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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spooky TV shows are here to stay

BY AARON SAGERS
McClatchy-Tribune

It is a lively time for the haunting dead, the undead, the walking dead and the deadly things in the water, forests and outer space. Especially in the midst of Halloween season, all the creeping, crawling, shambling and stalking amounts to a lot of bumps in the night. And many of them are coming from the television.

There is a lot of paranormal activity on TV this fall, but instead of slipping away after Oct. 31, the entertainment of the unexplained is continuing year round. There are plenty of bogeyman for viewers to choose from. Ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches, beasts and demons are currently haunting on reality TV and scripted fare every day of the week.

TV origins

On TV, “The Twilight Zone” explored the paranormal in the 1960s. “In Search Of ...” with Leonard Nimoy and “Unsolved Mysteries” did it in the ’70s and ’80s, as did “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But instead of just a few scripted or reenactment programs on the air, the midpoint of the new millennium’s first decade saw paranormal entertainment shift into high gear on television. In the fall of 2004, “Lost” premiered as a show laden with supernatural phenomena. Also in the latter half of 2004, the erstwhile Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) debuted “Ghost Hunters.” By fall 2005, genre shows “Medium,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “Night Stalker,” “Supernatural,” and the documentary series “A Haunting” had debuted. The list would only continue to grow.

The WB — emboldened by previous successes “Charmed,” “Angel” and “Buffy” — picked up the supernatural slack with shows marketed to high school and college students. They then continued the trend as the reincarnated CW network.

The CW programming expanded and toyed with literary tropes from the “dark fantasy” subgenre such as angels, fairies, witches, werewolves and vampires. Those paranormal shows would eventually include “The Vampire Diaries” and this fall’s witch coven series “The Secret Circle” — both based on young adult fiction — as well as “True Blood” on HBO, “Teen Wolf” on MTV and Syfy’s upcoming succubus soap (imported from Canada), “Lost Girl.” However, aside from a few exceptions — Syfy’s werewolf-vampire-ghost roommate series “Being Human,” which returns for season two in January — apparitions have been most successful on reality TV.

In reality (TV)

It was two Roto-Rooter plumbers by day, and paranormal investigators at night, who put a spotlight on ghosts on reality TV.

While the reality TV British show “Most Haunted” preceded “Ghost Hunters” by two years, the Syfy program can be credited with launching the paranormal investigation docudrama where teams set out to explore, prove or debunk unexplained phenomena.

After seven years on the air, more than 150 episodes, two spin-offs (“Ghost Hunters International” and the since-canceled “Ghost Hunters Academy”), five live Halloween-night specials and one canine investigator, the show has cemented itself in pop culture and encouraged other cable channels to air their own ghost hunting programs.

Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” is a marked contrast. Co-created by team leader Zak Bagans and Nick Groff, it premiered in 2008. The fittingly named show is more adventure-based than “Hunters.” Bagans and his two-man team are “locked” overnight in the locales where they actively pursue the darker elements of the unexplained — namely nasty ghosts and demons.

Enter the reenactors

And now new reenactment programs are on the rise. “Paranormal Witness,” Syfy, features new stories of encounters with the unexplained each week. Produced by documentary filmmaker Mark Lewis, “Witness” intercuts eyewitness interviews with reenactment featuring actors. The show premiered in September and already has highlighted harrowing and inspiring tales involving angels, demons, beasts, UFO and a ghost without a face.

Then there is FX’s new drama “American Horror Story,” created by Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “Nip/Tuck”). Debuting Oct. 5 to a respectable 3.2 million viewers, the series is about a fractured family in a haunted house and is like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” meets “Twin Peaks.” Similar to the zombie survivor show “The Walking Dead” on AMC, “American Horror Story” meshes high production value and top tier talent with the horror genre on a weekly basis.

If the shows are any indication, it would appear that paranormal TV is going to continue heading down a scary street.

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