Fake Paranormal Documentaries
It is no secret that ever since the early days of cable, documentaries about the paranormal tend to bring in the ratings. People are naturally curious about things they can not explain and are willing to turn to the warm glow of their television to learn more about the unknown. Networks know this and over the years have had no problem producing documentaries that are completely fictitious. Sometimes this is done for entertainment, other times it is done to maliciously dupe viewers.
Ghostwatch: On Halloween of 1992, esteemed BBC presenters Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, and Mike Smith served as hosts taking viewers into a real haunted house. In an old abandoned orphanage in northern London, a ghost known as “Pipes” was the source of fear for the children who ended up there. On the spookiest night of the year, they dispatched a live camera crew live to the site in the hopes of making contact with this malevolent spirit. Supernatural phenomena began to occur and things soon spiraled out of control as ghosts from the other side overtook the BBC studio. As far as a presenting a scary special for Halloween was concerned the network had done a masterful job. This was made to feel like an actual news program, and having well-known journalist Michael Parkinson as its host only added to this. For millions of viewers, this was also the problem as the Beeb was inundated with thousands of phone calls from people who believed every bit of what they had just seen. The trauma the special inadvertently caused, especially among younger viewers, led to it be locked away for years and, though it is now available on streaming and DVD it has never again been broadcast on British television.
Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?: In their early days on the airwaves, Fox they carved out a piece of the TV market with shocking specials often using real life footage, or sometimes not-so real life. One of the most famous of these specials claimed to show the actual autopsy of one of the aliens supposedly recovered at Roswell. Jonathan Frakes who has TV cred for both sci-fi (Star Trek) and the paranormal (Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction), served as the host of the program. All 17 minutes of eerie black & white footage was shown along with commentary from expert debating the authenticity of the video. It would not be until 2006, when it was confirmed that this was not in fact secretly filmed following the Roswell crash, rather the alien autopsy was a hoax created by British music producer Ray Santilli.
Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real/The Last Dragon: Of all the programs on this list, Dragons should get a pass, as the people behind this Channel 4/Animal Planet special did not set out to fool anyone. A fictional paleontologist makes the discovery of a lifetime, the body of an actual dragon. This supplies the perfect framework for both real scientists and folklorists alike to examine the mythology of these scaly monsters. Dragons explores legends surrounding these fire-breathing beasts across different times and cultures, while also looking at the theoretical science needed for the myth of the dragon to be real. Not only did this special garner massive ratings, but was also lauded by critics for its attention to detail in making a documentary about a fictional creature.
Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence: While Animal Planet was upfront about the fictional nature of Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, nine years later they decided to push their blatantly fake documentary as real. Aside from the briefest of disclaimers at the very start of the show, they presented everything in Mermaids and its sequel as absolute fact. In the first of their two Mermaids “documentaries” special a camera crew follows a scientific exploration who discover that Mermaids exist in our waters. Creating fake video footage of supposed mermaids, “scientists” explored how these sea cryptids were an evolutionary offshoot of our own ancestors. It pushed a narrative that the government was covering it up, leading to duped viewers pestering legitimate agencies about this fake conspiracy. The poor people at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were even forced to issue a statement to say there is no evidence of aquatic humanoids. The two Mermaids “docufiction” specials proved to be a game changer in “BS programming”. Using their resources to create an authentic-looking documentary presented as fact complete with paid actors and actual scientists (who’s words were taken out of context) to spice it up. The perfect final touch was being aired on a channel known for fact-based wildlife programming but were willing to tarnish their reputation for the sake of 3.6 million viewers.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives and Megalodon: The New Evidence: In the prehistoric oceans of our planet, the Megalodon was the apex predator. Luckily, for us this shark the size of a cruise ship went extinct several million years ago. During their annual Shark Week event, the Discovery Channel, once a leader in educational programming, decided instead of teaching millions of viewers actual facts about the Megalodon, they would make a fake documentary claiming it was still alive. Producers constructed fake video footage in addition to doctored photos, most infamously a period photo supposedly showing a shark the size of German U-boat. The network tried to spin a narrative that the Megalodon still lives and is stalking the oceans off the coast of South Africa. Shortly after this supposedly real documentary was released, actual scientists tore it to pieces. Author of the book A Field Guide to Dinosaurs, Bob Strauss pointed out that Googling the name of the supposedly renowned scientist searching for the monster shark he came up with nothing.
Breaking History: Bigfoot Captured: Legend Tells that in the Long Ago Time the History Channel showed historical based programming. Now their programming consists of reality shows about pawn shops, truckers, lumberjacks, UFOs, and cryptozoology. One of the most infamous of their cryptid-based programs was 2015’s Bigfoot Captured which laid out the false narrative of scientists scouring the globe for the famed large-footed beast. It all came to the grand piece de resistance of this special that was 5 minutes of a caged guy in a bigfoot costume. The biggest victim of this program was Idaho State University anthropologist, Dr. Jeffery Meldrum, who took to Facebook to air his grievances about not only being brought on under false pretenses, but also having his words misrepresented through malicious video editing.