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When Geraldo Rivera took on Satanism (and a very confused Ozzy Osbourne)

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Back in 1988, mustachioed talk-show gadfly Geraldo Rivera aired a very special two-hour exposé on America's foremost seducer of innocents: Satanism! The host somehow managed to spin heavy metal album covers and disparate crimes into a sensationalist yarn about a million-strong Satanic conspiracy overtaking the nation.

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Among the many absolutely ridiculous moments are when Geraldo posits that Satanism should have a warning label like cigarettes, Geraldo notes that "use of new vocabulary" is a symptom of occult interest, and Ozzy Osbourne defends his music via satellite feed (the singer is surprisingly lucid, despite looking like he just rolled out of bed).

Even at the time, the documentary was roundly trashed as histrionics. I mean, why discuss improving mental health treatment for teenagers when you can blame what's widely considered Iron Maiden's best album?*


At the time, Geraldo's Satan scare brought NBC the highest ratings ever received for a two-hour documentary, but its lurid subject matter didn't pull in the advertisers. As the L.A. Times reported post-broadcast:

[One] network source said the Rivera show may have cost NBC $500,000 in lost advertising revenue because potential sponsors either didn't want their products associated with the program or couldn't see the show in advance.

NBC declined to comment on whether "Devil Worship" lost money. But as viewed here, the telecast carried only 14 network and local commercials—two of them for the National Enquirer and three for new horror movies. To fill the empty slots, NBC aired 22 "promos" for its new and returning entertainment series [...] An NBC spokeswoman said the network received a total of 440 calls in New York and Burbank after the telecast—311 of them complaints and the balance expressions of approval, many from parents concerned about teen-aged Satanism.

At NBC affiliate WVLA in Baton Rouge, La., the reaction was far less. There was only one call, a secretary there said—from a viewer whose home suffered a power failure as the show began. He wanted a rerun.


Here's the whole line-up (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9). And as a bonus, here's 20/20's report on Satan's creeping influence (1, 2, 3), which suggests that if your high school friends make you hang out in coffins, they may just be Satanists. This is total malarkey, by the way — magic markers are the surest sign of an occult presence.

* More of a Powerslave fan myself, just for the record.