Psi Factor:Close and Personal
The investigators from PSI FACTOR: CHRONICLES OF THE PARANORMAL don’t have to believe in the supernatural to explain the show’s spirited rise in popularity, a surge that recently secured a 22 episode renewal for a third season, bringing the total to 66 episodes to date.
While there has been lots of paranormal activity on-screen, it’s the hard work off-screen by the producers that explain the improvement to what was already a first-class product. Their efforts have clearly pleased viewers as ratings have increased markedly since PSI FACTOR’s 1996 debut. While the show had always been popular among women, more and more men began tuning in this past season. In fact, viewership among men aged 18-34 increased by a staggering 92 per cent in 1997.
The biggest transition from PSI FACTOR’s first season was to focus on one investigation in each hour-long episode. In each of the previous shows, the Office of Scientific Investigation and Research (OSIR) team had to tackle two paranormal puzzles. That change alone gave the writers time to go beyond stories which centre on the paranormal event not the human element. “Instead of focusing on the phenomenon, we began to focus on our heroes and how they react to the phenomenon,” says Executive Producer James Nadler of ATLANTIS. “So now a show won’t just be a tale about ghosts but how the members of the OSIR team feel about ghosts as they try to solve the mystery. That’s what good story-telling is. The audience wants a representative, someone it can follow through the story. You want some kind of personal connection to the people you tune in to watch each week. “
In order to build that personal connection between the audience and the PSI FACTOR heroes, more attention was paid to both the look and substance of the central characters. “We have a terrific ensemble cast.” Nadler points out. “And we wanted them to pop off the screen even more. In the first season, they all played professional investigators but seemed a little too interchangeable.” In the case of Senior Data Analyst Lindsay Donner, played by Nancy Anne Sakovich, this meant developing story lines which showed off different facets of her character. In Season One, Donner came across as warm and professional,” says Nadler. “In Season Two, we were able to show more of her passion, anger, sense of humor and ambition. We established Donner as the team’s undercover expert and started to explore her personal history. And it helps that Nancy is someone who can handle martial arts and action scenes really well.” Donner’s wardrobe was tweaked in season two to give her a sleeker, more sophisticated look. The response to these changes has been strong especially among men writing into the show via the Internet.
But while the show’s resident beauty attracts viewers, so does its beasts. Werewolves, ectoplasmic apparitions, yetis, vampires…you name it, PSI FACTOR has it, along with a healthy dose of hauntings, possessions, alien abductions and the like. “That’s where the real fun is,” says Nadler. “And it’s also a challenge, coming up with, say, a different kind of story about a werewolf. But we managed to do it, and viewers are responding.” He laughs. “Actually, our werewolf was bald. We did one of the first bald were-wolves. It was different but I think it worked. Then again, a monster is in the eyes of the beholder.”