2009-10-08 / Community
Kids explore paranormal in Cartoon Network show
Standing in the dark in the narrow hallway of a former youth correctional facility in Whittier, Calif., Riley Litman felt two strong pokes on his arm. The Oak Park teen turned but could not see anything or anyone.
“I freaked out because I couldn’t find an explanation,” said Riley, 17.
The experience was all in a day’s work for Riley and four other local teens who make up “The Othersiders,” a Cartoon Network show. The reality show follows five students as they explore various California locations that have been the subjects of paranormal reports.
Using thermal cameras, voice recorders and other equipment, the group has investigated the Lincoln Heights jail in Los Angeles, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the Mojave Airport boneyard and the Morey Mansion Inn in Redlands, among other reportedly haunted sites. Orbs, apparitions, strange voices and the unexplained movement of objects have all been among the teens’ experiences.
“It’s really scary, because you really don’t know what’s going to happen when you go into these places,” said team member Sam Hirsch of Oak Park. “It’s been a great experience, but I have to say it’s a little bit more scary than I thought it would be. Some of the places we go are really creepy, with incredible histories to them.”
Each teen has his or her own responsibilities. Riley is the lead investigator and Hirsch is the webmaster. Zack Burke of Woodland Hills is tech manager. K.C. Costonis of Oak Park is case manager and Jackie Zhao of Agoura Hills is the researcher. Zack attends El Camino High School in Woodland Hills; the others attend Oak Park High.
“The whole idea that when you die you might hang around is really interesting,” said Sam, who first became interested in the paranormal after a family trip to Bodie, a ghost town in Northern California.
After each investigation, the team posts its findings on the show’s website. Viewers vote on whether they believe the place is haunted.
As researcher and case manager, Jackie and K.C. spend a lot of time finding locations for the team to investigate, said show producer Zig Gautier. Viewers have also made suggestions. Alcatraz, in San Francisco, will be examined during the second season.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for this group that Alcatraz welcomed them,” Gautier said.
Each location the teens choose is first checked for safety issues by Gautier or other show executives. A paranormal expert accompanies the team to each site.
“We do realize we’re dealing with minors,” Gautier said. “Some of these venues are beyond incredibly scary.”
The kids’ best interest is always at the forefront, said Zack’s mother, Lysa Burke.
“We just hope and pray that all is clear and that there isn’t present danger,” Burke said. “You go with your gut, your intuition. You have to know how to deal with it.”
The show’s concept originated with Gautier and his 12year-old son, both fans of the “Scooby Doo” films and television franchise. They thought a show about the paranormal would be fun to watch together.
The teens were chosen for their interest in the paranormal after a national search, Gautier said.
“It’s really difficult to find real kids who can balance life as students, extracurricular activities and make a commitment to a very serious subject like this,” Gautier said. “They are real role models. I’m really proud of who they are and how much they’ve grown.”
The group spent weekends and the winter school break filming the first season. They filmed the second season’s 14 episodes this past summer.
“All the time my friends want to hang out, but I have to say, I’m sorry, no, I’m going on location,” Zack said.
As a result of the show, Jackie is second-guessing her previous skepticism of the paranormal, said her mother, Ping Zhao. Working with a team, being disciplined and developing a work ethic have all been positive outcomes of Jackie’s involvement in “The Othersiders,” Zhao said.
“To be able to deal with that kind of pressure, put her thoughts together and articulate them in a way that’s understandable to a viewer, I think is a tremendous experience.”
Zack, who at age 14 is the youngest in the group, agreed that the show has changed him.
“Before I was this shy young kid. Now I have more self-esteem,” Zack said.
Although he calls himself a skeptic, Riley admits to believing that “there is something out there.”
“There are too many things that I can’t find an explanation for,” Riley said.
The second season premiere was last night The show will air Fridays, Mondays and Wednesdays throughout October, culminating in the finale at Alcatraz the night before Halloween.