NEW YORK (AP) — The Destination America network's "Exorcism: Live!" on Friday could either turn out to be the scariest pre-Halloween program on television or the ghostly version of Al Capone's vault. There isn't much middle ground.
The mostly live, two-hour telecast will culminate in an attempt to rid a suburban St. Louis home of supposed malevolent spirits. The boy who was the subject of the head-turning 1949 exorcism immortalized in William Peter Blatty's 1971 book, "The Exorcist," and subsequent movie, briefly lived in the Bel-Nor, Missouri house.
"This, to me at least, is probably the quintessential American horror story," said Henry Schleiff, group president at Discovery Communications who oversees the network, and no stranger to colorful promotions. At Investigations Discovery, he ran a "Wives With Knives" marathon one year as counterprogramming on Super Bowl Sunday.
Only three years old, Destination America is available in about half of the nation's TV homes. It has established a specialty in programs about the paranormal like "Ghost Asylum" and "A Haunting," and is looking for some major attention.
Schleiff brought up Capone's name unbidden, to promise "Exorcism: Live!" will be different. The reference to Geraldo Rivera's 1986 special where he opened the gangster's vault to find next to nothing has become shorthand for much-hyped television programs that fail to deliver.
"I don't know if I believe in ghosts," he said. "But I believe in research, and it says 60 percent of people believe in ghosts. I genuinely believe this will be an entertaining and informative show and I'm very proud to be associated with it."
The exorcism of the boy known as Roland Doe was completed outside of the house, but there's evidence bad vibes remain there, said Jodi Tovay, who developed the special.
Chip Coffey, a psychic who participates in the show, said the spirits communicated with him when he visited the house, and a picture of Pope Francis was mysteriously ripped from his hand. "This stuff is real," Coffey said. "This is nothing to play around with."
Without that confirmation from Coffey and other psychics that something creepy remains there, Tovay said that Destination America wouldn't go to the house.
The boy who was the subject of the 1949 exorcism is still alive. Now 80 and living in the Washington, D.C. area, he guards his privacy and declined to participate in the special, Tovay said. Similarly, the people now living in the St. Louis house vacated for the production and would not discuss their own experiences there.
The special will have some pre-produced segments, including stories of past demonic possessions and excerpts from the diary of Doe's lead exorcist. They'll show the bed where he was exorcised. The bulk of the show will be a seance to try and communicate with spirits in the house and an effort to try and extricate them. Six TV cameras will be stationed in the house and streamed live online, so second-screen viewers can monitor to see if there's any activity.
Besides Coffey, the cast of Destination America's "Ghost Asylum" series will help with the psychic cleansing.
Tovay is well aware that even if it's true that the house is haunted, the demons aren't necessarily tied to a TV schedule (9 p.m. EDT). They may decide to lay low.
"I can schedule events, but I can't schedule demonic activity," she said. "If that happens, I'm not going to fake it."
Still, "The Exorcist" story is one of the most frightening she's ever heard and just retelling that should provide a few chills. She freely encourages skeptics to tune in.
"I dare you not to be scared," she said.