NEW YORK – A psychic talks to pets in doggie and kitty heaven. A man wakes up from a 6-year coma with psychic powers. A dead funeral-home patriarch visits his family from the other side.
All are characters on TV. And judging from the paranormal programs' popularity, viewers think they're out of this world.
"There is a push to have more of a spiritual side on TV," said E! Online's television columnist, "Wanda," who goes by her pen name and writes "Watch with Wanda." "We're looking for either comfort TV or dramas that have some sort of deeper meaning."
The shows vary from "reality" programs, like Animal Planet's Pet Psychic and Sci-Fi's Crossing Over, to fictional dramas like USA's The Dead Zone and HBO's Six Feet Under.
"People are really trying to connect with the other side," said Richard Fernandes, co-executive producer of Pet Psychic. "They're looking to know that people are well, their pets are well."
Crossing Over With John Edward, which documents psychic readings by the medium, has garnered a cult following. Viewers have lapped up Pet Psychic, where Sonya Fitzpatrick communicates with pets, alive and dead. And The Dead Zone -- based on the Steven King novel and starring Anthony Michael Hall as a man who wakes up after six years in a coma to find he has psychic powers -- has taken off on cable.
Those who have been in the paranormal business for years feel as though the newfangled attention justifies a craft often deemed hokey.
"I'm really happy to see what the TV shows are doing," said a Long Island, N.Y., medium who goes by the name Maryann G. "It's heightening people's awareness that there is more to life than just what we see every day."
Pop culture gurus and TV insiders say the resurgence in programming about the occult was fueled, in part, by the 1999 hit movie The Sixth Sense.
"The Sixth Sense did help facilitate interest in the supernatural," said Joanna Lowry, senior vice president of media relations for UPN, home of the just-canceled The Haunted.
When UPN took on the show about a detective who solves murders with the victims' help, there wasn't anything else like it on TV, said Lowry. "The supernatural was a subject that the country and consumers seemed to be responding to at the time we made the decision [to air The Haunted]."
While the show didn't capture viewers' imaginations, the heavenly TV trend isn't showing signs of disappearing into the ether.
E! Networks is working on a special hosted by Mark Wahlberg called Hollywood and Beyond, set to air early next year. It features "tomorrow's gossip today" with astrologers forecasting future Hollywood dish, plus segments where paranormal experts communicate with deceased stars like Marvin Gaye.
"It's a phenomenon that's in again," Jeff Shore, senior vice president of production for E!, said of parapsychology. "And celebrities are into this stuff. It's very much a part of Hollywood celebrity culture."
There are other shows soon to be unveiled, like ABC's midseason Miracles (exploring modern "miracles") and The Dream Team on Sci-Fi, where analysts interpret dreams.
"Shows that open the spiritual realm will follow into next fall season," predicted Wanda, the E! Online columnist.
Maryann G., the psychic, said communicating with those from beyond satisfies the same human need as praying.
"It gives peace to people, it gives hope," she said. "If people didn't believe in something other than this, they wouldn't pray. You're talking to the other side -- exactly the same thing that mediums do."
She thinks the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left many wanting to believe -- and stay connected with the ones who were lost.
"It was a wake-up call for a lot of people spiritually," she said. "Heaven is a very real existence. If you can connect with someone from the other side, it gives people peace knowing their loved ones are OK.
"Their love hasn't died," she added. "They're just not in visual contact. It's almost like they've moved."