In many respects, the New Age industry owes a nod to The Amazing Criswell, that natty Nostradamus immortalized in Ed Wood's masterpiece, "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Though it's doubtful that his TV show, which aired in Los Angeles during the 1950s, did much for the reputation of psychics (he once divined aliens would hold an interstellar convention in Las Vegas), Criswell was one of the first hucksters to make the cosmology racket a source of television entertainment.
Through ensuing years of tabloid journalism and daytime TV,
the clairvoyant set managed to bury their image as a bunch of overweight Eastern European women. They reinvented themselves as everyday, white-trash people who loved talking with bored housewives about relationships and celebrities. But it wasn't until 1984, when Shirley Maclaine wrote her biography of her past lives, Out on a Limb, that the New Age gained something resembling credibility.
Today, people read The Celestine Prophecy on the subway and don't hide the dust jacket. They eschew reliable drugs and surgical techniques for herb-toting holistic doctors. They listen to Greek sensation Yanni without shame.
New Age Incorporated is in full production, and one woman wants to be its CEO. Her name is Linda Georgian, and according to her extrasensory perception, she's soon going to be more than just our Psychic Friend.
The same journalists who persecuted Joe Klein for not letting them in on his Primary Colors/Anonymous racket look down on asking interview subjects for autographs. As Georgian gives my fate a quick glance over the phone, I wonder where free psychic readings fit into the ethical scheme of things.
"Your aura's looking good," says Dionne Warwick's nasal-voiced companion on the Psychic Friends Network infomercials. "It's yellow and green around the edges. That's money. You must be looking for advancement..."
I'm thinking, "If you're so good with career forecasts, then why didn't you read yourself last year?"
In September, Georgian's profitable run with Warwick and PFN came to a momentary close when she stuck parent company Inphomation Communications of Baltimore with a lawsuit. She claimed they owed her several million in compensation, and she made the shocking accusation that PFN used phony mediums.
No sooner had a Linda Georgian Psychic Network infomercial hit the airwaves (and what an info-gem it was, featuring Richard Roundtree of "Shaft" as the flabbergasted and amazed celebrity) than Georgian abruptly rejoined the network in early August. A month later, the "psychic to the stars" as she bills herselfwas once again embracing Warwick and all the grateful second-rate actors on the purple PFN set. Hugs are big with the $10-million-a-month operation.
"Because of the size that the company had grown, and the number of people working for it, I felt that I was not able to communicate the way I wanted to," she insists in the same confident tone that's assured thousands of desperate people about their destinies. "And so it just took some time for everyone to come together to see what we really wanted to do."
Georgian says she saw the problems coming but ignored them, letting trust cloud her better judgment. The skeptic who's inclined to scoff might consider that perhaps she knew everything PFN had in store for her future, and played her cards to get more out of it. After all, this former health teacher has mapped a successful cosmic chart for her career so far.
Already, she's something of an ubiquitous information entity, ensconced not only in info-television, but just about every medium. She has written three books, Your Guardian Angels, Create Your Own Future, and Communicating with the Dead; she occasionally hangs out at the "Psychic Friends Cyberzone" ; and is a regular on the daytime talk show and radio circuits. The column of political predictions she did for the August issue of George might even become a regular gig, she says.
Her Christian-friendly source of psychic power, which blends astrology and Catholicism (angels do her prognosticating), and has probably helped the 50-year-old Floridian to eclipse her tabloid forebear Jeanne Dixon in popularity and name recognition. Now she wants moreher own psychic/holistic talk show.
Instead of focusing primarily on the paranormal, like NBC's canceled series "The Other Side," Georgian wants to blend into the mix alternative medicine, angels, famous people, and, of course, herself. If we learned anything from the time, not so long ago, when any Cosby kid or "Beverly Hills 90210" reject could get their own program, it's that successful talk shows are personality driven.
"I'm empathetic and kind and honest," she says. "I do believe that comes across on camera."
But for the show to have any chance of survival, Georgian must find a way to steer her image out of the Info Zone, that deceptively peaceful cable TV void that sucked in Warwick and Cher. It is a place that inverts stars into nobodies faster than Dr. Juice's Juice Tiger can make a broccoli shake. And the Zone's homegrown celebrities, like Susan "stop-the-insanity!!!" Powter or the dufus who wore those dorky sweaters on "Amazing Discoveries" for instance, haven't been able to escape the void either; they're too busy staving off the one-year expiration date stamped on most every infomercial. PFN comes closer to respectability than its info-cousins, having been perennially successful since launching in 1991. It's Georgian 's best escape hatch. Her own infomercial would have more than likely spelled quick obscurity.
Los Angeles-based Four-Point Entertainment, producer of "The Other Side" and "American Gladiators," has shown interest in taking the "Linda Georgian Show" out of the crystal ball and into reality, perhaps next fall. Not only would such an enterprise make Georgian the most powerful New Age entertainer of our time (excluding cult leaders), but it would elevate the movement to a new level of public acceptance. Georgian is betting the world is ready.
"The time is now," she says. "With everything going on right now with the mind and angels and sightings and the mysteries of the unknown...people are seeking out their own answers. And it's the same thing in health as it is with the psychics. The interest is there."
STEVE WILSON is a Brooklyn-based writer who has written for Travel Holiday,
Entertainment Weekly, Paper and Operations & Fulfillment, a trade covering the
Photos copyright © 1996 Pyschic