Ghost Hunting – Reality v. TV Shows, Revisited

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.

I’ve talked about this in the past, and – I’ll admit – ranted more than a little. Here are my current thoughts 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:

Ghost Hunting – Reality v. TV, revisited

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, where 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 a few genuinely impressive haunted sites in the area, with owners willing to grant access to investigators and the camera crew.)

Ghost hunting is more than what you see on reality TV showsSo, 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. (In the UK, it’s on Really, usually on Fridays.)

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.

And, for the record: 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 investigation at a haunted home or large site is probably around two to three hours. 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). But, something that brief is probably a follow-up visit, to debunk (or confirm) anomalies noted during an earlier investigation.

Though this isn’t exactly new news, I was glad to see mainstream media mention the reality behind many “reality” TV shows.

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.

But, 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 happens during a ghost investigation. I’d describe it as “ghost hunting without the boring bits.” (That’s a nod to Horrible Histories.)

However, TV shows can show you the wide range of phenomena you might encounter at an extraordinarily haunted site. For that, shows that emphasize real ghost hunting experiences… they’re well worth your viewing time.

Related articles

And, if you want to be on a ghost hunting TV show, search related keywords at sites like AuditionsFree.comBackstage.com, and – for the UK – Starnow.co.nz, TheStage.co.uk, and similar sites. (There are many.)

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