Can possessions be possessed? Just last week, news stories spread about a segment on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club," as he advised a young woman to pray over her recent thrift store purchases "to rebuke any spirits that happened to have attached themselves to those clothes."

It makes you wonder what the Salvation Army is up to.

But Robertson's peculiar brand of television Christianity is hardly the only source of speculation about places and things afflicted with dark spirits. "Haunted Collector" (9 p.m., Syfy, TV-PG) enters its third season, following expert John Zaffis as he scours the countryside to find folks terrorized by items and/or places.

One of the early segments involves a horse farm purchased by Mary Lu Dolce Conti. Since moving in, Mary Lu's

animals have been in a state of constant agitation.

Could it be evil spirits? I have another explanation. Her farm is located in Montgomery, N.Y., the same town that used to be home to Orange County Choppers of "American Chop per" fame. You don't have to believe in ghosts to see the neighborhood might be haunted by contrived reality television shows.

Ghost stories are always more entertaining than

rational and reasonable ex-

planations. And "Haunted Collector" airs on Syfy, formerly the Sci-Fi Channel, an outfit that at least offered an abbreviated nod to the word "fiction" in its title. The same can't be said of Robertson's "700 Club."

But in associating science fiction with the delusional fantasies of "Haunted Collec tor," Syfy cheapens the genre it has inherited.

Classic science fiction by writers named Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury combined melodramatic plots about other worlds and alternative futures that were at least loosely based on science and speculative theories. A mid-20th century series like "Star Trek" can be taken as goofy drama. But it also introduced young viewers to notions like wormholes and black holes, matter and antimatter, the speed of light and relativity. Its treatment of time travel may have been fantastic, but it was discussed in a rational, rather than supernatural, manner.

Television makes almost no room for science and rational thought, while at the same time stacking the deck toward delusion drenched in fear. Our popular culture may be silly, but it announces the priorities we have established. If you pray over demons, you get a

religious tax deduction. If you hunt ghosts, you get a TV show. If you say you want to study science or engineering, you are ignored -- or, worse still, ridiculed and depicted as the unappealing pariah nerds on "The Big Bang Theory."

---Among tonight's few nods to science is the appearance of astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil DeGrasse Tyson on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (11 p.m., Comedy Central). In a world turned upside down, we leave serious matters to comedians.

---Two discerning fellows open a fancy used clothing store haunted by sophisticates on the new series "Dukes of Mel rose" (10:30 p.m., Bravo).

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

---Ten more semifinalists perform on "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

---Letting down their hair on "Arrow" (8 p.m., CW, r, TV-14).

---A young author of a racy novel is attacked on "Law & Order: Spe cial Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

---New Year's Eve on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

---A gruff, bearded guy hunts down late-night eateries on "Feed the Beast" (9 p.m., Travel, TV-PG).

---D.B.'s granddaughter needs saving on "CSI" (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

---A train wreck claims a young victim on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

---Rayna and Juliette mull big changes on "Nashville" (10 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

---Solidarity sparks a crisis on "The Americans" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

CULT CHOICE

Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak star in the 1958 romantic comedy "Bell, Book and Candle" (9 p.m., TCM).

SERIES NOTES

---Medical intervention needed on "Survivor" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

---On two helpings of "Whit ney" (NBC, TV-14): a big announcement (8 p.m.), ex-fiancees (8:30 p.m., r).

---Anniversary insecurity on "The Middle" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).

---Sandra Bernhard guest stars on "The Neighbors" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

---An escaped con kills on "Criminal Minds" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

---Hellzapoppin' on "Super- natural" (9 p.m., CW, r, TV-14).

---A bad breakup on "Suburga tory" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

---Matthew Fox, Ian Edwards and Anthony Jeselnick appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).

---Bobby Lee, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Heather McDonald are booked on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).

---Brendan O'Connell sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).

---Melissa McCarthy, David Morrissey, David Byrne and St. Vincent appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS, r).

---Jay Leno welcomes Ben

Affleck, Kristen Bell and Rodriguez on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC, r).

---Luke Bryan, Jessica Simpson and Jim Jefferies appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).

---Craig Ferguson hosts Chris-

tina Hendricks and Jackie Collins on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

Kevin McDonough can be reached at kevin.tvguy@gmail.com.