Although ghosts and phantoms are frequent subjects for television documentaries, there have been few series that have treated the spirit world in a serious manner. In 1953, Topper, a fantasy-comedy about a businessman who is harassed by a ghostly couple trying to get him to loosen up and enjoy life, became a successful television series. The characters were derived from Topper (1937), a comedy that became popular enough among motion picture audiences to produce two sequels.
On Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, which premiered in the 1950s, serious students of psychical research recognized many classic cases of ghosts and phantoms presented in a balanced manner, but with the actual names and places changed.
The emphasis was on romantic comedy in the television series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1968–70) in which the restless spirit of a handsome sea captain (Edward Mulhare) haunted a beautiful widow (Hope Lange) in a picturesque New England seaside cottage. The series was another successful adaptation of a popular motion picture (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947).
Serious treatment of ghosts and phantoms remained largely the province of documentaries until The X-Files premiered in the 1993–94 season. Although FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigated many areas of the paranormal, hauntings and ghostly phenomena were treated as matters of serious inquiry throughout the series' nine-year run.
The Others (1999–2000) also treated the spirit world seriously, but was canceled after one season. The series starred Julianne Nicholson as a college student with latent mediumistic abilities who was mentored by an experienced medium (Bill Cobbs).
In September 2002, the series Haunted premiered with Matthew Fox as a private investigator who received assistance from the spirit world while solving crimes. In October 2002, the Sci Fi Channel began an eight-week revision of the classic series In Search Of with host Mitch Pileggi offering occasional segments on ghosts.
Today, the most popular television programs dealing with ghosts and the afterlife are Crossing Over with John Edward and Beyond with James Van Praagh. Their presentations consist primarily of their professed ability as mediums to establish communication with spirits and to relay personal communications to family members who have come to the studio as members of the audience.
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