Ghosts, poltergeists, UFOs, aliens and unexplained bursts of energies have been huge draws in the world of reality television for years so what does Syfy's "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files" bring to the table that's different from the other shows on the TV landscape? Primarily, the series, which launches its second season tonight, veers away from merely showcasing an event or happening but instead utilizes the know-how of a team well-versed in different aspects of documenting paranormal activities. In each investigation, the team, led by former FBI Special Agent Ben Hansen, attempts to recreate an event to either prove if it actually happened, if it's truly a fake or, if they're lucky, the might just solve the paranormal mystery altogether.
In tonight's premiere episode, the team investigates the fantastical - yet real - event that inspired the current feature film "Battle: Los Angeles" as well as find out if the Queen Mary luxury ship is truly haunted as many believe it to be. Our Jim Halterman chatted earlier this week with "Fact or Faked" Executive Producer John Brenkus about the choices made in creating the show including assembling the appealing group to handle the investigations and recreations as well as what he has to say about the sometimes-vocal skeptics of the show.
Jim Halterman: It really seems there's no end in sight with the multitude of takes on the paranormal that exist on television. Is that what you spend a lot of your time on - finding that new twist that will draw in viewers?
John Brenkus: People are inherently interested in getting information in an interesting way. By and large, our job is to figure out new formats and a new approach that will provide that information to the audience in a creative way. People say there's no original idea but I do think you can say with any show that it's a derivative of another show and go back on the family tree to where it originated but there's always a new way of presenting something in a new format.
JH: 'Fact or Faked' is very active in that the experts actually go out and try to recreate things to make sense of them or at least answer some questions. Was that the important 'twist' in making the show different?
JB: In terms of dealing with the paranormal, there are a lot of shows that have been very successful not testing whether or not something is true. We believe most people who look around and click on videos at YouTube are looking at videos and really studying them at their desk and they're trying to figure it out. 'If that was staged, how was that done?' We're a TV show and we have the resources to really be able to put things to the test. Still, it's interesting being able to really get inside the mind of the average audience member who is just inherently curious and be able to go out and, like you said, be very active and always come up with a new test or experiment to find out how that happened.
JH: Once the first season aired, were there any tweaks to the show that we'll see in these new episodes?
JB: I think that you're always trying to get better with every show and every season that you do. There are always little things that we're tweaking just to make sure that it's tighter and in the pacing of the stories. Very few producers will say 'We're as good as we're ever going to be.' You're always trying to get better but we haven't made any radical changes outside of the normal course of filming the show.
JH: Talk to me about assembling the team for 'Fact or Faked.' They seem like really normal people who happen to have great personalities and don't come off as contrived or phony. How did you find them?
JB: We found Ben Hansen, who's a former FBI agent and has a paranormal group and that's where we started. What we did in terms of launching the show is really use that as our starting point and finding people who really go out and do this. What you see is that the people are very genuine because they actually do this. They were doing this before we got to them and that's what makes it a great show.
JH: How much do their personalities alone contribute to them being a part of the show? They don't really have that kooky quality that you sometimes see in the world of the paranormal.
JB: To look at the right group to profile on the show, we did a nationwide search to find the right people and, obviously, you have to find that great combination of being credible and being interesting. You can be the most credible person on the planet but can be really boring so we had to find the right balance. We were very fortunate in finding a great cast. For us, it was very important that we did not seek out the people who were kooks. We needed people who were very intelligent and very intellectual in the field. The audience can relate to our people because they're people who you want to hang out with. Kooks can make for great TV but this is not that show.
JH: What kind of research do you do before you send the crew out to a site or attempt a recreation?
JB: It's a big collective effort. The group themselves do find their own footage so they're looking for this stuff anyway. They're finding clips and constantly bringing in things to the collective group but obviously it depends on a bunch of factors. The main factors are do we have a credible witness, someone we believe that's clearly not a kook or is intentionally trying to trick us? Secondly, is the footage itself compelling and something that we all go 'Wow! That's something I want to get to the bottom of?' And, three, is it something we can recreate? There is a lot of footage of things that are interesting but we couldn't do anything to recreate it because, for example, it's in space and we can't go to space.
JH: With any show like this, you're going to have your skeptics but do you welcome them because in a sense we're all skeptics looking for something to be explained, right?
JB: What's interesting is that you see on blogs where people say 'you didn't consider this' or 'you didn't consider that.' Most times, we did consider the thing that someone is blogging about but we didn't have time to show it. We only have a small window of about 20 minutes to investigate one paranormal case so a lot of times we've already considered it. A lot of times when people say 'Why didn't you consider this?' we're totally welcome to it and will try to apply it to the next case. In a show like this, it's not about us saying we're the only ones who could possibly come up with the answer but, instead, we're exploring and trying to get to the bottom of this thing and whether this thing is fake or misidentified or just unexplained, it's really part of the process that we welcome.
"Fact Or Faked: Paranormal Files" returns tonight at 10:00/9:00c on Syfy.