A Dynamic Duo Takes a Plunge Into the Paranormal
Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej return to YouTube with their highly anticipated paranormal investigation show, Ghost Files. As of 2021, the dynamic duo had pulled 1.3 billion views across their previous Buzzfeed series, Unsolved: Supernatural and Unsolved: True Crime. Having built up this dedicated fanbase, Shane and Ryan decided it was time for something new.
After setting up their digital production studio, Watcher Entertainment, in December 2019 and leaving Buzzfeed in late 2021, the ‘spooky bros’ launched Ghost Files on September 23rd, 2022. With an average of 5.1 million viewers per episode and around 1 million viewers for their Ghost Files: Debrief companion series, the show immediately shot to the top of YouTube’s trending page.
But, with so much context needed to understand the show’s premise, the hosts’ friendship, and their investigative methods, Ghost Files perhaps demands a lot more than the advertised watch time. With so many paranormal shows already out there, can Ghost Files offer anything new to the genre?
Let’s dive into the overview and find out.
Ghost Files’ Air Date
Ghost Files was announced with a significant deal of excitement in January 2022, with an official trailer released a week before the first episode. The show is exclusive to YouTube, where Ryan and Shane first made a name for themselves.
The first episode, ‘The Death Tunnel of Waverly Hills Sanitorium,’ was uploaded on 23rd September 2022. It features a return to the exact location Ryan and Shane visited five years prior, in April 2017, in a Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime episode. As with most YouTube series, and perhaps TV shows in general, the first episode pulled in the highest number of viewers at 6.8 million views and counting.
Creation and Production
Watcher Entertainment, the studio that produces Ghost Files, was established by Shane, Ryan, and their Buzzfeed colleague Steven Lim. The production studio aims to create “television-caliber, unscripted series in the digital space.” When asked about their decision to leave Buzzfeed, Ryan commented that the trio wanted “actual ownership of the content we make,” which Buzzfeed did not offer them.
Watcher has since uploaded series to YouTube, such as Puppet History and Dish Granted. Still, Ghost Files is by far their most popular offering, playing on the previous success of Buzzfeed Unsolved. The show is exclusively produced by Elizabeth Lockard, who also worked as a line producer on Buzzfeed Unsolved but has no other experience in the paranormal genre.
As might be expected from a YouTube show produced by an independent studio, Ghost Files has quite a limited crew who often double up on roles. Interestingly, the show has no credited camera staff, only director and head of motion graphics Mark Celestino, another Buzzfeed alum who worked as Director of Photography on Buzzfeed Unsolved. However, like most paranormal shows, the post-production department comprises most of the staff. These include:
- Anthony Frederick – Director of post-production and editor
- Sam Young – Post-production supervisor
- Jillian Diblasio – Editor
- Ethan Ramos – Editor
- Mollie Ong – Illustrator
Ghost Files’ Cast Members
Perhaps a drawback of Ghost Files is that its creators assume the audience’s familiarity with the cast’s previous projects. However, if you’ve never heard of Ghost Files or Buzzfeed Unsolved, here’s some background on the hosts:
Regarding their paranormal investigations, Ryan acts as the believer. However, he did not begin to believe in paranormal forces until he spent the night at the Queen Mary as a teenager, where an invisible force poked him all night.
Before establishing Buzzfeed Unsolved, he studied directing and cinematography, going on to work for Sony Pictures Entertainment and Viacom before getting the internship at Buzzfeed, which would eventually lead to an undying interest in investigating the supernatural.
The skeptic to Ryan’s believer, there is a long-running joke among Buzzfeed Unsolved and Ghost Files fans that Shane is never scared of the evidence they gather, using tools such as digital voice recorders and EMF meters, as he is the ‘arch-demon.’
In both their projects, Shane dispels evidence with logical explanations and disproves Ryan’s theories, often seeking to anger any present spirits with his blasé attitude along the way. He attended college to study editing before landing a role at Buzzfeed, where he met Ryan. In a self-described ‘unceremonious’ fashion, he joined Ryan as a host for the Unsolved series and has been investigating the paranormal ever since.
Primary Focus of the Show
Ghost Files’ investigations aim to “collect and present questions, possibilities. Interpretation, however,” is left solely to the audience. The episodes vary in length but begin and end at the location, with very little fluff added in. Along the way, Ryan’s narration explains the history of the haunted site and any potential spirits that rest there, with illustrations and floor plans detailing the most active areas.
The duo uses a variety of equipment to gather evidence, including spirit boxes, commonly used in tandem with the Estes method and the honey tone. They also take advantage of REM pods and trigger items, such as teddy bears for ghost children.
Perhaps the most unique element of Ghost Files is that, in an attempt to combine the humorous tone of Buzzfeed Unsolved with genuine evidence of the paranormal, the show includes fan-captured images and experiences of the location under investigation. This viewer-made evidence is used as the basis for investigations, setting Ghost Files apart from just about every paranormal show before it.
Though this format allows the investigative team to gather as much evidence as possible, simply wandering around the exact location for an entire video may leave some viewers dissatisfied with the lack of variety. Another potential drawback of the Ghost Files format is that Shane and Ryan do not review or analyze the evidence they’ve gathered in the same episode. Instead, viewers are encouraged to tune into the companion series, Ghost Files: Debrief, to get the hosts’ opinions of what was collected.
Ghost Files Impact on the Paranormal Community
Though many YouTubers have attempted paranormal investigations, none quite come close to the production value or resulting popularity of Ghost Files. Reviews highlight that this success rests in straying from the stylistic elements of the paranormal TV genre and “instead focusing on the personalities and relationship dynamics of Shane and Ryan.”
It seems the majority of fans share this sentiment, coming back repeatedly not for evidence of the supernatural but for the laughs Ryan and Shane provide. As made evident in one IMDb review, claiming Ghost Files is “Better than any ghost hunting show as it isn’t overly dramatized and has good comedy,” fans also value the grounded approach to investigations that aim to gather evidence, rather than scare viewers through dramatic techniques and questionable editing.
With Shane and Ryan branded ‘the best ghost hunters in the biz,’ it’s no surprise that Ghost Files maintains a rating of 9.1 on IMDb from 273 ratings, perhaps the highest for any paranormal TV show out there. As a result, several copycats have emerged, combining likable hosts with genuine paranormal investigations. Still, none seem to have come close to establishing the 3 million strong subscriber base that Watcher boasts.
Ghost Files’ Seasons and Episodes
Only one season of Ghost Files is available on the Watcher YouTube channel, comprising six investigative episodes and six companion episodes of Ghost Files: Debrief.
The Most Popular and Well-Rated Episodes
With a series low of 3.7 million views for the actual investigative episodes, it seems all Ghost Files’ episodes are decently popular. However, only two episodes have currently broken the 6 million views mark, and these are:
- Series 1 Episode 1 – The Death Tunnel of Waverly Hills Sanatorium
- Series 1 Episode 3 – The Nightmare Nuns of St Ignatius ft. Garrett Watts
Famous Guest Appearances
Thus far, only one guest has collaborated with Shane and Ryan during Ghost Files’ run, and he is an equal part of the second most popular episode.
Garrett Watts — A YouTube star in his own right, Garret’s own 3.2 million subscribers keenly intersect with fans of Watcher and Ghost Files. Known as an essential part of Shane Dawson’s now defunct ‘Spooky Boys’ series, in which Garrett, Shane, and Drew Monson investigated urban legends and popular myths such as the elevator game, Garrett has long been associated with paranormal content on YouTube. His upbeat personality and willingness to get involved with the humorous side of such content pair well with Shane and Ryan’s comedic approach to paranormal investigations.
Controversies and Criticisms
Coming at investigations, as Shane and Ryan do, with intent to prove or disprove the existence of a realm beyond our own, Ghost Files removes much of the slightly condescending tone of previously popular paranormal TV shows, where the aim is in part to frighten the audience with a presumed degree of fakery. This leaves Ghost Files somewhat exempt from criticism thrown at shows in the paranormal TV genre.
At worst, reviews brand the show as “average,” doing very little to move the genre beyond what has already been seen countless times on network television. However, Shane and Ryan have admitted to making a few blunders during their time producing and starring in Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural, with Shane stating they had a few episodes that were “straight-up snoozers.” The duo set out to combat this when making Ghost Files by involving their engaged fanbase in the show, subsequently dodging this criticism when their new series was released.
Good news for Ghost Files fans; a second season of the show was announced after just two episodes of the first season were uploaded. Earlier this year, it was revealed that season 2 will again feature six episodes of Investigation and six episodes of Debrief, with the release date set for August 25th, 2023. No word yet has been shared about the focus of the episodes, but as the release date for episode 1 fast approaches, it’s likely more news will be shared soon.
Experts have long touted the demise of traditional television in its battle with streaming services and sites like YouTube. Younger audience members favor on-demand content, especially when they are used to the established format and conventions of YouTube’s offerings. A move of the paranormal TV genre onto YouTube has long been in effect, with Ghost Files an unmistakable herald of the site’s benefits over network television.
The other departure that Ghost Files makes from traditional paranormal TV shows is its primary focus on the hosts and their unique attitudes. Intentional comedy has never indeed been a part of beloved favorites, especially not with a skeptic at the center of it. With Ghost Files’ continuing popularity, its precise entertaining viewers positively and gathering evidence of horrifying hauntings do not have to be mutually exclusive. It would be no surprise if more paranormal TV shows replicated this dedication to audience entertainment and interaction to drive viewer retention in the future.
Ghost Files is an exciting addition to the swathes of paranormal TV shows, primarily in that it has introduced a vast, new viewer base to this kind of content. While Shane and Ryan do little to alter the genre outrightly, they have unintentionally proven that a genuine and un-dramatized approach to paranormal investigations is what viewers favor, especially after decades of paranormal TV shows that seem to do the opposite.
It has to be said, however, that since much of Ghost Files centers around the hosts’ personalities, friendship, and conflicting attitudes to the supernatural, if neither Ryan nor Shane comes across as entertaining to you, you’ll likely struggle to get through the series. In addition, viewers at least need to watch a few episodes of Buzzfeed Unsolved: Supernatural to get a feel for Ghost Files’ foundation.
But if you’re looking for new investigations with a fresh, grounded flair, Ghost Files provides a beloved synthesis of entertainment and factual analysis. Plus, you can watch the show on your phone, tablet, laptop, and television anywhere at any time. The other draw of the show is its massive, dedicated, and active fanbase, the interactions with and reactions of which make Ghost Files even more of a delight to partake in. It’s a commitment, as most paranormal shows are, but jump on board before season 2, and you’ll be up to speed in no time.