarities of sci-fi & popular culture coinciding with the rise in alien abductions from the 1960’s onward. Comparisons with shows such as the outer limits, and films such as Close Encounters Of The Third Kind were all brought out and examined. Needless to say, the similarities between the two were not only interesting, but could easily be used by skeptics to debunk a lot of sightings and abduction allegations.
Aside from cults and UFO’s, Sightings profiled a lot of cases involving ghosts, hauntings, and at least one case of possession. Much like some of the other stories featured on the show, how true some of these cases were was always up for debate. Some of the more interesting cases were ones that involved experts, psychics, and even photographic evidence that couldn’t be disproved by ardent disbelievers. There are two examples in particular that stand out among all the ones featured on the show. The first one involved a trip to Pomeroy castle in England. Although the only evidence it offered up was a blurry photograph, and eyewitness testimony, that wasn’t made the segment so memorable. It was great to hear experts speak about some of the colorful characters that allegedly haunted the castle, the stories behind them, and how they had been passed down over the many generations. Tales of murderous families, cold dungeons, and apportions haunting the English countryside made for some wonderfully entertaining dialogue.
The second feature was a journey to Alcatraz. This was one of many episodes that featured renowned psychic Peter James, who tragically passed away in 2007. For anyone familiar with the notorious island prison, its reputation as one of the most foreboding landmarks of all time certainly precedes it. One of the many features to be filmed on location, with James communing with alleged spirits; it’s one of the best segments the show produced. Weather or not James was really holding court with the dead, or relaying information he had researched, is still a matter of speculation. Many sources have vouched for his abilities, and insisted that his abilities were indeed legitimate. During the investigation, James communes with the ghosts of those killed in a 1946 escape attempt dubbed ‘the battle of the rock’ by several historians. James also stated that there were ‘more than 100 spirits imprisoned on Alcatraz Island.’ James many appearances on the show, weather they were believed by the viewing audience or not, did lend a bit of legitimacy to the program.
The question remains: how does this show hold up by today’s standards? Despite it being enormously dated, and at times bordering on the utterly ridiculous—surprisingly well. At times it’s laughable, yet still casts a web of intrigue. For a brief time period, viewers of this obscure show questioned what exactly was real about the physical world, and what wasn’t in plain sight before them. A few years after this show was taken off the air, a series called The X-Files made its historic debut. A fictional show about two FBI agents who investigate the extra terrestrial, ironically by a skeptic and believer. (The very same demographic that tuned into Sightings each week.) The seeds of doubt and speculation that Sightings has planted had been cultivated, and a whole new crop of viewers was ready to ponder weather or not they believed. As Tim White would often say: “Keep Watching”