Monday, March 9, 2009
Fact Checking the UFO Hunters Episode
Sadly, the roughly 2 million people who saw it might not perceive it that way. They may be duped by the "History Channel" label and think this some kind of National Geographic documentary. That's part of the big disjoint between Hollywood and the rest of the world. The Hollywood people know they're producing a cheesy consumer product to win market share, but the rest of the public still takes it seriously.
This is not your father's History Channel. Stodgy Civil War documentaries have been replaced by anything that sells—just like all the other cable channels.
I was happy enough to have a new Area 51 show produced after all these years. I enjoyed participating in the process and am kinda pleased to be a public figure again, but the "Area 51 Revealed" episode might have taken a liberty or two... or three or four. I'm not one to get stuck on little things like "truth", but some of my readers might be sticklers in this regard. Therefore I feel it is necessary to chronicle just a few of the "factual deviations" in the show.
Here are things I noticed on my single complete viewing of the show (in no particular order)...
could have been an alien craft, but it looks like a meteor to me. Traveling at enormous speed? Winking out before reaching the ground? Yup, that's what meteors do as they burn up upon entering the atmosphere. You see them almost every night in the dark desert skies, and if you set up cameras all night like UFO Hunters did, there's a high probability you'll catch one. (They are more common even than military flares.)
Remember: The name of the show is "UFO Hunters". That means that they have to find UFOs or suggestive evidence of them in every show. When a mystery light has the good grace to appear on camera, the producers aren't going to look too deeply into what it might be. It's a "unidentified", isn't it? Case closed.
2) According to Peter Merlin, the "new" hanger highlighted graphically on the show was the wrong one. The graphics were impressive, but they showed the wrong building.
Again, this is only going to be a problem for people who care about factual accuracy. In no way does it diminish the ratings numbers or impede the network's ability to sell advertising (the only standard of truth in show biz). You got issues with this? Welcome to "infotainment".
3) The presence of a new hangar at Area 51 in no way implies some kind of giant "black triangle" inside. It could be true I suppose, but I prefer my own theory that this so-called "hangar" is actually a brand new, top-secret Costco Warehouse Store. What evidence do I have of this? None whatsoever—i.e. the same evidence that UFO Hunters has for their Black Triangle theory.
4) The whole show was highly scripted beforehand and filmed out of sequence, just like a movie. Apart from the actual words spoken, nothing was spontaneous. In reality, we climbed Tikaboo Peak first, then after we came down, we filmed the starting-the-hike scene and the driving to the peak scene. In case it isn't obvious, there is no opportunity for real "investigation" when everything is choreographed in advance and the "conclusion" is filmed before the supposed research.
UFO Hunters crew.
Personally, I liked the show—so much so that I giggled and guffawed through the whole thing—but it was infotainment, not to be confused with real news. What was really memorable to me was the process of filming. It was the most complex production I have been involved in, and the off-screen expedition was for more interesting and challenging than the manufactured story that appeared on TV. I'm interested only in the dozen people I interacted with in the process, not the millions of couch potatoes who watched the show.
What was the effect on me of those two million viewers? Virtually nil. On my own Area 51-related websites I expected a surge of traffic after the show, but there was only a minor blip in interest—perhaps a couple hundred new surfers hitting the websites but not staying for long. Apparently the demographic is TV addicts serially watching one show after another who don't have the initiative even to click a mouse. So far I have not sold any Viewer's Guides or Area 51 tours as a result of the show (and my only pay for the filming was my standard $250/day guide fee). Still, it was a great experience!
If you don't like UFO Hunters or believe is biased in a certain direction, there really isn't anyone to blame or complain to. This is a corporate production where nearly everyone involved is beholden to someone more powerful than he. Everyone is just a cog in the machine doing their little part on the assembly line. I am proud to have been one of those cogs. I did my own job to the best of my ability, and I didn't say or do anything I was uncomfortable with. Beyond that, the finished product was out of my hands.
BTW: Here are some screen shots from the UFO Hunters episode.
(If you've found any other inaccuracies in the show that you would like me to add to this list, let me know, or add them as comments below.)
Also see my report on the UFO Hunters Tikaboo Death March.