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How Travel Channel became the ghost channel


The episode has all the glitz you’d expect from an LA travel show: a shimmering skyline, a classic movie industry location, a Spanish Revival-style mansion, over-the-top characters. Also: ghosts.

“This house is a containment chamber for the souls of the victims, the souls of the killers,” says Zak Bagans, host and most intense star of travel channel‘s “Ghost Adventures,” a longtime hit on a network that once aired shows like “Hotel Impossible,” “Baggage Battles,” and “Bikinis & Boardwalks.”

When you turn on the Travel Channel these days, there will almost inevitably be ghosts – or other supernatural phenomena, mythical creatures or famous mysteries. It’s no surprise that the executive overseeing the network is also in charge of streaming paranormal content.

“Now it’s kind of like a joke,” said Mark Wolters, a trip vlogger and teaching associate professor at the University of Illinois at the Gies College of Business at Urbana-Champaign. “Oh, I remember Travel Channel. Remember Samantha Brown when she was there, and Anthony Bourdain and ‘No Reservations?’ It was then. »

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Travel Channel spokeswoman Caryn Davidson Schlossberg, who is also director of communications for the Paranormal & Unexplained genre shows on the Discovery Plus streaming platform, said network executives were unavailable for an interview.

“We have a rotation of programming, which provides content that audiences want to watch,” she said in an email.

A look at November’s lineup — after the annual bonanza of spooky ‘Ghostober’ content — reveals a few examples of that lineup: ‘Paranormal Caught on Camera,’ ‘Ghost Adventures,’ ‘Conjuring Kesha,’ ‘Ghost Hunters,’ and ‘Eli Roth Presents: My possessed pet. Very occasionally, an hour is devoted to restaurants across the country, even if it is a Food Network show.

A far cry from the network’s early days, when a subsidiary of now-defunct airline TWA launched the Travel Channel to be “devoted exclusively to travel and leisure” in 1987, the Associated Press reported. It was an era of niche programming for widespread interests, said Robert Thompson, a teacher of popular culture at Syracuse University.

“When cable first launched, the idea was that it would be this miracle of places where you could go for whatever you wanted and there would be specific 24-hour programming for that,” said he said, naming MTV, the Weather Channel and Court TV as examples. “So many places, it didn’t necessarily work out.”

The Travel Channel shift began more than two decades ago, when shows about UFOs and haunted bed and breakfasts began airing alongside “The World’s Greatest Spas” and “Lonely Planet.”

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In 2000, then-CEO Steve Cheskin admitted to trade magazine Broadcasting & Cable in an interview that the network did not need to cater to travelers, but rather to viewers.

“People who spend a lot of time traveling don’t spend a lot of time watching TV,” Cheskin told the publication. “We won’t have a predominance of ghosts, but there will be a mix.”

For years, that mix included options as varied as “Hot Dog Paradise,” “Creepy Crypts,” “Mancations,” “Castle Ghosts of England,” and “Dangerous Grounds,” about a coffee shopper’s world quests. “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” debuted in 2005; the “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” series joined two years later. “Ghost Adventures” was launched in 2008 and is still going strong.

In recent years, ghosts have taken over. The Travel Channel unveiled a new look, logo and direction in 2018, announcing it was now the “all new TRVL channel” after Discovery Communications bought the network’s parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive. The company is now called Warner Bros. Discovery after a merger earlier this year.

“New Travel Channel programming focused on the paranormal, the unresolved, the spooky and the terrifying takes viewers into fascinating and surprising new territories,” the announcement reads. “Let’s just say there are destinations you may not have anticipated.”

Discovery said in a statement the following year, 2018 had been “the most successful year in Travel Channel history with ratings up 15% on the previous year”.

After the change, Wolters, who blogs at World of Wolters and has more than 900,000 subscribers on Youtubestarted to hear a lot of questions about what had happened to the old Travel Channel.

“People watch ‘Ghost Hunters’ stuff for entertainment – and you want to be entertained every day. When you talk about travel, you probably travel once a year,” he said in an interview. There aren’t as many people wondering ‘Where am I going in Spain?’ as opposed to “I want something to entertain me for 15 minutes mindlessly.”

For some travel enthusiasts, the changes made the network inaccessible. A 2019 Reddit thread asked, “Are there any other Travel Channel fans who are losing their minds over all the ghost shows that now make up the bulk of the stations content?”

Jamie Larounis, travel industry analyst for Improved points, loved the Travel Channel’s hotel programs, especially “Great Hotels” with Samantha Brown and “Hotel Impossible.” He said he used to feel immersed in the destination presented, but no more.

“I won’t even turn on the Travel Channel anymore because I know it’s probably something to do with ghosts, and I stopped watching, I’d say maybe about 5 years ago, when the ghost stuff really took off. started to be pushed hard,” he said in an email.

But other viewers — clearly a significant number, given the ghostly proliferation — can’t get enough.

Madison Cummins, a 19-year-old freelance designer in Seattle, has only started watching in the past two years, but is a fan of ghost-centric programming.

“I never knew before that it was actually travel,” she said.

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Heather Kurtz of Olathe, Kansas has been a fan for nearly two decades. The 54-year-old mother of two and insurance company employee started watching shows such as “Mysteries at the Museum” and “Expedition Unknown.” As paranormal content entered the lineup, his interest grew. Current favorites include “Ghost Hunters”, “Ghost Nation”, “Ghost Adventures”, “Ghost Brothers”, and “Destination Fear”.

“Each of the paranormal groups has a different style of investigation, which makes it interesting to see what kind of evidence they get,” she said in an email. “As the bands are still traveling to different parts of the country, we continue to see parts we may never see and hear some of the history of the area they are in.”

Kurtz also has a personal interest in the shows: It made her feel like her deceased loved ones were still watching over her and she could do the same for her family. She was devastated after being diagnosed with breast cancer nearly eight years ago when her sons were 9 and 4.

“I was determined to fight for my life to be there for my young sons,” she said in the email. “But watching the paranormal shows made me realize that I could still watch over my boys if I lost my fight.”

Ghostly content can provide that kind of comfort, said Thompson, who is also founding director of the Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

“Despite all this fear, there is a sense of extreme optimism,” he said. “The idea of ​​a ghost is based on the fact that we don’t disappear when we die, we don’t go into nothingness.”

Popular interest in the paranormal has a long history in the United States, dating back to the rise of spiritualism in the mid-1800s, said Darryl Caterine, professor of religious studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY, and author of “Haunted Ground: Journeys Through a Paranormal America.” He said the topic gained popularity in popular culture in the 1970s. Like trust in organized religion decreasesparanormal subjects can fill a void, said Caterine

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s real and what’s not right now,” he said. “That’s kind of the essence of what the paranormal is. It’s a kind of ambiguity.

Despite all the otherworldly ambiguities, some affiliates of today’s Travel Channel shows insist they are firmly tied to travel.

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Jeff Belanger, a author, television host and paranormal expert, has worked as a writer and researcher on “Ghost Adventures” since the first season. When Bagans, the host, told him the show would air on the Travel Channel, Belanger didn’t ask a question for a second.

“It was the most obvious slam dunk for me,” he said. “Of course, the Travel Channel.”

As the author of a book titled “The most haunted places in the worldand a frequent seeker of haunted places on vacation, Bélanger said travel and ghosts go hand-in-hand with sightings.

“A unique way to see a city is to see it through its ghostly lore,” he said. “You have to connect with your story. It is often tragic and macabre.

On “Ghost Brothers: Lights Out,” which has its second season streaming on Discovery Plus and premiering on the Travel Channel Nov. 26, a trio of Atlanta-based friends travel to investigate spooky sights.

“When you think about it, we go all over the world and we tell you stories attached to those different places,” said Dalen Spratt, one of the stars. “We offer you these drug experiments.”

He recalled a episode in Jamaica that featured tropical beaches and landscapes – and the legend of a murderous ghost.

“It’s a journey wrapped in storytelling,” he said.

The new season includes stops in Ohio, Kentucky and Rhode Island. Spratt joked that he and his co-stars wouldn’t mind even more travel.

“We tell Travel all the time, ‘We don’t have to go to Ohio all the time,'” he said. “I tell you, people have died in Hawaii. People have died in Fiji. I know someone died in Tahiti, let’s see.