In Search Of... (1977) and In Search Of... (2002)

In Search Of... (1977 - 1982)
In Search Of... (2002)
Type: Series Revival

   Can I just say I freaking loved the original In Search Of... series from the 70's. To other kids Leonard Nimoy was Mr. Spock. To me he was the guy who delved into unexplained phenomena, lost civilizations, magic and witchcraft. Spock was all well and good but trying to track down the truth about Bigfoot and Jack The Ripper? Come on! That's awesome.

   In Search Of... was a syndicated weekly half hour documentary. Only, as I've pointed out, the topics of In Search Of... were out there. Basically any strange ass thing, famous mystery or scary topic they looked into. The reality TV version of The X-Files.

   The show could be really good or really terrible. But amazingly, in either case, it was still entertaining. On the good side they often would do stories on some really verifiably freaky stuff. The Lost Colony Of Roanoke, the famous group of American settlers that just disappeared. The Coral Castle, a huge castle made of pieces of Coral machines can barely lift that was somehow built by one sickly man! The Okay Island Money Pit, a pit where there is supposedly buried treasure, where proof of such has been found as well as all sorts of traps to prevent reaching the treasure and where people have died digging for it.

   On the other end you have the crap. The problem is people expect to see Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster on the show. But having done those episodes in the first season, the show had to keep going back to the well too many times on them. They kept having to find new ways to title the episodes so it wasn't just called "Bigfoot... Again!" And most of the good material is going to have already been used up in the first outing. So these poor bastards are forced to try and make another episode on the sloppy second evidence, shoestring and bailing wire. The thing is, those episodes were enjoyable in their badness. If the good episodes were scary and or intriguing, the bad ones were just hilariously absurd.

   The best "bad" example that leaps to mind is from one of The Bigfoot episodes. They have this Bigfoot expert who seems like a nice if out there old guy. His Bigfoot encounter story has him going into the woods and trying to contact Bigfoot by going into the woods banging two sticks together and shouting out, "Ook!" He explains that ook is an ancient word. What he doesn't explain is how the hell he would know that is an ancient word, what it means, why the hell Bigfoot would care... They then cut to the dramatic reenactment of the scene with the guy playing himself. There he is, out in the woods, smacking sticks together and yelling out, "Ook! Ook, old friend. Ook!" It's... just so silly. You just want someone to tell him to stop.

   Another fine moment was in their search for Amelia Earhart, the female pilot who disappeared along with her plane while on a flight. Great topic. Mostly a great episode. One of their experts on the show claims he actually knows where she is. That she is alive, has gotten married and settled down, just fading into obscurity. Seems unlikely but it is a fascinating idea. So they go to talk to "Amelia" and that's where it just goes wrong. The woman insists she is not Amelia Earhart and gets a little bothered by the whole intrusion into her life. On the surface it seems not so bad. The episode gets a good odd vibe going. Is it a dead end or is the woman really Amelia Earhart and just covering it up? But then you back up and view it from a real world standpoint and suddenly you realize... oh my God, this woman is obviously NOT Amelia Earhart. How many people has this "expert" sent to this poor woman's door? Suddenly you replay her being so upset and can see it as the end result of talking to 1,000 kooks knocking on her door going, "Are you Amelia Earhart?" Who wouldn't be annoyed.

   The other thing I loved about In Search Of... was the music. They just had this simple but weird ass music. I don't know how to even describe it but it was the musical equivalent of hamburger helper. Only got a little meat to work with and need to stretch it and bolster it up with something? Bring in the creepy music. That music could make the most innocuous harmless topic feel like a direct threat to your very life. Like Amelia Earhart. Her whole mystery was just that she was a cool lady who vanished. But with that music they could do this...

   "Amelia Earhart. Did she simply disappear into nothingness... or is she standing behind you with an axe?!?!? (Musical stinger)" That music stinger would hit and you'd be jumping up scared to death Amelia Earhart was gonna get you! Not that that actually happened but you get the idea. (Apologies to any members of the Earhart family... please don't write me angry emails).

   After six seasons, the well was running dry on freaky topics. They had hit all the major ones, they'd done all the fascinating obscure ones and they had updated to death all the stories needing updating. I mean its not like new info is coming in all the time in regards to The Abominable Snowman. And so Leonard Niimoy, his cheesy 70s suits and mustache went away. And part of my childhood died. Could it have been killed by... D.B. COOPER!!!! (Musical stinger!!!)

   So in the years after it was canceled In Search Of... would turn up occasionally in syndication on late night TV. Or on one cable channel or another. It popped up for a time on A&E where, in an attempt to make it seem less dated, they edited out almost all shots of the very 70s looking shots of Leonard Nimoy. Then the history channel aired it for awhile.

   Then finally it must have occurred to someone that enough time had passed that maybe it was time to revisit In Search Of... I mean... stuff HAD changed now. For goodness sake in the intervening years they actually found the frickin' Titanic!!! No need to be In Searching for that anymore. And The X-Files had made this sort of creepy weirdness cool again. So The Sci-Fi Channel put In Search Of... back into production.

   But this was an all new revamped In Search Of... Leonard Nimoy was out as host. The new host was The X-File's Mitch Pileggi. A pretty good choice. In addition to having the X-Files to his name he had also hosted Fox TVs Magic's Secrets Revealed Specials. They were a sort of In Search Of-ish show that exposed how famous magic tricks really worked. The new In Search Of... used a similar setup to the specials. On those specials a huge dramatic location would be built up where the tricks would be performed while Mitch Pileggi would introduce the tricks from off to the side and then fade into off screen narrator mode.

   The new In Search Of... had a similar funky scary castle set that Mitch would intro the stories from and then slide into being the off screen narrator. By contrast, Leonard Nimoy would do his intro from real locations. A museum, a private library, sometimes he was even on site with the film crew and actually interacting with the people in the story!

   So while the topics were the same as the old show, the execution was totally different. The old show was half an hour with one full half hour devoted to each topic. The new show was an hour and featured around four different topics per show. The old show was shot on film which seemed to add some sort of documentary credibility to the proceedings. The new one was shot on video. Sometimes that worked okay. But not always. Lets talk "bad" on the new In Search Of... Trying to recreate a vision of hell and eternal damnation on video tape with a cable budget? Don't try it. It's ironically scarier than the hell it is trying to portray. Just not in the right way.

   And the basic vibe of the show was different. The original show creeped you out by implying weird scary things at play. It snuck up behind you in the dark shouted, "BOO!!!" in your ear and actually scared you. The new show tried to creep you out not by implying weird scary things but by telling you hard core in your face, "You'd better be scared! Viruses from space WILL kill you!" No sneaking up with a boo. This In Search Of... walked right up to your face and screamed, "AHHHHHH!!!!!" at you.

   Even though it felt a little more manipulative, this In Search Of... did work sometimes in the same ways as the old shows. A good spook story is a good spook story. You take a camera crew to a haunted building that used to be an asylum where bad crap reeeally did happen, that's scary stuff. And on the other end of the spectrum, you get a kooky expert selling a crazy ass line of BS, regardless of how its shot, that crap is hilarious.

   But Leonard, Mr. Nimoy... sir? Come on! Come back one more time to do it right! I need an update on that In Search Of Cheese Demons piece asap!!!

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