Lost Signals: Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction? (1997)
With the end of Tales from the Crypt in 1996 came the death of the anthology television show. Once a common television format, anthologies have gone all but extinct nowadays. Before completely dying off, however, FOX took one last stab at re-inventing the formula with their introduction of the mystery anthology show Beyond Belief in 1997.
Rather than offering written segments every week, this new series offered a gimmick that was fun and allowed audiences to participate. Every week the host of the show would air a group of dramatic segments that often featured stories and situations too incredible to be true. Often times, the segments involved stories about karma, revenge, murder, hauntings, fate, and miracles. The host would then ask the audience if the story we’d just seen was completely made up by a writer, or if it was based on a true story.
At the end of every show, they’d run down the list of segments and let us know which of the segments we’d just seen were complete fiction or based on fact. Often times, the results were incredibly surprising, and other times the keen audience member could figure out what stories were completely bogus. The series was at first hosted by the great James Brolin, and then brought back after a hiatus with Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation) hosting.
As you might guess, FOX aired the series in the middle of the summer on Friday nights when almost no one would be home to watch. I watched it every single week and anxiously awaited its return every year. FOX would air the series every summer, and then after a whole year return it again the next summer for a few months. Much to their surprise, the series garnered a cult following that kept the struggling show on the air in spite of FOX’s best efforts to bury it in ratings hell.
And why wouldn’t it garner an audience? Beyond Belief was a mixture of clever and scary, with segments that really hit home, whether they were based on fact or not. While James Brolin originally hosted, his episodes aren’t the best as his attempts to titillate the audience come off like a grandpa telling a scary story to his grand kids before bed time. Once Jonathan Frakes came aboard to host, however, the show really hit its stride. Frakes, with his theatrical presence and ability to build suspense, was a great addition to the show.
Beyond Belief was often similar to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, where the host would introduce an element to the audience that was in some way connected to the stories in the episode. Frakes would often introduce an illusion for the audience, and discuss how the night’s stories would be about seeing more than meets the eye. He’d begin a show discussing old time radio and how noise was a big part of the show, and then discuss a next segment about an old woman being haunted. As I mentioned before, every story involved someone someone getting what they deserved.
Sometimes the stories were scary and other times the stories were heartbreaking. In one story, a young girl is stuck in a cave under her house after a huge earthquake and is kept alive by the soothing voice of her dead grandfather, only for us to discover it was the family’s parrot mimicking him. Another story involved a divorced couple re-uniting after years apart thanks to a mysterious DJ playing a song they both loved, only to find out neither of them made the song request. There’s also the story of a blind man’s dog that howls every time someone is about to die, and a family haunted by spooky red eyes in their house.
My favorite story of the series involves a naive old woman whose grandson is in constant trouble with local gangs. Due to the fact she lives in a crime infested neighborhood, her grandson hires a mysterious locksmith to install a secure lock on the front door ensuring it’ll keep only bad people out. Much to the old ladies’ surprise, her overly trusting heart is saved when the door lock won’t open for anyone who is intent on breaking in and threatening her life. Oddly, it opens for people she can trust. The ending is quite memorable as it finishes on a twist that I really liked.
Beyond Belief had an addictive quality to it, and thankfully it managed to air on FOX for four seasons from 1997 to 2002, before it was finally cancelled. It has since gained a respectable following among genre fans, many of whom still recall the series fondly. You could never really be sure what surprises awaited you on the series, and since its end, the show has thankfully been kept alive through syndication in America, the UK, and in Germany. Here in America, it aired for a few years on the Syfy Channel and it still runs every so often on Chiller. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a decent DVD release somewhere down the road, as it’s still as addictive as ever.