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 who oversees the network is also in charge of streaming paranormal content.
“It’s like a joke now,” said Mark Wolters, a travel vlogger and teaching associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business. “Oh, I remember the Travel Channel. Remember Samantha Brown when she was there, and Anthony Bourdain and ‘No Reservations?’ Those were the days.”
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Travel Channel spokeswoman Caryn Davidson Schlossberg, who is also director of communications for Paranormal & Unexplained genre programming on streaming platform Discovery Plus, said network executives were not available for an interview.
“We have a rotation of programming, which offers content that audiences want to see,” he said in an email.
A look at November’s lineup, following the annual spooktacular bonanza “Ghostober,” reveals some examples of that lineup: “Paranormal Caught on Camera,” “Ghost Adventures,” “Conjuring Kesha,” “Ghost Hunters,” and “Eli Roth.” . Presents: My Owned Pet. Very occasionally, an hour is devoted to restaurants around the country, even though it’s a Food Network show.
It’s a far cry from the network’s early days, when a subsidiary of the now-defunct TWA airline launched the Travel Channel to be “dedicated exclusively to travel and leisure” in 1987, the Associated Press reported. It was an era of niche programming for mainstream interests, said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University.
“When cable was first launched, the idea was that it was going to be this miracle of places where you could go to anything you wanted and there would be specific 24-hour programming for it,” he said, naming MTV, the Weather Channel and Court TV as examples “So many places, that didn’t necessarily work.”
The Travel Channel’s turnaround began more than two decades ago, when shows about UFOs and haunted B&Bs began airing alongside “The World’s Greatest Spas” and “Lonely Planet.”
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In 2000, then-general manager Steve Cheskin acknowledged to the specialized magazine Broadcasting & Cable in an interview that the network did not need to serve travelers, but television 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.”
Over the years, that mix has included choices as varied as “Hot Dog Paradise,” “Creepy Crypts,” “Mancations,” “Castle Ghosts of England” and “Dangerous Grounds,” about a coffee shopper’s global quests. “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” premiered in 2005; the series “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” joined two years later. “Ghost Adventures” was launched in 2008 and is still going strong.
In recent years, ghosts have taken over. Travel Channel introduced a new look, logo and focus in 2018, announcing that it was now the “all-new TRVL Channel” after Discovery Communications bought the network’s parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive. The company is now Warner Bros. Discovery after a merger earlier this year.
“Travel Channel’s new shows focused on the paranormal, the unsolved, the creepy and the terrifying are taking viewers into new and exciting territories,” the announcement said. “Let’s just say there are destinations you might not have expected.”
Discovery said in a statement the following year that 2018 had been “the most successful year in the history of the Travel channel, with ratings up 15 percent over the previous year.”
After the switch, Wolters, who blogs at Wolters World and has more than 900,000 YouTube subscribers, started hearing a lot of questions about what had happened to the old travel channel.
“People watch the ‘Ghost Hunters’ stuff for entertainment, and you want to be entertained every day. When you’re talking about travel, you probably travel once a year,” he said in an interview. in Spain?’ as opposed to, “I want something to entertain me for 15 minutes without thinking.” “
For some travel fans, the changes have made the network invisible. A 2019 Reddit thread asked, “Any other Travel Channel fans losing their minds over all the ghost shows that now make up the majority of the stations content?”
Jamie Larounis, travel industry analyst for Upgraded Points, loved the Travel Channel’s hotel shows, especially “Great Hotels” with Samantha Brown and “Hotel Impossible.” He said he used to feel immersed in whatever destination presented itself, but no more.
“I’m not really going to turn on the travel channel anymore because I know it’s likely to be something ghost-related and I stopped watching it, I’d say about 5 years ago, when the ghost stuff really started to get pushed,” 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, only started watching in the last two years, but she’s a fan of ghost-centric programming.
“I never knew it was about travel before,” he said.
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Heather Kurtz of Olathe, Kan., has been a fan for nearly two decades. The 54-year-old mother of two and insurance company employee started watching shows like “Mysteries at the Museum” and “Expedition Unknown.” As more paranormal content joined 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 investigative style, which makes it interesting to see what kind of evidence they get,” he said in an email. “Because the groups are still traveling to different parts of the country, we’re still seeing parts that we might never see, as well as hearing some of the history of the area they’re in.”
Kurtz also has a personal interest in the shows: it made her feel as if her deceased loved ones were still looking out for her, and as if she could do the same for her family. She was devastated after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis nearly eight years ago, when her children were 9 and 4.
“I was determined to fight for my life to be there for my young children,” she said in the email. “But watching the paranormal shows made me realize that I could still take care of my kids if I lost my fight.”
Y’all Kesha has a ghost hunting show on the travel channel finding out this is very important
— Paul (@paulhaslegs) October 23, 2022
Spooky content can provide that kind of comfort, said Thompson, who is also founding director of Syracuse University’s Center for Television and Popular Culture.
“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 to nothing.”
Popular interest in the paranormal is longstanding 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, N.Y., and author of “Haunted.” Earth: Travels in a Paranormal America“. He said the topic gained more traction in popular culture in the 1970s. As trust in organized religion declines, paranormal subjects can fill a void, Caterine said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what’s real and what’s not real right now,” he said. “That’s kind of the essence of what the paranormal is about. It’s kind of the ambiguity.”
For 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, an author, TV host and paranormal expert, has worked as a writer and investigator on “Ghost Adventures” since the first season. When Bagans, the host, told her the show would air on the Travel Channel, Belanger didn’t question it for a second.
“That was the most obvious slam dunk for me,” he said. “Of course, the travel channel.”
As the author of a book called “The World’s Most Haunted Places” and a frequent holiday haunter, Belanger said travel and ghosts go hand in hand.
“A unique way to see a city is to see it through its ghostly tradition,” he said. “You have to connect with its history. It is often tragic and macabre”.
In “Ghost Brothers: Lights Out,” which is in its second season streaming on Discovery Plus and premiering on the Travel Channel Nov. 26, a trio of Atlanta-based friends travel to investigate scary sites.
“When you think about it, we go all over the world and tell you stories tied to these different places,” said Dalen Spratt, one of the stars. “We give you these dope experiences.”
He recalled an episode in Jamaica that featured beaches and tropical landscapes and the legend of a murderous ghost.
“It’s a journey wrapped in stories,” 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’m telling you, people have died in Hawaii. People died in Fiji. I know someone died in Tahiti, let’s look.”