Ghost hunting TV shows… what’s real? What’s fake? You may want to think about this.
In the early 2000s, ghost hunting TV shows helped many people learn more about paranormal research and haunted sites. That helped this field expand, almost overnight.
However, many viewers were disappointed when they went ghost hunting, themselves.
Ghost hunting wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had seemed on TV.
I’ve talked about this in the past, and – I’ll admit – ranted more than a little.
Here are my current thoughts (mid-2019) about ghost hunting TV shows.
If you’re busy and you’d like to listen to this instead of reading it, here’s the six-minute recording:
In April 2019, with a new (and different) season of TV shows, Fiona revisited the topic of ghost hunting on television versus what happens in real life. Six-minute recording. Related article: Ghost Hunting TV Shows, Revisited
Recently, a news report confirmed what I’ve been saying… and more concisely (and perhaps with more authority) than I have.
The article is “5 Myths about Reality Television,” and it was in the Washington Post newspaper.
Here’s part of what the article said:
With very few notable exceptions (like “Big Brother”…), most reality television is shot first over a period of days or weeks, then edited. A month in the field could be whittled down to 44 or 22 minutes of action. That way, the audience sees reality stars only in essential moments… Almost nothing airs exactly as it fell into the lens, but the final product is usually more or less what happened.
That’s true about many (not all) ghost hunting TV shows. A typical one-hour episode might require three to five days of daily filming at the site.
Then there’s editing, to make the show compelling to watch, with cliffhangers immediately before each commercial break.
What viewers see are the highlights of an investigation. They don’t see time spent waiting while nothing happens… and that can most of what goes on, at many (perhaps most) investigations.
We sit for an hour, and then something odd happens. We investigate it and debunk it, and then sit or walk around for another hour. And then something creepy happens, and it’s memorable. When we can’t debunk it, that’s what makes the wait worthwhile.
It starts with a good location.
Viewers don’t see the dozens of locations scouted by people like me. Location scouts know that most ghost stories turn out to be more fiction than fact.
(That’s typical in any community; if you’ve gone ghost hunting, I’m sure you’ve visited many places where absolutely nothing noteworthy happened. It can be discouraging.)
When a producer contacts me to identify good sites for filming, the majority of “haunted” sites either aren’t haunted or the owners (or tenants) prefer not to be featured in a TV show.
(The good news is, I almost always find some genuinely impressive haunted sites in the area, with owners willing to grant access to investigators and the camera crew.)
An encouraging trend
So, from my experience, most sites features on TV shows are actually haunted. Also, what viewers see is usually more or less what happened.
I’m seeing a shift – towards almost radical authenticity – in some ghost hunting TV shows.
Most Haunted remains one of the leaders in this trend. They test show ideas (and investigation techniques) before most do.
Also, Most Haunted producers suggested they may air shows featuring outtakes. That’s a fun idea. (See @OnlyMostHaunted at Twitter.)
While more authentic ghost hunting TV shows – like Most Haunted – aren’t the adrenaline fuel of their fast-paced, highly edited counterparts, I like this trend.
(2020 update: Yes, some shows are far better at showing what’s real. And others still go for sensational shrieks and chills.)
Problem: shows’ time limits
Ghost hunting shows are short – really short – compared with real-life investigations.
The only sites I’ve investigated for just 22 minutes (the length of a 30-minute TV show, sans commercial breaks) are those that seemed too dangerous for research.
Usually, that had nothing to do with ghosts; instead it was about creepy people in the area, or imminent lightning strikes.
My average time at a haunted home or large site? It’s probably around two to three hours.
Later, I may revisit that location multiple times, and each additional visit can last several hours.
Or, if I’m familiar with a site, I might investigate just 45 minutes (the content of a one-hour TV show).
That kind of brief investigation is probably a follow-up visit, to debunk (or confirm) anomalies we previously encountered.
Though the time problem isn’t exactly new news, I was glad to see mainstream media mention the reality behind many “reality” TV shows.
Your investigations will be different
If you’re new to ghost hunting, don’t expect something startling every five or ten minutes.
Instead, arrive at events and investigations with low expectations. Lots of waiting may be required.
That’s a good opportunity for you to do a thorough (and sometimes repeated) “baseline yourself” check, so you’re always aware when weird things start happening at a haunted site.
What you see on TV rarely represents everything that happened at the site. I’d describe it as “ghost hunting without the boring bits.” (That’s a nod to Horrible Histories and Ghosts. I love their humor.)
However, TV shows can reveal the wide range of phenomena you might encounter at an extraordinarily haunted site.
Shows that emphasize real ghost hunting experiences… they’re well worth your viewing time. You can learn a lot from them. And, with their insights, you might be better prepared when you encounter something chilling.
- Baseline Yourself for Ghost Hunting – article, podcast, and free worksheet
- Are Ghost TV Shows Real? (2009 article)
- Also, you may learn something from my free ghost hunting lessons at Hallowfields.com.
And, if you want to be on a ghost hunting TV show, search related keywords at sites like AuditionsFree.com, Backstage.com, and – for the UK – Starnow.co.nz, TheStage.co.uk, and similar sites. (There are many.)