Media Scene

UFO special: See it and believe (or not)

UFOs: Seeing Is Believing

9:30 tonight, Channel 9

When your annoying, bug-eyed neighborhood crackpot claims to have seen a flying saucer and conversed with little green men, it doesn't really get your attention. There's probably a simple explanation.

But when you get veteran police officers, B-52 pilots, radar operators and other responsible people reporting things that mysteriously go swoosh in the night, it's another story.

And those are the kinds of people ABC largely relies on in “UFOs: Seeing is Believing,” a 90-minute “Primetime” special tonight on the enduring mystery of Unidentified Flying Objects.

Peter Jennings tackled the topic in a 2005 ABC documentary, and tonight's show, hosted by correspondent David Muir, draws on some of that footage. It also looks at advances in scanning the heavens for radio signals from other civilizations – no call from E.T. yet – and indications from NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander that the Red Planet was once blue with water.

ABC producer Jordan Kronick said Monday the original show was ordered up because more than 40 million Americans said they had either seen a UFO or knew someone who had. Jennings decided it would be good to take a hard look at the phenomenon and “report on it seriously with our tongue not in our cheek,” Kronick said.

Both shows include an archival interview with Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot flying near Mount Rainier, Wash., who launched the UFO era in 1947 when he reported spotting multiple discs, which the press dubbed “flying saucers.” Sightings continued for decades, but most had an earthly explanation, from weather balloons to experimental aircraft to the ever-arresting planet Venus.

But some defied description, including the 1997 “Phoenix Lights,” viewed by thousands and captured on video. Over the desert valley, one can see lights in formation winking on brilliantly in the clear sky. Possible explanation: military flares from helicopters. You see, you decide.

ABC decided to do a follow-up to the 2005 special this year, Kronick said, after looking at new research and new reports.

Among the updates: ABC examines the craft seen drifting over Stephenville, Texas, in January. A pilot and a local constable describe what they saw from different viewpoints. Something big, something silent, something fast. Nobody knows quite what it was.

Skeptics get their say in the special, and we are left where we started. Intrigued, but in the dark.