Category Archives: In Search of…

In Search of… Martians

The Martians are coming, the Martians are coming!

Maybe not.

Hard to believe, but when this episode of In Search of… was produced, it was hot on the heels of our first landers on Mars, Vikings 1 and 2.  The question of “is/was there life on Mars” was in the forefront of many people’s minds.  In Search of… was quick to exploit that.

A brief, not very accurate explanation of the formation of the solar system involved the sun being a collection of stuff (rather than gasses, primary hydrogen) and the planets being the “burnt cinders” flung out from the “igniting” sun that then formed the planets.

There’s some lovely footage of lava to represent the surface of the sun.  Well, what are you going to do?  There were no CGI effects in those days.

Nimoy, in a surprisingly authoritative setting – in front of a model Viking lander at JPL, tells about man’s desire to understand Mars, our sister planet.  Of how Percival Lowell first discovered the canals on Mars (remember them?)  He tells of how Mars once had water and that, perhaps, life on Mars left there to come to Earth, possibly forming life here.

If we return to Mars and terraform it, will we be returning the favor?

Not much to this episode, but there’s a great line from one of the scientists – “With all that water at the poles, we might as well melt it.”

I miss the good old days!

In Search of… Martians first aired on May 21, 1977.  Only 135 episodes to go.

In Search of… the Mummy’s Curse

Finally, we’re back to good, old-fashioned, hard-hitting investigative reporting of lunacy!  It’s the mummy’s curse! (Cue maniacal laughter and the sound of thunder.)

I don’t need to tell you about the curse of Tutankhamen (or is it the curse of Akhenaten?).  Howard Carter, along with his friend and financier, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, broke into King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.  Soon thereafter, Lord Carnarvon was dead under mysterious circumstances as, one by one, the people in the expedition died — apparent victims of the mummy’s curse.  Carter himself died just a short 17 years after opening the tomb.

Putting a slightly skeptical eye towards that, like the Bermuda Triangle, once you do the math, the deaths of the people involved occurred at statistically perfectly normal times for a group of people of that size.  In short, no one’s life was shortened by the opening of the tomb.

One amusing thing about this episode is that, being shot in 1976 or 1977, the Sixth Earl of Carnarvon, his son, was still alive and recalled the events surrounding his father’s death.  Interviewed for the In Search of… cameras, he was an obvious relic from another age.  Sitting for his TV interview in his stately home with a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other.

Finally, the story shifts from the curse of Tutankhamen to the curse of Akhenaten.

Akhenaten, father of Tutankhamen, introduced a massive shift in the religion of Egypt, taking considerable power away from the priests.  Upon his death, it’s said that his named was cursed.  Cursed to be forgotten.

Finally, that manifests itself in the form an anecdote about a play, which named Akhenaten, in which there was hailstorm during rehearsal, and two of the actresses took ill.  A quick google search on this produced…  no mention at all.  Was this made up whole-cloth by In Search of…?

Nimoy does his standups in a cemetery, which looks suspiciously like the same place the “re-enactments” of the doomed play were staged.

In Search of… the Mummy’s Curse first aired May 14th, 1977.  Only 136 episodes to go…

In Search of… Earthquakes

…and if I thought killer bees would be too mundane… in this episode they’re talking about that most mythical of phenomena, Earthquakes.

OK, maybe they’re not so mythical.

In this episode of In Search of… we’re told that bad earthquakes have happened and many people have died.  Further, more bad earthquakes will happen in the future and possibly many, many more people will die.  In San Francisco and Los Angeles in particular.

This 1977 episode details a scenario of what might happen should another big quake hit San Francisco.  Although the horrific death toll and destruction weren’t as much as predicted, it did paint a good picture of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

So what’s the crackpot angle on this episode?

Not a whole lot, really, although they trotted out the oft-repeated meme that animals such as dogs and horses “know” about an impending earthquake hours in advance.  They even showed research into using earthquake-detecting cockroaches.

Oh, and in 1982 a rare planetary alignment will place all the planets in a line on the same side of the sun.  The gravity from such an event will create massive solar activity, increasing the solar winds against the earth.  The polar aurora will be increased and the planet’s atmosphere will slow down its rotation, causing more earthquakes.

Yeah, I didn’t understand that bit, either, but we have successfully played Spot the Looney! for this episode.

Nimoy is standing in the same spot he was for the Bigfoot episode.  I didn’t go back and check, but I think it’s the same suit, too.  My guess is they doubled up filming the two episodes.

In Search of… Earthquakes originally aired May 7, 1977.

Only 137 episodes remaining.

In Search of… Killer Bees

One thing that has fascinated me as I’ve approached this project.  How would I feel about the episodes of In Search of… that weren’t based entirely on bullshit?

OK, let’s be honest.  I don’t remember any episodes of In Search of… that weren’t bullshit.  From my recollection, it was all about ghosts and monsters and aliens.  So imagine my surprise as I looked at the DVD menus of the first disc and saw “Killer Bees.”

Sure, “killer bees” is a lurid and over-dramatic misnomer of africanized honeybees, but it is a real phenomena and they do exist, here and now, where I live.  Only very recently an acquaintance of mine was attacked by them near my office.

Yes, indeed, a very real thing… but what would In Search of… make of it?  Especially back in 1977, when they were still a continent away from us.

Actually, I can’t really fault In Search of… on this one.  What they stated seems to be factually accurate, although they did spend a fair amount of time recounting the details of several bee attacks, just to make it sound more terrifying.

In the 1950’s, the government of Brazil hoped to create a honeybee that could thrive in the jungle conditions there.  To that end, a research facility took african honeybees, which are close relatives to the European honeybees and attempted to harness them in the Brazilian environment.  African honeybees live longer, breed faster and produce significantly more honey than their European counterparts.

They also swarm more often (that is, pick up house and move somewhere else) and are crazy aggressive protecting their homes. – earning them their reputation as “killers.”

In 1957 an idiot mistakenly released the bees just as they were about to swarm and the rest is history.  Africanized bees have outcompeted the established honeybees and been moving north ever since.

At the time of production of this episode, it was estimated they’d reach the US in 1990.  In reality, they got here in 1985, having caught a lift on a Venezuelan oil tanker.

Nimoy is outside again this episode.  This time in a nice flowery field and later sitting on a patio.  It’s all very pleasant and, looking back over the distance of time, it reminds us of a simpler time when people could go outside without the threat of the killer bees!

Only 138 episodes left.

In Search of… Killer Bees originally aired May 1, 1977.

In Search of… Bigfoot

‘This episode of In Search of… comes out swinging with one of the big hitters of the cryptid brigade, the elusive Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

When I was 13, I was totally convinced bigfoot was real.  I’d even gone hunting for him myself in California, Oregon and Washington.  Naive times they were.

A few things stand out in this episode.  The first is, to hear the narration, discovery of an actual bigfoot specimen at the time of the episode is imminent.  After listening to this, I’m sure we’ll have bigfoot in captivity by no later than 1987.  By the year 2000, children won’t even remember a time when bigfoot was thought to be just a myth!

The second is how weirdly put together In Search of… is.  I’ve previously commented on their use of flaring shots of the sun, but in this one they make extensive use of “bigfoot cam” – shaky, hand-held footage from the supposed point of view of a bigfoot walking through the forest while grunting noises are overlaid.  There are some strange shot choices, too.  Why did they interview the old man sitting down in his car while parked by the side of the road?  Did they have to run him to ground to get the interview?

Nimoy gets out of the studio this week and appears standing in a city with plenty of city noises in the background.  Since he’s apparently not mic’ed up he has to talk loudly to rise about the city soundscape. It makes for a jarring transition back to voice over work.

I also suspect there’s not that much budget for In Search of…  They didn’t show the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, just referenced it while showing the infamous frame 352.

A good portion of the episode deals with the “photograph” or “kill” debate amongst bigfoot hunters.  Will the only acceptable proof of bigfoot be a corpse? (My take on this one: Yes.  Dead bigfoot or it didn’t happen.)

Another takeaway from this episode – You’d have to be a genius anatomist to fake these big footprints.  They couldn’t possibly be a hoax.

Oh, and don’t forget the coelacanth!  Coelacanth is real therefore bigfoot is real, too.  Right?

139 episodes to go.

In Search of… Bigfoot first aired on April 28, 1977.

In Search of… the Bermuda Triangle

I’ll start this post with a reminder that I’m not here to systematically debunk these episodes.  I think we’ll find most/all of these episodes have been thoroughly debunked elsewhere.

They are artifacts of my childhood.  I am simply commenting on them rather superficially based on my much older, more skeptical view. Nor am I doing a lot of research on them. Again, this has been thoroughly done by others.

So, on to the episode.

It’s the Bermuda Triangle!  Tell me you haven’t seen countless hours and tales about the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle?  Surely, In Search of… will touch them all!

No.  More than anything else, this surprised me.  They barely touched on the legends, concentrating on just four pieces of the mystery.

The most startling thing about this episode was at the beginning.  Nimoy in his opening narrative points out that another TV program partly underwritten by the National Science Foundation recently reviewed the Bermuda Triangle mystery and determined that there was no mystery to solve.  I thought this was a remarkably candid opening statement.  “Yep, there’s actually no mystery here.”

Where were they going to go from a start that says there’s nothing to investigate?

In a way, I was impressed at the honesty of that statement.  My being impressed didn’t last long.

Where would they go?  Down the path on anecdotal “evidence”…  or, in other words, stories.

Here’s their case, in a nutshell

  • In one of the busiest air and sea lanes in the world, planes and ships have “disappeared”
  • On a dark night, a decade before the show was made, a Coast Guard ship, on a clear night, saw a “line” across the radar screen that looked like land.  When they encountered it, it was a sort of grey wall (like fog?) in front of them.  They passed through it, but had irritated throats and slight difficulty breathing.  Also, they had a fairly common situation where steam power dropped a bit.
  • An experienced pilot, loaned his plane out to some friends (one of whom was an experienced pilot) and, in goodweather conditions, the plane lost contact and disappeared.
    • Oh, did I say, “disappeared?”  No, they did.  What was the explanation of this “disappearance?”  Crash investigators, examining the wreckage concluded that some force ripped the wing off in flight.  Wreckage?  They had wreckage of a plane the disappeared?  Hmmmm, doesn’t sound too “disappeared” to me.
  • A late night radio DJ holding a talk program about the Bermuda Triangle received an odd phone call from someone saying, “There is one of you on the program who will understand what I am going to say. In every living thing on this planet has an aura. The area that you are discussing now is the aura of this planet. It is the communicative channel through which the Millionth Council governs this planet. Anyone going into the area when the communicative channel opens… they will not disappear, but they are in the timeless void. They are all perfectly alive and well. It is the only area through which the council can communicate with this planet.”
  • Flight 19.  This is the one you’ve all heard about.  The famous Navy training flight that disappeared in 1945.  (So famous, they appeared coming out of the space craft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.)  You’ve all heard the story, the radio transcripts of the confused pilot, etc…  None of that was presented here!  They simply mentioned that the flight had gone missing without a trace.  Why not all the other compelling narrative?  Could it be that wasn’t invented till after this program?

Here’s the part that left me really annoyed at the end of this episode.

As I alluded to earlier, Nimoy indicated that the National Science Foundation says there’s nothing to investigate.

Let me expound upon that a bit.  Statistically speaking, looking at the insurance loss records, adjusted for the incredible number of ships and planes in that particular area, the number of sunk and missing planes and ships simply isn’t statistically different from anywhere else at sea.  There is no mystery.  If you have lots of ships and planes, you have more ship and plane accidents.  Period.

What annoyed me was, after presenting the very weak anecdotal evidence, Nimoy concludes by going after the National Science Foundation, stating,  after listening to the stories “…to say that no investigation is necessary destroys the rationale for any scientific investigation.”

No, sir.  Scientific investigation is warranted only to the degree indicated by the evidence available.  First step:  Determine if there is anything to actually be investigated.  In this case, examination of the records concludes that the notion there is an abnormal number of losses in the area is false.

Nimoy’s closing remark was an insidious comment that makes it sound like the National Science Foundation is “at fault” for not having appropriate scientific curiosity or carrying out proper investigations,  and casting In Search of… and the “researchers” depicted in this episode as better scientific investigators.

No wonder this country has so many anti-intellectual, science deniers and crackpots!

Only 140 episodes left to go.  Next time, it’s Bigfoot!

In Search of… the Bermuda  Triangle originally aired on April 27, 1977.

 

 

In Search of… Ancient Aviators

I was a bit worried about watching these shows with my kids.  Much though I enjoy sharing my childhood experiences with them, I was worried that this one might do some harm to their developing critical thinking skills.

I needn’t have worried.  While watching this one, Michelle jumped right to the head of the class.  As Nimoy was slowly building the case for advanced aviation thousands of years ago, Michelle stole the thunder of their final gambit by saying, “Why don’t they just say ‘aliens from space did it’?”

How right she was.

In Search of… Ancient Aviators is all over the board.  Spinning a wild series of half-baked conclusions based on the most tenuous of historical info.  What does the story of Daedalus and Icarus and the work of Leonardo DaVinci have in common?  Yes, they both mention flying!  Other people in the past have mentioned flying, too!  If that’s the case, maybe the story of Daedalus and Icarus isn’t just a myth, but based on something else?

And did you notice that some old temples in India look a bit like rocket gantries?  (or stairways)  Maybe that means something?  Something to do with people flying perhaps?

My favorite had to be this one…  the Mayans of Central America built huge, advanced cities, which we’re slowly digging out of the jungle, but what’s strange is that they don’t have roads between them!  Maybe they had the technology to fly between the cities?

(Or maybe the jungles have uprooted any roads that once existed?)

The whole episode is predicated on the Nazca Lines of Peru, which serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever unless they were built for people in flying machines to see, and, of course, would be impossible to make without aerial surveying.

(At this point, Michelle asked, “what if they just drew it on a small piece of paper and made grid lines on it, the made larger grids on the ground and copied it that way?”  Yes, indeed, Michelle, what if they did do that?  Answer:  There wouldn’t be anything to say in this episode.)

Nimoy is still studio-bound, but his blazer is buttoned this week.

I only noticed one sun flare shot this episode, when they were looking up an abandoned bit of Cape Kennedy and comparing it to some temple in India.

A brilliant observation in this episode, per Nimoy:  An analysis of the Nazca Lines reveals that some of them are pointing at significant astronomical locations but no more so than would be expected by random chance.  Wow, that must mean something!

141 episodes to go!

In Search of… Ancient Aviators first aired April 24, 1977

(Yes, I know that matches the last episode, blame Wikipedia.)