There's a faint rustling on the set of "Ghost Whisperer." Could it be some troubled spirit trying to get medium Melinda Gordon's attention?
No. It's the frilly bodice of Jennifer Love Hewitt's dress. It seems that each time the actress emotes, it gives off a noise loud enough to worry the sound engineer, consequently requiring several extra takes.
Apparently some fans of the CBS series, in which Hewitt plays a young newlywed with the ability to contact spirits, tune in mainly to see what the winsome star is wearing. But it's the paranormal subject matter that seems to have connected with most viewers, for next season.
"We really listen to our audience and they do want scary and low cut dresses," laughs series consultant and executive producer James Van Praagh. The well-known paranormal expert acknowledges some compromises have to be made in the name of entertainment, yet is essentially pleased the show is conveying his message that there's life after death.
"I think especially in a time of war people question beliefs, and I don't think people are going to religions as much for answers. They are going within and being responsible for their own lives and their own quest for understanding," says Van Praagh, who reports that many attending his recent lectures have said their interest was peeked by watching "Ghost Whisperer."
"I love the theme. I definitely feel we are not just our bodies, that we are beings and that we go on," says Anne Archer, who has joined the cast in the recurring role of Beth Gordon, Melinda's mother.
"So from that standpoint, it didn't seem weird to me at all," continues Archer. "I think it's interesting and obviously audiences do, too ... I think there is a sort of emptiness in our look at life in general lately, and think this is a way to explore that."
The episode filming this day at Universal Studios, titled "The Vanishing," airs Friday at 8 p.m EDT.
Hewitt's chest heaves and faux tears flow. It seems a head injury has caused her character, Melinda, to lose her gift for communicating with earthbound spirits and she's devastated. Her loving husband, Jim (David Conrad), is providing sympathy.
Meanwhile, mother Beth is happy. She possesses the same psychic gift as her daughter, but has always viewed it as a curse rather than a blessing. Now, for whatever reason, her gift has vanished, too, but she feels a burden has been lifted.
Archer says the whole story arc has given her something juicy to play beyond the usual standard mom fare often offered to actresses in their 50s.
"It was a whole character coming in with a big problem. I loved that, and then in this episode the gift goes away for both of us and I'm feeling liberated," says the actress as she waits in her dressing room for her scenes to begin. "It's great that they gave me something to act other than, 'Hi, dear, how are you doing?'"
Director and executive producer Ian Sander adds that Archer's good looks are also an attribute, "because the role of Beth demands flashbacks, and she looks utterly convincing playing nearly 20 years younger."
Van Praagh says it's not essential that actors on his show believe in its premise, "but it certainly helps if they are open-minded."
Hewitt said earlier that spending time with Van Praagh and researching for the show has made it hard not to believe.
"What's great and beautiful about this show is that it kind of makes you believe, if you don't already, that the people you love the most maybe don't actually leave you for good, that maybe they kind of look after you and are there to sort of see you through the rest of whatever your journey is."
Archer's thoughts echo that.
"The show has charm because its characters are so likable. Even the ghosts are sympathetic. I think it (the show) hits these buttons in people that ... when you lose someone, very often you are left with these terrible feelings about what you didn't say to them," she says. "It's very honest, because it gets down to what we all wonder about."