The talk show format has been done to death--literally. In the last few years, the list of name-talent hosts who have passed on to the talk-show graveyard is long, from "Donny and Marie," "The Howie Mandel Show" and "The Magic Hour" to "The Roseanne Show" and "The Martin Short Show." But before anyone plays the death knell of the genre, a totally new twist has breathed life into it. The format is simple: A noncelebrity host communicates with guests who have "crossed over"--in other words, are dead. He then relays their messages to their living loved ones in the studio audience.
No booking wars here. The Sci-Fi Channel's "Crossing Over With John Edward" is a hit and is one of the cable network's first entrees into nonscripted programming. The half-hour show can be seen Sunday through Thursday, with the Sunday installment an hour version of the show. Since premiering in July last year, "Crossing Over" has boosted ratings 33% over the same time period the previous year, to a daily average of 533,000 households. Perhaps more importantly, the show is attracting more female viewers to the traditionally male-skewing Sci-Fi Channel. While women generally make up 45% of Sci-Fi's audience, "Crossing Over's" audience is 60% women.
The sudden success has come as a shock to everyone involved. Well, not exactly everyone.
"I'm not shocked," says John Edward, the psychic medium namesake of the show. "I know what peoples' interests are." He notes that, in general, people are "developing a new sense of spiritual understanding universally."
At 31, the no-nonsense host doesn't fit the stereotype of a psychic medium. (A psychic medium is someone who allegedly can predict the future and may see things from the past. A psychic becomes a medium when the spirits communicate through the psychic.) The New York native comports himself as a regular guy who lives on Long Island with his wife.
When Edward hosts the show, he stands in front of the audience and with no fanfare or props--like Tarot cards or crystals--starts communicating with the dead family and friends of audience members. He determines who the information is meant for by where the energy is pulling him in the audience and by the "facts" that the dead are giving him to validate their presence.
These details often sound downright bizarre to the viewer, such as "I'm getting a Devil Dog connection here," or "Do you have a part of her body with you?" but often cause the recipient to dissolve in emotion, believing that the only way Edward would have this information is if their dead loved one is supplying it. Yet, Edward never chokes up or betrays a trace of sentimentality as he delivers information rapid-fire. He's like a psychic short-order cook, barking out personal messages then moving on to the next person. Put plainly, there's nothing remotely warm and fuzzy about the guy and that's the way he likes it.
'What Would I Want to Hear?'
"I read people as if I were the person being read," explains Edward. "My whole focus is, what would I want to hear? I know that everybody wants to hear that their [loved ones] are OK and they love them and that they're with them and all that mushy-gushy new age [nonsense] but that's not me. As a medium, my job is to validate [the spirit's] presence, and the only way that I can do that is with facts. I'm not paying attention to what I'm saying. I'm literally playing psychic charades. I see, hear, feel it and interpret it. It's very draining but very rewarding."
Edward maintains there are no differences between doing televised readings or doing group or private readings that aren't aired. He prepares the same way by meditating and praying before he begins. Edward says regardless of the venue, it's all the same for him.
But for the spirits, it's not. Some are private and just don't like the limelight.
"If somebody has a family member who was in life shy or whose family doesn't want them to disclose a lot of their business, it's not going to happen," he says.
But apparently, plenty of spirits do not suffer from stage fright. In perhaps his most compelling reading on the show, Edward continued to point to the back of the studio, saying that a male figure to the side (brother, friend, cousin) was coming through who passed in a car accident or in an impact and that there was somebody connected with a name that sounded like "Tony." In addition, he said, "There's like a Rick, there's a Rich, there's some type of R connection. There's an educational feeling to this, like somebody's the teacher, they're known as the teacher. There is a 16 connection to this and there's a falls, something falls."