As Halloween approaches this week, three networks are doing live stunts with varying degrees of grossness, horror, and actual value. They start tonight, with live brain surgery, and end Halloween eve, with an alleged exorcism of a house.
The three specials come from three networks known and/or once known for their nonfiction programing—National Geographic Channel, A&E, and Discovery Communications’ Destination America—and seem to have varying degrees of value. All are clearly designed, on some level, to draw viewers with the shock of something they’ve never seen before combined with the unpredictability of live television, which is the newest drug television executives are hooked on.
Since they’re all live, though, it’s impossible to know for sure what they’ll be like, but we can make educated guesses based on what the networks have revealed so far. For example, it’s a safe bet that there will not be a demon appearing on live television Friday, so at least one of the three seems easy to dismiss.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect from each special.
Brain Surgery Live (Sunday)
When and where: Sunday, Oct. 25, 9 p.m. ET/PT, National Geographic Channel
What’s happening? A man with Parkinson’s will receive awake deep brain stimulation, performed by doctors at UH Case Medical Center, in hopes of eliminating or reducing his tremors.
Why? Greg Grindley, 49, and a retired Navy chief petty officer, explains why he volunteered for this in a letter: “to open other peoples’ eyes to this remarkable procedure, and to give hope to those who are also suffering from tremors and Parkinson’s.”
How? It’s unclear how much of the procedure we’ll see—his skull being opened?—or how much of the two hours will be brain surgery itself. Bryant Gumbel is hosting and, between or before the brain surgery segments, there will be “preproduced features that chronicle what science and medicine have historically taught us about the brain, and what is yet to be discovered.”
Educational value: NatGeo says this “will capture the drama of an awake deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, a modern-day medical marvel, to celebrate our most complex machine, the human brain.” Considering it’s both NatGeo and brain surgery, this seems like a very likely outcome.
Who’s producing it? Leftfield Pictures, producers of History’s Pawn Stars and Alone. Emmy-winner Joe Michaels—who directed the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and other events such as the Super Bowl—will direct.
Fear: Buried Alive (Monday)
When and where: Monday, Oct. 26, 8 p.m. ET/PT, A&E
What will happen? Three people “will be sealed in underground coffins and closely monitored under scientific conditions as they endure a series of escalating horrors designed to test the strength of their psyches. But this extreme experiment is not about escape — it is about enduring and defeating true terror.”
Alleged educational value: A&E says this “experiment is based on a controversial psychological practice known as immersion therapy, wherein subjects are flooded with their darkest fears in order to overcome them.” That seems like a massive stretch and more like a rejected Fear Factor stunt, an excuse to bury people and watch them freak out. Also, a “sociologist and fear researcher” will be on location. If you wanted people to believe this is a psychological experiment, wouldn’t you maybe have a psychologist hanging around?
How? We’ll be able to watch the suffering live thanks to “[s]pecially constructed coffins [that] will be rigged with infrared cameras, microphones, and vital sign indicators, all of which will be used to closely monitor the participants’ physical and psychological stress.” A&E says that “all necessary precautions are being taken to ensure safety, including a team of medical and psychological personnel onsite.”
Who’s producing it? Go Go Luckey Entertainment, producers of A&E’s Paranormal State, Animal Planet’s Jockeys, and A&E’s American Haunting.
Exorcism: Live (Friday)
When and where: Friday, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m. ET, Destination America
What’s happening? The cast of Ghost Asylum and a psychic will explore the suburban St. Louis, in the same house where a young boy had exorcism rituals performed on him by Catholic priests in 1949 and inspired The Exorcist.
Especially odd part: While the press release says “[n]o one has ever attempted to rid the lurking spirits and demons that inhabit this home, until now,” it goes on to say that the reality stars and psychic “will explore each crevice of this terrifying home from the attic to the basement, to find whatever or whomever has scared Americans to death for decades. The ghost hunting team will use state of the art technology to do daytime and nighttime investigations, documenting as much evidence as they can of these true-life demonic entities on live TV.” That does not seem like an exorcism.
Unexpected connection to Big Brother: There will be live feeds from inside the house at DestinationAmerica.com, and the network invites viewers to “track and report any mysterious anomalies they may see.”
The most absurd executive press release quote I’ve seen lately: Destination America GM Marc Etkind acts as if all of this is real: “As we step into one of the most haunted and well-known spirit destinations in America, Exorcism: Live! will show exactly what is inside this infamous, highly dangerous and possessed home. By actually exorcising this iconic house live, Destination America will do what it does best—bringing never before seen experiences to television.”
The actually scary part: A television network executive acting as if a house is possessed by a demon, especially since actual belief in demons is attributed to mental illness. Why not just play this as a Halloween special filmed at the Exorcist house, especially since that seems like that’s all we’re going to get, a live version of a ghost hunting show.
Who’s producing it? Tremendous! Entertainment, producers of Destination America’s Ghost Asylum and Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods.