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Rich Dolan Comments On “Mothman”

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 27th, 2006

As a comment to my review of the “Sci-Fi Investigates” program, one of the program’s four investigators, Richard Dolan, sent in a comment to my blog. I wish to bring his insights to a higher level of blog-awareness by posting it separately today.

Dolan

Richard M. Dolan


Hello everyone,

I’d like to extend my greetings to everyone and just say that I often enjoy reading the entries in here. I agree with other commentators that the absence of John Keel on this show was very unfortunate, as was the absence of Loren Coleman.

I asked the producers about getting Keel on the show, and they told me he wasn’t talking to anyone these days. I then took the step of personally writing to him (through his publicist), and got nowhere. John Keel just isn’t talking to anyone these days, and unfortunately as I understand it, his health has recently become a bit problematic. I also would very much have liked to have Loren on the show. (Loren, you may remember meeting me a few years ago at a conference, and for my part I very much enjoyed the experience. I have a very high regard for your work.)

One of the above commentators put it fairly accurately: this is television. The fact is that television can make investigations pretty challenging, to say the least. The timetable to do countless interviews and shoot countless scenes is always tight. And there is little to no flexibility to change strategy once it’s been decided upon.

Most significant, though, are the demands placed by the medium of television in a contemporary commercial market. In other words, as everyone here undoubtedly must realize, the show must have broad visual appeal. So that simply interviewing witnesses and reviewing theories – which is really the track that many of us would want to undertake – is only going to go so far, since the Sci-Fi Channel wants to reach a broader audience than the cryptozoological research community. Why else have Rob Mariano dive into the Ohio River? Why else have some of the investigators visit the old TNT site? There’s certainly no chance of finding the long-vanished (from Pt. Pleasant, anyway) Mothman. Rather, such decisions stem from the demands of modern television.

Having said this, as one of the investigators on the show, I maintain that there was still value in speaking to some of the original witnesses who were there in 1966 and 1967, as well as some of the other knowledgeable locals. I feel that they were treated with respect and that their accounts were portrayed fairly.

I also don’t think that the show mocked the phenomenon. Yes, Rob Mariano was very upfront about his attitude in this. Again, think: TV. For my part, I did my best to understand what the witnesses from 40 years ago were experiencing. Personally, I feel that there was a genuine mystery that was going on, and I also think that the show conveyed some of that mystery.

A final note: Debbie Dobrydney is indeed a crime scene investigator with the State of Connecticut. Not an actress. She’s also smart and totally professional.

Best regards,
Rich Dolan

Dolan

The cover of Richard Dolan’s most recent book.

P.S. To reinforce what Rich Dolan is saying here about John A. Keel, Keel is not as available as some people feel to actually appear in documentaries (although his work in capturing and then semi-fictionalizing Mothman events could have been analyzed by “Sci-Fi Investigates” a little bit more overtly). Keel had to cancel most of his involvement in the 2002 movie publicity tours, and that’s why the studio turned to me. In more recent years, Keel’s many health concerns have caused him to become a near-recluse. I can understand why the program could not get him for the program, although perhaps some footage of Keel or even a photographic image could have been used.

Here’s a tidbit that even Rich may have been unaware of: “Sci Fi Investigates” was to fly me (Loren Coleman) to Point Pleasant to be interviewed for the program in July 2006, but my trip to West Virginia was delayed and delayed. That is until I was finally contacted and told the producers would not be flying me down for an interview or any involvement with the program. The producers, well, seemed rather unprofessional in how this was handled. I can take a no, but it’s rather difficult to keep a weekend or several of them open for a promised freely-given interview and then being told, after the fact and without much elaboration, “Sorry, the program went in another direction.”

I want to especially thank Rich for his important insights from inside the “Sci Fi Investigates” program. Rich encompasses the Fortean point of view every week, which is one of open-mindedness and skepticism, without going overboard into being a flaming “true believer.” This is a hard role to fill, indeed, the way this show is constructed, as the celebrity’s point of view, that of Boston Rob’s raw ridicule, seems to be the stance that is most highlighted at the end of the day.

Richard Dolan also speaks to a large part of what I take for granted, but did not mention much in my critique, about this episode – this is television, this is entertainment, and the show must work within the constraints of its programming objectives. I understand television production (having been, since 1969, on both sides of the camera – from pre- to post-production). It merely sometimes seems as if there’s something a little off with the design and execution of “Sci Fi Investigates,” in spite of the good people (and I include all four investigators – I do personally like Rob Mariano) involved.

But in the end, it is television – that’s for sure.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


18 Responses to “Rich Dolan Comments On “Mothman””

  1. joppa responds:

    Any commercial ( i.e. for profit ) journalistic enterprise is going to provide news, research or even the weather in a package that makes money or “grabs” viewers. When Frontline does a bigfoot/ mothman / UFO show , I’ll watch. Everything else is entertainment.

  2. jayman responds:

    Television is a visual medium and basically theater, which does not lend itself well to calm and reasoned discussion and debate. Look at cable news, for example.

    On a different note, Richard Dolan’s book may be the best out there on UFOlogy. A sequel covering 1974 to the present is due out soon.

  3. Lisa62 responds:

    I still think that they should have at least mentioned John Keel, and the investigations he did in the area. Mothman and John Keel go almost hand in hand, there is practically not one without the other. How many people would really know about Mothman today if Mr. Keel hadn’t put the evidence out in his book, which I remember taking out of the library and reading when I was much younger. It scared me then, and it still scares me now. I will admit that Richard Dolan seems to be the most professional member of that group. I listen to his comments much closer than I do to the rest of the people, and think he has the best attitude. I still think Boston Rob is a mistake, and the archeologist should be whacked upside the head the next time he lets out any of his “Calls”!

  4. Ceroill responds:

    Mr. Dolan, I would like to add my thanks to you for coming and giving us your input. I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Keel’s health problems, and hope he recovers. Keep up the good work, sir.

  5. Mesonoxian responds:

    I can’t believe they didn’t fly you out for the interview. The producers were clearly filling time, with all the prop Mothman shots and the diving footage. That’s not surprising; it takes real work to make a show out of something so elusive, especially if you focus on current investigative scenes rather than on past accounts or recreations. Nonetheless, it would have added a great deal of interest and an air of legitimacy to have someone who was deeply involved in studying Mothman for the last several decades.

    By the way, thanks for commenting on my Livejournal post. I really appreciate it.

  6. clman1 responds:

    I feel that any show flawed as it may be which brings attention to cryptozoology and the paranormal and encourages discussion is welcome.

    Shows like this one on Sci-Fi,and others on the History channel and the Travel channel create interest; the more people who keep their eyes open and have an open mind the closer we come to one day proving the existance of cryptids.

  7. sasdave responds:

    As soon as Sci-Fi is mentioned, the subject smells of false stories of the unbeliever. Did any of the actors on the panel of experts have a experience with this creature…mothman/bigfoot/sasquatch or yeti, or just want to be on camera themselves to prove they are real and the sci-fi creature isn’t. No personal puns intended. We can’t see the wind, yet it does exist.

  8. Valen responds:

    I believe Richard and Debbie are sincere, the other two seem to be along for the ride. Sci-Fi seems to be going for the lowest common denominator (that being entertainment) and not doing the subjects the justice they deserve. I guess if nothing else, this show may expose some new people to the subjects being looked into, but I doubt it will bring anything to those of us who already know something of the subjects at hand.

  9. RockerEm responds:

    Well the show was okay. It wasn’t serious because there was nothing new to it and c’mon, Rob Mariano? I think he’s a cool guy, but that show was just for entertainment.

  10. shovethenos responds:

    While Rich deserves everyone’s respect for writing in and addressing the comments here and he sounds like a good researcher/author, I somewhat disagree with what he’s saying. There have been plenty of shows that do a good job of mixing investigations and drama/suspense/etc.

    I also think its shortsighted from a business/financial perspective. As I commented on the other thread, some of these topics are so dense that multiple episodes could be produced about a single topic. And it wouldn’t be much more expensive – almost two or more episodes for the price of one. It’s expensive to fly people out to West Virginia to shoot. It’s a lot less expensive to film the investigators talking about the evidence, sighting and media reports, previous investigations, the various theories, etc. It’s almost like they’re leaving money on the table and missing a chance to improve the quality of the show. (The dynamic I’m describing is sort of like Peter Jackson filming all three episodes of the Lord of the Rings movies at once.)

  11. captiannemo responds:

    I was pleased to see Cryptomundo post Rich’s comments.

    As usual Cryptomundo has offered a fair and balanced view of the story.

  12. Mnynames responds:

    Shovethenos, I think the reason they didn’t do as you suggested is that they have episodes consisting mostly of people talking, which for some reason they find more boring than poorly-constructed investigations with more visual flash.

    As an educator who lectures large groups of people on a regular basis, I’ve found that there are a few handy rules that guarantee the interest and positive respond of your audience-

    1) never assume that your audience is familiar with what you are talking about.

    2) never assume that your audience are idiots. Treat them like intelligent human beings, and they will usually respond in kind, particularly if they are children.

    3) A recitation of cold facts is about as exciting and memorable as someone’s shopping list. People will remember what you say if you tell them stories about it or speak in an amusing, light-hearted, or personally direct manner.

    I wish TV show producers, particularly those involved in investigation-style docu-dramas, would follow them. I think we’d all be better off.

  13. busterggi responds:

    Commendably honest fellow, I may just have to read his books.

  14. springheeledjack responds:

    The third installment was less than appealing. I love cryptozoology shows. I stalk the air waves looking for good quality stuff, and so far this is not it.

    The first episode on voodoo was way too subjective to start the season. And the bigfoot episode was way too “unserious” to care about, and the mothman stuff–while interesting, it is way too off the highway to go down with the way they are “attempting” to investigate things.

    I am so down on the show because I was hoping for so much better, and it frustrates me when the shows that are supposedly objective and supposedly honestly investigating this stuff comes off as inept and unprofessional. The cryptozoology field has enough hurdles to get over without having to overcome television programs which shoot the entire science in the proverbial foot.

    You’ve got one, maybe two more episodes to turn it around. But I am not holding my breath.

  15. youcantryreachingme responds:

    To quote: “There’s certainly no chance of finding the long-vanished (from Pt. Pleasant, anyway) Mothman

    Anyone want to create a documentary on searching for the thylacine?

    Forgive me for the die-hard thylacine-addicted commentaries :D – but you’ve got a better chance of finding a once common species, you’ve got hundreds of sightings reports, you’ve got key players, you’ve got political allegations.

    Carnivorous Nights touched it recently in book form.

  16. MrInspector responds:

    Granted, it’s television. Granted, it’s the Sci-Fi Channel. But let’s not forget the deceptive title, “Sci-Fi Investigates.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see a lot of investigating going on. Why don’t they call it “Sci-Fi rehashes old stuff and throws in a couple of almost knowns?” I guess that doesn’t roll off the tongue.

    With the money spent on this lame show and the other cheesy movies, they could actually accomplish a real investigation. I keep hoping, at some point, the networks are going to step up to the plate and provide quality programming. However, the trend apears to be higher ad prices and lower quality shows. Hence we have this cascade of faux-reality shows. Anyone here ever try to purchase ad space? Do you have any idea the amount of money involved in even the cheesiest of these projects?

    I find it highly disturbing that honest, genuine folk like Mr. Coleman are having financial difficulties, while some half-wits, who care nothing one way or the other for the subject, sit back and make a profit. We can only hope that The Mothman Curse holds true for “Sci-Fi Investigates!” (for the show not the folks involved).

  17. Rich Dolan responds:

    Hi again, guys.

    Well, I have to say that it’s gratifying that, after the very pointed observations many people made about the show, that the very same people were gracious with me personally when I took the liberty to add my own comments.

    I’d like to add my feeling from the show itself, the producers, etc., that we’re all still feeling our way through this. I would be the last person to say that “we nailed it!” But I also think the direction of the show was to make it fall somewhere between sheer entertainment on the one hand and straightforward “In Search Of …” type documentary series on the other.

    Admittedly, when I agreed to do the show, I was thinking “In Search Of ..” When I learned it wasn’t going to be that type of show, I did have some initial trepedation. Not that a UFO writer has ANY sort of reputation mind you :-) but what I wondered whether doing this show would affect whatever “reputation” I may have had with some people.

    The thing is, I’ve come to greatly respect the producers of the show, as well my fellow hosts/investigators. Including Rob Mariano. For me, the greatest mystery of all is how Rob and I became friends during this. We are so different, and yet developed a strong mutual respect and friendship. Life is strange, sometimes.

    As to why Rob is on the show, I can say this. When I first met him, he and I did NOT get along. I wondered the same thing: why is this guy here? After working with him, I think I understand why. Rob first of all was the only one of the four of us who had significant tv experience — moreover, his personality, like it or not, gives him a very strong tv presence, which is what Sci Fi execs want. He’s the kind of guy that “regular dudes” are most likely to identify with, and that’s also a segment Sci Fi wants to reach.

    Regarding Bill Doleman, btw, the man is a genuine intellectual who happens to like goofing around sometimes. I think Bill quickly learned — quicker than I did — that the show is trying to reach a broad audience, which includes a bit of fun mixed into things. Personally, I thought his calls and woops were pretty fun tv, although I wasn’t crazy about the Bigfoot woops he faked when we started our hike. Moreover, I’m sure he would admit that from an investigative point of view, the calls were quite, shall we say, unnecessary! Regarding strange and allegedly paranormal phenomena, Bill was a big enough man to move from an initial stance of — let’s say — scientific skeptic, to one far more open-minded to the complexities and difficulties of some of these topics. As someone who also spent many years in a serious academic environment, I fully understand the cultural constraints and conditioning placed on academicians and professional scientists when looking into these matters, and Bill took some serious steps toward acknowledging new perspectives.

    One last thing about Sci Fi programming. I am on good terms with a couple of the executives there. There is no question in my mind that they are genuinely committed to exploring disputed mysteries with an open mind. No question at all. But I also think they see certain constraints on how they approach this, and ultimately everything for them comes down to one thing: ratings.

    I too am not especially fond of reality shows. But like it or not, this is what TV executives EVERYWHERE see as the Present and the near term Future.

    Within that format, as many people pointed out, there is room for improvement in conducting the actual investigations. Believe me, I agree with this, and if the show gets picked up for future episodes (which yes I realize some of you fervently wish does not happen!), I can say that I and others will be trying constantly to make the show as good as possible.

    Okay, I guess that’s about it. Wishing you all the best — and btw Loren, I did NOT know that Sci Fi explored having you on, and do wish arrangements had been made to ensure your participation.

    sincerely,
    Rich Dolan

  18. Ceroill responds:

    Rich, thanks for the note. One can never predict who will become a good friend. I suspected the reason for Rob’s inclusion, as someone for the ‘Average Joe’ to identify with. Of course there’s also the factor that ‘reality tv’ and game type shows, even ‘renovation rescue’ shows are cheaper to make than character/plot shows like dramas and comedies. Good luck with the show and whatever other challenges come your way.



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