The Dead Files -- a clever double entendre referencing both long dormant criminal cases and the physical condition of your typical spirit -- pairs former Manhattan homicide detective Steve Di Schiavi with spirit communicator Amy Allan.
Hard nosed, Brooklyn-born cop Di Schiavi, and Colorado-based medium Allan couldn't be much more different in temperament and technique as they independently investigate alleged haunted locations using their respective skills and gifts before comparing results at the end of the show.
If the first episode is any indication, the corroboration between those independently gained discoveries pack an astonishing punch in this well produced and captivating show.
In fact, the remarkable communicative abilities Allan displays on camera may go a long way toward rehabilitating the reputation of mediums everywhere, battered once again with recent accusations of fraud against UK psychic Sally Morgan.
In the debut -- airing tonight at 10pm -- Steve and Amy travel to a farmhouse in rural central New York to investigate paranormal activity reported by the homeowner, an eccentric L.A. transplant named Elvis.
After interviewing Elvis and exploring the house, Steve ventures forth into the community to glean information about the history of the property and its former residents, chatting with neighbors and local officials, poring over old newspapers and public records - in short, doing good old fashioned detective work.
With Steve and Amy strictly quarantined from each other, after Di Schiavi completes his tour of the house, old photographs and potentially revealing objects are removed from the home and Allan is brought in cold to communicate directly with resident spirit(s) in an effort to understand the circumstances and particulars of their death(s) and figure out why they are, you know, hanging around.
As she walks through the house, Allan relays bits of information, 101 details, as they come to her; even physically assuming the perspective of entities present in the house and visibly agonizing over their causes of death, describing their physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms from the "inside."
It's harrowing to observe and must be vastly more harrowing to experience.
The information Steve and Amy gather is remarkable each in its own way, but when they reveal their independent findings to the homeowner Elvis, the implications are profound and jolting.
I had the pleasure of talking recently with Amy and Steve about the show and their involvement.
How did the show come about?
Amy Allan: I got a call a couple of years ago from Jim Casey at Painless Productions about doing a paranormal show. I explained my methodology -- I usually work with two other investigators because we look at correlational factors -- so we had to make some tweaks, but I was very lucky to be able to work with Painless because they upheld the integrity of what we were doing.
I've been put in situations before where the "sensitives" knew where they were going and that really pisses me off. I really wanted it to be done the Right Way, and they did it the Right Way - it turned out really well.
Steve Di Schiavi: That was the issue with me as well. My reputation on the force was impeccable and I didn't want it tainted with some kind of "ghost hunting" nonsense. I wanted it to be real and I didn't want the way I investigate to be compromised on the show. Painless was really good about it.
I was "discovered" from a documentary I did in '04 for ABC while I was still with NYPD. Someone saw me on that and thought maybe I could help Amy out with this show. It's two completely different kinds of investigations. There are a lot of great detectives out there who could do what I do on the show, but Jim thought I would fit in with Amy and it worked out very well.
I've said this about a thousand times now, I don't so much believe in the paranormal but I believe in Amy 110%. That's my attitude towards it - what she does is incredible. She has a gift.
It certainly is! The correlation between the information you each dig out using completely different -- almost mirror image opposite -- techniques is astonishing.
Amy, how does this work for you? Is this something you can turn on and turn off?
AA: For the most part. I really really try to turn it off often. (Laughs) But sometimes people can get through, so I just have to deal with it. I don't always sleep well.
So this affects your sleep and everyday life?
AA: Yes, definitely. My whole life. My parents tell me I used to say my [dead] grandmother was there when I was very little. My first direct recollection is from when I was about four and there were "shadow people" who would come at night and talk to me at our home in Arvada, CO. Unfortunately, that was not a very good first memory.
Were you afraid?
AA: I definitely became afraid of the shadow people because they tried to kill me, so I knew they were bad.
That seems reasonable!
But as far as dealing with "regular" dead people, I wasn't afraid because I didn't really comprehend what was going on until I was older, a teenager, and then I was afraid I was crazy. I had a really hard time at school and with friends because strange things would happen around me all the time. It's been really really difficult.
I can hear ambivalence in your voice about it even now.
AA: It's been a rough last few weeks. I've had a lot of dreams and people showing up. I'm kind of stressed out by it.
Steve, what is your perception of how Amy does what she does?
SDS: I come from a background of dealing with death from a totally different perspective than Amy's. I worked homicide for ten years, plus 22 years on the street [as a police officer] so I've seen a lot of dead people, but Amy SEES dead people.
A lot of that stuff still haunts me, in a different way from the way it bothers Amy, but I have my own demons to deal with. I try not to think about the stuff I've seen. A lot of cops drink - that's an issue. And we joke about things in a pretty dark way.
A lot of memories have been coming up lately because of the 9/11 anniversary. I don't think I'd be able to handle what Amy goes through. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to handle it. I'm a firm believer that God only gives you what you can handle. Amy is gifted this way, and I think she's meant to help people.
I think together we can help people. I'm pretty good at talking to people and getting them to open up -- confession was my strong point on the force and I'm a good interrogator - not that I'm interrogating people on the show...
AA: A little bit...
SDS: Okay, a little bit. But the point is while I'm talking to these people if they try to bullshit me, I'll see right through it. No one is going to make a farce of Amy and me just to get on TV. I'm not going to allow it. I told the producers, once I think someone is lying I'm going to call them on it. I'm not going to jeopardize mine or Amy's reputation just so someone can get on TV.
The producers set up where we are going - Amy can't have been there before so nothing gets compromised. And I don't want to know anything about the case in advance, either, so that my questioning won't be influenced.
I ask the hard questions: "Do you drink during the day?" No one asks those kinds of questions on TV. Everyone believes what everybody says on some of these other shows.
So how do you conceptualize what Amy does?
SDS: I want to believe in an afterlife. I really want to believe, but I come from a bad background, I guess it's a police background. I've seen so much death and devastation that it's hard for me to believe that there is a God. When I see a baby that's been microwaved in an oven... It's been better since I retired. I was bitter. I had an edge because I was dealing with misery all the time for 25 years.
Amy's going through some of the same things when she feels other people's death, but in an even more intense way. I empathize with her even though I can't feel exactly what she's going through.
I hope there's a better place, I hope our soul lives on, and Amy's ability has kind of comforted me in that way.
She's seeing things and gathering very specific information, and I KNOW she has no way of knowing these things in advance. So... something is happening. That gives me hope.
What was most remarkable about the first episode?
SDS: Amy knew, just from being there, that Elvis, the homeowner, had opened a portal and allowed this to happen. He finally admitted it to me when I was interviewing him, but it took a long time and he was very hesitant to talk about it. But Amy just knew this had happened, that he had intentionally opened the portal. At the end of the show, Amy tells him to shut the door, and he just says, "We'll see."
AA: His goal was to turn the house into a Bed and Breakfast. Maybe he wanted a haunted Bed and Breakfast, although people aren't going to want to be attacked in the middle of the night.
Right, there are haunted Bed and Breakfasts and there are HAUNTED Bed and Breakfasts!