Paranormal Television: Searching For the Great Beyond
|FEATURES - TV|
Caleb's looking for ghastly chills among TV-land's ghostlier climes...
Growing up, I spent many an hour reading ghost stories, both fiction and true accounts of hauntings. My friends and I would recount those stories on late night sleepovers, around campfires, and on long car trips. I’ve even had a few unexplained experiences of my own. I couldn’t get enough of spooks and specters. Usually, around Halloween, there would be television specials about real-life hauntings, which I would usually record and watch over and over again. But what used to bother me was their reliance on psychics and their lack of investigating, but just basically taking the stories at face value. But a few years ago, all of that would change.
In 2004, Ghost Hunters premiered on SciFi Channel. The show followed the exploits of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), co-founded by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, two average guys that worked by day for Roto-Rooter (now on the books as “honorary employees”, since they really don’t have to work again). They both started investigating paranormal phenomena after having personal experiences, and found like-minded folks who would help them in their quest to help people with their own haunted homes. TAPS was one of the first groups that went out of their way to de-bunk the hauntings in order to take an objective look at the situations. Often, they have had episodes that have shown them finding nothing, and even being able to find completely ordinary explanations for alleged paranormal activity. And in the cases when they do find evidence of activity, they are there to help the person through their issues. They have also taken flack for their position on not accepting orbs as proof of haunting, which many in the field still use as evidence.
But even with their more scientific approach, they have still found themselves the subjects of controversy. There have been numerous claims that the evidence they have collected has been faked, and that they have even gone so far as to fake experiences on the show. One famous case was during a case where Grant had the collar of his coat pulled, which was visible on camera. Many have claimed that the “ghostly” pull was actually faked with a simple string tied to the coat. Grant and Jason have gone on record several times to defend themselves, but to no avail. The naysayers won’t be swayed. This is an issue with many of these shows. How exactly do you convince those who won’t be won over?
There’s also the problem that the show itself is shot in a docu-soap fashion. We are given glimpses into the personal lives and workings of the team, and over the seasons, there have been moments where the drama going on among the TAPS family was overshadowing the drama supplied by the ghosts. When investigations were going on, people were getting into arguments about petty problems they were having. In the last six seasons, team members have left and new members have joined, but as with any group, there will always be issues.
They have also gone out of their way to investigate more big draw haunts, with numerous prisons, hotels, museums and the like, whereas in the first few seasons, they did more private homes, helping out everyday people. The last season saw a return to this, but still getting those big places to bring in viewers. While this is done more for the show, it would still be nice to see them get back to helping folks out, and not just go out for the viewership.
Ghost Hunters has spawned two spin offs – Ghost Hunters International, which has a crew that jets all around the world to investigate interesting new haunts, and Ghost Hunters Academy, which is a contest to see who in a group would make a good addition to the TAPS team. Winners from the first season went on to investigate with GHI for their new season, which ended this last Wednesday. All of these shows are entertaining, which is all anyone is really asking for from a reality television series. And in the end, they’re better than much of what passes for paranormal television.
Soon after Ghost Hunters premiered, American viewers were introduced to the UK series Most Haunted. This series has a presenter who is joined by several parapsychologists and a medium. The real issue with utilizing a medium is that fact that they can’t prove what they’ve experienced. There’s no evidence to back up a “psychic experience”. And more often than not, the presenter contributed little more than to scream at every little thing, making the show rather annoying. While they have investigated many interesting locations, the style of the show keeps me from fully investing in it, and really enjoying it.
Ghost Adventures is a more interesting program, hosted by Zak Bagans. Zak and his two friends Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin investigate by themselves. There’s no camera crew to leave people wondering if someone is setting up the scares. They film it all themselves, collect their evidence, and present their findings. They also get into the history of the locations, and because there aren’t pre-filmed bookends or scenes enhanced with music, it makes for a more believable show.
But they aren’t immune to controversy. On a live program, a guest investigator was caught throwing a piece of equipment, claiming it had been knocked out of his hand. The group also comes off a little immature at times, high-fiving each other over disembodied voices and personal experiences. But at least they’re not screaming over a bat flying at them or a squeaky floor board. This is definitely one of the better made programs on the subject.
One of the worst programs out there is Paranormal State. This revolves around the Penn State Paranormal Research Society, founded by Ryan Buell. Usually in tow is psychic Chip Coffey, who seems to have “phony” written on his forehead. This program actually tried to establish a story arc, which involved a demon that was following Buell and tormenting him. They also have ties to Lorraine Warren, widow of Ed Warren. They were the infamous pair that was involved with the book The Amityville Horror, and to this day, Lorraine has professed that it was all true. She’s even more of a fake than Coffey, claiming that every single place she walks into is haunted.
Then on one episode of season one, they investigated a condo inhabited by a woman by the name of Shannon Sylvia. What made this stand out was the fact that she had been featured as an investigator on Ghost Hunters International (Apparently, the PS episode had been taped first, but GHI had premiered first). Several websites have posted claims that she is merely looking for fame, and found the way through reality television.
The last few years have seen a slew of shows dealing with the paranormal hitting airwaves. A&E, the station that produces Paranormal State, has created about a half dozen programs dealing with all things unexplainable, ranging from psychic kids to celebrities telling their own ghost stories. SyFy – in addition to their Ghost Hunters franchise – has added shows like Destination Truth and Mary Knows Best, a series about a mom who is a psychic and has a radio show. As always in the entertainment world, the old rule applies: If a formula works, copy it until it’s dead. But when you’re dealing with the paranormal, maybe death isn’t the end.
Whether you believe or not doesn’t matter. The truth is, these shows are there for one thing: our entertainment. And as long as they continue to do that, we’ll be seeing ghosts on TV for a long time coming.
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