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On the Tube: 'Fearing Mind' gets inside the brain of a suspense writer

Friday, October 20, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Stalker stories are always the first type of entertainment that comes to mind when I think of "family" television. That's right behind ants scurrying out of a gaping chest wound.

Those are just two of the creepy elements (I neglected to mention the skinless face) on screen in the premiere episode of Fox Family Channel's "The Fearing Mind" (8 p.m. tomorrow).

Granted, this is the new Foxified Family Channel that already drove away all the older viewers who watched the non-Fox Family Channel, but even in this post-"Goosebumps" era, a horror-themed series seems out of place.

Regardless, "The Fearing Mind" is an intriguing show. Harry Van Gorkum stars as Bill Fearing, a horror writer along the lines of Stephen King -- only not as successful because he prefers short stories to novels.

Fearing lives with his wife (Susan Gibney), mother-in-law (Rae Allen) and daughter (Katee Sackhoff) in a small Oregon town. He's a man who spends a good bit of his time in his own mind, imagining plot twists that render him oblivious to what's going on around him, including his wife's attempts at seduction.

"I love you, Dad," his daughter says, "but it must be really weird to be inside your head."

The series jumps back and forth between Fearing's real life and re-enactments of what he imagines as he writes his latest story. The two plots are connected, because what happens in Fearing's real life often influences the direction his stories take.

When his daughter starts dating a boy Fearing suspects of being an arsonist, the creepy character in his story shares the boy's name. His wife's complaints about ants in the family's kitchen lead Fearing to make killer ants part of his story.

This unique blend of family drama and horror anthology may confuse some viewers as the tone shifts from Fearing's bubbly home life to the mildly macabre turmoil of his stories. However, "The Fearing Mind" actually maintains a pretty decent balance between the two and that should appeal to young teens. Squeamish parents, however, may find this show's presence on a family channel more fear-inducing than the network intends.

"The Fearing Mind" premieres tomorrow at 8 on Fox Family Channel.

'Shadow of the Blair Witch'
(8 p.m. Sunday, Sci-Fi Channel)

He's baaaaack.

The biggest shocks in Sci-Fi Channel's "Shadow of the Blair Witch" come with two brief appearances by former WPGH anchor John Huck as ... TV news anchor John Huck. Yikes, didn't expect to see him in this faux documentary.

Otherwise this tie-in to the movie "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" doesn't live up to the ingeniousness of "Curse of the Blair Witch," the Sci-Fi Channel tie-in to the first film.

"Shadow" probably reveals some of what happens in "Blair Witch 2," so stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled. Regardless, "Shadow" suffers from the confusion of multiple realities.

There hasn't been much information in mainstream media yet about the story of the sequel film, but this much we know: "Blair Witch 2" follows a new group of twentysomethings obsessed with the first film. It assumes the first film was just that, a film, not a documentary, but the new "Witch" crew believes the first movie depicted reality.

Jeff Patterson (actor Jeffrey Donovan in the "Blair Witch 2" movie) leads the believers into the Maryland woods, some of them die and Patterson, whose mental stability is questionable, is blamed for the killings.

In "Shadow," the "Blair Witch" sequel is assumed to be a fictional account of the events that inspired it. It's about to open in theaters and families of the people whose murders are depicted in the movie are trying to stop its release. At the same time, the "real" Jeff Patterson is headed to trial for the murders. Two accomplices, presumably characters in "Blair Witch 2," also face charges.

"Shadow of the Blair Witch" includes interviews with a Burkittsville, Md., deputy, town historian and Southern Methodist University professor of folklore. They're all actors, but they come across as "real people" just fine.

The problem with "Shadow of the Blair Witch," other than being utterly confusing, is that it tries to have it both ways, and perhaps "Blair Witch 2" does, too. For the first half, "Shadow" plays along with the new movie: The original "Blair Witch" was a film, not a documentary. But "Shadow" behaves like the story of the Blair Witch is true, even though the first film was fake. The two can be reconciled, but it's confounding, even for a "Blair Witch" fan like me.

Only fervid fans will appreciate "Shadow," let alone understand it. Anyone else is likely to agree with the Burkittsville historian, who says of the Blair Witch tale, "I think it's all asinine myself."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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