Monday, May 19, 2008

Horse Feathers From The Peacock Network

I wrote a piece for Argosy UFO back in the seventies ranking the quality of UFO programs amongst what were then the three major TV networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC. In those ancient times, I thought ABC-TV had tried the hardest to offer reasonable UFO reports, while NBC came in second and CBS a very distant third. Tonight's (May 18) NBC Dateline report, "Ten Close Encounters Caught on Tape," unfortunately, did not raise the Peacock's stakes.

Where to start? The primary difficulty with this program was its stated reliance upon photographic cases. And who chose these cases? Far better that Dateline might have organized a panel of investigators familiar with UFO evidence, and presented instead a program serving up what may be the ten best UFO incidents on record, period. Forget the photos, stash the films and set the videos aside, because well-witnessed and detailed UFO reports generally eclipse fuzzy images which impress nobody -- unless, of course, NBC would care to somehow procure a good many military gun camera photos, confiscated pictures, films and other visuals reported on numerous occasions to be in government hands. Nevertheless, some of the world's best UFO events occur randomly and quickly, and frequently so unanticipated that thoughts of grabbing a camera simply aren't foremost in a witness's thoughts.

It literally didn't take five minutes before NBC's very own space analyst and UFO "skeptic" James Oberg showed up to offer his explanation of case no. 10, the famous Paul Trent UFO photos, so I suppose we could all go paranoid and suspect that Oberg played a prominent role in the production of this offering; then again, how would we know, considering that the end credits didn't really offer sufficient clues to know who was truly behind this failed potboiler? Even the UFO special hosted by ABC-TV's Peter Jennings, for all its faults, displayed a comprehensive and lengthy list of contributors (many of them quite knowledgeable about UFO history) at the end.

True to the usual commercial television recipe where UFOs are concerned, Dateline called upon the usual debunkers to help lend "balance" to the program, and they don't really need to be named here. But we should point out that, while UFO proponents such as Dr. Bruce Maccabee and the others on the "pro" side of the issue would surely be forthcoming to agree that an obviously negligible UFO case is what it is, how many times do the debunkers lend any credence whatsoever to the legitimacy of a UFO incident? Try zilch, because they feel obligated to explain everything away -- and therein lies the fallacy of including these people for any kind of program balance. Debunker wolves dressed in skeptical sheeps' clothing don't like any -- any -- UFO cases, period.

Anyway, the whole show seemed designed to be a "they said/they said" affair, but maybe I'm just getting too old for the same old-same old televised shenanigans.

And, again, the cases served up on this show just didn't send me into performing cartwheels. The Phoenix Lights? I don't know. The 1966 Conrad/Gordon astronaut UFO case? Again, I don't know. Gulf Breeze? Um. Bruce Maccabee regarding Gulf Breeze? Hmm. I like Dr. Maccabee's UFO research and web site, but there was alleged to be some controversy in relation to that Gulf Breeze thing, so I will pass.

The Hudson Valley sightings and photography, starting in 1983? Maybe. That Mexican "oil flare" incident that Maccabee stands by? He may well be correct, that was a strange one from the beginning and the instrumentation was intriguing and well-covered in the literature. The Tinley Park cook-out featuring lights in the sky that evolved into a triangle? Interesting, yes. Stephenville, Texas, recently? Oh, I don't know (yawn). The Belgium triangle? Actually, a spellbinder, okay.

Number two on the list was 1978's New Zealand case, the in-flight UFO incident witnessed by journalist Quentin Fogarty and numerous witnesses, complete with video appropriate for news at eleven. I remember the international shock waves this footage caused as it was shown around the world, and when Fogarty wrote a book chronicling the event (Let's Hope They're Friendly was the title, as I recall years later) I reviewed it positively for the journal, Pursuit. However, again we must ask: Great, video, but of what? The facts, please, first the facts of the matter, and then the visuals are icing on that weird little cake.

In the end, I think I would have preferred that NBC spend the entire hour with producer James Fox, shown minimally, whose revelations and adventures in UFO documentation could have proven fascinating and coherent.

Did I like the NBC Dateline program? No, in the long run, no. It appeared hastily assembled, too wishy-washy and uncertain of its own reason for existence (ratings couldn't possibly be involved, duh. . .), and (surprise!) was apparently intended for. . .well, for exactly the audience for which it was intended. That's not a compliment, by the way.

Some veteran UFO researchers who have dealt endlessly with commercial TV networks have come to know them so well over the years that they typically refuse to make appearances anymore because they've tired of suffering the formula, the step-by-step claptrap resulting in video nonsense.

So, to ABC, CBS and NBC may I say: Decades after the invention of commercial television, all of you still owe your viewers a real, honest-to-goodness, yet unrealized UFO documentary presentation, unencumbered by attempts to balance via hindrance and obfuscation. Maybe next year, when pigs fly.