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.[1] 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) [2][3] 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.[4][5]


Noting the recent trend in reality shows that take the paranormal at face value, The New York Times Culture editor Mike Hale[6] characterized ghost hunting shows as "pure theater" and compared the genre to professional wrestling or soft core pornography for its formulaic, teasing approach.[7]

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."[8]

Writer Diane Dorby proposes that paranormal reality TV shows provide "plausibility structures" that people use for "interpreting the meaning and experience of death".[9]

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".[10]


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 Aliens 2009–present UFOs–aliens Documentary History
Ancient Mysteries 1994–1998 Paranormal A&E
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 2005-2007 Paranormal Documentary Canada
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
Chills 2012 Investigation (UK)
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
Destination Truth 2007–2012 Paranormal Reality Syfy
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)
Extreme Paranormal 2009 Ghosts Documentary A&E
Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files 2010–2012 Paranormal Investigation Syfy
MTV's Fear 2000–2001 Paranormal MTV
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 Mine 2013 Ghost Reality Syfy
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)
Ghosts 2019 Ghosts BBC One
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 Collector 2011–2013 Ghosts Documentary Syfy
Haunted Encounters 2012 Paranormal Reality Biography Channel
Haunted Highway 2012–2013 Paranormal Investigation Syfy
Haunted History 1998–2001 Ghosts Documentary History Channel
Biography Channel
Haunted History 2013 Paranormal Documentary H2
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: Australia 2014 Paranormal Reality Syfy
Haunting Evidence 2005–2008 Paranormal Documentary Court tv
The Haunting of... 2012–2016 Paranormal Documentary Biography Channel
History's Mysteries 1998–2006 Paranormal Documentary History
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)
Killer Contact 2013 Paranormal SyFy
Kindred Spirits 2016–present Paranormal Reality TLC
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
MonsterQuest 2007–2010 Cryptozoology Documentary History
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
MTV's Fear 2000–2002 Ghosts Reality MTV
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)
MysteryQuest 2009 Paranormal History
The Next Step Beyond 1978–1979 Paranormal Syndication
Northern Mysteries 2005 Paranormal Docudrama Global Television Network
Nostradamus Effect 2009 Psychics History
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 State 2007–2011 Paranormal Reality A&E
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
Phenomenon 2007 Competition NBC
Proof Positive: Evidence of the Paranormal 2004 Paranormal Reality Sci Fi Channel
Psychic Detectives 2004–2008 Psychics Court tv
Psychic Kids 2008–2010 Psychic A&E
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
School Spirits 2012 Ghosts Documentary Syfy
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
Sightings 1992–1997 Paranormal News Fox
Spøgelsesjægerne 2013 Ghosts Reality Kanal 5 (Denmark)
Stranded 2013 Paranormal Investigation Syfy
Strange but True? 1993–1997 Paranormal Documentary ITV (UK)
Strange Universe 1996–1998 Paranormal News Magazine UPN, syndicated television
The Successor 2007 Psychic Competition (Israel)
Survivorman Bigfoot 2015 Cryptozoology Discovery Channel/Science Channel
That's Incredible! 1980–1984 Paranormal Reality ABC
Truth or Scare 2001–2003 Paranormal Discovery Kids
UFO Files 2004–2007 UFOs–aliens History
UFO Hunters 2008–2009 UFOs–aliens History
UFOs Declassified 2015 UFOs–aliens History (CAN)
The Unexplained 1996–2000 Paranormal A&E
The Unexplained 2011–2012 Paranormal Documentary Biography Channel
Unexplained Canada 2006 Paranormal Space (CAN)
The Unexplained Files 2013–2014 Paranormal Documentary Science
Unexplained Mysteries 2003–2004 Paranormal Documentary Syndication
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
Weird U.S. 2004–2005 Paranormal Reality History
Wrestling With Ghosts 2017-2018 Paranormal Documentary ASY TV
The X Creatures 1999 Cryptozoology Documentary BBC - Conjuring Kesha 2022

See also


  1. ^ "Alone in the Dark: An Oral History of MTV's Fear". 29 October 2018.
  2. ^ Craven, Scott. "Why those TV ghost-hunting shows are transparently fake". AZ Central. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  3. ^ John Blake (7 September 2013). "Ghost hunters haunted by new terror: competition". CNN. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ 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". @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". @grantswilson. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  6. ^ "Mike Hale, Editor, The New York Times". New York Times Knowledge Network. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
  7. ^ Hale, Mike (December 10, 2009). "Consigning Reality to Ghosts". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  8. ^ "TV Skeptic: 'Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files' looks at the real 'Battle of L.A.' -". 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.
  9. ^ Olu Jenzen; Sally R. Munt (23 March 2016). The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal Cultures. Routledge. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-1-317-04218-1.
  10. ^ Sharon A. Hill (8 December 2017). Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers. McFarland. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-1-4766-7247-2.