Who Not to Call: Ghostbreakers
It’s been almost four years since actor Gabriel Horn, a former Fort Worthian who now lives in Los Angeles, first conceived the idea for Ghostbreakers, a TV show that spoofs the “paranormal reality” genre. He and his buddy Benjamin Wilbanks, a Fort Worth writer-director, rounded up local investors to finance a first season of 20 half-hour shows, all shot on location in Louisiana in late 2010 and early 2011 using mostly North Texas talent in front of and behind the cameras. Horn, who has co-written and directed several episodes, also plays one of the lead Ghostbreakers –– he starred in the local indie flicks Night Crawlers and Carried Away. A bumbling team of three paranormal specialists who investigate absurd supernatural phenomena, the Ghostbreakers include Gabriel (Horn), the cameraman and gadget guy; Shanda (Shanda Lee Munson), a psychic; and Massey (Bryan Massey), the security guy. The show is hosted (and co-produced) by Joey Greco, MC/ringleader of the long-running syndicated hit Cheaters.
Last year, Horn, Wilbanks, and Greco reached a tentative deal with Channel 7, the flagship ABC affiliate in New York City, to run late-night episodes of the show, but it fell through due to ad revenue issues. At that point, Horn said, everyone who’d poured so much sweat and blood into Ghostbreakers was biting their nails. “We were anxious to be the first people who came up with the idea of a paranormal reality spoof,” he said. “We wanted to do it before Comedy Central or somebody else gave it a shot.”
The Ghostbreakers project has been resurrected from near-death several times, and now the producers’ persistence has paid off: The first show in a 13-episode run will debut on Thursday, Oct. 4, on Youtoo Social TV, a national cable network based in Las Colinas that reaches about 50 million homes right now. The channel is carried by North Texas cable and satellite providers, including Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon Fios.
Youtoo bought exclusive rights to Ghostbreakers after the show’s producers pitched it to a bunch of different basic cable outlets, including Comedy Central, Syfy, and The CW Network. After the deal with the ABC affiliate in New York didn’t pan out, a guy named Hank Cohen at an L.A. company called Trifecta Entertainment suggested they try the cable market and helped them refashion their sales approach. Horn wound up taking a film and TV development position with Trifecta that allowed him to spend a lot of on-the-clock time trying to woo potential broadcasters.
“Everyone was complimentary,” he said of the folks who eventually turned down Ghostbreakers. “Syfy said we beat them to the punch –– they already had a paranormal spoof in development. Comedy Central said the show was ‘funny but not always funny.’ They held onto it for two months [before nixing it]. We were on eggshells the whole time.”
The irony is not lost on Horn that, working out of L.A., he finally wound up signing a broadcast deal with a cable channel headquartered right here in North Texas, in The Studios at Las Colinas. Youtoo is a burgeoning network that’s trying to find its niche as an interactive cable outlet. A unique feature of the channel is that it broadcasts text message commentary from viewers –– those with a Youtoo app on their smartphones or iPads, that is –– during shows. In addition, the network hopes to expand its use of viewer-generated amateur video during Ghostbreakers by asking fans to film and upload their responses and favorite ghost stories to the channel. Horn said that discussions with Youtoo went as far as a second season of the show. The channel would finance more Ghostbreakers episodes if the show becomes a hit and helps raise awareness of the network’s other original programming, which includes talk shows, tech gadget shows, and a weekly reality series dedicated to garage bands.
But right now, Horn and company just want as many people as possible to watch the goofy little supernatural comedy they shot on a shoestring with so many friends and associates from the North Texas area. Given the travails of the TV business, Horn considers it something of a miracle that Ghostbreakers has finally found a national broadcast venue that wants to help the show succeed.
“Television is a tough nut to crack,” he said. “It’s controlled by a club of older executives. Out here in L.A., I don’t see a lot of excitement about new technology applications. That’s why we really dug the people at Youtoo. Their understanding of technology and where it’s going is spot-on.”