Commercial television production’s a funny thing, and thank god I’m not in the game because I’d be dodging creditors from here to Donetsk or Erbil or wherever the suits wouldn’t follow me. To wit, I thought The History Channel — or rather, its H2 spinoff — did an incredibly lame job of showcasing MUFON’s incident reports in its “Hangar 1” series during the first quarter this year. Why talk about it now? Because the thing scored enough points to rate another season in 2015.
“It went off the charts the last couple of weeks,” says MUFON executive director Jan Harzan, who was definitely pleased with the net effect. For one thing, he says, “Our membership grew 20 percent.” He also says the shows have convinced additional witnesses, including military and law enforcement, to step up and spill. Furthermore, an avalanche of fresh sighting reports began rolling into MUFON’s website once the show aired internationally. “We took over a thousand reports last month, and they’ve been coming in from everywhere, Brazil, Spain, Australia, 40 different countries. Last month, India moved from nowhere to second place on the (report) list.”
Closer to home, however, some critics railed against “Hangar 1’s” choice of cases, narrator, and even some of the basic facts. But De Void far more bummed out by the superficial and the obvious.
Here’s the deal: An hour’s worth of prime time leaves 42-44 minutes to squeeze content around the commercials. H2 decided to shoehorn six cases into each episode. Do the math — no time to waste, right? Yet, bloated by recurring thematic images of “researchers” traipsing down dark corridors walled with dusty boxes, the show’s most persistently annoying quirks were the redundant, time-consuming, teaser-review sqibs on both sides of the breaks. Which works out fine if you’re targeting viewers who quench their memory-impaired ADHD issues with Red Bull therapy. But if you’re one of those persnickety types who likes a show to cut the crap and get to the point, “Hanger 1” was an exasperating slog that habitually glossed over any and all complexities with pure formula flab.
H2 saved the most irritating of its eight installments for last, and No. 8 is one De Void wishes De Void could rewatch, just to tally the number of times the voice-over repeated the term “shadow government” (De Void’s gonna go out on a limb and guess they said it 12 times. Twelve. A dozen. XII. 2×6.) Because that episode’s title was “Shadow Government.” And nowhere did “Shadow Government” tell us what the shadow government is. “Hangar 1” infers the shadow government has something to do with things like Men In Black, and that its clandestine agenda had something to do with former Defense Secretary James Forrestal going out the 16th-floor psychiatric-unit window in 1949. Lotta sizzle, no steak.
Now, Harzan is a retired IBM executive who’s smart enough to know nobody gets rich trying to popularize The Great Taboo. An opportunity comes along to get your name out there on cable, hey, whatever, these TV guys, they’re the experts.
“We review the scripts,” he says. “It’s television, they do what they do. They track how many people turn off TV and when they switch channels and when they come back and that’s why they do so many teasers. It’s a standard industry practice, and this is not a documentary per se.”
Harzan says the last time MUFON types attempted something like this was in 2008, a three-show Discovery Channel pilot called “UFOs Over Earth.” It never got off the ground. “It was just too boring. Nobody wants to watch of bunch of people looking around for stuff in an open field,” he says. “They’d show a bunch of investigators talking in a room together and deciding at the end it’s an identified flying object. That’s not very exciting.
This time around, Harzan also stated in an email, the “Hanger 1” producer “doesn’t want to waste his time with the ‘balanced reporting’ theme that most media people espouse.” Asked to elaborate during a phoner, he added, “He’s not going to put on a debunker like [the late] Phil Klass saying everything can be explained by Venus.” Understood. Throwing a propagandist like Klass into the mix would be like appointing a Chinese drywall manufacturer to run the Bureau of Consumer Protection. But, as with so many other forms of infotainment, the standards here are arbitrary. Enlisting researchers with alternative or mitigating explanations, Harzan says, is “Hangar 1’s” call; MUFON merely provides the material: “From what I’ve heard, a lot of ufologists won’t go on the show because they have a certain agenda they’re trying to promote.”
Well, everybody works an angle, and Harzan says MUFON’s goal is a membership of 50,000, which would be more than a 10-fold increase over the current numbers. But maybe drawing people to the brand is something “Hangar 1” has figured out how to do. This much is for-sure true: If De Void were in charge of a series, it definitely wouldn’t be invited back for an encore.