Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Lurks in Building 13? Year of the Reality TV Spooks

By Nickolas Cook
Destination Truth
Extreme Paranormal
Ghost Adventures
Ghost Hunters
Ghost Hunters International
Ghost Hunter Academy
Ghost Lab
Monster Quest
Most Haunted
Mystery Quest
Paranormal State
Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal
UFO Hunters

With the worldwide success of indie horror flick “Paranormal Activity”, it looks as if people are more and more willing to accept that which we cannot see as fact instead of fiction…or at least as some good spooky entertainment.
Since The Ghost Hunters (known as T.A.P.S. to those in the paranormal research community) first aired on SyFY back in October 2004, the granddaddy of the paranormal reality series show has grown a steady and ravenous fan base, becoming SyFy’s biggest show to date, and going into syndication on other networks as well. And since one success will inevitably lead to others jumping on the bandwagon, we now see several networks giving us their own spin on the paranormal reality TV show. Some of them are almost as compelling, for one reason or another, as The Ghost Hunters, but most of them pale in comparison to the weekly exploits of Jason and Grant and their ever changing entourage of investigators and equipment technicians.
One of the reasons The Ghost Hunters has been so successful with a varied range of viewers is that they have an agenda to first debunk the evidence they collect in the course of their investigations as much as possible before calling it paranormal. During the first season, they made use of psychics, demon experts, priests and other questionable evidence gathering personae. It didn’t take long for them to discard the unscientific resources for more sophisticated techniques and equipment. Their number one goal seems to be to quantify what they do gather, while not relying solely upon personal experience and ‘feelings’. Unlike most of reality shows starring the paranormal, they do not make use of ritualistic ceremony or religious personae to add to their investigative techniques. This adds a bit more credibility to what they are able to snag from beyond the veil. Their formula has successfully translated to two spinoffs on SyFy, Ghost Hunters International, led by paranormal investigator Robb Demerest and some of the gang from the original GH team, and the new Ghost Hunter Academy, in which longtime investigators Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango will attempt to train a new team of investigators to send out into the paranormal reality tv world--good luck, Tango and Steve!
But where The Ghost Hunters rely upon measurable evidence and the best ghost hunting equipment and techniques to back them up, some shows do anything but.
A and E Channel seems to have gotten the idea that just saying something is haunted or some strangeness is of paranormal origin makes it so. They have no less than three shows right now which use almost no scientific techniques to gather evidence of the supernatural and rely almost solely on psychics and ceremonial/quasi religious hoodoo. With Paranormal State, we’re told Ryan Buell and company are seeking the demonic and exorcising them. But, of course, just about everything that happens to them is ‘feeling’ or emotion based and they don’t seem to worry overly much in proving what they say is true. The spin off their lead psychic garnered is called Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal, and it follows the A and E paranormal reality show formula pretty closely…only now we have a bunch of pre-teen kids whining about seeing dead people ala The Sixth Sense. Hey, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I am saying I need a little more proof than tears and yelling before the commercial breaks.
The third show to recently appear on A and E is Extreme Paranormal. Again, not a lot of science going on here. Just three fat white guys running around places they probably shouldn’t be in, performing some sketchy quasi-religious magic ceremonial stuff to call forth the dead. The highlight to their ridiculousness so far has been their diving expedition into a lake in New Mexico, where one of the tubby men decides to leave the fire circle they’ve created on the lake. Apparently a malevolent spirit that resides in the lake tried to drag him down…for our entertainment.
Yeah, right.
One of the better shows on air right now is Ghost Adventures. Although there tends to be a lot of needless histrionics involved with their investigations, they at least try to verify the evidence they gather using real equipment. Zak Bagans, Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin are a hell of a lot more charismatic than the boys with GH, but that’s not the only thing that sets them apart from the usual para-fare. They investigate locales where there are known malevolent spirits, and once inside, purposely antagonize them to get a rise. They’ve done so quite well in the past, if the evidence is to be believed.
Another new para-show is Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab, run by the heavy hitters of the para-world, the Klinge Brothers. These guys are two tons of fun and running for them is not an option. That’s why they use plenty of extra equipment to cover their investigations. Another great angle to their show is the use of newer, more innovative techniques, such as Era Cues and Linear Sweeps (see the glossary on their web site for more info). Are all of these things successful or even believable? Not always. But they get an A for effort, that’s for sure.
Dipping into the worst of the worst, we have England’s own Most Haunted. If there are a bigger bunch of scam artists working the paranormal reality show circuit these days, I don’t know who they are. Two years older than The Ghost Hunters, one has to admit they were there first. But what damage they’ve managed to do to the credibility of like shows in their tenure is terrible.
Lead screamer, Yvette Fielding manages to always find something paranormal, no matter where she goes, and always manages to start screaming as soon as something begins to happen. Their all night live shows became quite an event. Not sure why. Nothing ever takes place on camera that doesn't look fake or setup. The stories of how Yvette and producers faked a lot of evidence are just too overwhelming to ignore, even if you happen to be a stalwart fan of the silly series.
Tagging onto our paranormal shows are the tangential cryptid and UFOligists shows.
The best of them is without a doubt Destination Truth, hosted by Joshua Gates, the funniest guy to ever cast a Yeti footprint for posterity. He and his ever changing team of crypto/para investigators have been around the world and in some obviously for-real dangerous environments to seek out creatures that science will not admit exist. Sometimes they get lucky and find some seriously strange unexplainable evidence. And sometimes they think a monkey is a ghost. Can’t win them all, I guess.
Still, the show is definitely worth watching, if only for Gates’ smartass remarks about the indigenous people.
Following closely on his heels, we have History Channel’s forays into the abnormal. MonsterQuest, while entertaining at times, seems to have a penchant for Bigfoot shows, and they overload the programming with these repeats of stuff we’ve already heard and seen before. They did get a great shot of a Giant Squid that made the news a couple of years ago, so they’re doing some good for the cryptid community.
UFO Hunters, produced by the same people who brought you Ghost Hunters, stars famous UFOlogist Bill Birnes and his team, as they try to uncover evidence of UFO landings and abductions. Nothing significant has ever come of their investigations, other than pissing off a few government agencies.
And their newest show, MysteryQuest tries to investigate strange historical mysteries. Most of the time they’re not supernatural or cryptid in origin, but who doesn’t want to know how many Nazi war criminals they might have for neighbors?
Will this trend for more para/cryptid entertainment continue for the next few years? How many of these reality shows will come and go, while bilking us of our strained sense of credibility, before we say enough is enough?
Who knows?
But I do know there are times I still get a little shiver when The Ghost Hunters capture an EVP that has no natural explanation. Or when Destination Truth manages to find a solid piece of evidence for the existence of lost creatures. And so I will watch them time and again for just that brief moment of chills. Will you?

--Nickolas Cook

The good folks over at The Travel Channel have been good enough to send us some fresh news about Zak and the boys with Ghost Adventures.
This Friday's episode is the result of a dream come true for Zak, Nick, and Aaron, as they investigate one of the darkest paranormal locations on earth: Poveglia Island. It is one of the scariest, most difficult experiences any of the guys have been through. So disturbing in fact, that they chose not to include some scenes in this episode.
You don't want to miss the premiere this Friday at 9 PM E/P on the Travel Channel.

Episode info:
This week Zak, Nick, and Aaron visit one of the darkest spots on earth: Poveglia Island. On Poveglia, is an insane asylum built on the ashes and bones of thousands of bubonic plague victims. Thousands of people have died on the island as a result of plaugue, war, tsunami, and murder.
Many of the locals in Venice refuse to talk about Poveglia. They are even banned from visiting the island by the Italian government. Part of this dark energy is because during the plagues anyone who showed signs of the illness was taken to the island against their will. They would be left to die, and once they did, their bodies were burned and buried.
At one point Zak is overcome with anger and hatred. He believes he was taken over by a demonic spirit, but he chose not to include all that happened in the episode because is it so personally disturbing. It is the first experience to ever force the team to pause an investigation out of fear for their safety.

Burial Fields of Poveglia Island

Connect with the show:

The good folks over at The Travel Channel have been good enough to send us some fresh news about Zak and the boys with Ghost Adventures:
This week's new season opener (11/06/09) promises to be another chilling one. This week Zak, Nick, and Aaron will be at Pennhurst State, a school for the developmentally disabled, which was forced to close its doors in 1987 after numerous, heart-wrenching allegations of abuse and neglect.
Catch the episode premiere at 9 PM E/P on the Travel Channel.

Episode info:
Pennhurst State became infamous in the 1980s when word spread about the despicable conditions in which the patients were forced to live. Pennhurst was home to more than 3,000 mentally challenged, mentally disabled, and developmentally disabled patients. There are countless claims of abuse. This partly because while the local zoo spent $7.15 on their animals per day on their wards, Pennhurst could only afford $5.90.
When Zak asks Dr. James Conroy (Co-President of Pennhurst Memorial) if there was ever sexual abuse at the school. Dr. Conroy replies, "Absolutely. Constantly. Every night."
While the school was opened, there was a deafening sound from thousands of patients screaming. Today the sound of those screams has been replaced with a skin tingling silence. Needless to say, there is enough dark energy in this place to make your hair stand up end.

Video clip of the Pennhurst State investigation:

But before the new episode. the boys will be talking about last week's live show:

Tune-in info:
Ghost Adventures - Pennhurst: Friday, November 6th, at 9 E/P on Travel Channel.
Ghost Adventures Live Postmortem: Friday, November 6th, at 8 E/P on Travel Channel.

Connect with the show:

So paranormal fans, make sure to tune in tonight for the all new episode and new season opener of Ghost Adventures. And remember to tune in here at The Black Glove each week for more episode updates on Ghost Adventures, courtesy of The Travel Channel.

--Nickolas Cook
(The Black Glove thanks The Travel Channel for their time and efforts)