Growing UFO Interest Spawns Cable, Streaming Shows
Recent government reports on possible alien sightings spur rash of related content
Recent government reports involving unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have given a shot of adrenaline to the UFO documentary series genre.
Showtime and Travel Channel, along with streaming services Peacock and Discovery Plus, are gearing up UFO-themed nonfiction series as more interest in the genre is piqued by government reports that, for the time in history, have at least acknowledged the possibility that we might not be alone in the universe.
“The genre is so rich with stories from Roswell to Betty and Barney Hill’s abduction that are fascinating,” Travel Channel general manager Matt Butler said, referring to the New Mexico site that was home to a famous UFO incident and a New Hampshire incident from the 1960s. “When you overlay this government document and the potential that there are things that we can’t explain, I think people get naturally curious.”
With the intelligence community’s recently released report summarizing government knowledge of unidentified aerial phenomena — and following continued interest in the 2017 New York Times story revealing the Pentagon had been secretly tracking UFOs for years — programmers are positioning to capitalize on increased interest in the phenomenon.
Showtime in August will air UFO, a four-part docuseries from J.J. Abrams that explores the fascination with the topic and what ulterior motives the government might have in keeping information quiet.
Discovery Plus is currently streaming a new limited documentary series dubbed Roswell: The Final Verdict, which explores the 74th anniversary of the most infamous extraterrestrial incident in U.S. history. Butler said the docuseries — along with other genre-specific network series such as UFOs: The Lost Evidence and UFO: Uncovering the Truth — have looked to shine a light on a subject that has fascinated audiences for generations.
In June, sibling networks Discovery Channel, Science Channel and Travel Channel simulcasted a three-hour live special that delved further into the U.S. director of intelligence’s unclassified Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. The special featured such government experts as NASA administrator Bill Nelson, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and retired intelligence officer Bob Wallace to discuss the findings from the expected intelligence report. Reid helped persuade the Senate to finance an investigation into UFOs, and the retired Nevada senator has been active in pursuing UFO truths.
Aided by New Video Tech
Along with the government report, Butler said new video technology that has better aided both pilots and civilians in capturing images of unidentified objects has also helped create additional curiosity about the genre.
“The topic has always been popular, but the government release of the documents brought people back to the topic,” Butler said, adding that the network’s most-watched shows include UFO-themed content. “The technology helped people share experiences that they are having, which really wasn’t the case before. It really does get people to think about the topic.”
While UFO-themed programming typically draws an older and mostly male viewer, networks such as Peacock hope new UFO-themed shows such as an upcoming limited series with singer/actress Demi Lovato will bring in a decidedly younger viewer to the genre. The four-part series, Unidentified with Demi Lovato, will attempt to uncover the truth about the UFO phenomena as Lovato — along with her sister and UFO-skeptic best friend — explore eyewitness encounters and secret government reports.
“Demi brings a huge, young audience to the show, but I think the subject matter alone brings a broad audience to it,” Rod Aissa, executive VP of unscripted content for NBCUniversal, said. “Demi is not an expert, but she is curious, and wants to go out and find out more. I think she is the eyes of the every-person and they will tune in.”
Catching Aliens on Camera
Butler added that shows like Travel’s Caught on Camera, which examines viewer-submitted paranormal videos as well as UFO-related YouTube clips, have helped move the genre away from traditional UFO documentaries that featured recreated scenes of alien encounters and more into the reality genre that has greater appeal to younger viewers.
As more information is revealed about UFOs, executives said interest in content surrounding the category will only grow. Butler said Travel Channel in August will explore potential UFO activity in New York’s Hudson Valley as part of its Shock Docs franchise. Two other Shock Docs episodes set to premiere later this year will focus on famous cased of alleged alien abduction.
“We’re all poised to just jump in and tell some of those stories that may or may not have been classified up to this point,” he said.
Added Aissa: “The ongoing question about aliens allows for us to come in the door of curiosity, whether you’re scared about aliens, or whether you’re hoping that they’ll come and fix health conditions, it hits right in the bull’s-eye of curiosity.”
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.