Wednesday, August 21, 2013
After nearly a decade of programming featuring infrared cameras, thermal images, subjective audio recordings and likely several hundred utterances of “Did you hear that?”, paranormal reality-TV shows are getting locked down by comedy.
At least that’s the goal of The P.E.T. Squad Files, the new short-format show that premiered last week on The CW’s digital programming platform, The CW Seed. Executive produced by Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes and Frank Darabont’s upcoming series Lost Angels), the show focuses on a group of ex-community college students who seek Paranormal and Extra-Terrestrial (P.E.T.) activity while also hoping to gain fame as reality-TV ghost busters.
“In the same way COPS turned into Reno 911, this is ripe for parody,” said John Dale, who both co-created and co-stars in the show with Michael Hobert.
On the mockumentary-style show, which posts new episodes on Thursdays, Dale’s Spencer Gaunt is a trust-fund kid who realizes ghosts are hot wants to use them as a way to get on TV while Hobert’s Courtney Shipp is a true believer who wants to catch credible evidence of paranormal phenomena. They're also joined by exorcist/massage therapist/reikki master/alien abductee hopeful Reverend Todd (Sam Lloyd, Scrubs), on-air "talent" Jayne Duncan (Kelly Rohrbach), sound guy Quentin "Q" Lewis (Da'Vone McDonald) and their director Derek Bawls (Derek Reckley).
Dale said the idea of the show came about when he and Hobert were watching investigative shows
and saw a trend where solid evidence has remained elusive. Though he said he counts himself a fan, he said he noticed that “there’s so many of these shows on and people are obviously interested even though there has been nothing proven.”
“There’s a lot of weird noise happening when you turn up microphones, a lot of weird things you can’t explain but none are conclusive ghost evidence; it’s all just weird shit happening on a camera because your electronics f---ed up.”
Still, Dale is right; people are watching. Whether you count yourself a believer or cynic, there’s no denying that ever since Ghost Hunters premiered in 2004 -- followed by Paranormal State, Ghost Adventures and then a lot of similar programming -- the paranormal investigative genre has been a popular presence within reality TV. Not only did the shows inspire legions of fans to begin their own investigation groups (complete with snazzy acronyms emblazoned on black tees), but they established recognizable tropes and largely followed similar formulas.
Ventimiglia, who is producing the show with business partner Russ Cundiff, credits the show’s parody of the popular genre as a reason The CW was “excited from the get-go.” P.E.T. Squad also borrows heavily from familiar characters within the reality-TV paranormal community.
“In the first incarnation we watched a lot of Ghost Hunters and we created the character I play,” said Dale. “Then we watched Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans and found this treasure trove of storylines and moments.”
In fact, Bagans heavily influences the first season of the “P.E.T. Squad” as the team tries to win a contest to ghost hunt with a famous TV investigator (played by Sam Jaeger from “Parenthood”) so they can see how he works and watch the behind-the-scenes workings of his show.
“We literally have eight to 10 moments we use verbatim of stuff that they said,” said Hobert.
Dale said the P.E.T. Squad team also follows in the path of Ghost Adventures and other shows because their fictional team doesn’t have much of a budget to begin with for gadgets, and they stay close to home for their investigations.
“The original documentary of Ghost Adventures and the show now – the production values, and the places they go – is like night and day,” said Dale. “They were going to places within Vegas driving distance, not all the top of the top of haunted locations, so as we build, we’ll get further invested in the ghost community.”
“Our team in Season One doesn’t have a budget and are trying to find their feet, so if we get to do more, we’ll hopefully go to the bigger, better places and I think Season Two is going to be filled with spirit boxes and FLIR cameras” said Hobert, who added that he actually invited Bagans on the show to play a version of himself, “but he politely declined.”
As for where they stand on belief in the paranormal fodder they’re spoofing, Ventimiglia said “it doesn’t scare me.”
“I feel like they’re there and I’ve seen them, felt them,” he added before sharing his own ghostly encounters from Sicily and Winnipeg. In response, Hobert chimed in that “I believe all this shit; I’m on the edge of my seat!”
Meanwhile Dale emphasized that, for him, “Our goal, first and foremost, is comedy.”
“But I think a close second is to get a little bit of that paranormal audience to appreciate P.E.T. Squad and get them to see we’ve actually watched the show and we get it, whether they think we believe in it or not.”
And while they admit they’re spoofing paranormal investigative shows, they said it’s not in a mocking way.
“I’m a fan; as much as we poke fun at Zak Bagans; he is a goddamn entertainer and is really good at what he does and he’s only gotten better and better and better,” said Dale.
Added Hobert, “I would love to meet the Ghost Hunters and if this does well, we would love to have those guys on, for sure.”