Tube Talk: Shows that make you listen for spooky sounds

There are some shows I probably shouldn’t watch at night, especially Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted. I can watch them during the day, no problem, but when I watch either of those programs after dark, I catch myself listening for spooky sounds and wondering what’s lurking in the shadows. (What can I say? I’m a writer. I have a vivid imagination.)

On the surface, these shows are pretty similar. Each has a team of paranormal investigators braving haunted buildings at night and tempting spirits to make contact with them. Both shows are entertaining. But there’s one major difference—and I’m not talking about American vs. British accents. One aims to confirm actual hauntings while the other tries to find rational explanations for what people are seeing and hearing.

The Travel Channel’s British import, Most Haunted, seeks to prove the presence of paranormal activity. Each episode starts with psychic Derek Acorah—who, the show claims, has no prior knowledge of the place they’re investigating—touring the property and connecting with the spirit world. Spirit people tell him why they’re there, often providing names and details of when and how they died. Producers then superimpose information across the screen, either confirming a person of that name was associated with the location, or saying no such record was found. Later, the team breaks into smaller groups to sit vigil in rooms thought to be most haunted. At the end, an expert reviews the evidence, often leaving room for speculation.

On the other hand, the investigators behind SCI-FI’s Ghost Hunters are wary of proclaiming any place haunted. Their organization, The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS)—headed up by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson—generally eschews psychics in favor of more scientific investigations. Hearing strange sounds or catching phantom images on video isn’t taken as proof. Video and audio recordings are routinely sent to specialists to see if any outside interference could have contributed to what they’re seeing or hearing. When confronted with sights or sounds science can’t explain, TAPS investigators often post the evidence on their Web site (, encouraging people to offer their own explanations.

Even when Ghost Hunters determines something to be paranormal, we’re reminded that “paranormal” simply means it’s something outside our realm of normal—much as UFO doesn’t mean “space alien,” just that something unidentifiable was spotted flying in the air.

Both shows are addictive in that I’m-so-glad-I’m-not-there way, but they can keep you up at night. This spring, Travel Channel aired Acorah’s new show, Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns, back-to-back with Most Haunted, but it didn’t draw me in to the same degree—probably because the investigating and fact-checking took a backseat to his psychic communications.

I know I risk freaking myself out when watching ghostly shows late at night, so I remind myself of a conversation I had with Hawes and Wilson about a year ago. First, they told me they disprove suspected hauntings roughly 80 percent of the time. Second, they both said people are scarier than ghosts. Why? People can do you bodily harm while spirits just scare you. If you let them.

Programming notes

Ghost Hunters airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m., on SCI FI.

Most Haunted

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