Ghost Listeners

It's Penn State and "Paranormal State" in the Bizarre Bowl.

Load up on the carbs and corpses; this one looks like sudden death.

What it is, actually, is a gripping, chilling ghost story that would have the Nittany Lion turning tail.

But these tales are for real: "Paranormal State," "starring" the Paranormal Research Society of Penn State, is reality TV at its reel frightening best.

"The Exorcist: The College Years"?

"Sure," laughs Gary Auerbach. "Why not?"

He should know; he's the A&E Monday-night series exec producer. As co-founder — with his wife Julie — of Go Go Luckey Productions, he's been on the go-go with the company for the past five years.

But luck has little to do with it. The University of Delaware grad wears his success well, graduating from hit to hit way before that with a bio that bulges with credits on "The Jon Stewart Show" and "Running With Scissors."

Cut to the chase in 2003: He found a major success as exec producer/creative consultant on "Punk'd"

So, what was he as a kid, some college punk who attended cinema classes attired in shades, the Wilmington Whiz, blocking out scenes in the college cafeteria, answering the line cook's question of "What do ya want?" with "Actually, I want to direct"?

"I was a math major," avers Auerbach, 48, setting the trapezoidal trap.

Back to square one: "I earned a B.S. in math, which, when you think of it, is the [appropriate] thing to earn" with such a major.

He's earned much more since. TV's "Singled Out" exec has been singled out with a number of awards, including the prestigious Peabody for the documentary "Decade."

It's been quite a decade for the former math major with the nonformulaic career pattern, who has gone from the known — "Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County," just aired on MTV — to the unknown, the ectoplasmic exotic "Paranormal State," in which people seize dead people as their next door neighbors.

A-haunting we will go? It's as eerie as can be as investigators from the Penn State PRS — abetted by professional psychologists — travel to cases in which ghosts have been conjured up and set down in people's homes.

"Ghost Whisperers" for the arty cable crowd? Ghost shouters as the researchers — part of a student-run, university-sanctioned club with demanding standards — dig up materials and mysteries.

The State College students are headed up by Ryan Buell, whose childhood experience with the unknown unveiled an interest in this intrigue. He's not a natural to host the Spirit Awards; he comes off as he is, a 23-year-old with faith that there is something out there that may have scared off Scully and Mulder.

The A&E files? One in a new brand of programming for the network. From this they could develop occult — and a cult of young viewers.

And who better to do the networking than a talented TV titan such as Auerbach? Not only did the cable crowd crow about their catch, so did Mr. and Mrs. Auerbach. When he told his mom and dad he was 86-ing math for the TV matrix, "like most Jewish parents in Brooklyn, they said, 'We believe in you.' "

Believe it. "They especially like it when they see my name in the credits," says Auerbach.

Credit him for bringing out the best in this series, though he himself likes to credit "Ryan … such a passionate and articulate [college] kid," who founded PRS six years ago.

A Karloff Kid
Not that Auerbach is a stranger to this strange land. A Karloff Kid? "I've always been interested in that world of ghosts and horror movies," he says.

In a business where the medium is the message — a vastly different concept as initially exhumed by Marshall McLuhan — this is spiritual TV without the religion.

Or is it? While clearly Christian, Buell avows that no ghost will be denied entrance to the group's schedule, no matter anyone's belief — except, of course, for belief that there are such things.

Is there a Golem to go for a future episode? "One or two of the clients have been Jewish," says Auerbach of those asking help of the PRS.

And certainly, the group invites catholic clients. "It's really a question of good versus evil," he adds, rather than religious beliefs explored on the series.

But then, the mist of mysticism shrouds Judaism, too, Auerbach says, referring to the Kabbalah. Call it what you will, just call it a spectral success.

"If there is another season," says its producer, "we've been talking about bringing different clergy on board who would deal with" issues.

After life is over, are the boys and ghouls left wandering in the dark waiting for a new turn at TV stardom? While some may question the events' veracity, this is surely no sham — and no joke, emphasizes Auerbach. There is no script after all (and even if the writers' strike were settled, there still would not be).

Indeed, not only does Auerbach have faith in the show; he's become a believer. That's the spirit: Just don't ask him to take time out to hang out with the PRS Society in the wee hours of the morning. After all, 3 a.m. is known as prime time for "dead time," when all the spirits break out the spirits and come out. "It's known as the anti-Christ hour, because Jesus died at 3 p.m."

Paranormal? It would be abnormal to see the director out and about at that hour.

After all is said and done — and died — ghosts, schmosts … "I'm asleep at 9:30," says the executive of spectral vision. "I have a 5-year-old."



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