Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Staging Evidence for Ratings

I used to enjoy the show Mysteryquest, but I won't be watching anymore.  I found out yesterday that a MUFON State Director named Mark Easter admitted to "misleading the public" in an episode of Mysteryquest.  Apparently, in an effort to boost ratings, the producer of the Mysteryquest episode obtained some debris from an old test rocket and had it planted in the desert.  Easter was aware of this and knew what the debris was but proceeded to comply with the producer's request to pretend to discover it.  Here is an excerpt from an article on the subject:

The producer, the crew, area 51 advisors and Mark all met at the Rachael, Nevada Little Alien Inn. As they were talking about the day's shoot. up pulls a man named Peter Marlin with a jeep full of wreckage. "It's the remains of a nose cone to a test rocket from Area 51 launched in 1967". Not only did Peter have the debris but he also had"1000 pages of tech information on the rocket". This debris was not mysterious at all. They all knew what it was, when it was launch and by whom. The producer had hired Peter as part of the show. But, here is where it got really tricky. They all go out to the crash site where the wreckage was found and:.....
"When we arrived at the destination the producer proceeded to explain how the sequence would be shot. We had to pull the huge pile of debris out of Peter's Jeep…and plant it in the desert so on camera we could drive up and discover it. In the shot Peter and Mark are kneeling next to the debris and pulling pieces out talking about them as they pretend they are looking at it for the first time."
The producer instructed Mark to interject certain words about the debris into the dialogue like "alien", "extraterrestrial" and the word "UFO". They all then proceeded to go searching the site for other debris. When they didn't find any, the producer again came up with a brilliant, if less than ethical, solution. They would plant a piece of the debris and act as if they just found it. This farce even went to the extent where the show sent the material out to a Rutgers' scientist for analysis.
Read the rest here.  The subject has also been written about on UFO Media Matters and Phantoms and Monsters.

To say that staging the evidence is "misleading the public" is putting it mildly.  That not only looks bad for MUFON but for Mysteryquest too.  I'm not surprised though.  I don't condone it and I'm nonetheless disappointed by it, but I'm not surprised.  TV shows are about ratings, because ratings sell ads.  But when a show portrays itself as a documentary series performing real investigations, then staging the evidence tarnishes its credibility.

This revelation has left me wondering if other shows similar to Mysteryquest have also staged evidence just to make an episode more interesting.  I guess part of the problem with having a whole series that focuses on any sort of mystery or paranormal topic is that the producers run the risk of spending a lot of money investigating something only to find nothing of interest.  In the Mysteryquest episode, if they had gone out into the desert and didn't find anything, they would have wasted time and money in doing so and still had a deadline to meet to get the show ready to be aired.  A couple of guys wandering around in the desert not finding anything wouldn't be that interesting, and it wouldn't fill up much of the time slot.

So if Mysteryquest has staged evidence, how many other shows may have done the same thing at some point?  As much as I enjoy watching paranormal themed documentary style shows, I'm beginning to wonder which ones (if any) are really worth watching.  Probably the best one out there now in my opinion is SyFy's Destination Truth.  I think some of the other networks may do well to try and adopt Destination Truth's lighthearted format for their documentary series'.  Josh Gate's keeps Destination Truth entertaining by narrating the team's journey to the various locales they visit and making it funny.  The Destination Truth team could probably go on an investigation and find nothing and still make finding nothing entertaining.  The team always seems to have a good time wherever they go.

I don't think the problem is just an effort to get better ratings though.  There are so many documentary style series' now, I think some of the producers may be finding it difficult to efficiently produce a whole season of episodes and make them all interesting and entertaining.  We'd probably get better documentaries if the networks focused more on individual documentaries or mini-series.  But maybe that wouldn't fill up enough time slots - I don't know.

I know this revelation was only about a single episode of Mysteryquest, but it's caused me to lose interest in watching the show or similar shows again because it's left me wondering how often these shows may have staged evidence just to make an episode more entertaining.  When I watch a documentary series that portrays its episodes as serious investigations, then I want to see a serious investigation - not just be 'entertained'.  If I want to be entertained, then I will watch a fictional program or Destination Truth.


  1. Great post. Yeah, it is frustrating. I know a lot of folks were looking at the footage of the jacket pulling on "Ghost Hunters" and showing how Grant had rigged it. It looked extremely questionable, admittedly. It kind of made me feel dejected. One thing I forget when watching conjecture-type shows and documentaries is that editing is everything. They truly know how to line things up so you make conclusions that you wouldn't make it they left those few extra minutes of film in. I heard "Paranormal State" (I call it Paranoid State) had a scene where a psychic was in the yard and doing a "reading" of the land and said, "I feel there's something buried her." Well, there were flags stuck into the ground all over from ground penetrating radar they'd run. They don't show that in the shot, though. I don't think I could ever do a ghost show. They'd at some point see how much they could make me lose my ethics. I'd be disgusted. The thing I've learned is that as much as a documentary can get your ire up, it is really just someone's distorted telling of a story depending on the point they want to put across. I remain skeptical. I enjoy them for entertainment and mood, but I don't truly believe to learn anything news worthy or it would have be on, er, the news. Thanks for this super cool post!

  2. Very disappointing! A MUFON official ought to behave in a professional manner!

    What's with the History Channel and their productions - UFO Hunters seem to have a similar problem.