Are Ghost TV Shows Real?

In the past, and especially when “ghost hunting” TV shows became sensational, people asked me if the shows were real.

The simple answer is no, they’re not. They may represent what we do, as ghost hunters, but even the most authentic shows are edited to make them more entertaining.

Also, some people use ghost hunting TV shows as training for their own investigations. That can be risky, foolhardy, and — in some cases — miss the point of real ghost research.

Here are some points to keep in mind:

1. Lighthouse - photo by Horton GroupTV shows don’t represent how many houses we visit that aren’t haunted.  The majority of houses that seem haunted are either victims of high EMF or infrasound levels, or some other very normal (if odd) explanation.  Even if they are haunted, the issue is related to residual energy, not a ghost or an active entity.

2. Demons and malicious spirits are very rare.  If you think you’re being bothered by a demon, call an expert, not just the local ghost hunting club.  However, demons and evil entities appear at about 1% of the hauntings we’ve encounter… if that many.

3. Don’t let TV shows convince you that most ghosts are evil or dangerous.  They’re not. Watch the “ghostly” TV shows & movies of the past, and see how they portrayed ghosts.

Topper – the Cary Grant movies
Topper – the TV series
Ghost & Mrs. Muir – original movie with Rex Harrison
Ghost & Mrs. Muir – TV series (unavailable in Dec 09)
One Step Beyond – TV series (described as “historic accounts” of paranormal events) (Episode on YouTube (one of many))

 

4. Provoking ghosts?  Instead, look for someone like “ghostbait” from the Hollow Hill team:  Someone who, just by being there, seems to attract ghosts and hauntings.

5. ‘Tis the season!  When you’re watching “A Christmas Carol,” think how you might interpret Scrooge if you were at a location that he (and his ghostly companion) were visiting.  Would you think he’s a ghost that is scary, or needs help to “cross over”?

TV shows aren’t “reality.” (Even TV producers changed the term to “unscripted,” since they didn’t want to be sued for pretending a show was “real.”)

Don’t try to mimic TV shows or movies. Don’t take seriously any advice from paranormal TV shows. In many cases, the ghost hunter didn’t really say whatever-it-is; the advice was edited to give the audience chills.

Learn what ghostly phenomena really are. Study the history of paranormal research. Discover what psychics and ghost hunting equipment really do.

Explore haunted places with a pro. Events are a good starting point.

Never go ghost hunting alone. Always have a level-headed person with you, and — if you feel frightened during an investigation — leave at the first hint of danger.

TV shows can be fun to watch, but most of them don’t represent what we really do as ghost hunters. You’re seeing an edited version, and it was edited with a specific production goal in mind.

Real ghost hunting is different.

Ghost Hunting Personalities – Entertainers… or Researchers?

In ghost hunting — and the paranormal field, in general — there are two very different approaches… and a broad overlap between them.

tv-remoteEntertainers appear in the media, and they’re paid guests at events and at “investigations.”

They are there to entertain you. They may be speaking from memorized scripts. If what they’re saying (or portraying on TV) is true, that’s nice… but not necessary, as they see it.

If you enjoy their performances, they’ve succeeded and their careers grow.  If they don’t, they fade away, reinvent themselves, or shift to another line of work.

They create an illusion so the audience suspends disbelief long enough to enjoy the performance.  That’s measured in TV ratings and tickets sold at events.

David Blaine is one of many entertainers who appear to be working mystical feats. He correctly describes himself as an illusionist.

clue-magnifierResearchers look for breakthroughs in paranormal studies.  Their standard is integrity.

Most don’t care if they entertain anyone.

What they discover — and the tools and techniques that they develop — may become far more famous than the developers’ names.

Bill Chappell is the inventor of many brilliant research tools (often featured on Ghost Adventures). More people recognize the name of his inventions (such as the Ovilus) than his own name.

I’m a researcher, not an entertainer.  I say, “Fiona Broome” and people may look confused.  I mention HollowHill.com, and they suddenly recognize me.  (It’s nice when people recognize my name, but I’d rather have them remember my discoveries.)

Few are both researchers and entertainers.

Some researchers have been cast in paranormal “reality shows.” Some actors in those shows — with no prior research experience — became brilliant investigators.

But, in general, how someone seems on TV may be very different from how they appear in person, and how much ghost hunting expertise they actually have.

I could list several “ghost hunting experts” from TV shows who, in real life, had little understanding of paranormal research.

I’ve also known several genuine experts who had more experience and integrity than viewers saw on related TV shows.

A couple of genuine researchers who’ve starred on TV shows

John Zaffis is a good example of someone who’s worked in both research and entertainment (The Haunted Collector).  He was a respected researcher and demonologist for many years before ghost hunting became popular. His joking manner can be entertaining… but he’s speaking from decades of genuine research.

Barry Fitzgerald is another researcher who’s bridged the gap between academic and scientific study, and the entertainment field (Ghost Hunters International).

They’re just two of many researcher/entertainers I’ve admired for their integrity and expertise in real life. (I mention them because wasn’t thrilled with how they were edited for their respected TV shows. They deserve more recognition as innovative investigators.)

Have low expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

Before attending an event or public “investigation,” it’s important to adjust your expectations.  For the past 15+ years, I’ve said in my Guidelines for ghost hunters, “…if someone is charging you money as if they’re providing a show… perhaps they are.”

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between a con artist and an entertainer.  In most cases, the entertainer separates his (or her) role, on stage, from what’s true in his personal life.  The lines may blur, but there’s no fraud involved.

 

Sure, an entertainer may disappoint you with a poor performance, but that’s different from being a fraud.

Likewise, a researcher’s results may be disproved by later studies.  That’s not a con, it’s a normal part of trial-and-error research… there will be errors!

The vast majority of entertainers and researchers are good, honest people. They have every reason to be proud of their work.

The biggest confusion is when a TV show or movie presents an entertainer as an expert when he (or she) isn’t one in real life.

Or, when people attend an event or public ghost hunt, and expect every expert to be chatty and entertaining.

“Reality shows” can blur the lines. When you meet stars or researchers in real life, keep your expectations in check so you’re not disappointed.

Do you have a question or opinion on this subject?  Let me know in the comments form, below.

Fake! Does It Matter in Ghost Hunting?

Integrity is a researcher’s most valued asset. In this field, it’s especially important.  However, since entertainment has become part of the paranormal scene, the lines have blurred between reality and showmanship.

Now, a storm is brewing, and it’s time to examine our expectations and standards in the paranormal field.

crime-scene1“Fake!” is a charge I see far too often in this field… and usually with the wrong people.

I’m not sure if that’s ironic or missing the point.

It’s true that there are fakes, frauds, and con men (and women) working in ghost-related professions.

There are also sincere researchers who are looking for answers to questions that have been around for centuries.

It may be important to know the difference.  Or, depending on your goals and interests, maybe it doesn’t matter.

I can think of four major reasons why people are attracted to this field.

Knowing your goals — and others’ — can help you spot the fakes.  Or, it can help you shrug off the controversy and focus on your own interests.

Entertainment

Many people enjoy ghost-related TV shows, ghost tours, dinner and stage presentations, and ghost-themed events.

If you’re looking for entertainment, keep your focus on the fun. Don’t worry how much of it is real or just a clever presentation.

In real life, ghost hunting is tedious.  The one-hour show you see on TV may have taken two to five days to film.  You’re only seeing the interesting moments.

If you’re at an event and one or two people keep you entertained for an entire evening, as if it’s a show… maybe it is.

But, if you’re only there for the fun and an occasional “good scare,” does it really matter how much of it is real?

Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction isn’t “real.”  However, many ghost enthusiasts — including me — wait in line for an hour or longer to enter that attraction, because it’s great entertainment.

If you’re at an event or watching a show to be entertained, judge it by the fun, period.

You want a question answered

Many people have questions about ghosts.

  • You may want to know if there really is something after death.
  • You may have had a ghostly encounter, and want to know if it was real.
  • You may suspect that you’re psychic, but you’re not sure.
  • Or, a movie or TV show scared you, and you want to know if that kind of phenomena is real.

If that’s what draws you to paranormal research, get involved with a good research group, or start one yourself.

Some TV shows*, stage presentations, and events lean towards “entertainment.”   In other words, they may be faking some or all of what you see.

Unfortunately, people who want to believe in an afterlife can be among the most gullible.

If you’re looking for answers to spiritual questions, keep these two points in mind:

1. You may never find absolute proof of an afterlife or ghosts.  “Clear evidence” for one person may seem ridiculous to someone else.  Only you can decide if you’ve found answers you seek.

2. Many seekers are vulnerable.  Become a skeptic.  Don’t confuse performers with genuine researchers.  Learn to tell them apart.

After you find an answer to your questions — or decide that there is no answer — you may lose interest in paranormal studies.

It’s okay to walk away from ghost hunting if (and when) it stops being interesting.  Don’t keep watching TV shows, paying for events, or going on investigations if they’re disappointing you.

If others ask, it’s fine to say, “I found the answer that I was looking for.  It’s personal.”  And then, change the subject.

Or, once you feel as if you found what you’re looking for, you may be more interested in paranormal research.  If so, your help is encouraged!

You’re accompanying a friend who’s interested in ghosts

Sometimes, people  join a friend (or friends) at a ghost tour or a ghost investigation.  Soon, they’re involved in paranormal research, too.

Or, they go to an entertainment-style event, find it intriguing, and become a fan.

Remember why you’re there, and — before taking anything seriously — use your critical thinking skills.  Get educated.  Listen to believers and skeptics alike.   Both provide important advice.

Power, fame, money, applause and popularity

stage-lightsWhen any subject is featured on several TV shows, some people get involved for fame and fortune.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone’s reasonably honest about it.  Most theatrical ghost tours are clearly fake. As long as you remember it’s just a show, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it.Now and then, an entertainer will mix reality and performance.  More than one genuine psychic has been tripped up that way, feeling obliged to put on a show when nothing was actually going on.

Would you be happier spending $150 for a ghost hunt in which nothing happened all evening… or if a few people exaggerated their experiences, to give attendees a chill?

My advice for fans:  Treat ghost hunting like any other form of entertainment.  Some shows will be more authentic and more fun than others. Decide your goals — and your spending limit — and stick to it.

Entertainer or researcher… or both?

Among ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal “experts,” some people are entertainers.  They can be tremendous fun, on- and off-stage.

Some tell wonderful stories.  They may also be moderately psychic… or good at convincing you that they are.

Enjoy that for what it is:  Great fun.

Others are serious researchers.  I’m one of them.  Frankly, we can be geeky, boring people.  However, if you can keep from nodding off when we talk about our latest projects, you may glean some useful insights for your own research.

People like me were paranormal researchers long before TV shows made ghost hunting popular**.  We’ll be here long after the fad is eclipsed by the next popular trend, too.

If you’re attending an event, listening to the radio or watching TV, ask yourself:

  • Is this person an entertaining speaker presenting  reliable information?
  • Is this improving your understanding of ghosts and ghost hunting?
  • Or, is he (or she) putting on a show?  If so, is it entertaining?

Houdini wasn’t a “fake.” He was a performer.

The same can be said for modern-day stage magicians.  The fun (and the challenge) is figuring out how he or she makes it seem real.

The excruciatingly boring speaker at a conference probably isn’t “fake.” He or she is sharing research results.  If you thrill to news about scientific breakthroughs, the fun is examining the evidence to see if it’s helpful.  The learning curve… maybe not so much fun.

In general, if you know what your goals are, use them to judge the merits of the TV show, event, investigation or personality.

Fake?  That’s an issue if you’re looking for answers and a genuine encounter with the paranormal world.

A better question is whether you’re disappointed, and if the show, event or person is worth your time.

This article is primarily about the differences between entertainers and researchers.  If you’re concerned that someone is a fraud, see my article, Scams and Con Artists.

*I’ve always defended Jason Hawes’ and Grant Wilson’s work on the Ghost Hunters TV show.  I don’t know if they were set up.

We all know that editing can dramatically change how something looks.

However, Grant or Jason faking something paranormal is as likely as a rabid Red Sox fan cheering for the Yankees when the teams are head-to-head.  It’s not likely to happen, ever.

**I began writing for FATE magazine in the early 1980s (via the Wayback Machine). My first Fate story with a byline (under the pen name Margaret Brighton) was the true California ghost story, “Boots,” published in February 1989.  This website — first as “Yankee Haunts” and then Hollow Hill — has been online since the mid-1990s.  In other words, I can prove how long I’ve been professional in this field.  I do my best to be an entertaining speaker, but first and foremost, I’m a very geeky ghost hunter.