There is no new episode of Ancient Aliens tonight, which is a relief to me, since previous episodes from this season have been nothing but repackaged reruns. It seems that viewers are noticing, since each episode for season seventeen has seen a ratings decline. After hovering around the one million viewer mark, last week’s episode fell to just 810,000 viewers, with only 130,000 in the 18-49 demographic. Slightly more young people actually watched the 12 AM rerun.
These ratings declines, however, are nothing compared to the complete failure of Hunting Atlantis on the Discovery Channel. The first episode failed to hang on to its Expedition Unknown lead in, losing a significant chunk of viewers. But each week has seen Expedition’s ratings rise while Atlantis’s ratings fell. From its high point near 700,000 live-plus-same-day viewers, Hunting Atlantis has now fallen to 532,000 viewers for the August 18 episode, the last for which ratings have been reported, with 90,000 in the 18-49 demographic. Its Expedition Unknown lead-in had twice the viewership, with more than a million viewers. This kind of failure on one of cable’s biggest channels speaks loudly about just how boring, off-putting, and unwelcome Hunting Atlantis was. But—and this is a big but—its failure will likely only encourage Discovery to see aliens and the paranormal as a better bet than non-supernatural mysteries.
Speaking of aliens—Leslie Kean gave a rare interview to Space.com this week. The UFO journalist and soon to be inspiration for an HBO Max biopic is now openly acting as an advocate for UFO causes. During the interview, she spoke about how she believes government should be restructured around UFO investigation, offering policy proposals to transform intelligence processing. She claims to know better than the Defense Department what material is kept secret appropriately and what is hidden out of fear. She called for Russia and China to form a UFO consortium with the US and demanded that UFOs’ non-human origin needs to be “stated as fact” in “written reports.” As should be obvious, this is punditry, not neutral reporting. It is also important to note that Kean asserts, with only the tiniest fig leaf of possibility otherwise, that UFOs are “objects,” that these “objects” are non-human in origin, and that they therefore must be otherworldly in origin. These points are not facts. Indeed, there remains no evidence that the many and varied phenomena collectively (and, in my view, wrongly) gathered under the UFO label contain any extraterrestrial or interdimensional subsets, or indeed that those believers assert to be extraterrestrial are themselves objects of non-human device.
During the interview, Kean alleged that we have reached the “threshold of a new paradigm,” and made some assertions that revealed how little she knows about the history of her own subject. In discussing the recent intelligence community UFO report, Galileo Project founder Avi Loeb’s UFO interests, and the mainstream media coverage of UFOs, she alleged that such “serious” interest had never happened before: “These events are unprecedented. And the media can't get enough of UFOs. Recently, for the first time, UFOs were covered by both The New Yorker and the CBS show, ‘60 Minutes.’”
Except, of course, that such events are far from unprecedented. A huge wave of UFO coverage from the late 1940s to the late 1950s was extremely similar in content and tone to the stories we see today. Stories taking UFOs seriously appeared in major publications such as Life, True, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, and dozens of others. Major broadcast media reported on it. Edward R. Murrow broadcast a report about UFOs on CBS in 1949 that was as close to identical to the 2021 60 Minutes segment as you could ask for at seven decades’ remove. The media coverage at the time discussed the high-profile scientists who took UFOs seriously and offered analysis of the phenomenon. The military’s official interest in the subject need not be pointed out here, except to note that Congress was also interested in UFOs in that period, and several calls were made for official hearings. The Air Force forestalled that with Project Blue Book.
Space.com’s Leonard David even gently prods Kean by bringing up the 1950s UFO frenzy. Instead, she offers a commercial for her new favorite websites: “I recommend paying attention to in-depth investigations, such as those from The Debrief and The Drive.”
There is nothing unprecedented about today’s UFO interest. It has all happened before, and the fact that Leslie Kean discusses 1940s and 1950s UFO research while proving she doesn’t know about the era’s media culture is rather telling. Today, UFO interest has largely faded from mainstream media, except for a few online publications trolling for clicks. Otherwise, Leslie Kean would still be in the New York Times and on CBS, not in The Debrief and Space.com.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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