Will TV3' s psychics stay on air? Only they can tell

Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 01:00

FOR A GUY powerful enough to foresee fires in people’s homes a year and a half from now, Flathan needs to focus his powers on himself for a change.

Who’s Flathan? If you hang on at the dregs of the TV night – post-Vincent Browne, pre-teleshopping, mid-insomnia – you will find him. He is in a mock wooden cabin. Hosting Psychic Readings Live on TV3. With an accent that is part Zsa Zsa Gabor, part eating-something-really-hot.

And when he shuffles his tarot cards the sound is loud enough to distract the late-bulletin newsreader on RTÉ.

If you call Flathan his awesome gift will tell you what will happen, what country you are going to, who you will go with, why you are going (the fire in one woman’s flat in a year and half’s time. Really). But Flathan has a weakness, a foe determined to take the shuffle out of his deck: the troll.

So Flathan and his TV3 colleagues Psychic Wayne and Countess Nadia Starella have been the subject of a recent hunt. Seemingly genuine people call in, at €2.44 a minute, for a “quick and accurate” reading live on TV3, only to then reveal their nefarious motives by shouting an obscenity, telling the psychic they’re talking rubbish or, in a famous exchange posted on YouTube, pretending to be Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The psychics don’t, of course, see it coming nearly as clearly as you foresaw that obligatory didn’t-see-it-coming-psychics joke.

But there is sometimes a flicker of recognition a moment before someone metaphorically whips back their curtain. A hint of what’s to come, written in their faces rather than their cards, as the phone goes silent for a moment, as the caller’s voice rises an octave.

Any connoisseur of the Sky box will know that such programmes are commonplace down the channels where viewers wander only at night. This, however, is new to Irish television, but controversy around it will remind TV3 of a past life, when it ran Play TV in 2009 and 2010, before finally dropping it because of what it claimed were poor ratings – and not because the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland upheld numerous complaints against the show or because the phone-line regulator ordered that tens of thousands of euro be refunded to callers who had tried to solve misleading puzzles.

During that period TV3 claimed Play TV was all perfectly above board. “It is the most restricted TV programme out there. It answers to ComReg, RegTel and BAI and it went to air with their approval,” it said. It was, it turned out, perhaps the most deeply unfair quiz show Irish television has ever seen.

And now the BAI will likely once again find itself having to stay up past its bedtime. An exhaustive Boards.iethread, triggered by the original claims of a blogger, Alan Rice, sifted through the photographs of Psychic Readings Live’s available off-screen “psychics” and found it was using stock images. Mistique? Actually available to Germans with stock-shot needs. Psychic Cheryl? “A beautiful African American woman isolated on grass”. And so on.

According to posters on Boards.ie, some screen grabs were made before Psychic Readings Live removed the images from its website and replaced them with, in many cases, stock shots of planets aligning, tarot cards and the like. Claims of false advertising were made; contact numbers were included for anyone who wants to complain. One troll caller ended on that note: “They don’t have Play TV anymore so I can’t try and lose my money, okay. I’ll try and save it . . . I’ll be in touch with BAI soon.”

TV3 has said that it has no responsibility for Psychic Readings Live, that it is an infomercial, produced by a third party, and that it meets all of ComReg’s premium phone-line and broadcasting regulations. Its maker is Eso.tv, which also distances itself from the host broadcaster in its terms and conditions.

Eso.tvdescribes Psychic Readings Live as being “for entertainment purposes only” (although its best line in the terms and conditions is: “Neither the Producer nor the Broadcaster have any knowledge or psychic ability”).

While Twitter and Boards crackle with discussion about each night’s two-hour broadcast, it is a grim entertainment. The trolls are a tiny number of callers. The rest are gullible or desperate enough to call a TV psychic at premium rates. (The maximum allowable spend per call is €60.) And for information with all the validity of, well, a late-night psychic call-in show.

The only thing worth watching is how this plays out in coming months. Do TV3 and Psychic Readings Live have a future together? Will their relationship last? Or will it be spoiled by a mysterious caller? Someone shuffle that testcard.

Twitter: @shanehegarty

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