Sensing Murder episode reruns questioned
The decision to rerun popular reality television show Sensing Murder is being labelled as disappointing but not surprising.
The mother of victim Jane Furlong, whose story was investigated by psychics as part of the series, says victims' families should have been warned about the reruns to avoid shock.
And while some families embraced the show for the possiblility of finding out more about their loved ones' final moments, another was "incensed" after one of the show's psychics claimed to have solved the case.
Four seasons of the high-rating show originally aired on TVNZ in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 and almost six years later it's making a comeback.
Sensing Murder follows Kiwi psychics Kelvin Cruickshank and Sue Nicholson, and Aussie medium Deb Webber, as they investigate high-profile unsolved cases.
For those unfamiliar with the show, on separate days, two psychics are given a photo of the victim.
The show's producers say they know nothing going in. They are filmed as they communicate with the victim's spirit and deduce, before our very eyes, the background of the victim, the facts of the case and the cause of death.
Sometimes they name a killer.
Then the psychic is bundled into a car and using their sixth sense as a kind of GPS locates the spot where the killing happened.
If we're lucky, we might also learn where the body went.
During the show the psychics claimed to know things like where the body of Auckland woman Jane Furlong was buried and who murdered Lesley Calvert in 1977.
Subsequent police investigations proved the show's stars got it wrong.
Despite not being instrumental in solving any of the cases tackled in the Sensing Murder series, Cruickshank and Nicholson continue to make a decent living from their psychic services.
Cruickshank, who recently released an autobiography, hosts exclusive events from $2000 weekend psychic workshop retreats to evenings talks at $65 a ticket.
Meanwhile, Nicholson, who is also known for her role as a medium on TVNZ's Good Morning show, charges $200 an hour for providing her services via Skype.
A SCEPTICAL VIEW
Sceptics put any correct information the psychics uncover down to "cold reading".
In the past sceptic Vicki Hyde has described this as a combination of basic psychology, flattery, suggestion and statistics.
The psychics start with a general statement like you had a much-loved pet as a child, then narrow it down based on facial expressions and other signals.
Some critics suspect the Sensing Murder psychics are just fishing in this same way with production company Ninox editing out bad guesses or dead ends.
Others claim the show uses "hot reading" where the psychics know the answers in advance and are acting the whole process.
New Zealand Skeptics chairman Mark Honeychurch said while he was not surprised by TVNZ's decision to rerun season four of Sensing Murder, he was disappointed.
"Unfortunately, it seems like the popularity of psychics never seems to wane that much."
Being able to talk to the dead would be a "pretty cool superpower" if it were real, Honeychurch said.
"It's something people would like to be true.
"Some people are willing to not look at the evidence enough."
The show did not offer families anything when it aired the first time round and that wasn't going to change, he said.
WHAT THE FAMILIES THINK
Honeychurch said Sara Niethe's family and friends were "incensed" when Nicholson claimed she solved the case after Niethe's ex-boyfriend Mark Pakenham admitted to killing her in 2013, 10 years after her disappearance.
Nicholson later said her words were taken out of context.
In 2012, Jane Furlong's body was found in the sand dunes at Port Waikato south of Auckland, almost 20 years after the part-time sex worker went missing.
In the 2007 Sensing Murder episode on Furlong's disappearance, Cruickshank confidently claimed the 17-year-old's body was still "inside the city". He also referred to jackhammers and concrete, suggesting she was buried beneath a construction site.
"How many times do they have to be wrong before it becomes blindingly obvious that these psychic performances are just exploitative guessing games?", NZ Skeptics asked in 2012.
While the Sensing Murder crew couldn't pick the location of Furlong's body, her mother Judith Furlong says she has nothing against the programme or psychics in general.
"I think it helps some people, if they believe in it."
Furlong said she was part of the process when the episode was made, she participated in an interview and suggested people who could be helpful.
She's also stayed in touch with the show's investigator Duncan Holland.
Furlong said it was against her religion to consult with psychics but she was a "liberal thinker".
However, the Auckland woman was concerned about how the reruns may affect other families.
Furlong said she would have had "such a shock" if she had turned on the television to see the episode about her daughter without prior warning.
In 2010 Lindsay Calvert contacted the show's producers in a last-ditch effort to clear his name in relation to his wife's death.
Lesley Calvert was found dead on a remote King Country farm in February 1977. Her killer was never found.
The psychics concluded Calvert was murdered, but her husband was not responsible.
Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Coward said the man the psychics described was questioned but no further evidence was gained.
A TVNZ spokeswoman said the repeats would continue until the network's new programming kicked off in February.
The families involved signed up to repeats when the programme was made and the show remained under licence to TVNZ, meaning none of the families legally had to be alerted to the reruns.
"We are pleased to see such strong ratings for the series, proving it still resonates with Kiwis today," she said.