It was a dark and stormy night when Ghostbreakers first floated into being.
Well, not quite — just a dark night.
In 2007, Ghostbreakers co-creator and Fort Worth native Gabriel Horn was sitting on the couch in an Austin rental home, watching paranormal-focused reality television, when his roommate and fellow filmmaker, Cleburne native Benjamin Wilbanks, arrived home after a day of work.
“It was like two in the morning,” Wilbanks remembers. “I came back and you’d been up for hours [watching TV].”
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“I was infatuated with some of these [paranormal] reality shows,” Horn says now, “just mechanically, trying to figure them out.”
Both men were frustrated by what they perceived as a key flaw in series like Ghost Hunters or Paranormal State: despite endless episodes spent tracking spectres, there never seemed to be any phantoms found.
“They never delivered, none of the shows ever delivered on anything,” Horn says. “At best, you got some kind of theatrical gimmick, a physical gimmick of some sort. So that was it — the idea came right there: ‘How can we make a show where we show ghosts?’ ”
Seven years later, the two men have their answer: Ghostbreakers, a satirical riff — or, as its creators bill it, a “faux reality series” — on all those apparition-chasing series found up and down the TV dial. (The best way to describe it might be Arrested Development crosspollinated with the old Abbott & Costello monster movies.)
The first season of 18 episodes (each running around 22 minutes) is available to watch, for a modest fee, at ghostbreakerstv.com.
The cast and crew celebrated the launch of the first season with a screening and Q&A on Sunday at Four Day Weekend.
Horn co-stars as part of the core foursome that is hunting ghosts and other supernatural phenomena in various locations — the series was filmed in and around Shreveport, La. — alongside former Cheaters host Joey Greco, who also serves as a series producer.
The episodes, each outfitted with “case numbers,” unfold along familiar reality TV beats, complete with “Up Next” teasers and hand-held camera work.
Although slapstick often figures into the proceedings, there’s also plenty of deadpan humor and knowing swipes at reality TV tropes — in one episode, Greco, playing the part of the patient host, abruptly and amusingly cuts off a woman explaining a haunted home’s history in mid-sentence: “Just tell us why we’re here.”
Since that first spark, Horn and Wilbanks massaged and tweaked the premise, which first took shape as not a spoof, but something akin to Candid Camera.
“The original idea we came up with was what we call ‘the prank show,’ ” Horn says. “Our original sizzle reel was Joey Greco as the host in practical haunted house locations, where we rig the place to scare the crap out of people he invites in.”
Part of the long gestation for Ghostbreakers stemmed from years of making the broadcast rounds, even talking with cable and syndication executives.
“We made the ‘prank’ pilot and we bounced that around Hollywood for a while, and everybody has their notes and input,” Wilbanks says. “When we finally got into production, this was the accumulation of everybody’s notes and what we could actually do.”
Horn and Wilbanks eventually decided to go it alone, raising a budget that Horn says was “a quarter” of what was initially being discussed.
“The goal the entire time was to build a fanbase, entertain an audience, build a brand and make a living doing it,” Horn says.
Filming began in 2011, as Greco was wrapping up his decadelong run as host of the popular series Cheaters (he left the show for good in 2012).
“We were shooting nights, all nights the entire time,” Horn says. “After two weeks, we all turned into zombies and the shows got wilder and wilder.”
For Greco’s part, the Bronx native welcomed the opportunity to have some fun with his public persona, that of the concerned, stoic shoulder to cry on.
“It was refreshing,” Greco says. “Doing Cheaters was a great time, it was fabulous, but for the most part, one note. [ Cheaters] is a serious character; I’m really not serious.
“[ Ghostbreakers] was a lot of fun getting a chance to take advantage of that, make a little fun of yourself using that. You’re up against perceptions and you certainly can use them to your favor, especially with something like [ Ghostbreakers].”
Horn and Wilbanks express interest in continuing Ghostbreakers beyond this initial season, and would like to film subsequent seasons in and around North Texas, but are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We would like to do it with at least the quality and resources we had for Season 1,” Horn says, while Wilbanks admits “I don’t know what the threshold would be — financial or audience or what.”
Whatever happens next for the Ghostbreakers crew, rest assured they will keep tangling with the supernatural in their own unique way.
“I just want people to enjoy it,” Greco says. “What we wanted to do was create content you watch for 20 minutes and you had a good time, you were able to laugh and enjoy yourself, and say ‘I look forward to sitting down and doing that again.’ ”
More info at ghostbreakerstv.com and