By Paula Hendrickson
One of the spookiest things about TV is how quickly trends catch on. A few years ago, there were only a few ghost-hunting shows on the air, like the British import Most Haunted and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International.
Even if you’ve seen ghosts yourself, you still have to question the veracity of most of these unscripted shows, especially newcomers capitalizing on the growing trend. “Unscripted” doesn’t mean it’s unrehearsed or unedited. All of these shows are heavily edited —they have to be to condense an entire investigation into a one-hour show and still have room for commercials.
I like Ghost Hunters not only because they did a segment on Tinker Swiss Cottage, but because they look for rational explanations to “debunk” claims while other shows often twist common sounds, like the expansion and contraction of wood, into “evidence” of paranormal activity. Some shows have fancy gadgets they claim prove spirit activity or allow people to communicate with spirits — unfortunately, most of those objects look like ways for someone off camera to trick viewers.
I’ve watched a lot of paranormal shows, but the biggest fright I had was hearing an obnoxious lead investigator — who prides himself on provoking spirits — say they’d “debunked” a logical explanation. Um, supernatural claims are what you should be debunking.
A month or two ago, I realized that ghost, paranormal or haunting shows are on constantly on TV. One day, I searched the programming guide for the words “ghost,” “haunt” and “paranormal,” and lost count at 28 titles. Knowing some shows were between seasons, I decided to search the websites of a few networks I knew had at least one ghostly show … look what I found:
• Syfy: Ghost Hunters, Haunted Collector, Paranormal Witness, Ghost Mine, Haunted Highway, Ghost Hunters International and Deep South Paranormal;
• Bio: Ghostly Encounters, Ghost Bait, Haunted Encounters, My Haunted House, Haunted History, Psychic Investigators, Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal, The Ghost Speaks, The Ghost Inside My Child, Supernatural Sisters, I’ll Haunt You When I’m Dead, My Haunted Vacation, Stalked By a Ghost and The Ghost Speaks;
• Travel Channel: Ghost Adventures, The Dead Files (they investigated a Belvidere property a couple years ago), and a new show called Paranormal Paparazzi (yes, you read that right);
• Destination America: A Haunting, Ghost Town Gold and When Ghosts Attack;
• H2: Haunted History repeats;
• Animal Planet: Ghostland, Tennessee (it may be a stretch for Animal Planet, but one of the guys sometimes brings his dog along on investigations);
• A&E: American Haunting and Psychic Tia;
• LMN: My Ghost Story, Celebrity Ghost Stories and The Haunting Of …; and
• TLC: Long Island Medium could also be included in this genre.
When watching these shows, please remember they’re entertainment. Some use re-enactments to relate undocumented experiences. Filming the investigations may involve retakes. Many of the shows will stretch the truth to make viewers think a shadow is a “shadow person,” or a speck of dust is an “orb.” Producers have probably thoroughly researched homeowners’ claims, and some of that information may have filtered back to investigators. Some will probably even fake evidence.
That said, I also believe some of the people involved in the shows are sincere. I had a pretty good BS-meter, honed from years of interviewing thousands of people in many walks of life — including paranormal investigators and a psychic. The psychic (not affiliated with any of these shows) was clearly a scam artist asking leading questions to help her fill in the blanks, but Ghost Hunters’ Jason and Grant (I still miss Grant, who left the show last year) struck me as stand-up guys genuinely interested in paranormal research. Indeed, they stressed that paranormal simply means “beyond the norm.”
Which makes it kind of funny that paranormal shows are now a normal fixture on our screens.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2013, issue