Paranormal TV shows and I have had an uneasy, ambivalent relationship. That’s not news.
I prefer a very private life, away from cameras.
I don’t mind working as a consultant/researcher, but even that can be fraught with disappointments when you’re dealing with producers and networks.
I have the respect of fellow professionals, including many who star on TV shows. That’s been good enough for me.
Lately, I’ve been receiving calls again, as a consultant, as a location scout, and as a potential guest for paranormal TV shows. That amazes me. Really, I thought the most popular subjects of ghost TV shows passed their sell-by date, years ago, but I’m averaging at least one call or email from a high-level producer, every two weeks. Weird.
Yes, some of the shows have retained interest and — in a few cases — their integrity. However, statistics suggest that interest in ghosts is moving past the “fad” phase. (Personally, I welcome that change.)
Here are the numbers. The top graph shows popularity in terms of online searches. The lower graph shows the number of related news reports. In other words: Popular interest is waning, despite increased media attention.
In that graph, above, the people most interested in ghosts are in the UK, Australia, Ireland, or New Zealand, and then the United States. Seriously… fewer searches from people in the US than New Zealand? Wow.
People continue to ask me how to get on TV, so here’s my updated advice. Of course, I’ll give you lots of warnings, first. I’d never want anyone to enter the entertainment field without a full understanding of the risks.
One of the main resources for media exposure is Help a Reporter Out, aka “HARO.” Keep in mind that those listings are not screened or verified, so you could be talking to some creepy guy with no media connections at all. Never give out personal contact information unless you have confirmed the person’s professional references. This usually involves calling the network, production company, or publisher of the person, and verifying the contact information for that person. (Absolutely anyone can say that he or she works for SyFy, or even say that he’s Jason Hawes, Zak Bagans, Jeff Belanger, or Marc Tetlow. Trust no one unless you’ve verified the person’s identity and contact info with a reliable third party.)
Get everything in writing. In the past, I’ve admitted (with embarrassment) that I worked for two months for a TV show, scouting locations and potential guests, and then wasn’t paid for my work.
The terms of my work were clear from the beginning. Here’s the initial email they sent to me, edited to conceal the name of the production company and hints to the identity of the TV series:
Hi there! I am a producer on a new network series that is looking for
people who feel that their home or place of work is haunted.I thought
that maybe you might be able to help me connect to people who might be
interested in our show.
Our show’s team has been researching, investigating, and helping
people for [many] years. If you know of people who might be
interested in potentially being featured on the show and having an
investigation, please email me at [address].
Also, we can offer $500 compensation for solid leads and $500 to those
whose stories that make air.
After I provided them with several good leads, they even told me a four-figure check was being mailed to me, with more to follow. That was a lie.
The lesson from this? Get a contract. Make sure it’s very specific about what you’re expected to do, for how much money, and exactly when you’ll be paid. If in doubt, have a contract attorney look at it.
(Were you already fooled by one of these production companies? Ask others in the field if they had similar offers. Consider a class-action lawsuit if others weren’t paid, either.)
Know that you’re taking a big risk. One show that contacted me… I haven’t watched the series, but when they were recruiting guests, it was described as a very serious, academic show. (I think they’d heard that I’m an academic, so that’s why they said that.) Then I found out that the show’s name was far from academic. Well, hey, sensational names attract viewers. So, make sure your contract says exactly which show you’re being filmed for. Don’t give the production company (or the network) free rein to use your interview or appearance in any show they like; be sure they specify the name of the TV series, in the contract.
As Jason Gowin (from Extreme Paranormal) said after his confidentiality agreement had expired:
Realize that nothing you do on television will be safe from manipulation… Rest assured, you are there to make money for them, not be a beacon of integrity. [Link]
Listen to the producers’ questions.
- Are they too eager to believe your story? Suspect false sincerity, to get you to say things you otherwise might not.
- Are they fishing for drama where they wasn’t any? It’s one thing to build a good story that engages viewers. It’s another to turn your experience into something far more extreme (and ridiculous) than it was.
- Are they digging for something to discredit you, or portray you as a sideshow? Every producer wants to avoid using guests with backgrounds that could be a liability. However, many producers are convinced that most paranormal encounters are delusions resulting from drugs, alcohol, extreme stress, or mental illness. Frankly, they’re more comfortable with those explanations, and may portray you (and your genuine ghostly encounter) in that context. Make sure you’re okay with that.
Pay attention to your gut feeling. If something doesn’t seem right, maybe it isn’t. In the case of the show that never paid me, they kept mentioning an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and then forgot to send it. That should have been a huge red flag, but I was so busy working, I ignored it. (However, their oversight worked to my advantage, since that research — some great ghost stories — will be in one of my upcoming books.)
Don’t expect to gain fame for your paranormal investigating team. Most TV shows avoid guests who might gain any professional advantages from appearing on TV. In most cases, you will not be allowed to appear in clothing with your team’s name on it, or wear anything that displays a logo of any kind.
A paycheck is not guaranteed. The producers’ (and the networks’) explanation is: A paid appearance could be misunderstood as a performance. However, many TV shows will get around this by offering to pay for your travel expenses and give you a “per diem” to cover your out-of-pocket costs. The per diem could barely cover meals from McD’s dollar menu during the filming. Or, the per diem might be enough to pay for a nice big TV, to watch yourself when you’re on the show. Generally, producers won’t tell you how much the per diem will be, in case it could be misinterpreted as payment for a performance.
(Also, if they aren’t willing to cover expenses related to your appearance on the show, maybe you should say, “No, thanks.”)
If you’re going to be a cast member on a series, make sure you can meet your monthly bills… somehow. I have a firm policy of not asking friends how much they earn from their shows. However, grapevine reports suggest that many ghost-related TV stars earn in the low four-figures, per episode, working seven days a week and 10- to 12-hour days.
Note: The stars’ real show-related income often comes from merchandising, but even that can be controlled by the producers or the network. If you sign a contract to be on a TV show, be sure you have the right to create your own products (books, videos, action figures… whatever) and that you also get a percentage of merchandising sales directly related to the show. Assume nothing about your rights, if they’re not clearly explained in the contract.
If you’re a supporting cast member, and you’re not one of the two or three stars of the show, I’ve heard that pay is about $500/episode. I hope I’m wrong about that.
Lately, more TV opportunities are available. So, you could be on TV if you really want to be.
If you’ve read this far, you probably think fame is worth the risks and low pay. So, you want to know how to find TV opportunities and have the best chance of landing a spot on a TV show. The following are my best recommendations.
Also check network-specific webpages, such as casting calls for SyFy (Haunted Collector, Paranormal Witness, etc.), MTV, ABC, VH1, TLC, HGTV, BBC (UK). (You never know when a network will take an interest in paranormal programming. I recall an episode of a food-related TV show where people competed by preparing ghost-themed cakes.)
And, if you’re serious about being on TV, it’s smart to get advice from experts. Don’t leap into this field unprepared! You may have just one chance to be on (or pitch) the show of your dreams. Learn what will give you the best chances for success:
- The 2006 book, Get on TV, is still one of the most popular books on this subject. It’s not specifically about reality shows. It teaches you how to build a career by being on a wide range of TV shows. If being a TV star has been your life-long goal, this book is worth reading.
- If you’re interested in reality TV and you’d like to be a guest, a star, a producer or a writer, you’ll want to read Reality TV: An Insider Guide to TV’s Hottest Market. This 2011 book gives you a good overview plus specific advice, and earns rave reviews from people in the industry.
- This 2012 book is so new, it has no reviews yet. It’s by the winner of Big Brother 10 (U.S.), Dan Gheesling: How to Get On Reality TV. And, since it’s a Kindle book, you can download and read it immediately.
There are other books about this subject, but those are the ones that look most useful.
Previous, related articles: