Once again I gambled and accepted an invitation to “The Shirley Show,” Canada’s answer to Oprah, broadcast daily on the CTV television network.
Gambled? Well let me explain. As a skeptic on these panels, one is subjected to vilification by half a dozen other panelists, and by a majority of the audience, packed with believers. Also, there’s the problem of getting a word in edgewise.
In addition, the last time I was engaged for this program I was canceled at the last minute because one of the participants pushing the paranormal said he wouldn’t show up if I appeared on the panel. I swore never to accept an invitation to this program again. But when I heard that Budd Hopkins would be on this particular show, I couldn’t pass it up. The subject of this program was, of course, alien abductions.
When I entered the huge new studio, I had a feeling that something was different here, compared with the many other panel shows I’ve been on. The large audience had a different look: they had younger faces-and didn’t have the same appearance that I had always noted in paranormal audiences.
Something was different. When the first panelists, five “abductees,” came on and began describing their experiences, the audience began laughing and hooting.
A young couple on the panel related how they had met on a flying saucer while being experimented upon, and later cemented their relationship on earth. The woman claimed to have a young daughter, but didn’t reveal who the father was. She took over as the narrator, and went on and on with her convoluted abduction story.
The first question shouted by an audience member was “Do you take drugs?”
“Negative,” she said.
The next panelist to chime in was a father and son duo, the son being a teenager. The father, sincere and forceful, related how he first saw a bright light when hynotically regressed by Budd Hopkins. After that came the abductions, the sexual experiments, and all the other fantasies so often related by abductees.
Shirley then turned to the youth for corroboration. He couldn’t speak for his father, of course, but he said he too had similar experiences. According to his narration he was evidently regressed by his father when he was 14. A truly sad story.
The fifth panelist was a woman in her mid-sixties, who came up with a new twist: She believed that she herself was an alien. Watching Shirley carefully during the repartee I got the impression that she agreed with this panelist. The woman somehow concluded that two events proved her point. First, she claimed to have been stung by hundreds of bees when she was 2 years old-and remembered it. Second, when she was 14 years old she became pregnant-but was still a virgin!
As is usual, the second portion of the show brought out the debaters: Donna Bassett (who had been a patient of Harvard psychologist John Mack), Budd Hopkins, another man who was billed as a therapist, and myself. I use the term “debaters” rather loosely. These sessions on “The Shirley Show” are really loud, shouted arguments, with many interruptions and much vituperation. It’s every man for himself, with Shirley slowly sinking out of sight in a fog of befuddlement. And, in this case, a delighted audience applauding, booing, and shouting out embarrassing questions to the panelists.
After having the abductees speak for about half an hour, Shirley gave Bassett a chance to contribute with some well-chosen remarks for about one minute, then she finally turned to me. Great, I thought, here’s my big opportunity to contribute the many rational arguments I’ve been preparing. Shirley asks, “What’s the name of the organization you belong to?” I mention CSICOP. That’s it. No more questions. I’ve had my ten seconds of fame.
She then turns to the therapist, asking if he believes the stories he’s heard. His answer, “I can’t say I don’t believe them.”
Poor Budd Hopkins couldn’t seem to really get started. Every time he started to say something the audience laughed and interrupted. I began to feel sorry for him, because, being able to yell louder than he can, I was able to cross-examine some of the abductees-but only briefly, because they then outshouted me. In the meantime, Shirley began to look like a frightened rabbit caught in the glare of a car’s headlights.
As the program drew to a close I really aroused the ire of all of the panelists-and Hopkins. When I asked them why they appeared on talk shows like this one, one of them said that is was to help the public. Another said that they were looking for help from the public. If they needed help, I offered, why not see a psychologist or a psychiatrist instead of going on a talk show. With this, Hopkins jumped up and stormed off the platform, pausing only to shout out to his abductees, “Come on, let’s go. They don’t want us here.” But they didn’t budge. After all, the cameras were still there. Unfortunately, this, the best part of the show, was not aired. The producer, Shirley’s husband, axed it.
For myself, the most interesting part took place after the program. Before the show I had been segregated in a separate green room from the other participants-probably for my own protection. But after, when the producers had no further use for me, I had to go to another room to pick up my coat. And all the others were there, too. I was immediately accosted by Budd Hopkins and his talk show buddies. They surrounded me, hurling insults and invective. Hopkins told me what he thought of me, of CSICOP in general, and of Phil Klass in particular. I fended them off as adroitly as I could and slipped out of there, thankfully in one piece.
I later found out, thanks to the investigative diligence of my wife, Zita, who was in the audience, that the bulk of that audience consisted of students from some local colleges. Bless them all. First time I ever received applause for my opinions on a TV talk show on the paranormal. Sorry, Budd!