Paranormal television is a genre of popular reality television programming. Its scope comprises purportedly factual investigations of paranormal phenomena, rather than fictional representations found in such shows as The Ghosts of Motley Hall and Ghostbusters, or cartoon/children's series such as Scooby-Doo and Rentaghost.
Accounts of supernatural occurrences have always been common in the print media. The 1705 pamphlet "A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs Veal" by Daniel Defoe is a well-known example. Local TV news programs in the UK and USA have featured ghost stories since the 1960s. Paranormal television arose from this tradition.
One of the earliest paranormal TV shows was In Search Of..., hosted by Leonard Nimoy which ran for six years from 1976. Rod Serling was originally slated to host the series, but he died in 1975. In Search Of... explored many paranormal topics, including UFOs, cryptozoological creatures (cryptids), lost civilizations, and other mysteries. Though the subject matter gradually lost popularity, the show gave way to future TV series following the same genre.
Discovery Channel started to explore the genre with some success from 1996. The Fox Broadcasting Company had a news-style oriented show, Sightings, that was hosted by Tim White (newscaster/reporter) and this show lasted for six years. MTV's Fear premiered in 2000, establishing the visual look and editing style followed by most paranormal reality television show. In 2002, the British satellite channel Living TV launched the ghost-hunting series Most Haunted. Its success helped spawn other shows on the channel, including Dead Famous and Jane Goldman Investigates, and the channel developed a distinctive identity based on paranormal programming. The production company responsible for these programs, Antix, also produced two series of Spook School which followed the investigators of Para-Projects as they teach members of the public how to become paranormal investigators themselves.
Other notable shows include Creepy Canada, Proof Positive, America's Haunted Hotels, Ghost Hunters (not to be confused with the earlier European Ghosthunters), Ghost Adventures, and A Haunting. YTV, a Canadian youth-oriented station, has a more toned-down version of similar programming called Mystery Hunters.
Noting the recent trend in reality shows that take the paranormal at face value, New York Times Culture editor Mike Hale characterized ghost hunting shows as "pure theater" and compared the genre to professional wrestling or soft core pornography for its formulaic, teasing approach.
LA Times staff writer Ed Stockly wrote that "the paranormal/supernatural-investigation subgenre that has cropped up on cable television over the last few years, which includes Ghost Hunters, Destination Truth, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters International and a few others" promises to "take a skeptical approach in its investigations and to rely on science to confirm or disprove paranormal claims. So far not one has been able to consistently keep that promise."
Examples of notable programs
- "Mike Hale, Editor, The New York Times". New York Times Knowledge Network. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
- Hale, Mike (December 10, 2009). "Consigning Reality to Ghosts". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
- "TV Skeptic: 'Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files' looks at the real 'Battle of L.A.' - latimes.com". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-07-14. "The show is a part of the paranormal/supernatural-investigation subgenre that has cropped up on cable television over the last few years, which includes “Ghost Hunters,” “Destination Truth,” “Ghost Adventures,” “Ghost Hunters International” and a few others. Each promises to take a skeptical approach in its investigations and to rely on science to confirm or disprove paranormal claims. So far not one has been able to consistently keep that promise."