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Updated: The devil's in the details of Discovery's 'The Exorcist Files'

January 6, 2011 |  6:00 am

Blair As if there aren't enough reality shows on TV capable of scaring the bejeezus out of people, there's another one coming that's intended to do just that.

Discovery Channel, through a rare pact with the Vatican, plans to air a series this spring called "The Exorcist Files" that will dive into Roman Catholic Church investigations of real-life hauntings. Expect a lot of dramatic re-creations, since there are no plans to air actual exorcisms, according to network executives. (That's still a no-no per church rules).

[For the record: This post previously incorrectly gave the show's title as "The Exorcism Files."]

The show will revolve around the Vatican's team of exorcists, church veterans who have never been on television before or publicly discussed their work.

"When I heard the pitch I just knew we had to have this show, because the stories are fascinating and timely and the access is unprecedented," said Clark Bunting, Discovery's president and general manager. "It will raise a lot of questions."

The 10-episode order, which doesn't yet have a launch date, will also delve into the exorcists themselves -- how they were selected, their personal backgrounds and their experiences.

Though the topic's controversial, Bunting said the series would be made from the fact-based mold that's used for Discovery's other programming. Still, he's not counting out backlash from the religious community.

"We won't be telling anyone what to think," Bunting said. "We'll be telling the best stories we can."

Production company GoGo Luckey has a track record in the spooky thriller genre, producing A&E's "Paranormal State" and Discovery Channel's "Ghost Lab," along with historical mystery series "Decoded" that began last month on History.

Exorcisms are deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, and the rituals are believed to purge satanic influences from the body and soul of the afflicted.

They've long been fodder for Hollywood, where they've been used as jumping-off points for fictional and purportedly fact-based entertainment, most notably with the seminal Linda Blair flick "The Exorcist" in 1973. The latest in a long line of similarly themed movies, "The Rite" starring Anthony Hopkins, comes out later this month. It's billed as "inspired by true events," with Hopkins playing an American priest who specializes in demonic possession.

The subject has been explored on TV, but mostly under the guise of news. The magazine show "20/20" drew huge audiences and significant criticism for airing a pre-taped exorcism in the early '90s. More recently, Britain's Channel 4 ran a segment in 2005 featuring a priest performing a two-minute exorcism on a man who said he was possessed. The man reported afterward that he felt "delivered" by the ceremony, but media watchers called the whole affair sensational and sordid.

There's no shortage of shows about paranormal activity on TV, including ghost hunting and unexplained phenomena. Exorcisms take the whole genre to a new level though.

As for the Vatican, which continues to be rocked by sexual abuse scandals, officials have not shied away from commenting on Hollywood's entertainment output through Catholic Church-owned newspaper, TV and radio channels. (The pope gave a thumbs-down to "Avatar," but he digs "The Simpsons.") But the church hasn't been a participant in show business, until now.

-- T.L. Stanley

 Photo: Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller in the 1973 horror classic "The Exorcist." Credit: Warner Bros. 

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