Syfy Wednesdays: Reality, Reality, Reality!

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When the Sci Fi Channel became Syfy, its name went from standing for science fiction [as well as fantasy and horror] to something both trademarkable and less specific. By that time, the channel had already added some reality shows – and professional wrestling – to its schedule. But now, it has put together an entire evening of reality TV with its Wednesday lineup of the venerable Ghost Hunters [8/7C], new series Haunted Collector [9/8C] and the sophomore season of Hollywood Treasure [10/9C] – three shows that follow naturally to form an unexpectedly intriguing evening of entertainment.

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The seventh season premiere of Ghost Hunters finds Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson and a team that includes Destination: Truth host Josh Gates investigating strange doings at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The litany of events experienced by staff in hangers 37 and 79 include such things as: a mannequin that changes position; sounds of footsteps; a camera turning on and off several times. One staffer also encountered a man in the museum just after closing and walked him out of the building, but the security cameras showed her talking to thin air!

The Ghost Hunters arrived prepared with all their high-tech equipment and set up. Things seemed quiet until two of the team saw a light in a place where no outside source could be responsible. Shortly afterward, things get really interesting – especially a ‘flashlight test’ that is beautifully documented. With a lot of good stuff to be analyzed, the team heads for home, but Jason gets a call from Steve at home base, leading to a really unusual event for reality TV – ‘To Be Continued!’

Most of time, I can live without reality TV [except for a very few DIY shows, I totally abstain], but Pearl Harbor Phantoms is actually pretty cool from two different angles: the museum’s hangers are pretty much as they were after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and there are some really spooky sequences involving the team’s experiences.

Sure, there are also the same tired, overly emphatic repeated scenes following each commercial break, and everyone talks like Basil Exposition, but there’s some stuff here that surprises the team – and therefore us. It makes for a strong start to the evening.

Haunted Collector – Haunted Bayou/Library Ghost

Haunted Collector neatly bridges the paranormal investigative series Ghost Hunter and the Hollywood collection/auction series Hollywood Treasure.

The central conceit of Haunted Collector is that objects can be haunted as easily as homes and other buildings. An investigative team built around John Zaffis, his son Chris and his daughter Aimee check out possible haunting and when they find an object that is haunted, Zaffis places it in his museum of haunted objects.

Each week, Haunted Collector will follow the Zaffis family and fellow paranormal investigators Beth Ezzo and Brian Cano as they answer calls for help from around the country. In the premiere, they are contacted by a woman whose tenants keep leaving her rental property, and the manager of the Deep River Library enlists their aid to put an end to paranormal phenomena that are scaring kids away from the library.

Outside of the type of haunting Zaffis and his team investigate, Haunted Collector follows the Ghost Hunter model: we get a rundown of the situation and the various team members take their equipment [often high-tech. like FLIR cameras and EMF detectors; sometimes as low tech as hanging ropes] to the site and check the place out.

In the case of the Wild house, a cold spot leads to an unlikely discovery; in the case of the library, an item that shouldn’t have any electrical readings at all, spikes the EMF detectors.

Frankly, John Zaffis may have thirty-seven years of experience in paranormal investigation, but his voice is grating and his inability to properly pronounce the word library [there are two Rs in there, John] is pretty irksome. On the other hand, in the premiere at least, he’s the only member of the team who exhibits any personality. The closest anyone else comes is Ms Ezzo, who is notable for the ease with which she becomes ‘creeped out.’

Outside two instances where the unexpected results, the coolest part of the show is the tag for each investigation when Zaffis places each new object in his museum and talks about how the removal of that object has affected the original site.

If I was watching Syfy as the evening progressed, I’d probably have changed the channel before the end of Haunted collector’s premiere.

Hollywood Treasure – Packrats, Robots and Oz/Endoskeletons in the Closet

Joe Maddalena’s Profiles in History team – Brian [Head of Acquisitions], Jon [Special Projects Manager] and Tracey [Events Coordinator] – find Hollywood-related collectibles and put them up for auction each week in Hollywood Treasure. Each week, Syfy airs two half-hour episodes of the series and some of the items that come up for auction are jaw droppingly cool.

Last season, the show’s format made it seem like Maddalena’s team had to run down top flight items within a week in order to give collector’s the best possible opportunity to add to their collections. For season two, that artificiality has been dropped. As a result, the show feels less force – though with the items procured in the first two episodes, there is no less drama.

First up: master puppeteer Lauren Vogt [Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, Coraline] has fallen on hard times and asks Joe to see if he can find anything to help her get back on her feet and save her home. Unfortunately, the shed where she’s stored her stuff has leaked and much of its contents are mildewed, or worse. Fortunately, Joe finds a few nifty items [from James and the Giant Peach and Nightmare Before Christmas] that he thinks might just help.

Also, Jack Haley’s [better known as The Tin Man from the 1939 Wizard of Oz] grandson, Barry Bregman’s request for authentication of his grandfather’s hardcover copy of the novel – signed by the cast and crew of the movie – before deciding to put it up for auction; director Bill Malone shows Maddalena his prized possession – the original [and only] Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and, as a kind of consolation prize consigns Leslie Nielsen’s raygun from the same movie to auction.

The second ep finds Stan Winston’s son-in-law, Eric Lidoff inviting Maddalena to one of Winston’s warehouses to find something to auction in order to fund a school to teach Winston’s art/trade to new generations. After Maddalena finds some cool, but not particularly expensive items, Lidoff unveils something really special.

Also: Tracey spots what appears to be the jet Roger Moore’s James Bond flew in the opening sequence of Octopussy – sitting on the roof of a bar! Effects Supervisor David Gregory brings in a set of hand painted title cards from RKO Studios.

For me, outside of the initial discovery of cool, historically important movie memorabilia, the best part of the show is the authentication process – though when an item sells for way above Maddalena’s initial estimate [as happens several times over this week’s episodes], that’s also a rush.

With the human interest stories behind some the items replacing the forced drama of the first season, Hollywood Treasure is much more fun than it was last season. My only real problem with the season premiere is that one crucial item’s auction results were not included on the screener. Considering its importance – and provenance – it’s a shame that Syfy didn’t think reviewers could resist spoiling it.

Grade: Ghost Hunter: Pearl Harbor Phantoms – B+

Grade: Haunted Collector: The Wild House/Deep River Library – C

Granted: Hollywood Treasure: Forbidden Planet/Terminator – A-

Final Grade: Syfy Wednesdays – B