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Paranormal television is a genre of reality television that purports to document factual investigations of the paranormal rather than fictional representations seen in traditional narrative films and TV. Over the years, the genre has grown to be a staple of television and even changed the programming focus of networks like the History Channel and the Travel Channel. By highlighting beliefs in topics ranging from Bigfoot to aliens, paranormal television continues to elevate popular interest in the paranormal.
Early precursors (1950s–1999)
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. Paranormal television proper can trace its genesis to local TV news programs in the UK and US, which have featured ghost stories since the 1960s. The earliest TV show devoted exclusively to the paranormal was One Step Beyond which broadcast 96 episodes on the ABC network from 1959 to 1961. The stories were promoted as being based on actual real-life experiences, including historically well-known events such as sinking of RMS Titanic, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
It was followed 15 years later by In Search of..., hosted by Leonard Nimoy which ran for six years from 1977 to 1982. 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.
Unsolved Mysteries, which began airing in 1987 and ended in 2002, would feature paranormal cases from time to time, and further popularised the documentary aspect of paranormal television. Ghostwatch, a fictional news broadcast about a haunted house in the UK that aired in 1992, created controversy when a majority of viewers believed the televised show was real. Discovery Channel started to explore the genre with some success from 1996. The Fox Broadcasting Company aired a news-style oriented show Sightings which lasted for six years.
Reality Television (2000–present)
In 2000, MTV's Fear premiered, merging nascent reality television with the storytelling of traditional horror films. The innovative show established the visual look, music and editing style of the paranormal reality television genre; most iconically, the format of investigators filming themselves with portable cameras as they become frightened exploring dark, unnerving environments. By the end of 2000, shows inspired by MTV's Fear began production for a growing range of networks, starting with Fox Family's Scariest Places on Earth, followed by Murder in Small Town X in 2001, Scare Tactics in 2003. To-date, the genre has grown into a staple of television.
Ghost Hunters premiered in 2004 on Sci Fi (later Syfy)  Sci Fi broadened into other paranormal shows, including Destination Truth. Ghost Adventures, another ghost-hunting program, which premiered on the Discovery Networks-owned Travel Channel in 2008, was the successor to a documentary film of the same name that aired on Sci Fi in 2007. A&E aired the prominent ghost-hunting series Paranormal State from 2007 to 2011, and History Channel began to compete in the general paranormal genre around this time with series such as UFO Files, MonsterQuest, UFO Hunters and the documentary special Ancient Aliens, which led to a successor series that began airing in 2010.
Syfy abandoned their focus on paranormal programming by 2015, and Ghost Hunters itself left the network in 2016 after 11 seasons. Around that time, Travel Channel moved completely into airing exclusively paranormal television series (the network initially centering programming around Ghost Adventures) frequently featuring ghost hunting, including series related to Ghost Adventures, as well as later productions featuring former Ghost Hunters members such as Kindred Spirits (2014–present) and Ghost Nation (2019–present). Destination America planned to compete with Travel Channel's paranormal programming (seasons 1-2 of Kindred Spirits aired on DA and TLC), but reversed course after it and TLC were reacquired by Discovery Networks during their acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive in 2018. In 2019, Ghost Hunters was revived by A&E and aired a 12th season on the channel with a 13th season coming in 2020.
Noting the recent trend in reality shows that take the paranormal at face value, The 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.
Los Angeles 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."
Writer Diane Dorby proposes that paranormal reality TV shows provide "plausibility structures" that people use for "interpreting the meaning and experience of death".
According to science writer Sharon A. Hill, "Paranormal reality TV shows are designed as entertainment for the curious, not science documentaries to discover truths. If the tempo is too slow it will be sped up by giving "reality" a boost".
|Program||Original Run Years (Premiere–Finale)||Category||Format||Original Channel/Network|
|6ixth Sense||2002–2003||Psychics||Living TV (UK)|
|10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty||2014||Cryptozoology||Reality||Spike|
|13: Fear Is Real||2009||Paranormal||Reality||CW|
|A Haunting||2002, 2005–2007, 2012-2019||Ghosts||Anthology||Discovery Channel|
|Alien Encounters||2013||UFOs–aliens||Science Channel|
|Alien Mysteries||2013||UFOs–aliens||Documentary||Discovery Channel (Canada)|
|America's Psychic Challenge||2007||Psychics||Competitive reality||Lifetime|
|America Unearthed||2012–2015, 2019||Conspiracy||History|
|Ancient Secrets||2012||National Geographic Channel|
|Ancient X-Files||2010||Paranormal||National Geographic Channel|
|Animal X||2014||Cryptozoology||Documentary||Discovery Channel|
|The Antiques Ghost Show||2003||Ghosts||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
|Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe||1995||Paranormal||ITV (UK)|
|Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World||1980||Paranormal||ITV (UK)|
|Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers||1985||Paranormal||ITV (UK)|
|Beast Hunter||2011||Cryptozoology||National Geographic Channel|
|Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction||1997–2002||Paranormal||Anthology||Fox|
|Beyond Reason||1977–1980||Paranormal||Quiz show||CBC Television (CAN)|
|Brad Meltzer's Decoded||2010–2012||Conspiracy||Investigation||History|
|Celebrity Ghost Stories||2009–2014||Ghosts||Reality||Biography Channel|
|Celebrity Paranormal Project||2006–2007||Ghosts||Reality||VH1|
|Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura||2009–2011||Conspiracy||TruTV|
|Creepy Canada||2002–2006||Paranormal||OLN (CAN)|
|Critical Eye||2002||Paranormal||Science Channel|
|Crossing Over with John Edward||1999–2004||Psychic||SyFy|
|Cuarto Milenio||2005||Cuatro (TV channel) (SPA)|
|The Curse of Oak Island||2014 – present||Pseudo–archaeology||Reality||History (Canadian TV network)|
|Dark Matters: Twisted But True||2011–2012||Paranormal||Science|
|Dead Famous||2004–2006||Ghosts||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
|The Dead Files||2011–present||Psychics||Travel Channel|
|Deadly Possessions||2016–||Paranormal||Travel Channel|
|Decoding the Past||2005–2008||Paranormal||History|
|Deep South Paranormal||2010–2013||Paranormal||Syfy|
|Derek Acorah's Ghost Towns||2005–2006||Ghosts||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
|Destination Fear||2012||Paranormal||Travel Channel|
|Encounters: The Hidden Truth||1994–1996||Paranormal||news/documentary||Fox|
|Enigma||2005||Paranormal||documentary||Vision TV (Canada)|
|The Extraordinary||1993–1996||Paranormal||Documentary||Seven Network (AUS)|
|Extreme Ghost Stories||2006–2007||Ghosts||Documentary||ITV1 (UK)|
|Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files||2010–2012||Paranormal||Investigation||Syfy|
|Finding Bigfoot||2011–2018||Cryptozoology||Documentary||Animal Planet|
|Fortean TV||1997–1998||Paranormal||Documentary||Channel 4 (UK)|
|Ghost Adventures||2008–present||Ghosts||Travel Channel|
|Ghost Adventures: Aftershocks||2014||Ghosts||Documentary||Travel Channel|
|Ghost Asylum||2014–2016||Paranormal||Reality||Destination America|
|Ghost Brothers||2016||Paranormal||Reality||Destination America|
|Ghost Hunt||2005–2006||Ghost||Reality||TV2 (New Zealand) (NZ)|
|Ghost Hunters||2004–2016, 2019–present||Ghosts||Reality||Sci Fi Channel|
|Ghost Hunters Academy||2009–2010||Ghost||Reality||Syfy|
|Ghost Hunters International||2008–2012||Ghost||Reality||Syfy|
|Ghost Lab||2009–2011||Ghosts||Discovery Channel|
|Ghost Nation||2019–present||Ghosts||Reality||Travel Channel|
|Ghost Stalkers||2014||Paranormal||Reality||Destination America|
|Ghost Stories||2009–2010||Ghosts||Travel Channel|
|Ghost Trackers||2005–2008||Ghosts||Reality||YTV (CAN)|
|Ghosthunters||1996–1997||Ghosts||Documentary||Discovery Channel Europe (UK)|
|Ghosthunting With...||2006–2011||Ghosts||ITV2 (UK)|
|Ghostly Encounters||2005–2011||Ghosts||Documentary||Viva/W Network (Canada)|
|The Girly Ghosthunters||2005||Ghosts||Space (CAN)|
|Great British Ghosts||2011–2012||Ghosts||Yesterday (UK)|
|Hangar 1: The UFO Files||2014–2015||UFOs–aliens||Documentary||H2|
|The Haunted||2009–2011||Ghosts||Anthology||Animal Planet|
|Haunted Encounters||2012||Paranormal||Reality||Biography Channel|
|Haunted History||1998–2001||Ghosts||Documentary||History Channel|
|Haunted Homes||2004–2010||Ghosts||Reality||ITV (UK)|
|Haunted Hotels||2001–2005||Ghosts||Reality||Travel Channel|
|Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories||1991–1995||Ghosts||Anthology||CBS, UPN|
|Haunted Towns||2017–present||Paranormal||Reality||Destination America|
|Haunted USA||2017||Paranormal||Reality||Travel Channel|
|The Haunting of...||2012–2016||Ghosts||Documentary||Biography Channel|
|Haunting Evidence||2005–2008||Paranormal||Documentary||Court tv|
|The Haunting of...||2012–2016||Paranormal||Documentary||Biography Channel|
|Hunting Hitler||2015 – 2018, 2020||Conspiracy||Investigation||History|
|I Was Possessed||2015||Paranormal||Reality||LMN|
|I'm Famous and Frightened!||2004–2005||Ghosts||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
|In Search of...||1976–1982||Paranormal||Documentary||Syndication|
|In Search of Aliens||2014||UFOs–aliens||H2|
|Is It Real?||2005–2007||Paranormal||National Geographic Channel|
|It's a Miracle||1998–2004||Miracles||Ion Television|
|Joe Rogan Questions Everything||2013||Paranormal||Syfy|
|John Edward Cross Country||2006–2008||Psychic||WE tv|
|Khon Uad Phee||2010–present||Ghosts||Variety talk show||Channel 7|
Channel 5 (THA)
|Knock Knock Ghost||2016–present||Paranormal||Reality||OutTV (Canada)|
|Lawrence Leung's Unbelievable||2011||Paranormal||Comedy||ABC1 (AUS)|
|Legend Quest||2011||Paranormal||Live action||SyFy|
|Leap in the Dark||1973, 1975, 1977, 1980||Paranormal||Anthology / Documentary||BBC Two (UK)|
|Living with the Dead||2008–2009||Ghosts||Living (UK)|
|Long Island Medium||2011–2019||Psychic||Reality||TLC (TV network)|
|Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives||2013||pseudo–documentary||Animal Planet|
|Mermaids: The Body Found||2011||pseudo–documentary||Animal Planet|
|Monica the Medium||2015||Psychic||Reality||ABC Family|
|Monsters and Mysteries in America||2013–2015||Cryptozoology||Documentary||Destination America|
|Most Haunted||2002–2010, 2014–2019||Ghosts||Reality||Living (UK)|
Paranormal Channel (UK)
Travel Channel (US)
Really (TV channel) (UK)
|Most Haunted Live!||2002–2010||Ghosts||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
Paranormal Channel (UK)
Travel Channel (US)
|Most Terrifying Places in America||2009–2010||Paranormal||Documentary||Travel Channel|
|Mountain Monsters||2013||Cryptozoology||Documentary||Destination America|
|Mostly True Stories?: Urban Legends Revealed||2002-2004||Urban legends||Documentary||TLC|
|My Ghost Story||2010–2013||Ghosts||Biography Channel|
|Mysteries at the Museum||2010–present||Paranormal||Travel Channel|
|Mysteries at the National Parks||2015||Paranormal||Reality||Travel Channel|
|Mysterious Journeys||2002–2007||Paranormal||Travel Channel|
|Mystery Hunters||2002–2009||Skeptical, Paranormal||Documentary||YTV|
|Mystery Hunters India||2012–2014||Paranormal||Documentary||Discovery Kids (Asia) (India)|
|The Next Step Beyond||1978–1979||Paranormal||Syndication|
|Northern Mysteries||2005||Paranormal||Docudrama||Global Television Network|
|The One||2008–2011||Psychics||Competitive reality||Seven Network (AU)|
|One Step Beyond||1959–1961||Paranormal||Anthology||ABC|
|The Othersiders||2009||Ghosts||Reality||Cartoon Network|
|Paranormal?||2005||Paranormal||Documentary||National Geographic Channel|
|Paranormal Challenge||2011||Paranormal||Competitive reality||Travel Channel|
|Paranormal Lockdown||2016–2019||Paranormal||Reality||Destination America|
|Paranormal Paparazzi||2012||Paranormal||Reality||Travel Channel|
|Paranormal Witness||2011–2013, 2015-2016||Paranormal||Documentary||Syfy|
|The Past Hunters||2015||Paranormal||YourTV (UK)|
|Patrick Macnee's Ghost Stories||1997|
|Penn & Teller: Bullshit!||2003–2010||Paranormal||Documentary||Showtime|
|The Pet Psychic||2002–2003||Psychics||Animal Planet|
|Proof Positive: Evidence of the Paranormal||2004||Paranormal||Reality||Sci Fi Channel|
|Psychic Detectives||2004–2008||Psychics||Court tv|
|Real and Chance: The Legend Hunters||2010||Paranormal||Reality||VH1|
|Rescue Mediums||2006–2011||Psychic||Reality||W Network (CAN)|
|Ripley's Believe It or Not!||1949–1950||Paranormal||NBC|
|River Monsters||2009–2017||Skeptical, Cryptozoology||Wildlife documentary||Animal Planet|
|Scare Tactics||2000–2006||horror/hidden camera||[Syfy]|
|Scared!||2002–2009||Ghosts||Staten Island Community Television|
|Scariest Places on Earth||2000–2006||Paranormal||Reality||ABC Family Channel|
|Sci Fi Investigates||2006||Paranormal||Reality||Sci Fi Channel|
|Scream Team||2002||Paranormal||Reality||Living TV (UK)|
|Secrets & Mysteries||1988–1989||Paranormal||Syndication|
|Sensing Murder||2006-2008, 2010, 2017-2018||Paranormal||Reality||Biography Channel|
|Spøgelsesjægerne||2013||Ghosts||Reality||Kanal 5 (Denmark)|
|Strange but True?||1993–1997||Paranormal||Documentary||ITV (UK)|
|Strange Universe||1996–1998||Paranormal||News Magazine||UPN, syndicated television|
|Survivorman Bigfoot||2015||Cryptozoology||Discovery Channel/Science Channel|
|Truth or Scare||2001–2003||Paranormal||Discovery Kids|
|UFOs Declassified||2015||UFOs–aliens||History (CAN)|
|The Unexplained||2011–2012||Paranormal||Documentary||Biography Channel|
|Unexplained Canada||2006||Paranormal||Space (CAN)|
|The Unexplained Files||2013–2014||Paranormal||Documentary||Science|
|Unsealed Alien Files||2011–2015||UFOs–aliens||Investigation||History|
|Unsolved History||2002–2005||Conspiracy/Paranormal||Discovery Channel|
|Unsolved Mysteries||1987–1997; 1997–1999; 2001–2002||Paranormal||Documentary||NBC; CBS|
|Weird or What?||2010–2012||Paranormal||Discovery Channel|
History Television (CAN)
|Weird Travels||2001–2006||Paranormal||Documentary||Travel Channel|
|Wrestling With Ghosts||2017-2018||Paranormal||Documentary||ASY TV|
|The X Creatures||1999||Cryptozoology||Documentary||BBC|
| - | Conjuring Kesha || 2022 |}
- "Alone in the Dark: An Oral History of MTV's Fear". 29 October 2018.
- Craven, Scott. "Why those TV ghost-hunting shows are transparently fake". AZ Central. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
- John Blake (7 September 2013). "Ghost hunters haunted by new terror: competition". CNN. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
- "A&E Network Returns to Paranormal Programming with New Shows Including the Return of "Ghost Hunters" with Original Team Leader Grant Wilson". The Futon Critic. June 26, 2019.
- Wilson, Grant (October 30, 2019). "The season finale of @GhostHunters is tonight at 10pm ET/PT! What does that mean for the future of the show???? Watch the video and find out! @aetv #GhostHunterspic.twitter.com/8mlnO0cY8x". @grantswilson. Retrieved November 5, 2019.Wilson, Grant (October 30, 2019). "The season finale of @GhostHunters is tonight at 10pm ET/PT! What does that mean for the future of the show???? Watch the video and find out! @aetv #GhostHunterspic.twitter.com/8mlnO0cY8x". @grantswilson. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
- "Mike Hale, Editor, The New York Times". New York Times Knowledge Network. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. 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.
- Olu Jenzen; Sally R. Munt (23 March 2016). The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal Cultures. Routledge. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-1-317-04218-1.
- Sharon A. Hill (8 December 2017). Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers. McFarland. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-1-4766-7247-2.