Combining paranormal activity with a cast of engaging personalities, Ghost Chasers has quickly become the top rated show on ParaNet, displacing long-runner Wormhole X-Treme!.
We sat down with the show's elusive front man, John Sheppard. Sheppard has devoted the last fifteen years of his life to hunting ghosts and other spectral phenomena, working for a number of regional networks before being discovered by ParaNet. Unsurprisingly, Sheppard credits producer Elizabeth Weir with keeping the show afloat.
"None of us knew anything about any of this TV stuff before Elizabeth came along," he explains. "Without her, we're just a couple of guys with a van."
John sat uncomfortably at the conference table, looking around at his team and clicking his pen against the table; there was really nothing he liked less than sitting around at the network waiting for things to happen. It seemed to take forever for the doors to finally open, and Elizabeth strode in, as calmly and powerfully as usual.
"Good to see you all," she said, taking her seat. "I have some news, mostly good." She shuffled the papers in front of her. "Ratings are up, and we're ready to release volume three of the Atlantis Unfiltered DVDs."
"Why do people even buy those things?" Rodney wondered aloud. "The last one was just forty-five minutes of Ronon calling the Bell Witch a pussy." He paused. "I just answered my own question, didn't I?" Teyla raised an eyebrow at him, which really said everything it needed to.
"John, the Entertainment Today people won't stop calling," Elizabeth said, moving on, "You need to sit down with them."
John resisted the urge to groan. "Not this again."
"You haven't given an interview in six months," she warned. "Deal with it."
The rest of the news was much less annoying, as far as John was concerned. "Is there anything else we need to discuss?" Elizabeth asked.
At the end of the table, Richard cleared his throat. "I have the historical report on the Castle."
"I'll leave you to it, then," she said, pushing away from the table, and John was left to the tender mercies of their lead historical researcher.
John clicked his pen just a little harder.
While Weir has undoubtedly been instrumental to the show's success, it's clear that the real power behind Atlantis is Sheppard himself. He has surrounded himself with a fascinating team of investigators, one with a history stretching back far longer than the TV show.
"We'd been going out for a while, helping people out when we could, but eventually we outgrew the basement we'd been working out of. There was this aquarium store in town called Atlantis. When it went under, and me and Radek [Zalenka, Atlantis's seldom seen chief analyst] bought the building. Of course, then, we couldn't afford to have the sign redone, and the name kinda stuck."
"You are sure this is a good idea," Radek said, critically examining a bit of exposed wiring.
John had known him more than long enough to hear the question in his voice. "Of course it is," he insisted, for the thousandth time. "Look at it this way," he offered. "If we succeed, we succeed. If we go out of business, we'll have wasted thousands of dollars of my father's money."
Radek snorted in amusement. "I suppose you think that will make us heroes."
"Exactly," John said, smiling. "We really can't lose."
Psychic Teyla Emmagan was the first of the lead team members to join Atlantis.
"I knew she was in the area, and I planned to see if we could get her help," Sheppard explains. "Of course, she didn't give me the chance."
The bell on the door tinkled softly, and John looked up from his paperwork; Radek poked his head out from behind his monitor. A dark-skinned woman in a flowing skirt was standing in the doorway, exuding a kind of calm that John could feel all the way across the room.
"John Sheppard," she said, inclining her head towards him, "and Doctor Zelenka. I came to offer my services to your organization. Our paths are to cross." She smiled at the dour expression on Radek's face. "You are waiting to explain how I knew your names."
"One of our flyers," Radek said, stepping around the counter and crossing his arms. "It is not hard to tell he is the daring investigator and I am the analyst, hm? We are in new building, you made reasonable deduction that we needed new members."
"Radek," John said, frowning. It wasn't every day- okay, it was never a day when beautiful women walked into his office, and fraudulent or not, it was just stupid to be rude to them.
Teyla smiled. "Exactly. I would not use my gifts to discover something that could be figured out so easily."
"If we need someone with analytical skills, I am the analyst," Radek said. "Further qualifications are required."
"If you will permit me," she said, holding out her hands to him; still looking suspicious, he placed his own in hers. She tilted her head down, shutting her eyes and waiting. Radek flashed John a concerned look, but only got a shrug in return; with some trepidation, he leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Teyla's, shutting his eyes.
Opening her eyes, she leaned over and whispered something into Radek's ear, and he looked at her in shock.
"Did it work?" John asked.
"I have known many psychics," Radek said, looking at her strangely. "I will admit that she is one of the more convincing."
She nodded graciously. "Thank you, Doctor Zelenka. And now, if you will offer me the tea you are considering? Earl grey will be fine."
Atlantis has not been without its share of personnel problems. The most well-publicized of these was the on-air firing of Sheppard's right-hand man, Aiden Ford, and his subsequent trip to rehab.
No one has ever accused John Sheppard of being particularly demonstrative, but the sadness in his eyes when he speaks of his former protege is hard to miss. "Ford went through some things that nobody's supposed to go through," he says. "It messed him up pretty badly, and he picked a bad way to deal with it. It could've happened to any of us."
Now that Ford's clean, what's in store for the young investigator? Will we see him again on Ghost Chasers? Time will tell, Sheppard says. "If he wants to come back, there will always be a spot on my team for him." He laughs. "But I don't think Natalie [Esposito, Ford's fiance] would thank me for it."
Ford's position on the team was filled by unexpected fan favorite Ronon Dex. Since his debut, the former exorcist has become known for the lengths he's willing to take to get the attention of stubborn and aggressive spirits.
"He's completely out of his mind," Sheppard says.
The howling was incessant, the accompanying rattles and groans threatening to shake the house to its foundations.
"Two hundred and sixteen," Rodney shouted.
Even though they were huddled under the same table, John could barely hear him. "What?"
"Two hundred and sixteen investigations," he repeated, "only to die here in somebody's tacky dining room, because the caveman doesn't know when to leave well enough alone!"
"Look on the bright side," John yelled. "If the camera batteries held out, we can use this for sweeps! We won't have to do that investigation at The Myrtles!"
"Thank god! That place has been on so many TV shows, I could give the tour!"
Without warning, the house went completely dead. Rodney opened his mouth to speak, but John held up a hand, waiting.
Ronon's voice rang out in the sudden silence. "Come on! Is that all you've got?!"
As if on cue, the ungodly noise started up again.
"I don't get paid enough for this!" Rodney shouted.
"Join the club," John muttered.
Rodney looked at him in confusion. "What?!"
"Never mind!" he replied.
Dr. Rodney McKay joined the team shortly before the show's debut. Little is known about McKay's past; what is clear is that the former physics professor is one of the foremost creators of new and innovative ghost hunting equipment. As much as there can be said to be an industry standard among the loose mixture of hobbyists, fakes, and professionals that constitute the world of paranormal investigations, McKay sets it.
"I have a friend, a Doctor McKay," Radek said, rubbing at the back of his neck nervously, a gesture he'd almost certainly picked up from John. "He is in a bad way, and we can help him."
"Not that I have a problem with it, but it's not like you to-"
"To be kind?" Radek waved a hand. "Yes, yes, I know. I probably would not be saying this if he were also not the best analyst I have ever met."
John was taken aback. "I thought you were the best."
"I am a genius," Radek said matter-of-factly. "Rodney is better."
"Let's meet him, then," he said.
"It will not be easy," Radek said. "He is- is, yes, reclusive. It will take time, but I think I can convince him to meet with us."
In all, it took three weeks and two cancelled meetings before they were finally sitting in McKay's basement laboratory; the place wasn't exactly the least creepy place John had ever been in, but what he could see of McKay's equipment- what parts of it he even recognized- made him salivate.
"I suppose you want the complete rundown of my equipment," McKay said, paying attention of his computer instead of facing them, "but either you get it or you don't, and if you're not a complete pack of morons you're supposed to already know this stuff."
"You don't have to convince us that it works, buddy," John said carefully. "We believe you."
"I don't need anyone to believe in what I do," McKay sneered. "I've got my evidence."
"Yes, yes," Radek said. "It's all very impressive, but it doesn't do us much good if you're not going to come with us."
"You're so chipper," McKay said, rolling his eyes. He spun in his chair, looking at them. "Look, I'm only going to say this once, and I'm going to say it up front, and if you don't like it, get the hell out of my house." He took a deep breath. "Jeannie- my sister, they-" McKay squeezed his eyes shut. "She was haunted, okay? And for years, nobody believed her, not even me, and then it was too late. I do this so nobody ever has to go through that again. If you're just in this because it's fun-"
"It's okay," John said softly. "If we didn't want to help people, we wouldn't keep doing this."
"Good," McKay said, his mouth set in an unhappy line. "Then what are we waiting for?"
McKay's caustic wit and brutal dismissal of most supposedly spiritual phenomena has made him a favorite of the show's more skeptical fans.
"We like to think of him as the loyal opposition," Sheppard says. "I'd hate to see what he'd do if he wasn't on our side."
"Oh my god, seriously? Okay, look. I don't know what kind of 'Spirit Realm for Complete Morons' book Barnes and Noble sold you, but this house is about as haunted as a McDonald's drive thru. Just because you can't find your keys or you don't feel good doesn't mean a ghost did it. We're leaving."
Unlike other reality TV stars, Sheppard is known for his reluctance to discuss his off-screen life; many have speculated that the reason for his reticence has to do with none other than Rodney McKay.
Rumors have circulated about the relationship between Sheppard and McKay since the show's first season. When Atlantis was first approached by ParaNet, the pair had been living together for almost a year. In 2006, TMZ.com photographed the couple leaving a gay nightclub in West Hollywood, several hours after accepting the show's first Emmy.
"Look, the next time Lorne calls and asks for a ride? I'm telling him to go fuck himself."
Fans have blamed ParaNet's conservative owners for keeping McKay and Sheppard's relationship under wraps, and they have been vocal in their displeasure. A campaign, driven by ChaserSlash.net, has seen piles and piles of letters, postcards, and even YouTube videos in support of McKay and Sheppard.
When pressed on the subject, Sheppard becomes even more guarded and uncomfortable than usual, if such a thing is even possible. "Rodney's a good friend," he says, repeating the party line. "I trust him with my life, but that's as far as it goes."
Many fans find Sheppard's repeated denials less and less convincing as the show wears on, providing more and more opportunities to show the depth of McKay and Sheppard's relationship. Time will tell if ParaNet will ever lift the ban on...
When he got home, there was one angry Czech on the loose in John's kitchen. The man in question was chopping vegetables as angrily as John had ever seen them chopped, throwing them into a stock pot so hard that they rattled against the sides.
He rubbed at the back of his neck. "So, I guess you saw the article."
Radek swore effusively in his native tongue, waving his arms for emphasis.
John grimaced. "Yeah, I kinda thought that's what you'd say."
"I cannot believe they misspelled my name," he ranted. "It is right in the credits, every week. It is on IMDb. It is in email address that I gave reporter! I thought once I taught it to Rodney, the hard part was over!"
"So, uh," John said, blinking. "You're not mad about what they said about me and Rodney?"
Radek rolled his eyes. "If you were having an affair with Rodney, my first concern would be your sanity, not your fidelity."
"You're taking this suspiciously well."
Radek snorted. "You think this is the first time I have heard these rumors? Did you know that people on the internet write stories about the two of you?"
"Really," John said slowly, taking in this information. "Are they any good?" Radek's glare made him hold up his hands in surrender. "I was just curious."
Radek put the knife down, reaching for John's hands. "If we were on camera together for more than two minutes, everyone would have no doubt." He shot John a dark look. "Stop making plans, please. They will only think you are cheating on Rodney. I do not need the angry letters."
"Let's keep it between us, then," John said, grinning.
"Of course," Radek said, pecking him on the lips. "Now, are you going to help me with this soup or not?"