It was the show that dared to go where no other show would go.
That show was “Sightings”.
If you ever watched the show you know exactly what I’m talking about.
“Sightings” was regarded as the leading authority on paranormal and supernatural investigation and television’s primary source for exploration into the unknown.
Tim White was the Host of “Sightings”. It almost goes without saying that Tim’s hosting duties played as much of a part in the show’s success as the stories themselves.
Tim White spoke with me about his background and the show in 1998.
Q – To host a show like “Sightings” is
it necessary to believe all of the stories that are featured?
A – No. To be a priest I think it’s necessary to believe everything you say. To be the host of a program, especially if you’re a journalist is to turn your interest and your journalistic skill and whatever intelligence you may have on to each subject and say let’s find out what the story is here. I think the difference between “Sightings” and the other shows is that we weren’t out to persuade people of anything. We were out to present as much information as we could find and let people make up their own minds. My job wasn’t to stuff the paranormal down peoples’ throats. It was to put in front of them things they may not have thought about before, that they may not have thought about in that way before and present some new information and then let them make up their own minds. To a lot of people U.F.O.’s for instance are delusional balderdash and always will be figments of the imagination of some very gullible people. To others, they are here, they are real-----and they are now!! In between are all kinds of people who don’t know what they think about them.
Q – Before hosting the show, what were your feelings
about topics such as U.F.O.’s? What group did you fall into?
A – I tended to fall into the group that said it was all a bunch of nonsense. I was cynical. I said this is left over bad mushrooms from the 60’s affecting most of these people. But, of course I hadn’t looked at it very closely either. It was easy to be non chalant, easy to be dismissive, but, then as I came more closely in touch with information I hadn’t seen before, stories I hadn’t seen before, met people such as Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Edgar Mitchell, both of whom walked on the moon and others who’ve had a really expansive view of what might be possible in our physical and spiritual universe-----I started to open my mind up. So, I would say in the course of doing “Sightings”, I went from being a cynic to a skeptic. If you think about it, that’s a change in attitude. I’m open to a lot of things I wouldn’t be open to before this.
Q – I’m not sure you realize this, but, your
voice is as recognizable with “Sightings” as Robert Stack’s
is to “Unsolved Mysteries”.
A – That’s what I gather at supermarkets from time to time. People will look up and say, “Oh, Sightings”. (Laughs).
Q – How did you get the job to host “Sightings”?
A – I was a News Anchor in Washington, D.C. I got a call out of the blue from Henry Winkler who was doing a special for Fox and I was anchoring a Fox station. He said we’ve looked at a lot of tapes and we’re doing a special and we’d like you to host it for us. I said well, that’s very nice, what’s it about? He said, well, it’s gonna be good. We’re gonna take a really journalistic approach and it’s a difficult subject and we’re gonna do a First Class job. I said, yeah, but Henry what’s it about? He said it’s gonna be terrific. What’s it about? He said it’s about U.F.O.’s. I said I’m not interested. I could care less. Then we talked about it further and he said we really are gonna approach it in a way it hasn’t been approached. We’re gonna approach it as story in news; what’s known, what’s not known. Who’s willing to speak to the issues? What are some of the alternative explanations? Then you let people make up their own mind. So, on that basis I said well, o.k. Not to mention the fact that I got a nice trip out to California. That was fine. The Special that we produced in ’91, that aired in the Fall of ’91, was terrific. It was really good. It was really well done, and would hold up even today. That’s how it all started.
Q – You do point fingers at official government
programs. Has anyone ever tried to shut down “Sightings”?
A – They haven’t tried to shut down the program and they haven’t tried to shut down me. I spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. and no one has ever suggested that I not ask a question or that we should no pursue anything. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who have a history of working in the government and the military will say do you really think you’re onto something? What do you know about this stuff? Information to the extent it exists, is pretty fragmented I think. Unlike the X-Files I don’t think there’s one file where all truth resides. It’s pretty well scattered across the country side. As far as the government with holding information; of course there are many classified things. There’s much that the government won’t tell us. There’s much they probably can’t tell us for reasons of classification and I can understand that. If you go back to the 70’s and 80’s when they were testing the Stealth aircraft clearly if you saw one of those F-117 fighters in the early 1980’s, you would’ve been certain you were looking at a flying saucer. It was a highly classified issue and I’ll tell you there are a lot of Americans alive today because we had stealth technology that could get us into Baghdad and out without losing a bunch of our pilots. This is a very important point: we on “Sightings” have never compromised classified material. We have never accused the government of lying. When the Air Force came out with it’s story about crash dummies being thrown out of balloons at 50,000 feet in 1953 and that explains the alien sightings, if it took ‘em 50 years to come up with that story, somebody was asleep at the switch.
Q – What if the government would acknowledge the
existence of U.F.O.’s, would that lead to world-wide panic?
A – Well, I can’t predict what would happen. I think the first responsibility of government is the maintenance of order and the protection of it’s citizens orderly lives. The suggestion that there is intelligence that supersedes our own walking among us, says that the government can’t control a thing, can’t maintain order. (Laughs). A worldwide panic? I don’t know. I think people are pretty mature. I think they could probably handle it.
Q – Why at this particular time in history is there
such interest in the paranormal and supernatural?
A – It has to do with the pace of life today. We’ve been so surrounded by technology and mechanisms that sort of separate us from another and nature. There’s something in us that longs for a spirituality, a sense of the unknown, a sense of something larger than ourselves and our cars and our credit cards. Some people feel that’s based with conventional religious pursuits which is why there is a religious revival in this country. There are more people going to church than in any other Western civilization. Other people seek it in ways that look inward and outward. They’re looking for something that lends a sense of themselves being connected to a universal hole. I think whether you’re talking about quantum mechanics with Stephen Hawking or you’re talking about life extension our you’re talking about the melding of technology and biology, we look for possibilities that lie beyond simply living, consuming and dying. I think that’s one of the reasons this material has become so popular.
Q – Have you ever seen a ghost or a U.F.O.?
A – To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a ghost I, like all people sometimes sense non-physical presence about me, and wonder about the limits of coincidence. How could I have known that so and so was going to walk around the corner? What was that dream I had the other night that pointed me in a certain direction? As far as U.F.O.’s-----no. I was in the military and spent a lot of time around airplanes. I did, in Mexico City have one experience with some other producers of a light phenomenon which was very hard to explain which is what most people see when they’re seeing U.F.O.’s. But, I wouldn’t say that I saw a craft from another dimension or another universe. I saw a phenomenon that none of us could explain. That was happening in Mexico City on a regular basis at that time.
Q – In the daytime too as I recall.
A – Yeah. In the daytime too. This was at night. During the daytime you’re absolutely right.
Q – “Sightings” has spawned some imitators
out there hasn’t it?
A – Yeah. But, they didn’t last very long did they?
Q – I think “The Unexplained” has been
on for awhile.
A – If it’s the one I’m thinking of “The Unexplained” is a re-cut of an Australian series. They all kind of sound alike to me, but, there’s been a whole slew of ‘em as you know that have sort of imitated the “Sightings” content, but, then they would try to hype it up and be breathless about monsters dripping with saliva from their teeth and so forth. And, they didn’t last very long, ‘cause people don’t want to have this stuff shoved down their throats. People are smarter than that.
Q – Could “Sightings” take up the cause
of those who believe more people were involved in the Oklahoma City Bombing?
Could you do segments on those kind of stories?
A – I’ll tell you why that would be a problem. That would be a problem because then we would lapse into the conspiracy theorists realm. You couldn’t avoid it. It would be how many people were on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas in 1963? You would quickly go down what I see as a slippery slope. You would then be like a lot of other t.v shows going for a quick pop in the ratings with the implication that there’s something sensational in what you’re going to report but it’s not really there. I would resist that approach. You could. It’s an interesting idea, but, I think it’s another show. You’re talking about variable perceptions, the way in which things are seen and reported. I do think there is an opportunity to present a bunch of unheard voices about difficult questions, whether it’s the Grassy Knoll or the Oklahoma City Bombing. I’ll tell you who does that sort of thing is Bill Kurtis on Investigative Reports and does a pretty good job of it. I personally have a very high regard for Bill and that series. The kind of things that you’re indicating are the kinds of things that Investigative Reports would pick on at some point or another.
Q – Is it difficult to find good stories to report
A – When we started doing this program in 1991 as a special, we were all convinced that we wanted the program to be a success, but, if they ask us for a second special, we’d never be able to find the stories to do it. They did ask for a second special. We did it. It got higher ratings than the first one which was the highest rated special in the history of Fox to that point. Within a year, we were doing weekly shows and realized there was so much more out there that we had barely scratched the surface. Is it difficult to find stories? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Do you sometimes start down a road on a story that you have to turn around and come back on? Yes. We put a lot of time and effort into some stories that we just decided there was fraud or delusion involved and we backed out completely.
Q – How long does it take to put one of these 2
hour specials together?
A – Oh. it’s a massive effort on the part of a really talented staff. The Senior Producer of the show, Stephen Kroopnick is just a master of assembling bright people who go out under the direction of the Research Director Jonathan Gerald who’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever known in my life. They’ll put 6 months into it. Three months in development and three months in production. They might be working on other things at the same time, but, these things don’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of very deliberate, very careful effort that goes into these things. So, I would say that each 2 hour special you’re looking at has been worked on for 6 months anyway. And, in some cases, even longer, like the interview with Stephen Hawking. It takes a long time to set up an interview with Stephen Hawking. You’ve got to get those requests in early.
Q – At one point, “Sightings” was running
on a C.B.S. affiliate station here in Syracuse on a Sunday night at 11:30
pm. What time was it airing on other stations throughout the U.S.?
A – Well, let’s back-up a step. “Sightings” started out on the Fox Network. It basically created in 1991, 1992, the time slot on Friday nights that the X-Files came into in ’93. It had pretty darn good ratings I must say. So, basically “X-Files” followed us into that Friday night time slot. Then we went from network to first run syndication where we were for two or two and a half years. It’s hard to put a calendar on some of these things. First run syndication means it’s sold to the highest bidder in each market who can then put it on whenever they choose. The C.B.S. affiliate in Syracuse was obviously the high bidder for the show and they could put it on at 11:30 at night on Sunday if they wanted to. It might be on an N.B.C. affiliate in Detroit at 6 o’clock at night on Sunday. When they buy a syndicated program they put it on when it suits their programming needs. It makes it a little hard to find but market to market it fairs pretty well. Then in 1996, it moved to the Sci-Fi Channel.
Q – And why did it move to the Sci-Fi Channel?
A – (Laughs). There’s a very easy answer. It has to do with who owns what. Viacom Corporation owns Paramount. Paramount owns “Sightings”. Viacom also owns the U.S.A. Sci-Fi Cable Networks. They said you know what we need on our Sci-Fi Channel to help beef up the ratings? We need an established hit and here’s one right here!! We’re gonna move “Sightings” over there. So, that’s what they did.