Ghost Hunters 6.1: "Alcatraz Live Event"

As much as I wish I could separate the actual investigation from the massive PR machine behind the 100th episode, the format of the event made it almost impossible. I found that the constant stream of Syfy cross-promotion and TAPS glad-handing made it very difficult to get into the flow of what had happened on-site. While there were a couple of interesting tidbits that did shine through, I thought the overall effectiveness of the footage was lost in the constant interruptions.

I’ll start with the “event” first, because I think it speaks volumes. I certainly understand that Syfy wants to celebrate and promote one of its current flagship franchises. For better or worse, “Ghost Hunters” has gone from the niche show that might never have made it to a phenomenon that has spawned an entire reality sub-genre.

But success often comes with a price, and I think many fans and detractors would agree that TAPS is not approaching the show the same way they did in the beginning. On a fundamental level, they recognize what Pilgrim Films is going to do on a business level: edit for entertainment, integrity of the team and reputation of the client be damned. Jason and Grant have signed enough contracts by now to share in the responsibility for everything the production company does related to “Ghost Hunters”.

(And this is not my personal indictment; this is taking their own words to the logical if unflattering conclusion. They’ve openly said that if Pilgrim Films ever asked them to do or accept anything against their morals, they would walk away. As such, since they keep signing contracts, they must feel that the occasional poor treatment of clients and questionable editing/post-production practices are acceptable.)

I point to Jason and Grant because they are the co-producers and ultimately the keystones to the franchise. I still firmly believe that the majority of TAPS, GHI, and even GHA members are legitimately trying to investigate, even under the evidence-crushing conditions of television production. And for the most part, I think Jason and Grant are doing the same. But about 95% of the truly questionable evidence and subsequent interpretations either originate or filter through Jason and Grant. By now, I can’t help but feel that some of those conclusions, especially when the conclusions point to paranormal activity where alternative explanations exist, are geared towards serving the franchise rather than the field.

From my position, that doesn’t really make much of a difference in the long run. As I’ve said many times, the edited nature of the footage and “evidence” reduces everything on the show to anecdotal status. None of it can be pointed to as “proof”, because there’s no chance for independent review of the untouched data. So it’s really a question of whether or not one can fully trust the presentation of the “evidence” and the conclusions drawn.

That slow but steady conversion from the much more skeptical approach in the first and even second seasons to the current status quo has culminated in the entertainment-driven mess that was the 100th episode event. It’s the same thing that forces Josh Gates and the rest of the gang to praise the ridiculous and reputation-killing antics of Steve and Tango, which I still think is a response to pressure from the production company. (Consider this: if the “recruits” on GHA had acted like Steve and Tango, how quickly would they have been berated?)

Many detractors of TAPS have accused them (and specifically Jason and Grant) of “going Hollywood”. This event only feeds into that impression. I actually feel bad for a lot of the less-prominent members of TAPS and GHI who had to fly in for the event, and had barely a moment on-camera. They weren’t there for their substantive contributions; they were there to promote the franchise.

When GHI was introduced, the franchise question came into play. Was this the proof that it was less about investigation and more about the entertainment business? Many critics definitely felt it was. Thankfully, GHI has become a strong show on its own merits, and the team itself has often outshined TAPS in terms of consistency. As I’ve said many times, while they are not perfect, GHI tends to highlight many of the legitimate concerns surrounding TAPS.

Part of what irritated me about the event was the constant promotion of “Ghost Hunters Academy”. I wasn’t expecting anyone to denounce the show for its many shortcomings; this was, after all, about celebrating the franchise. But the enthusiasm that went into the description of the next season of GHA was astonishing. It sounds like everything that was wrong with the first season is going to be emphasized in the second season. Even worse, Jason is getting into the act with Steve and Tango. How can they not see how this will be perceived, and how this feeds into the impression of entertainment and money over integrity? (That said, I must admit that I will give them the benefit of the doubt and see how the second season has changed things. Maybe the initial impressions are deceiving.)

My discomfort with the promotional side of the event crystallized in the final moments, when the founder of Pilgrim Films, a production company that has been at the source of many of the issues surrounding the show and the franchise, including the mistreatment of former cast members, came out to give a toast to the success and health of the franchise. It was clearly all about the money. I have to wonder how many of the people on the stage really wanted to share a drink with him.


As for the investigation itself, the location was once again the star. This reminded me of those episodes of GH and GHI where the anticipation is so high that it seems impossible that the team could contain the natural hysteria that comes with the territory. In this case, given that the investigation took place over several nights, I would think that such an initial thrill would eventually give way to routine.

I was intrigued by a couple of the new devices that they were using during the investigation. It’s been a long time since TAPS brought anything new to the table. The laser grid device seems like a gimmick, but in terms of debunking value, it’s actually not a bad idea. That is, as long as the lasers aren’t visible to the naked eye; visible laser beams would destroy an investigator’s night vision. But consider how often investigators think they see shadows moving in the darkness; if a laser grid visible to the IR cameras could demonstrate that there was nothing actually there. Unfortunately, the operation of the laser device was never discussed in the aired footage, so my initial impression may not be valid. I would need more information on the device itself.

I’m less certain about the “Bumblebee tablet”. It certainly looks slick. My impression is that the oft-mentioned finding that EVPs are found in frequencies below the threshold of human hearing is the basis for using this device. I’m skeptical of that conclusion as it is, but setting that aside, the data would only be valuable if it could be recorded and correlated with an audio recording with potential EVPs.

A quick search on the device suggests that it would be very good for identifying, in correlation with audio, instances where RF and other common false positive sources were at work. It does have a sizable hard drive, so I would assume that there is a data-logging capability. That’s assuming, of course, that the people using the device were trained on interpreting the output data. I would have to defer to my audio engineer group members to weigh in on the applicability and utility of the device.

I liked how the unusual size and circumstances of the investigation forced many of the team members to mix into unusual groups. I only wish that could have been the case with Jason and Grant, and Steve and Tango. The disembodied voice saying “No” early in the investigation was very clear, as was the voice that talked over Kris’ voice later in the episode.

At this point, capturing footsteps is almost becoming a cliché. It rarely happened in the past; now it happens all the time. (This can be added to the list along with EVPs, thermal hits, and disembodied voices.) Most of the time, I think it’s a case of natural noises and selective interpretation. I’m not so sure in this case. Those footsteps were very clear in the audio, and louder than a lot of the supposed footsteps caught in the past. I definitely think they’d be worth a closer look.

The highlight, of course, is the EVP, captured over Jason and Grant’s own voices, apparently saying “Harry Brunette 374”. Combined with the research, that’s the kind of thing that any paranormal researcher would love to find. Taken on its own merits, it would certainly demand further investigation.


Want to comment on this? First, you must log in to your SideReel account!