Ghost Hunters 6.10: "Norwich State"

At the very least, I have to give Pilgrim Films and TAPS credit for listening to the fans. This season has seen a vast increase in the number of single-investigation episodes and a return to more private resident cases. For all my criticisms of TAPS’ methods, Pilgrim Films, and the effect that the show continues to have on the paranormal research field, I do appreciate the fact that the show has managed to slip out of the malaise that set in during the fourth season.

While there have been the usual accusations of fraud and a seemingly endless stream of personal attacks on the team members, this first leg of the sixth season has been remarkably free of major incident. Sure, the Alcatraz event was a complete mess, with the Syfy promotional blitz steamrolling the actual episode, but Syfy has never been known for their subtlety (or logic).

I think the show still has plenty of opportunity for improvement, if they want to remain on the forefront of the wave of paranormal investigation shows. Many of the groups coming out of the woodwork are gunning for TAPS and “Ghost Hunters”, and with good reason. TAPS still has plenty of devoted fans and supporters, but a large percentage of the viewers and fellow investigators question their integrity. The bloom, as they say, is off the rose, and has been for a while.

Shifting the format to provide more in-depth footage and greater variety of locations is fine. Changing up the team assignments here and there also helps. But the new groups often have more energy and more innovation. I’ve often noted that “Ghost Hunters International” has shown more willingness to try different equipment, and that they seem to have a better grasp of the science behind their equipment. (As compared to the “Ghost Lab” and “Ghost Adventures” teams, who make fundamentally wrong assumptions in nearly every episode. And don’t get me started on “Paranormal State”.)

I’ve said it before, but this episode brought it back to mind, because I’m not sure the cookie-cutter editing did the location or the investigation justice. Granted, it was mostly personal experiences, so there was little for the audience to see, but it seemed like the presentation was all too familiar. Fans have complained about the idiotic music and the constant “do you see/hear that?” cuts before every commercial for years, so it’s becoming a mind-numbing refrain, but it’s an increasingly valid criticism.

For example, in this episode, there was a point at which Jason and Grant heard voices in the tunnels of the powerhouse. If you listen closely, you can actually hear what sounds like voices in the background. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know if they were actually there, or if they were added in post-production to “enhance” the footage for the audience. It’s impossible to know.

Another growing annoyance that could easily be removed is the immediate recap of every little event that is on-screen. At this point, it’s often clear that as soon as possible, the cameraman takes a team member aside and asks them to recap for production purposes. But why in the world does the audience need a recap of something they just saw happen, especially when it was just footage of the team saying what they thought they saw or heard in real-time? It’s a complete waste of time and more than a little insulting to the audience.

Sticking to a formula makes it hard for the audience to get a sense of the unique aspects of a location. Take “Ghost Adventures”: while the format is becoming just as predictable, there is a great deal of effort taken to adjust tactics and coverage to highlight the location. While the typical tour footage gave a sense of the scope of the Norwich State Hospital, the investigation footage itself wasn’t all that unusual. In fact, it looked an awful lot like the Essex County Hospital footage from last season, right down to the tunnels.

I’m not expecting TAPS to change their overall tactics. An upgrade to the equipment, with less of an eye to entertainment value and a better basis in science, would always be a plus, but that’s a constant observation. The real changes need to come from Pilgrim Films, because that’s where the cookie-cutter approach is utilized in the editing room.

Jason and Grant often throw their hands up in frustration, claiming they have no say over the production of the final episodes. That’s simply not true. If they are contractually unable to influence the design of the show, then that’s their fault for signing the contracts each and every year. Because they make an awfully big deal when they sign up for another season, so everyone knows the opportunity is there.

What would be the worst-case scenario? That the show goes off the air? Pilgrim Films knows what they have in hand: a solid franchise that makes them a ton of money. Pilgrim Films is not going to toss out their most recognizable faces at this point. So why not sit down and hash out some basic ideas for format changes the next time they sit down at the negotiating table? We all know Jason is capable of playing hardball, so if anything, it’s hard to believe the changes haven’t already come.

Of course, as I said, some changes have come, and that gives me some small hope that more are on the way. After all, sooner or later, the paranormal craze is going to slow down again, and the ratings are going to slip. If TAPS and Pilgrim want the show to keep going at that point, smart business practice means making small but noticeable changes to engage the audience.

Before I get off my soapbox, one last thing. I received a comment not so long ago, in which a viewer expressed annoyance with the frequency at which the team hears and records “footsteps”. This viewer pointed to the fact that “footsteps” are captured in nearly every episode, which makes it harder and harder to believe they are legitimate. After all, the mantra has been, since Day 1, that most paranormal activity is sporadic at best.

I’m see the point, even if I give TAPS the benefit of the doubt, based on my own investigative experiences. Early in the series, things like seeing moving shadows or recording EVPs were a source of great excitement. Thermal hits and disembodied voices were even more rare. Much like the constant K-II activity of previous seasons (it has been gloriously absent of late), there is a point at which the frequency of activity begins to outpace what seems reasonable, even (or especially) to those with experience in the field.

I’ve often brought up “animal noises” as a common culprit in terms of apparent EVPs and disembodied voices. It’s not as common on “Ghost Hunters” as it is on other shows, but it does happen. The apparent sound of a whimpering animal in this case may have matched the context of that specific location and the reported activity, but the nature of the location itself makes it hard to say it was paranormal in origin. Couldn’t it have been an animal somewhere else on the grounds?

I’m also on the fence regarding that noise recorded by Britt and K.J. There’s no doubt that the noise was real, and I also initially thought it sounded a lot like a chain-and-pulley system. But I can’t help but wonder if it could have been an animal in those large ducts. I know it’s a stretch, but without being there to test what it would have sounded like (or where the sound came from), it’s too hard to draw a definitive conclusion. (But kudos to the team for not reacting to that noise, because damn, that had to have been loud!)

I also want to give credit to Kris and Amy. They were clearly spooked by what they heard around them, and they stood their ground. More importantly, they sat down in the middle of the apparent storm and tried to gather some evidence. And of course, there was the door.

By now, everybody can predict the skeptical refrain of “it was fishing line!”, but as there is no proof to that effect, it’s just conjecture and opinion. I also suspect some will claim that Kris and Amy look right at the door when it happens, but it’s easy to forgot that they are in the dark. They were looking at where the sound was coming from, and neither of them tracked the motion, just the sound. All things being equal, their reactions matched the apparent experience.

And so this latest run of “Ghost Hunters” comes to a close. Next up will be the second season of “Ghost Hunters Academy” in June. My expectations for that show couldn’t be lower, after the massive miscues and errors in judgment behind the first season. Enhancing the competitive elements of the show was a huge mistake, in my opinion.

This will be followed in July by the return of “Ghost Hunters International”. My understanding is that Dustin Pari will not be part of the show during this period, which is disappointing. The combination of Barry and Dustin was always a good one, and gave the team a strong foundation. I’m concerned that the “winners” of the first season of “Ghost Hunters Academy” won’t have the background and rapport with the existing members. I suppose only time will tell.


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