Monday, August 4, 2014

Midnight Cinephile's Guide To Paranormal Televison

If you're like me then as a natural extension of your love for the horror genre, you've also got a keen interested in the paranormal and the unknown.  I suppose that an argument could be made that MOST people are at least somewhat curious in the unexplained.  It's a natural human condition to want to understand all that surrounds you, after all.  We're curious beings, we humans.  There have been countless books written on the subject, but that's not what I want to talk about today.  Today, I want to take a look at the evolution of paranormal television shows.  This is not meant to be a definitive list....more a progression of the shows that I've watched throughout the years.

In Search Of... is one of the earliest examples of paranormal television.  Originally slated to be hosted by Rod Serling until his untimely death in 1975, the program (hosted instead by Leonard Nemoy) covered a wide variety of topics from UFO's to Cryptids to psychic powers and even mysticism and religion.  It was a fascinating show that really opened the floodgates for what was to come.  It aired from 1977 until 1982.  I don't think that I watched it during it's original run....but I definitely caught it in syndication in the late 80's or early 90's.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not! while there was a show that ran briefly from 1949 -1950, it was the show that aired in the early to mid 1980's that most people remember (1982 to 1986).  While the show didn't necessarily deal with the paranormal, it still opened people's eyes to incredibly bizarre things in the world...hence the title of the show.  The show was hosted by Jack Palance and I can remember being creeped out on more than one occasion by some of the stories they would air.   The show was revived in the year 2000 and hosted by Dean Caine, but at that point the show seemed to take on more of a "people doing amazing things" type of vibe.  Not that the original shows didn't have that as well.....but it lost that sense of mysteriousness to it.

Unsolved Mysteries  was the show that really got to me as a kid.  In addition to reports of UFO's, Bigfoot sightings and Ghosts, there were also a number of unexplained disappearances and unsolved murders that would help fill out the show.  Of course anyone who's read Midnight Cinephile for a while knows that the Unsolved Mysteries theme music had me hiding behind the couch each week.  That soul destroying synth music was the soundtrack to every fear that I held in my young life.  It certainly didn't help that Robert Stack had to stand in a goddamned graveyard, in front of a crumbling mausoleum at 2:30 in the freaking morning to tell me all about a woman who vanished in broad daylight after sighting a UFO.  Thanks a pantload, Bob!

Mysteries, Magic and Miracles was a strange one for me.  It was hosted by Patrick MacNee (remember him from Waxwork!?) and it was sort of all over the place.  I will never forget that one afternoon I was watching (it must have been in syndication at that point) and it was the first time that I saw the alleged video of the Area 51 alien interview.  I was working at the local grocery store at the time and I remember spending the whole night on carriage duty (collecting the shopping carts in the parking lot and bringing them inside) and just couldn't stop thinking about it.  I'll be honest I don't remember much else about the show!

Sightings  was another show that would more often than not give me the willies.  As I mentioned in my Childhood Trauma Flashback yesterday, I would often end up watching Sightings alone while my mother went to pick up my sister from Friday night high school football games.  Sightings, which originally started as a series of specials, dealt with a lot of UFO's and ghosts....with the occasional psychic phenomena or Cryptid sneaking in.  What freaked me out even more about this show is the fact that host Tim White treated it more like a news broadcast.  It just made it all seem that much more credible.

Unsolved Mysteries and Sightings were really the two shows that blew the whole thing wide open into a recognizable genre.  Suddenly there were specials being aired on a multitude of networks (though Fox always seemed to have the most).  Alien Autopsy, UFO:  Best Evidence Caught on Tape, Ghosts:  Best Evidence Caught on Tape, Area 51 Exposed etc, etc....are just a few of the television specials that would be the topic of conversation around the water cooler the next day.  I've got about a bazillion and a half VHS tapes filled with these type of shows because I had to record EVERYTHING when I was a kid.  As it would turn out, the new millennium would become the age of Reality TV and paranormal programming would become a huge part of it......

One of the shows that sort of bridged that millennial gap was Beyond Belief:  Fact of Fiction.  The show was hosted by Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes!  This time around instead of simply reporting on strange events and talking head interviews, they would show a series of re-enactments, some of which were allegedly true while the others were simply made up stories.  As the show progressed, viewers were asked to play along so to speak and guess which was which.  At the end of the show, Frakes would reveal which tales were true and which were false.  I watched quite a bit of the show and I must say I was pretty good at sussing out the fake stories.

The first ten years of the aughts brought us about a gazillion shows about haunted places.  America's Haunted Castles, America's Haunted Hotels, Haunted History, Most Haunted, Scariest Places on Earth, Psychic Detectives, Weird Travels and on and on and on the list goes.  It was a supernatural explosion.

The most influential show to come out of this period was of course Ghost Hunters.  The show debuted on t Ghost Hunters follows the real life adventures of the TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) team as they travel to various locations reported to be haunted to launch an investigation.  What I always liked about Ghost Hunters was that they were not over zealous.  They would try and debunk every piece of evidence before even thinking of relenting that it may in fact be supernatural activity.  I wish the same could be said for the many various rip-off shows that have sprung up ever since.  Some of the more recent shows such as Ghost Adventures I just cannot take seriously.  Running around a house/abandoned prison/insert other haunted location here, calling the ghosts "pussies" and daring them to appear is a little on the ridiculous side.  Now before you jump up and exclaim that I am a hater and I just don't believe in the paranormal, nothing could be further from the truth.  I spent a few years as an amateur ghost hunter and as we speak (or as I type) I'm working on a paranormal project that will work in conjunction of Midnight Cinephile.  My point is:  they are unprofessional and look like fools.....but that's enough of that....moving along!
he Syfy Channel (Still called SciFi then) in 2004 and is still going strong to this day.

As I really don't feel like running through the glut of other short lived paranormal shows that have appeared and vanished again in the blink of an eye let's take a look at the shows that you can check out today, if you so desire.  To make it easier for you, I've arraigned this next section by channel.  Again this is not a definitive list.  This is a list of the shows that I watch, have watched or possibly know someone who watches.  I'm sure there are quite a few shows that have slipped past me.  So let's get to it!

I proudly present:

Midnight Cinephile's Guide To Paranormal TV!

Destination America
A Haunting
Originally airing on The Discovery Channel from 2005 - 2009, this is the show that first introduced us to the plight of the Snedeker family, who underwent a horrifying ordeal when they moved into their Connecticut home.  The show (after being cancelled in 2009) was revived on Destination America in October of 2012.  Ever since it's been stories of creepy-ass hauntings that make me glad that I work at night and sleep during the day!  Seriously.  Some of that shit is MESSED UP!

Monsters & Mysteries in America
I haven't seen too many episodes of this show, which is kinda surprising given my love of cryptids!  Each episode is split into three segments, each focusing on a different monster in a different part of the country.  The usual interviews are interspersed with re-enactments and so forth.  I may actually fire up the ol' DVR and record some episodes to watch, now that I'm thinking about it!

When Ghosts Attack
Yet another show about hauntings, but this one (as the title indicates) is all about people who have had rough physical encounters with the other side.  Another title for the show that would have worked:  I Got Beat Up By A Ghost,

Hauntings & Horrors
Oh, where to begin with this one?  This is the B-Movie equivalent to paranormal television programming.  I've watched about five or six episodes so far and it's pure hilarity.  The episodes are all over the place in terms of believability.  For instance, in an episode that featured the "Goat-Man of Maryland" it was painfully clear that the "eyewitnesses" were actors.  To further illustrate that fact, they had many of the "eyewitnesses" in the re-enactments.  The title screen and credits all look like they've been made on a Window's 95 version of Paint.  Especially endearing is the early 90's autumn leaf animation that appears every two minutes.  I'm also quite fond of the Sasquatch costumes with the glowing eyes that they use.  I know I'm poking fun at this quite a bit and please don't mistake that for negative criticism....if you want to be thoroughly entertained, watch this show!

Mountain Monsters
Another of the "So ridiculous I love it" shows.  Mountain Monsters follows a group of hillbilly monster hunters as they track and hunt various monsters all over the Appalachian Regions.  As a matter of fact, the group calls itself A.I.M.S. (Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings)!  Don't get much more hillbilly than that!  Amirite?!?  So here you've got your teamleader, John "Trapper" Tice!  TRAPPER JOHN!  Other team members include Huckleberry, Wild Bill and of course, Buck.  I've only seen a handful of episodes at this point, but I was hooked when I saw the boys hunting a werewolf.  They tried to trap in in a hole and cover it with a big rock.  It was amazing.  I never want to miss another episode.

Unsealed: Alien Files
This is, in fact one of my favorite UFO/Alien shows.  Perhaps because it also airs on WBIN, a local station from Derry, NH that reminds me of WNDS, the Derry TV station that showed Tales From The Darkside and Monsters on Friday nights.  The show is a half hour long and usually each episode will stay with a certain theme....hostile aliens, top ten encounters, MiB's, Goverment Cover-Ups, etc.  What truly makes this show is the narrator, whose deep voice booms through your television and up your spine as you are shown actual video as well as the occasional re-enactment.  If you're into UFO's and Aliens, THIS is the show to watch!

Unsealed: Conspiracy Files
I must not be alone in my love of Alien Files because the creators of that show have given us a sister show that deals with Conspiracies!  AWESOME!  I've only watched a few episodes at this point, but so far it's every bit as awesome as it's alien twin broadcast.  Sometimes a bit far stretching (The Government is trying to cover-up Bigfoot's existence?!) but it has the some fantastically creepy vibe as Alien Files.  If you're looking for a quick paranormal/alien/conspiracy doesn't get much better!

History Channel/H2
Monster Quest
I never really watched Monster Quest...maybe an episode or two.  What you have here is your standard Cryptid Hunter show:  Talk about the monster.....dig up info about the monster.....hear stories about the monster.....look for the monster.......don't find the monster.  The only show that seemingly does not follow that format is Finding Bigfoot....because apparently those guys find Bigfoot every damned episode!   Though the show is no longer producing new episodes, they still run in syndication fairly often.

UFO Hunters
Another of my favorite UFO themed shows...this one is also no longer producing new episodes, sadly.  You can watch old episodes fairly often though, so that's pretty nice.  The show followed William J. Birnes and his team of experts as they would work on various UFO cases.  Much like Jason Hawes from Ghost Hunters, the team did not easily jump to conclusions and would often try out every possibility before stating that the object could very well be a bona fide UFO.

Ancient Aliens
If you've read Erich von Däniken's book Chariot of the Gods and you subscribe to the Ancient Astronaut Theory (or the AAT, as I like to call it!) then this is the show for you.  Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, former editor of Legendary Times Magazine and Ancient Astronaut Theorist and bizarre hairstyle enthusiast is the consulting producer and appears frequently on the show.  This is another of my favorite shows.  I've watched since Season One and I've gotta say that they make one hell of a compelling case for the AAT.  Some episodes REALLY seem to stretch and grasp at straws, but by and large I feel that the AAT is as valid a theory as any other.

In Search of Aliens
 Giorgio A. Tsoukalos' second Alien themed show that only just premiered on July 25th this year.  I've got it on my DVR but haven't found the time to sit down and watch it yet.  From what I have gathered thus far, Giorgio heads out into the great wide open to actively explore and search for signs that extraterrestrial life has been on our planet.  The first episode he searches for clues to Atlantis.  Interesting stuff, for sure.

Hanger 1: The UFO Files
Taking a more historical approach to the UFO phenomena, Hanger 1 takes a look at more classic cases such as The Battle of Los Angeles, the alleged meeting between extraterrestrials and  President Eisenhower in the early 50's and of course the Roswell crash.

The Science Channel
The Unexplained Files
What can I say?  More reports on UFO's, Cryptids and other strange happenings!  Not a bad show, but also not one that I watch a lot of.

Alien Encounters
This is a fantastic show that takes a hypothetical approach to the question of aliens contact.  What would it be like?  Through a combination of interviews with scientists and a fictional enactment of the events that would take place, the program shows a compelling view of a possible future in which we know that we are not alone in the universe.  A world of expanded technology and hybrid humans.

Dark Matters:  Twisted But True
Not exactly a paranormal show, Dark Matters takes the Beyond Belief approach, except leaves out the false tales.  Some of the stories are cases of amazing coincidence, mad science or in one of the most chilling stories, an amateur ham radio operator who managed to tune into the signal of a lost cosmonaut that would never return to earth.

Also not paranormal per se, but I included it here because it deals with many real life macabre objects...some of which have been alleged to be haunted or once belonged to a haunted house and such.

Ghost Hunters
The Great Grandpappy of all the ghost hunting shows.  Jason Hawes and the TAPS team to a good job investigating the various cases and I appreciate the fact that they do not jump the gun and proclaim a home haunted simply because an "orb" appeared in a photo in the basement.  For those who are unfamiliar with ghost terminology and "orb" is just what it sounds like:  a small, sometimes translucent sphere that appears in pictures sometimes.  99.9% of the time it's a reflection of the flash on a dust particle that is close to the lense and out of focus.  Many people see these and claim them as proof of the supernatural.  TAPS strives to collect more solid evidence with thermal imaging, EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomena), video and still cameras and more.

Paranormal Witness
Very much in line with A Haunting, Paranormal Witness is a show that explores people's reports of hauntings with a combination of interviews and re-enactments.  I'll be honest...I've never watched this one so I can't speak on it one way or the other!

Destination Truth
Josh Gates and his team of investigators search for evidence of everything from ghosts to UFO's to cryptids.  It's sorta like Ghost Hunters, but with an expanded scope of research.  Sadly the show was cancelled in 2012, but you can still catch episodes on Syfy quite often.  I've heard that The Travel Channel has picked up Josh for a show that should be coming out soon.  Not sure exactly what it is, but I'll be interested to see!

Fact of Faked: Paranormal Files
A show that reminds me quite a bit of Destination Truth.  Headed up by former FBI agent Ben Hanson, a group of investigators will watch a series of videos each episode and then vote on which ones they would like to investigate.  Again, ghosts, cryptids, UFO's, etc....are all in the mix.  Of particular note is the fact that the crew is actually doing everything in their power to duplicate the video that was given to them.  If they can duplicate it easily then it is considered Faked.....which I may not necessarily agree with every time....but it's still fun to watch them try and duplicate the videos!

Ghost Mine
I never watched this one, but apparently it about miners in Oregon and two paranormal investigators who were trying to determine in the mine was haunted.  It only lasted one season.

Haunted Highway
Jack Osborne (son of Ozzy) heads up a team of investigators who search for ghosts and cryptids in various locales around the US.  What I like about this show is that there are no camera crews.  Everything is filmed by the investigators themselves.

My Ghost Story
Another ghost show in which eyewitnesses recount stories of their ghostly encounters with re-enactments added for extra dramatic effect.  Not much else to say on this one.....not a bad show by any means....but also not offering anything new.

Celebrity Ghost Stories
Pretty much exactly the same as My Ghost Story except for the fact that the eyewitness recounting the paranormal encounter is a celebrity.  This one is pretty interesting if you're into listening to celebrities talking about something other than their latest movie, TV show, book or record.  Some of the celebrities that have participated include Carrie Fischer, Alice Cooper and Joey Lawrence!

Extreme Paranormal 
Much like Ghost Adventures, this is more ridiculousness.  Instead of conducting an investigation professionally, these three run around like macho roid'heads.  They taunt ghosts, dare demons to attack them, "Blah, blah, blah....We're SO EXTREME!!!!!!"  I have no use for these ridiculous antics.

Psychic Investigators
No UFO's or ghosts this time.  Psychic Investigators takes a look at psychics who help police departments with unsolved crimes and difficult cases.  The show seems to take what the alleged psychics say at face value and rather than investigate the psychic phenomena itself.  The show has been fairly controversial with many of it's critics stating that the cases shown have never actually happened.  The show was awarded the Truly Terrible Television I guess that's something.  I've only seen a few clips from the show, so I cannot really say either way.

The Unexplained
Another paranormal show that takes eyewitness accounts and re-enacts them.  This one is a bit different in that instead of the usual ghostly hauntings, more metaphysical mysteries are examined as well including Out of Body Experience, Mind Over Matter and Psychic Phenomena.  I have only seen a handful of episodes, but what I saw didn't really impress me too much.

True stories about curses are the premise here.  I haven't seen this one and I don't know much else about it.  This was helpful, wasn't it?

Long Island Medium
Theresa Caputo is a medium who claims that she can communicate with the dead (Hey, just like that John Edwards guy!  *FRAUD* cough, cough)  It's your typical reality show but with the whole "I talk to dead people" thing thrown in.  I watch an episode.  That was enough for me.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before but I am NOT a disbeliever of psychic phenomena.  Hell, my own grandmother said she had the gift and even had correspondence with Edgar Cacey himself when she was younger!  Having been a professional magician for a number of years, I'm all too familiar with the tricks that some so called psychics use to try and gain fame and fortune.  I truly hope that science can one day prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that psychic powers exist.

Animal Planet
Finding Bigfoot
A group of guys search for Bigfoot.  At the end of every damn episode they seem to be satisfied with their investigation to the point where they can proclaim that Bigfoot exists without a doubt!  Every.  Damn.  Episode.  Okay, to be fair, I've only watched a handful of times......but geez.  Every episode is kinda the same.

Travel Channel
Ghost Adventures
Much like Extreme Paranormal.  I do not care for the unprofessional and ridiculous attitude the investigators take, treating the whole thing more like a frat game.  Daring ghosts to attack, calling them pussies....blah blah blah.  It's not edgy.  It's not cool.  It's downright annoying and takes away from any spook factor.  Either that or I'm just a cranky old bastard....either way....get off my lawn, ya hooligan!

Well, shit.  I've written a metric shit ton about Paranormal Television haven't I?  I hope that I've managed to not only entertain but enlighten and inform you about the vast cornucopia of paranormal themed reality tv shows out there.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Some make me want to stab myself in the eyes with chopsticks.

This was definitely a longer post than usual and I thank those of you who stuck with it till the end.  I would love to hear your thoughts on these shows.  Feel free to point out any that I've missed and by all means chime in with your thoughts on the paranormal, UFO's etc.


  1. Oh my God! I had no idea there were so many shows of this type. Where do you find the time? I loved In Search Of... as a kid, but about the only other one I've watched extensively is Ancient Aliens - full seasons on Netflix, you know. I totally buy the Ancient Astronaut Theory. Seriously, though, what's up with that dude's hair? Having someone with hair like that trying to convince others of the validity of the AAT is kind of like Cypress Hill being outspoken proponents of legalization. Probably doing more harm than good rather than swaying public opinion.

    "He's obviously a crackpot - look at his hair, for Pete's sake!"

  2. There are precisely a metric shit ton of paranormal tv shows. There are really only a few that I really watch constantly (Ancient Aliens being chief among them. I too, buy into the Ancient Astronaut Theory!) A lot of these ghost shows I've only seen snippets of here and there or see an episode or two. Working the graveyard shift helps a lot. When it's a really slow night I flip channels and lo and behold there's usually at least 10 different paranormal shows on at any given point in time.

    I also run various searches on my DVR every week for various keywords to see what TV shows and movies might pop up, so when I use stuff like ghosts, haunted, UFO or aliens there's a bunch of these type of shows that come up as well. I root through them and record any that sound interesting.

    I do agree about Georgio's's a little on the wacky side, which I know causes some people to question his expertise!