Last night I sat in the stairwell of my home to watch the first two episodes of Season 2 of Most Haunted.
Yes, the stairwell.
For reasons beyond my comprehension, my Wi-Fi worsens after sunset. If I want to stay in close proximity to my wife and dog as they take in an episode of Bring It, I have no choice but to move closer to the router. The best place happens to be the stairwell… with headphones… in the dark.
Anyway, if you are not familiar with Most Haunted, think of it as a combination of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures but with three differences. First, unlike the faceless film crew of Ghost Hunters, the full team of Most Haunted is recognized by name. This includes cameramen, sound men, and even make-up artist. Second, Most Haunted avoids the typical blood fest found in (all) episodes of Ghost Adventures. Third, everyone on Most Haunted has really cool British accents.
Oh, and Most Haunted preceded both American programs. The British ghost hunting show first aired in 2002. SyFy’s Ghost Hunters aired in 2004 and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures aired in 2008.
Despite the subtle differences and the common ghost-hunting theme, I don’t recall ever hearing – or seeing – a disclaimer beforehand that tells us that “What you are about to see is real…”
The question open for discussion is: Does it matter?
Skeptics or naysayers of the paranormal would more than likely argue that it doesn’t matter if paranormal television is real or not because there is no such thing as the paranormal. Evidence captured on Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Most Haunted, and every other program of their ilk is simply the misinterpretation of photographs, sounds, or video. They could easily explain all the evidence as examples of everything but the supernatural. In addition, our skeptical friends would probably say that the business of television is to make money and gain viewership, not be honest.
To some extent I would agree with the latter point. Even I would admit that Ghost Adventures lays it on pretty thick. Each week they provide us over-the-top dramatic action, carefully weaving gruesome re-creations with first-hand accounts. They are experts at sound and music, too. From their initial screeching introduction to the subdued yet creepy music at the end, they have perfected the art of the ghostly vibe. It’s difficult to watch Ghost Adventures in the dark. Ghost Hunters, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as clever. Instead, they use (or used to use) their “common man” approach to gain viewership. If two plumbers can investigate the paranormal, why can’t the mail carrier or the nurse or the steel worker? Heck, maybe you and I could, too.
As for Most Haunted, well, they have British accents.
In my opinion, adding drama does not negate the validity of what they are capturing on film or on audio or what they are feeling at the time.
We weren’t there, right?
Besides, drama is important. If you were to take any show from any of these three programs and remove the sound, the flashy lights, the creepy re-creations, and the dialog, you’d be left with just The Evidence. Taking it one step further, if you collapsed The Evidence into JUST the evidence – no camera stalking or pregnant pauses – you’d be lucky to fill two to three minutes of programming. Further, if you only watched those few minutes, you’d more than likely find nothing scary about it.
If you were to watch an episode of Ghost Hunters that only contained the anomalies, you’d probably never watch again.
Those of us that watch paranormal television need to be aware that paranormal investigating is not the fast-paced, hour-long adventure that television shows it to be. With few exceptions, investigating the spirit world is an arduous and boring effort sprinkled with an occasional unexplainable anomaly. On average, most paranormal teams start at sunset and investigate until sunrise. As an independent, I literally spend eight hours or more videotaping and digitally recording locations where I’ve neither seen nor heard anything. It’s only after I review the 16 plus hours of silence that I hear that one strange sound or one single word that doesn’t fit. This happened to me after investigating the USS HORNET in Alameda in 2014. Twelve hours of digital recording yielded a single EVP: “tragedy”.
The drama is what makes us watch.
Unfortunately the shows themselves have fueled the fact-versus-fiction debate.
I absolutely recall watching the special live Halloween investigation at Fort Delaware in 2008 by the Ghost Hunters team. I was very excited to see “real time” action so fought real hard to stay up all night long. And yes, I was grumpy the next day. However, my grumpiness wasn’t due to the lack of sleep, it was due to what I interpreted as cheating.
At some point during the investigation, I saw a “spirit” pull Grant Wilson’s jacket – not once but three separate times. I could tell right away it was tomfoolery because it didn’t “fit” with the rest of the activity that evening. It was too blatant, too obvious – a clear outlier. Grant was also acting strange, clearly monkeying with something in his pocket before and during the “episodes” that made him look like he was up to no good. To this day, Ghost Hunters never officially claimed it was a hoax but I have my suspicions.
Zac, Aaron, and, at the time, Nick Groff were also involved in a ghostly controversy. During their live event, I again opted to spend the night in front of my television. On October 30, 2009, Ghost Adventures spent 7-hours broadcasting live from the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. To be honest, the show was excellent except for special guest inventor Robert Bess throwing his EMF meter down the hall and claiming a spirit had knocked it violently out of his hand.
Ghost Adventures went on record during their follow-up show to say that, upon review of the evidence, Mr. Bess tossed the expensive device down the hall all by himself. Ghosts had nothing to do with it.
Most Haunted was also involved in a live event controversy. I did not watch because, well, I didn’t know it was on. Nevertheless, on October 31, 2015, the Most Haunted team broadcasted from Pontefract, Yorkshire, England. Wikipedia sets the scene:
“…it appeared that Karl Beattie [executive producer and cameraman] was dragged up the stairs of the house by an ‘invisible’ force. However reviewing back footage of the incident, many viewers and skeptics noted that Karl had what appeared to be a rope or cable around his waist that dragged him up the stairs. Karl and his wife Yvette [Fielding] refute the claims that this was a faked incident, saying that the cable around Karl was just a camera lead.”
Karl even went so far as to make a YouTube video to try and explain the incident. I don’t know if it’s because he’s English or not but I believe him.
Skeptics may refer to these examples as proof that all evidence is faked. I disagree. Running one red light does not mean that you are running all red lights.
As an amateur paranormal investigator, I will admit that I’m not too keen on hearing that my brethren are trying to pull fast ones on me. However, despite these questionable decisions, many of the anomalies we see on these television shows I’ve seen, too. I’ve personally captured video of strange lights in the dark and recorded anomalous humming while all alone. I’ve even felt touches that should not be. The evidence I’ve captured is eerily similar to what I’ve seen these teams present on television.
This tells me that beyond the purported trickery and over-dramatic stories, these programs are presenting real footage.
Returning back to my original question as to whether it matters if paranormal shows have a disclaimer, I think not. I watch these programs for two reasons: to reconcile my personal experiences to those experiencing the same and to be entertained.
We tend to trust what we see on television – so much so that if one of our favorite programs breaks that trust, we become distraught, unforgiving, and downright nasty. I propose that we watch these programs for what they are and get out there and investigate for ourselves. Only then will we be able to separate truth from fiction.
 Netflix calls it Season 2 but it’s known as Series 15 elsewhere. It was filmed in 2014.