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.



186 – UFO – Reflections in the Water

Can Straker figure out the baffling question of what the aliens are doing building an underwater base and creating a replica of SHADO headquarters and their key personnel?

Ben and Eugene discuss Reflections in the Water.

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.)


In Search of… Strange Visitors

It’s only episode 2 and I already feel like it’s a “filler” episode.

From the title, you might think this one is about ancient astronauts, but it’s not.  It’s about a site called Mystery Hill in New Hampshire (Now known as America’s Stonehenge.)

According to the episode, Mystery Hill is a strange, pre-European-colonization town that doesn’t exhibit characteristics of the indigenous natives who lived in the area when Europeans arrived.

Native Americans civilization in the area had “…no more impact upon the land than a carpet of bright leaves in an autumn forest.”  It’s all very poetic but is it buying into the myth that Native Americans lived in harmony with the world, or is it a veiled slight at the savages?

Of course, that means they couldn’t possibly have stacked rocks!

Radio-Carbon dating, scientists and Harvard archaeologists ultimately posit that North America was a veritable melting pot of European and North African settlers 1,000 years “…before the birth of Christ” and that Mystery Hill must be the work of ancient Minoans who just nipped over to North America from Crete.

Yep.  I’m glad I learned my North American archaeology from watching In Search of…

I’ll let you look this one up on Wikipedia if you want to get some idea of why ancient Minoans might not be the first, best answer to this “mystery.”

Stonehenge made a surprise appearance in this episode, despite there being no connection with Mystery Hill whatsoever.  Also, so-called Druids.

Lots more footage in this one with the sun flaring and backlighting the foreground subject.  Also, there’s no doubt that when they want to convey a sense of exploring the strangeness, they go for pre-steadicam hand-held cameras.

With all the sun flares, I’m guessing JJ Abrams grew up watching this show, too.

Nimoy is still studio-bound in this episode, too, but this time, at one point, he’s been given an uncomfortable looking stool to sit uncomfortably on.

I don’t remember it from episode 1, but this episode ended with the standard In Search of… closing narration I knew so well as a child.  I can recite it as well as the opening monologue in Star Trek.  It makes it sound all so authoritative!

Lost civilizations… extraterrestrials… myths and monsters… missing persons… magic & witchcraft… unexplained phenomena.

In Search of… cameras are traveling the world seeking out these great mysteries.  This program was the result of the work of scientists, researchers and a group of highly-skilled technicians.

In Search of… Strange Visitors first aired April 24, 1977

In Search of… Other Voices

This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producers’ purpose is to suggest some possible explanation, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.

So started every episode (so far as I know) of In Search of… Hoo boy, have they got that right!  I wish all the crap on the cable networks these days included that honest, if ineffectual, disclaimer!

Ineffectual? Yes, because I heard it every week and basically disregarded it.  Such is the power of television and editing that, in no way, was I ever in doubt of the honesty or sincerity of this show.

This is the first regular episode of In Search of… After three previous “specials” featuring Rod Serling, the series proper, with Leonard Nimoy, starts here with the investigation of whether plants can communicate.  It seems a strange one to start off with.  I would have lead with UFOs or Bigfoot.

The quality of the video is… poor.  There’s no obvious restoration work lavished on this box set, but at least the original music (and presumably run length) has been restored.

Nimoy is an uncomfortable host, standing, at times, in ridiculously staged and uncomfortable-looking poses as he walks amongst large photographic stand-ups of In Search of… topics and an obligatory potted plant.  His blue blazer, red turtle-neck sweater and grey Sans-a-Belt trousers scream 1970’s.

Uncomfortable he may seem on camera, but his oft-imitated In Search of… delivery is on-the-mark even in episode 1.

The unique visual style of In Search of… is here, too.  The visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens is complete with the show’s trademark “looking up through trees at the sun” style.

Oh how I’ve missed this show!

As for the content…  in a nutshell:  plants might respond to people with “green thumbs.”  People with green thumbs have more auras when photographed using Kirlian Photography than people with self-reported “brown thumbs.”  Plants die when exposed to Acid Rock, but thrive and even bend towards the speakers when exposed to classical music.

My favorite part had to be when the researcher (who had spent 25 years studying the subject) tortured yogurt while other yogurt was connected to a polygraph!  (and also torturing an In Search of… staffer.)

In short, the idea is this, a plant or yogurt (yes, yogurt, the stuff from the diary aisle) is attached to a polygraph and then a nearby human is cut with a scalpel.  According to the results shown, the plant registers a reaction when the person is injured.

In the case of the yogurt, which was placed in a test tube, a nearby beaker of yogurt is subjected to antibiotics, killing them.  As you might expect, nothing happens to the yogurt in the test tube.  However, a second “experiment” has milk added to the beaker of yogurt.  When that happens, the test tube of beaker reacts!

The “scientist” hypothesizes that when the beaker of yogurt gets fed, the test tube yogurt starts sympathetically craving food.

I wonder if the polygraph is any more reliable on plants than it is on people?

All-in-all, it was a blast from the past episode.  Only 143 more to go!

In Search of… Other Voices first aired on April 17, 1977