Monday, October 31, 2011

Unexplained: 10 Years Later


10 years. Has it really been a decade since our first half-hour show aired on WJTV-12 in Jackson, Mississippi at 6:30pm?

Halloween 2001 seems like yesterday, and it yet seems so long ago. At the time, we were uncertain the special should even air. The terrorist attacks of September 11 were still very fresh in our minds. Stories and updates still poured in daily about the attacks. Nerves were raw and emotions were scattered. Was it really time to air stories about ghosts and death?

After some discussion, we all agreed viewers needed a distraction. Something non-news. Something local. Something...mysterious. "Unexplained: Haunts" offered that in the form of several paranormal investigations conducted in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama between 2000 and 2001. Darren Dedo, sporting a rather "Fox Mulder dark trenchcoat," hosted the show from Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama. We taped the show's opening and closing along with several "bumps" for the individual investigations there.

The experience of putting the show together is still fresh in my mind. David Bunger, Christine Riddle, and others helped make the production amazing. David's creative eye and use of a jib helped make stunning video. We were also joined by Rob Ruffin who worked for the Birmingham FOX affiliate at the time but had been the photographer on many of our investigations.

From collaborating with Bob Hamblin on graphics and learning some of his amazing video editing techniques, to working with his son Paul on the jacket art of the VHS (I know, right? VHS was still king then), and to spending countless hours with our host Derren Dedo in haunted locations, researching, and writing scripts...working on Unexplained was more than just ghost hunts. It was a chance to study history, research forgotten documents, and speak with witnesses and other people who needed to share their stories...if only to not feel crazy about what that had witnessed. Unexplained was amazing broadcast television journalism for its time and today.

Recent paranormal shows go for the wow factor because they have to deliver ratings. We didn't have that pressure. Our vehicles of newcasts, the broadcast channel, and the web weren't going away. But that freedom never allowed us to deliver a dull story. 

The shows and the monthly franchise reports proved that News, Production, Marketing and Interactive departments of a TV station could work together and produce amazing non-news features. Most of that was because of some amazingly talented people. I mentioned some folks previously but there are many, many more. All of them helped make Unexplained exceptional, including the franchise's second investigative reporter Dean McKnight (who passed away this year), and our final investigative reporter and host of Haunts II and III Jeff Rent.

In recognition of just how special, "Unexplained: Haunts" received a Southeast Regional Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Program from the Atlanta Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The award was given at the 27th Annual Southeastern Regional Emmy Awards on June 8th, 2002, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Atlanta, GA.

"Unexplained" the franchise received two Mississippi Associated Press awards, the first in 2000 for Best Feature and the next in 2001 for Best Franchise.

"Unexplained: Haunts II" - which aired Halloween 2002 - received a Gold Award for Informational Program and Best of Show from the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters. The award was given at the annual convention of the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters in Biloxi, Mississippi, on June 28, 2003.

"Unexplained: Haunts III - The Anatomy of a Ghost Hunt" aired on Halloween 2003 and received a Gold Award while the franchise received a Silver award from the Mississippi Association of Broadcasters in 2004.

These accolades from our peers were very special, however, nothing can compare to the experiences of working with some wonderfully talented people (many I remain in touch with today), telling some amazing multimedia stories, meeting some fascinating people, and hearing how viewers til this day still remember our stories. That's the reason for this website: to keep these stories alive and accessible although in some cases the people sharing the stories have passed away.

That's one reason I loved documentary video production. We get to capture history for others to enjoy and from which to learn and share.

My first goal is to get more high-quality video of our stories onto this site. Sadly, the video is in a format that I cannot easily or affordably get transferred to a digital format. But when I can, you'll be able to enjoy these stories so much better than their encoding from 10 years ago which was designed for 44.4 modems. It's amazing how the web and technology have changed just in a decade.

Eventually, our team would love to unite for another paranormal production or even take a stab at sharing with you new stories made with the formula that no one else can master.

Unexplained may yet return. Stay tuned...

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