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Past reality TV

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Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2005 6:17 am | Updated: 8:52 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Cue the "Twilight Zone" music: The supernatural has taken over television.

• Two young heartthrobs hit the road and chase urban legends — like the Hook Man and Bloody Mary — as they search for their missing father on the WB’s aptly titled "Supernatural."

• Stuart Townsend stars in ABC’s "Night Stalker," a horror-fueled remake of the ’70s series about a crime reporter who writes about eerie events.

• ABC’s "Invasion," CBS’ "Threshold" and NBC’s "Surface" all deal with extraterrestrials.

So what’s with the supernatural invasion?

TV writer Rick Porter of Web site credits "Lost," ABC’s sophomore hit drama about plane-crash survivors dealing with a variety of unknown forces, with creating the trend.

"The TV business is notorious for following whatever is hot, and ‘Lost’ is certainly hot,’’ he says. ‘‘Sci-fi and fantasy shows let the people who make them talk about big ideas — good versus evil, politics, fate — in a context that’s easier to take than something more grounded in reality.’’

Lucas Messer, an Arizona State University graduate student who teaches Communication Approaches to Pop Culture, says people are looking for an escape.

"It gives us a frame for imagination, and being able to escape from reality is something that we as humans — it’s natural to us,’’ he says. "The media are always finding ways to tap into that. We’ve seen it in different forms.

‘‘I think it’s gone from reality television to the polar opposite of that in terms of supernatural. It’s farther away from realism and that’s enticing, I think, for a lot of audience numbers.’’


Porter says the shows offer viewers a nice change from "procedural shows" such as "all the ‘CSIs,’ ‘Law & Orders’ and ‘Cold Cases.’ ’’

"People love to try solving a mystery, and it’s something different,’’ he says. "Until last year, the trend on network TV was toward close-ended procedural shows, and things like ‘Lost’ were a breath of fresh air.’’

While Messer says he enjoys older supernatural shows like the WB’s "Smallville" and the now-defunct "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" because they focus on the "superhero" and "cultural icons," Porter says he’s intrigued by "Invasion."

" ‘Invasion’ is the best of the aliens-among-us shows because of its emphasis on character, and ‘Supernatural’ is not bad either,’’ he says. "I’m really down on ‘Ghost Whisperer.’ It’s doing well in the ratings, but I find it really manipulative and schmaltzy. In general, I’d say emphasizing the premise over the people makes for bad sci-fi.’’

With the current TV lineup oozing supernatural shows, Porter says he’ll be surprised if many more pop up next year. "Watching a serialized show takes more effort than something like ‘CSI,’ ’’ he says. "There comes a point when there’s just not enough time.’’

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