In Psychic Academy, six members of the public are taught to talk to the dead. It's obvious tosh—and adroit programmingby Peter Bazalgette / July 23, 2009 / Leave a comment
How do we deal with a surfeit of choice? By narrowing down our selection to the comfort of around seven favourites from which we rarely stray. Thus we typically cook no more than about seven recipes. We usually buy goods in six or seven shops. And we tend to watch no more than seven television channels from the hundreds on offer (not to mention BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV.com and the US online video service, Hulu, shortly to launch here). But while our normal channels are playing summer repeats (Waking the Dead on BBC1, Diana Dors and Kenny Everett documentaries on ITV, Skins on Channel 4) do you ever explore the further reaches of the satellite channels? This week Smallscreen, for one month only, boldly goes there for you.
Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, did not have much time for the occult. When he felt it time to replace his newspaper’s astrologer he is said to have written a letter that began, “As you will no doubt have foreseen…” What on earth would MacKenzie make of Tony Stockwell’s Psychic Academy on Bio (the Biography Channel), currently broadcast at 9pm on Thursday evenings? They claim it as the series in which “world renowned psychic Tony Stockwell takes six members of the public on an amazing spiritual journey to unlock their psychic powers.” It’s an attempt to build ratings for a channel whose average audience would fit comfortably into a first division football ground. And there is a precedent: when Richard Woolfe, the current programme boss of Five, ran the Living Channel he boosted its ratings by 60 per cent one year by introducing a number of similar psychic adventures.
In the case of Bio, was anyone watching? More than usual: the first programme of the series got a rating of around 50,000, and that’s not counting spectral viewers who tuned in from “the other side.” To its shame, the audience measurement system, Barb, doesn’t yet gauge the spiritual audience, but admittedly they may be of limited interest to advertisers. Stockwell makes the promise that during the series, members of the public will be taught how to talk to the dead. But first they must be selected—familiar reality television territory here. Falling by the wayside were Mr Magnet, a divorced father of three whose “hot hands” failed to impress Stockwell; Alyson, a member of a “paranormal investigation unit”; and window…