When I was a kid, there was two things I really cared about to escape the real world. I watched a lot of Classic 60s TV, like “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bewitched,” “The Munsters” and “Hogan’s Heroes.” I also watched a lot of Hollywood monster movies.
You see kids, back in the days when we only had six channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and two affiliates), No Netflix, No Cable and No On Demand. We actually used to get old movies on television instead of the same five movies twelve times in one month. The old Universal and Japanese monster movies on Saturdays were my entry into modern horror and paranormal research.
Halloween was the only time the two fields merged with TV characters getting involved in the paranormal at the Rimshaw House and elsewhere. Of course, we didn’t get a lot of paranormal TV back then. The closest we had was “In Search Of” hosted by Leonard Nimoy and the rare Arthur C. Clarke documentaries.
The 70s kitsch series like “Real People” and “That’s Incredible” had their rare paranormal segments, and in the 80s, “Unsolved Mysteries” had their random paranormal segments until “Sightings” came along from Henry Winkler’s production company.
Since “Ghost Hunters” started in 2004, we’ve had a long string of failed and short-lived paranormal TV shows. For every “Destination Truth” and “Celebrity Ghost Hunters,” we’ve had several more that for some reason just didn’t quite make it.
Omitting specials like “In Search of Haunted Hollywood,” “Ghosts: Caught On Tape” and “Hollywood Ghost Stories” hosted by William Shatner, here’s ten shows you may have forgotten:
1. Paranormal Borderline/Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (UPN/Fox)
Hosted by James Brolin and then by Jonathan Frakes of “Star Trek” fame, this series tried to duplicate the format of “Sightings” by presenting paranormal encounters, UFO sightings, cryptid reports and other stories in a news-style format before switching to a new format challenging viewers to decide what was real and what was faked. It was interesting, and I liked the production style, but I didn’t like sitting through UFO sightings and boring psychic experiments just to hear about a brand new haunted house I’d never heard of before. Best Case: Manzanar National Historic Park
2. Encounters (Fox)
This was the other of the TV shows like “Paranormal Borderline” to try and succeed on the “Sightings” news format. Hosted by John Marshall and Steven Williams, the show also featured four to five individual stories, but it kind of represented a more tabloid news scenario with stories that were a bit less credible (Marilyn Monroe was killed over UFO secrets) which ruined the reputability of the other cases. Unfortunately, the series was mostly bounced around as a summer replacement series for other canceled series, and it failed to catch a fan base. Best Case: The Pepper House
3. Ghost Lab (Discovery)
Featuring the Klinge Brothers of “Everyday Paranormal,” this series was almost a complete copy of “Ghost Hunters” but more louder, more brash and featuring locations no one ever heard of (although “Ghost Hunters” eventually caught up on them there) featuring new and creative techniques to provoke activity. Featuring two cases per episode, it ran for one season and was then immediately cancelled after it was renewed for the second season, the lost episodes eventually running as an after midnight time filler. Despite its limited on-air life, it did have a huge fan base and is still considered in my top ten of paranormal TV shows. Best Cases: Granbury Opera House and Lake Shawnee Fun Park
4. Haunted History/Haunted Travel (History/BIO)
Featuring a format similar to the paranormal segments on “Unsolved Mysteries,” this series picked cities and locations where it drew locations from with witness testimonies and recreations featuring actors playing ghosts. Sometimes covering six to seven locations per episode, the hostless segments were narrated by Michael Dorn of “Star Trek” fame in the pilot and by John Glover in the series. Debuting in London, it was then picked up in the United States and converted into “Haunted Travels” where Don Wildman taped the opening and closing segments. Travel Channel had a nearly identical series called “Haunted Hotels” which ran far longer. It was briefly re-vamped for H2 in 2013 for new episodes. Best Case: Washington Arsenal
5. Haunted Lives/Real Ghosts (CBS/UPN)
If you don’t remember this series but do remember the cases, there’s a reason for that. This series actually started as a one-time special that became a string of specials, but I’m including it here anyway. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and then Stacy Keach for the last episode, each episode featured three cases acted out by popular and obscure actors doing recreations followed by witness testimonies. (Yes, that was Seth Green in the Haunted Dormitory segment!) Renamed “Ghost Lives,” the last of the three episodes featured a brief segment briefly highlighting extra cases from across the country. The best part of the series was that it was directed by horror director Tobe Hooper of “Poltergeist” fame. Why this didn’t jump to becoming a real series instead of a string of specials, I’ll never know. Best Case: Toys R Us
6. Haunted Encounters (Bio)
Before Biography Channel folded, they tried out a string of paranormal TV shows in the empty “My Ghost Story” timeslot behind “Celebrity Ghost Stories” and “The Haunting Of.” These series included “Ghost Bait” and “The Haunted,” which eventually turned up on Animal Planet, but one of the better ones was this five-episode series on the investigations of the Paranormal Syndicate. It was kind of like “Ghost Hunters” with the bravado of “Ghost Adventures” investigating newly discovered or rare locations not revealed on any other series before it. I’m not sure why it didn’t become a series because it certainly had an immediate fan base, but it might be it was just too much like other shows before it to stand out on its own, or Biography just didn’t have any faith in it. Best Case: Kreischer Mansion
7. Most Terrifying Places in America (Travel)
Airing as a seven-part series limited to October 2009, this series had much the same format as “Haunted History” and “Haunted Hotels” with witnesses and actor recreations but quicker and with more intensity. Narrated by Mason Pettit, it featured segments on seven mostly familiar locations per episode with new coverage on previously unaired locations like Clinton Road and Cheesman Park. Now limited to appearing as Halloween specials, I’m not sure why something obviously designed to be a series was relegated to a Halloween special, but this series along with “Haunted History” and “Haunted Hotels” are among my ten favorites. Best Case: Cheesman Park
8. Scariest Places on Earth (Fox Family)
Basically a game show with a horror format, this bizarre, gimmicky series started out as a one-time five-part special on Fox Family and ended up so popular it ran for over forty episodes over three seasons. Hosted by Linda Blair and narrated by Zelda Rubenstein from “Poltergeist,” this series was most notable for stranding families to investigate reputedly haunted locations like Chillingham Castle with hokey exaggerated intros and bizarre scavenger hunts, but it was also known for first revealing sites like the Villisca Murder House and Poveglia to the public with some possibly staged witness accounts. (A teenage girl said she went to school with the deceased Moore daughters who had died in 1912.) Best Case: Villisca Mystery House
9. American SuperNatural (Weather Channel)
Along with all the other networks pulling out new versions of paranormal TV shows specific to their networks, the Weather Channel aired this series with cases particularly chosen for their connection to weather. Splitting time between recreations, testimonies and facts on local weather, this eight-episode run could be creepy and scary, but it could also be tedious when it centered not on haunted sites but on reportedly cursed locations that caused bad luck to unwary pedestrians. If the show hadn’t limited itself to cases connected by weather, I think this show could have worked. Best Case: Black Woods Road
10. America’s Most Haunted (Travel)
By time this series aired, I think the “Haunted History” / “Haunted Hotels” format with testimonies and recreations had worn thin, so much so that barely anyone knows this series existed. Every episode focused on one city with multiple haunted locations, sometimes familiar, sometimes obscure, like the Liberace Museum or the former home of Redd Foxx. It wasn’t creepy, it wasn’t scary, and the witness accounts were often lacking on the believability scale. Some better direction and maybe physical evidence like photos could have helped this series. Best Case: Boulder Dam Lodge and Hotel
How’s Your Memory?
Which shows did you remember and which did you forget? Any favorites, or favorite episodes, among them? Any shows you never even heard of before? Any you’re glad are gone? Any you wish would be resurrected?