- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

Reality, fantasy and the occult merge in a new Fox TV series, "Freakylinks," which premieres today at 9 p.m.
Produced by Gregg Hale, who also made the hugely popular movie "The Blair Witch Project," the show is a television first; the fictitious characters and their adventures in the hourlong science fiction drama coexist on line at www.freakylinks.com.
"We're trying to use the Internet to create a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to the world the characters live in," Mr. Hale said. "The more you have a crossover, the more fun the show becomes."
The Web site already has attracted 4.8 million visitors, outnumbering the hits on the site of its sci-fi predecessor, "The X-Files." In fact, Fox boasts, people are loitering in Freakylinks.com for an average of 31 minutes, making it the TV site with the highest time spent per page.
But the early prime-time slot has some parents and religious leaders worried that children will be tuning in and witnessing violence. They have campaigned against the show, citing its references to the occult and its teetering on the lines of reality as harmful to children.
The show's lead character, Derek Barnes, (played by Ethan Embry) is a Web site creator who posts bizarre tales of the paranormal on the Internet. Derek's life of tracking down urban legends takes a turn for the worse when he gets an e-mail message suggesting his dead twin brother may be alive. His quest for the truth opens the door to some violent encounters with demons and ghosts, as well as a patient from a psychiatric hospital who has some of the answers.
Imitating "The Blair Witch Project," Derek and his friends explore the paranormal with video cameras.
"The Web site is its own entity," says Fox Vice President Joe Earley. "It lives within its own reality with Derek Barnes as Web master. Just as the Simpsons are unaware that they are a cartoon, Derek doesn't know that there's a show for him."
But Derek isn't the only one in the dark as to what's going on. Until a few days ago, the site contained no references to the show.
"Initially, we were not posting e-mails with references to the show," Mr. Hale says. "The last couple of days we have been directing people to the show, directly integrating the show to the site."
Prior to this week, visitors to the site read Derek's narrative accounts of tracking the paranormal. The site disclaims that it is for entertainment purposes and that it is in no way based on reality. However, some site users may not have known that the site and its Web master were based on a TV drama. "It's about all the strange things you hear about but somehow fail to make the local nightly news," Derek says on the site.
A real-life Web master, Brian Cain, is the on-line voice of Derek Barnes. He writes the stories and responds to the e-mail messages in Derek's name. The staff of Freakylinks.com investigates paranormal stories for the site. While the stories posted are fictitious, Mr. Hale said, the concepts are based on some "real weirdness" that exists.
Freakylinks.com offers links to sites pertaining to cryptozoology, monsters and witchcraft. The message board is the target of a Northridge, Calif., pastor who is concerned that "Freakylinks" is promoting the occult to children.
"Combining violence with the occult, 'Freakylinks' poses a double threat to children," the Rev. Bob Cathers wrote in a letter to multiple politicians and media outlets. He included copies of the Freakylinks.com discussion board, where young Internet surfers posted candid testimonies of occult experiences and their interest in the subject. For example, a 14-year-old boy said he created a light show in his bedroom when an occult spell went wrong.
One 11-year-old girl boasted she has been practicing witchcraft for a year. Another claimed that his "dark magic" spell killed a child.
Nevertheless, Mr. Earley says the show and site do not promote the occult to children.
"Officially, we have not received anything more than a few e-mails on the issue," Mr. Earley said. "We do not feel this series promotes the occult to anyone of any age."
Mr. Hale says the Web site forbids offensive language and pornography on the message boards.
"We know younger people are on the site, so we put a moderator program on," he said. "It's a fun, good Friday-night show. It's got 'Scooby Doo' action, and the Web site reflects that with tongue-in-cheek humor and sci-fi."

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