|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||83 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||22 minutes|
Four Seasons Productions|
Go Go Luckey Productions
Picture Shack Entertainment
|Distributor||A&E Television Networks|
|Original network||A&E Network|
|Original release||December 10, 2007 – May 2, 2011|
|Followed by||Paranormal State: The New Class|
Paranormal State was an American paranormal reality television series that premiered on the A&E Network on December 10, 2007. The program follows and stars the Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society, a student-led college club. The show features the group's investigations of alleged paranormal phenomena at reportedly haunted locations.
The show was produced by Four Seasons Productions International and Go Go Luckey Productions (which produced MTV's Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County, and A&E's now-cancelled Rollergirls). Gary Auerbach and Julie Auerbach (who head Go Go Luckey Productions) and Betsy Schechter (Four Seasons) were the executive producers.
Every episode of the show was outlined by the production team first, co-executive producer Tina Gazzerro stated, to ensure that a producible episode will result. "We try to identify where we get our discovery moments, our 'Ah-ha!' moments", Gazzerro told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Information about the event under investigation may also be held back from the students in order to create dramatic tension, and only situations which will have a conclusive outcome are investigated. "We may have information we don't give to [the PRS team]", Gazzerro said, "but we need to make sure [the episode is] produceable." Story arcs were also outlined for each "character" on the show, and the production team had publicly expressed its hope that a romantic relationship would develop between the research team leader Ryan Buell and one of the women on the series. The production team and the show's researchers say that no pressure was put on the research team to act in certain ways or make paranormal discoveries.
A&E had high hopes for the new series. Cable television reality shows about the paranormal require only about a quarter of the budget of a scripted show of the same length. They also draw much-coveted younger viewers, and lean slightly more female than male (a difficult demographic to draw for most cable networks not explicitly targeting women)
Fourteen half-hour episodes were ordered for the first season. A&E upped that order to 20 shows after seeing the pilot and the first few episodes. Had the show not been picked up by A&E, Buell said he had another series deal in the works with the Auerbachs and their production company.
The show debuted on December 10, 2007, with 2.5 million viewers watching the first two back-to-back episodes, making it the third-most watched show on A&E since 2004. The cable network reported that this included 1.6 million people aged 18 to 49 (a highly coveted demographic by broadcasters and advertisers). It also included 1.5 million viewers in the 25-to-54 age range, A&E's target demographic. The show's second season began on July 28, 2008 on A&E; its third season, on January 19, 2009 on the same channel. The fourth season premiered on December 15, 2009 on A&E, and the DVD release for this season is scheduled for September 28, 2010.
On May 4, 2010, A&E confirmed that Paranormal State was renewed for a fifth season for a total of 20 episodes.
On July 27, 2010, A&E Home Video released a 2-DVD set featuring 12 episodes from season two entitled Paranormal State: The Complete Season Two.
On January 6, 2011, Ryan revealed on his personal blog that Paranormal State will, in fact, be ending for the members to pursue other things.
As of recent, Paranormal State is now cancelled.
Critical reception for the show has been entirely mixed.
A review called the show "reality TV at its reel frightening best." Most critics who enjoy the show credit it for being "spooky". In a typical comment, one reviewer said the show was "...the perfect blend of bump-in-the-night scariness and cinéma vérité. It's 'The Blair Witch Project' meets 'Unsolved Mysteries.' But if you scare easily, don't watch this show alone."
Reviewers have pointed out that the show effectively utilizes a number of cinematic techniques common in horror film. The editing leaves open the question of whether paranormal activity is actually occurring, and the cinematography uses night-vision and infrared photography to create a suspenseful atmosphere. The writing on the show is particularly effective at creating a sense of portent and dread, one reviewer noted, and the music and graphics contribute effectively to the tension and fear as well.
The Orange County Register gave it a "dishonorable mention" as one of the worst new shows of the 2007-2008 television season. The New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger faulted the series for being too low-budget and not frightening enough (a The Blair Witch Project minus the fright). As Genzlinger wrote:
- Mr. Buell tries to generate interest in his personal demons as well, but he's just not that compelling. ... Maybe "Paranormal State" is pure put-on. If so, it's not deft enough.
Some reviewers have strongly criticized the high production values which others praise. As one otherwise positive review noted, "The biggest drawback to the series is that it's over-produced, with too many eerie sounds and visual effects. Is the heavy breathing something picked up by PRS microphones, or is it a sound effect added after the fact by the show's producers?"
Critics have also pointed out that the show lacks visual punch. People interviewed in the show declare that they "feel" a spirit next to them, but nothing is shown to the TV viewer. In the series debut, the audience is told that a young boy sees ghosts, but the audience is not able to see any evidence of this. "The most compelling footage seems to come more from the editing room than beyond the grave", noted one industry trade publication. Reviewers say the show also fails to effectively integrate and utilize the team's (apparently) sophisticated audio and video equipment to heighten tension or help support their claims of paranormal activity.
Others have noted that the show's stars are not particularly good performers or presenters. Buell and the changing cast of supporting "paranormal trainees", psychologists, counselors and psychics seem inexperienced and are ineffectual at creating a sense of fear or suspense. "Buell looks self-conscious and sounds like he is reading from cue cards", one critic wrote. "The remaining three members of the core team ... don't seem confident or mature enough to take on a crabby Starbucks' manager, much less a demonic presence."
June 2008 Paranormal State was awarded The Truly Terrible Television (TTTV) Award for peddling pseudoscience and superstition to its audience by the Independent Investigative Group IIG. Other winners have been Montel Williams (for every episode of The Montel Williams Show that has showcased Sylvia Browne), Court TV's Psychic Detectives and Syfy's Ghost Hunters.
Paranormal State has been the subject of several controversies such as whether the show is depicting real or faked paranormal activity, and whether the show is documentary or scripted entertainment.
School House Haunting Case
In the episode entitled "School House Haunting", which first aired on January 28, 2008, the "client" whose home the team investigated was Shannon Sylvia, a cast member of another paranormal show, Ghost Hunters International. On January 29, 2008, Ryan Buell posted an entry to his blog on the Official Penn State Paranormal Research Society website concerning his view of psychics and, in particular, the inclusion of psychic Chip Coffey on the show. In the comment section of the blog, several people questioned Sylvia's inclusion in the series, asking why a high-profile paranormal investigator would hire the Penn State Paranormal Research Society to investigate her property when she essentially has a team of her own. Later on she declared members of TAPS as well as other high profile investigators have indeed investigated her home and were pleased with the EVP results. Though, in his blog, Buell mentions that it was his visit which brought her into the study of the supernatural as an investigator herself.
Kelli Ryan and the "Messenger" Case
There has also been some speculation as to the fabrication of entire episodes.
A self-proclaimed exorcist, demonologist, and spirit liberator, Kirby Robinson, has accused those involved with the show of fraud on his blog, going so far as to request that the staff of the show take lie detector tests on the Fox Network's show, "The Moment of Truth", to prove the credibility of both themselves and the show.
In the eighth issue of his blog, Robinson was contacted by two former guests and clients of the show, Kelli and Riley Ryan (from the episode, "The Messenger"). In the written account, Kelli, a self-proclaimed medium, claimed that they had contacted the PRS after Bill, their ghost, had asked for help. She alleges that, besides Bill (a friendly apparition), the house was also plagued by a darker spirit who liked to harass and attack both them and Bill. Of their experience on the show, Kelli Ryan made the following claims:
- A ghostly figure running by one of the house's windows was actually one of the crew members staging a scare for the camera.
- Ryan Buell began to merge the two spirits together into a new character called, "The Shadow Man", ignoring that Bill even existed, and even tried to over-dramatize it by reciting the name "Shadow Man" in a deeper tone of voice to make it sound ominous. Several cuts were also made for the purpose of all but omitting Bill from the picture, thus making an attempt to sensationalize the Ryans' story and make it all about the evil spirit terrorizing the family. Furthermore, Kelli had been asked to pretend that she knew nothing of Bill or his accident so that the producers of the show could play up the effect of an unfolding story. This did not bother Kelli as she felt there was no harm in playing this up a bit (since, in her opinion, the ghost of Bill was very real) but DID have an issue with the producers and staff asking Kelli to scream or yell out so that she would appear to be terrified during her premonitions. Kelli maintains that the crew was disappointed when she told them that she usually froze up when she got premonitions or perceptions and that screaming out was not accurate. Because of all of this, combined with the editing, the viewer is given the mistaken impression that Kelli is attempting to get Bill to leave instead of the dark spirit.
- The cast is supposed to have Dead Time at 3 AM but Dead Time was filmed from 11:30 PM to 1:30 AM on all three nights. Kelli also stated that video taken during Dead Time is deceptive as it's edited heavily. Cuts and edits were made to make Kelli look shocked at things that were being heard and seen when, in fact, Kelli was hearing or seeing absolutely nothing at all.
- Chip Coffey pretended to have "just arrived" in town on the second day but, in reality, had been in town for 48 hours.
- Even though Coffey insinuated, on camera, that he had been "told nothing", he had already been given every detail about the Ryans' house, their case, and the identity of their ghost ahead of time by A&E's Eric Leven. Kelli said that, despite this, Coffey "play-acted" being a psychic, acting as though he was getting the names and facts about the case out of thin air. Furthermore, though they had already been told that Bill Wells was in a tragic accident and was also on the deed of the property, cast members Heather, Eilfie, and Michelle pretended not to know this when they "discovered" these two facts in their research.
- A&E and The Ryans had originally agreed, out of respect of Bill's family, that gruesome police photos of Bill's accident would NOT be shown. A&E violated this agreement and showed them anyway during the "interview" scene.
- After learning of Kelli's personal family history, an alleged altercation was edited out where Coffey allegedly became angry with Kelli and told her that the "darker" entity was Kelli's "dead grandfather" who had "sexually abused" Kelli as a child. Kelli, insulted by this accusation, called Coffey a "fraud". When Coffey retaliated with abusive language and tried to intimidate Kelli, cast member Michelle Belanger, allegedly, told Coffey that Kelli was, in fact, "a real medium" and that she agreed that Coffey was a fraud as well. She looked disgusted and quit participating. Buell was said to have broken it up after it became overly heated.
- Kelli also alleges that Buell was frightened by what had truly been going on in the house (left on the cutting room floor) and "had a hard time keeping control" of Coffey.
- Buell had apparently captured real paranormal evidence throughout the shoot. Notably, in the forest surrounding the property and inside the house but did not want to include any of it and only used material that was staged because it fit with their "story" better.
- During an EVP session, the cast picked up transmissions from a local Ham Radio operator and acted as if they did not know what it was. This was left in the final cut.
- Kelli claimed that Bill's "ghost" wanted to get a "message" out to both the PRS team and to the rest of the town so that they could move on with their lives after having lived with the death of Bill for years. Kelli claimed that the "message" was received but that the producers left it out of the final cut.
After all of this, Kelli claimed that the "dark entity" was worse after the PRS team left. When Kelli called the team to request more help, she was told that she already received some help and that everything would work out. Kelli also learned that the PRS crew had arrived in town at the beginning of the shoot and, immediately, hit the town to try and "dig up dirt" on Kelly and Riley Ryan. According to townsfolk who had called Kelli, the producer had arrived the beginning of the week and all the other A&E and PRS crew had gotten there shortly after Coffey and Belanger. The cast and crew began to scour the town looking to "uncover anything" about the couple such as information that was "unsavory" or a "provocative secret". Director Ben Wolf admitted that they had "asked everywhere" and they could not find a single person in town who said anything other than something favorable about the Ryans. Of this, blogger Kirby Robinson stated, "PRS offers themselves up as help with experts and clergy and after they dramatize, fictionalize, and sensationalize some household's problem they walk away and leave these people with whatever haunting, demonic presence or troubling spirit and, in some cases, worsen the problem", Kelli later claimed that she and her "credibility" were being attacked by Buell and Coffey for telling her story and also claimed that Chip Coffey had "threatened to sue" her.
In response, Chip Coffey stated on his blog that he would "not dignify her (or any others') statements and accusations with comments or rebuttals" but would say that the "blog that is posted on the Internet, with supposed comments from this woman, is FILLED with inaccurate accounts of the events that occurred during the case and is FRAUGHT with total, outright lies." Coffey went on to suggest that Kelli Ryan and her husband were attempting to launch a "smear campaign against Paranormal State and everyone involved in its production" and that, if they attempted such a thing, "they may very well get much more than they bargained for.
On November 16, 2008, Chip Coffey, Ryan Buell, and Michelle Belanger appeared on "Darkness Radio", a taped paranormal "talk show" where interaction between the guests and the public is limited. During this show, the cast of Paranormal State attempted a sort of "rumor control". Buell claimed that Kelli Ryan's statements against the show were "exaggerations" but did not make clear which statements were exaggerated. He claims that Kelli made no attempt to contact the PRS after the show despite A&E's callback after she had, in fact, made the attempt. Buell claimed that he was a "professional" and, as such, had been "called in on a regular basis" to "perform exorcisms" for the Catholic Church, despite never being trained in demonlogy or witnessing a live exorcism. Buell clarified that he respected the church, despite seemingly violating their rules in the infamous "I Am Six" episode. He also claimed not to read any of the blogs that were against the show, despite the fact that he responded directly to accusations from those blogs and websites and also that he "had not viewed the episode" after it was finished and would not admit that the "cold spot" had been faked, though he did say it was "a refrigerated item".
The host of the show, Dave Schrader, claimed that all the "dissenters" and people who did not believe the show or the activity portrayed were "jealous" and that the show "Starsky & Hutch" is not a bad show just because they did not show the life of a cop as it truly was.
In response to this, Kirby Robinson stated that "Starsky and Hutch is fictional" while "Paranormal State portrays itself as a documentary".
During the interview, Chip Coffey maintained that the case was never about the ghost of Bill as "he was not causing the family any trouble" and then claimed that Kelli's "spirit guide told her never to take it on". Coffey also stuck with his "reading" that the "darker" spirit was Kelli's grandfather and that Kelli, had in fact, cried when he brought that up and insinuated that Kelli was attracted to the public spotlight.
Michelle Belanger stayed largely mute on the alleged "outburst" between Kelli Ryan and Chip Coffey and claimed that the "long journey through the mountains that barely got us there in time for the second 'Dead Time'" was what pushed Michelle to walk out on the show.
Coffey also dismissed the notion that he ever received information about Kelli Ryan or her case in advance or that he ever met with A&E's Eric Leven. This runs contrary to Leven working alongside Coffey in several episodes and also is contrary to interviews given by Coffey where he clearly states that he meets with producers to learn and strategize about how to proceed with walkthroughs.
In response to the interview, Kirby Robinson attempted to contact host Dave Schrader and was told that Michelle and Chip effectively denied that a "feud" ever took place between anybody that day and said that Kelli "would have her day in court" if she had "a legal leg to stand on".
According to Kirby, Kelli Ryan attempted to pursue legal action against the show.
The advertising and marketing campaign for Paranormal State broke new ground. In November 2007, a six-story billboard was erected at the corner of Prince and Mulberry Streets in New York City by BlueBlastMedia. Behind the billboard were two directional audio (or audioSpotlights) which produce a highly focused beam of sound. Passers-by who walked directly in the path of the sound would hear spooky, disembodied voices whispering suggestive messages such as "What's that?" and "Who's there? It's not your imagination." But someone standing next to that person would hear nothing. The billboard had a dramatic effect on people coming within range of the "cone of sound" created by the directional audio speakers. The billboard was apparently the first commercial use of the technology on a billboard. A video of the installation can be seen here.
A no-boundary "bleeding" page-across Web ad of the series name showed up on IMDb on January 17, 2009 at about 8:45 pm EST. There was a blank "advertisement" space on the page, but the ad did not reappear. The graphic did not in the end, it seems, represent some kind of computer meltdown.
Ryan's demon stalker
As of January 3, 2008, Ryan Buell claims the demonic entity is no longer following him. Another source of controversy is the fact that throughout the series, the cast members have claimed the name of the demon is Belial while in Hebrew Belial in fact means "worthless". The word has appeared in works of fiction, however, as a proper name as in John Milton's Paradise Lost. Furthermore, the cast members had consistently mispronounced the word. Some question whether a demon would mispronounce his own name, especially if the name is a syntactic derivation and not a name at all.
In a Q&A section of the Penn State Paranormal Research Society's forums, he (Buell) responded to a question on the topic by stating, "I haven't been troubled by any bunnies (the PRS calls demons "bunnies") as of late. There came a point in my life where I let go of some of that baggage. When it comes to that whole side, there's a back story that involves my group dealing with a case three years ago. I kind of reached a resolution with that. Coincidentally, the bunny tried to make another cameo appearance when we were filming the final investigation of the season, but we just told it to go to you-know-where. I hope it makes the cut!".
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