When will some intrepid television producer devote an entire cable station to paranormal phenomenon? We're almost there. It seems that every time you turn around to investigate that sudden chill at your back there's another program on cryptozoology or UFOs or that old standby, the ghost story. There must be a dozen cable series on ghost hunting alone, each with its own distinct personality.
The most recent buzz has been around Celebrity Ghost Stories, which offers the likes of Joan Rivers talking about the haunted Manhattan ballroom she bought when she was down on her luck. It's a good story, but even scarier is the the monstrous veneer left on her face by decades of plastic surgery. In a similar vein is the late and lamented Celebrity Paranormal Project, a VH1 series that married reality television, ghost hunting, and second- and third-tier celebrities, many of whom seemed to be plucked from the also-rans of Survivor: Oh My God the Jungle, but which also had the ingenious sense to have Gary Busey lead a rag-tag team on an overnight ghost hunt. To Mr. Busey, one of the resident spirits sounded just like a mechanical tiger. For the love of Moloch, somebody please give him his own ghost show.
Phantoms of History enters this crowded field with a different and gimmick-free angle on paranormal phenomenon. In its pilot program on the ghosts of Savannah, Georgia, it looks at what is considered one of, if not the, most haunted city in America and sorts out the facts and fictions behind some of its best known ghost stories. The idea isn't to debunk the spooky tales but to present a more accurate history of the truth behind the legends.
Re-enactments are de rigeur in both historical and paranormal-themed television, and Phantoms is no exception. Production values are generally good, but as entertainment value the program doesn't stand out from the ghastly pack of competing macabrologists. A case in point is a story on the Moon River Brewing Company, which was documented to more dramatic (and funnier!) effect, and with some of the same talking heads, by the goofy Ghost Adventurers, whose home base is in Savannah.
As a veteran attendee of ghost walks across these haunted States, I'd be happy to take a tour of some spooky town hosted by the informative guides behind Phantoms of History. But while Phantoms may be smart ghost hunting, it is not compelling television.