History of Paranormal Television in the United States
My love for Halloween and creepy stuff comes from the stuff I watched on television when I was a kid. I cut my teeth on reruns of the Twilight Zone and watching the classic Universal Monster Movies. But what got me checking out the weird books from the library were the paranormal based television shows and I continue to binge on them as an adult. I thought it would be fun to do a little overview. This, of course, won't be exhaustive, but will touch on my favorites.
Now in the days before Cable television, there wasn't much to choose from, but there were some gems!
One Step Beyond
I've never seen the earliest TV show that was paranormal themed called One Step Beyond. It aired on ABC from 1959 to 1961 and produced 96 episodes. Some of the things covered were the assassination of Lincoln, the sinking of the Titanic and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
In Search Of
In Search Of was originally released on April 17, 1977 and broadcast weekly from 1977 to 1982. The name and idea about covering mysteries in history and weird phenomenon came from three one-hour TV documentaries: In Search of Ancient Astronauts in 1973, In Search of Ancient Mysteries in 1975 and The Outer Space Connection in 1975. These were narrated by the Twilight Zone's Rod Serling and he was initially who was set to be the host of the television series, but he died so Leonard Nimoy was tapped to be the host. I think he was perfect and added a real creep factor with his narration. Topics covered included the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, D. B. Cooper, Jack the Ripper, UFOs, Atlantis, Dracula, psychics, ghosts, Stonehenge and I remember a lot of Egyptian stuff like pyramids and mummies. There were six spin-off books too. The show has been revived twice, first in 2002 with Mitch Pileggi hosting and again in 2018 with Zachary Quinto hosting. I haven't seen either of these.
Unsolved Mysteries is this thing of beauty that just keeps on giving. I loved this so much as a kid and I remember the family sitting in the Family Room watching this together. Robert Stack, who narrated the first seasons was amazing and had the perfect cadence and creep to his voice. The series was created by John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer and like In Search Of, started as a series of specials in 1987 with Raymond Burr, Karl Malden, and Robert Stack narrating and hosting. The first episode aired on October 5, 1988 on NBC. It ran there for nine seasons and then CBS picked it up adding Virginia Madsen as a co-host the following season, Season 11. (If you haven't caught her on the Imagined Life Podcast, you are missing out! CBS canceled the series in 1999. Lifetime revived it in 2000 and ran for 103 episodes before being cancelled in 2002, a little before Robert Stack passed away. Spike would bring it back on October 13, 2008 with Dennis Farina hosting and it was mostly repackaged segments with updates and that ran for 175 episodes before ending in 2010. Netflix picked up a reboot in January 2019 produced by Shawn Levy of Stranger Things. Not sure when it will air, but each episode is slated to focus on a single topic or mystery. The show featured a variety of topics from disappearances to unsolved murders to conspiracy theories to ghosts to UFOs and alien abductions. The format was documentary style with reenactments and cases fell under four categories: Lost Loves, Criminal Cases, Paranormal Matters and Unexplained/Alternative History.
The television show Sightings launched on October 17, 1991 and ran for 120 episodes on the FOX network. As was the case with In Search Of, this started as specials. There was the UFO Report: Sightings, Evidence, Contact, Abductions, Cover-Up. This was followed by Ghost Report: Sightings, Hauntings, Contact, Evidence, Investigations in February 1992 and Psychic Experiences: Precognition, Psychic Detectives, Mental Telepathy, Psychokinesis in April 1992. Linda Moulton Howe created and was Supervising Producer of the first special. Ratings were high and the concept went into weekly production under several production companies with Henry Winkler as an Executive Producer and Tim White as host. The format was like an investigative news format. Episodes were 30 minutes long and aired on Friday nights. It went into syndication in 1994 and was extended to an hour format and the Sci Fi Channel picked it up in 1996. The program would be cancelled in 1997, but reruns ran through 2003. Looking at a list of topics, they really did cover everything!
Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction
Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction was interesting in that it presented some bizarre stories and you had to decide which ones were real and which ones were fake. It premiered May 25, 1997 and ran until September 2002. The show was created by Lynn Lehmann and produced by Dick Clark and the Fox network and initially hosted by James Brolin. Jonathan Frakes took over in the second season. Don LaFontaine narrated the first three season and Campbell Lane narrated the fourth and final season. There were 45 episodes with 225 segments, many of which were true even though the stories defied logic. I'd read that 132 were true.
This was like an oasis in the desert. These guys were doing the Ghostbusters thing only for real. The show premiered on the SciFi Channel on October 6, 2004, with Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson heading up a paranormal investigation team. Jason and Grant had been doing investigations of homes on their free time after working as plumbers for Roto Rooter. This was incorporated into the show. They had founded The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS, which still does investigations with a team of member groups all over the world. The show tried to debunk paranormal claims and come up with reasonable explanations. They introduced the world to a lot of equipment from EMF detectors to digital video cameras to thermal cameras to digital recorders. The team would then review all the evidence and report back to the location's owner about what evidence was found. The show ended in 2016 after eleven seasons. The show re-launched here in 2019 with Grant as the head investigator on A & E. Jason started his own show called Ghost Nation on Travel Channel. The new Ghost Hunters sucks, period. I enjoy Ghost Nation. Ghost Hunters spun-off Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Hunters Academy and Kindred Spirits. There are claims that things have been faked. It's possible, but after doing my own investigations I think these guys were mostly the real deal.
Paranormal State started in December 2007 with Ryan Buell leading a team of investigators under a group he founded at Pennsylvania State University. This show was proven to have lots of faked evidence and weird editing that could be seen while observing the clothing worn on different segments and stuff. Buell proved to be a fraudster too when it came to events and took people's money for tickets and then cancelled events without refunding the money. I watched this as it seemed interesting due to the other people on the team, namely Chip Coffey, Katrina Weidman and Michelle Belanger. The show ran for four seasons.
This has been one of the longest running ghost shows out there. I have watched it sporadically and I don't think it is any mystery how I feel about Zak Bagans and his investigation techniques and the way he crafts the stories. The show premiered on October 17, 2008. Ghost Adventures began as a documentary that was filmed in 2004. It has run for a mind numbing 18 seasons with 210 episodes and lots of specials. While Ghost Hunters had their Lights Out routine while Ghost Adventures does the Locked In thing. There have been a variety of team members, but the two constants have been Zak Bagans and Aaron Goodwin. Other members have been Nick Groff (seasons 1–10), Billy Tolley, and Jay Wasley. They do a little bit of the history, which can be a little loose with the facts and then they use equipment to gather evidence. I think they give way too much credence to orbs and other light anomalies and don't debunk things as much as I would like. They also craft their own story lines as we have figured out after investigating similar places. But they do catch some compelling evidence and are definitely entertaining.
And now there are so many shows covering weird stories and mysteries, it would take forever to name them all, but my favorites include Mysteries at the Museum, Destination Truth and Expedition Unknown - pretty much anything with Josh Gates, Kindred Spirits, Dead Files, Scariest Places on Earth, Most Terrifying Places on Earth and Celebrity Ghost Stories is suppose to be coming back as something else I think.
Second Half of the Episode
We are joined by Kevin Killen to share his paranormal experiences that he detailed in his book "Ghosts and Me." https://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Me-Kevin-Killen/dp/B07SXKBH83
And then we have personal unexplained experiences shared by listeners to History Goes Bump