'Ghost Hunters' Jason Hawes keeps the hunt alive on Syfy

Hawes, courtesy Syfy
(with additional reporting by Erin Wolf)

For Jason Hawes, the hunt continues. The Roto-Rooter plumber-turned-celebrity from the reality show Ghost Hunters, Syfy's longest running series, has navigated his way through the entertainment industry and managed to carve out a niche for himself over eight years and nearly 200 episodes.

Of course, his journey as a paranormal investigator and leader of TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society, as if you needed the clarification) has been one that he's taken with the help of his co-leader Grant Wilson. Ghost Hunters has become a pop culture mainstay, and is a forerunner within the paranormal reality genre, so ever since Wilson announced his retirement from the show last winter fans have speculated what will change about their beloved series when its eighth season returns Sept. 5, 9 p.m., ET.

As it turns out, Jason Hawes - who is also an executive producer on the show - assures fans that, to quote his catchphrase, he and the TAPS team are simply "onto the next" case. 

But that doesn't mean there won't be changes with the show. Hawes announced last week that a new investigator named Ashley would be joining TAPS on the Sept. 26 episode, and that the audience will be able to watch her grow amidst what he calls one of the "best seasons ever." For instance, the show returns with a block of "Southern Spirits"-themed episodes which will have the team heading to Charleston, S.C., in search of paranormal evidence of America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher, as well as tackling the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I've known Hawes for several years, worked at TAPS-sponsored events and guest-edited two issues of his TAPS ParaMagazine. During that time, I've interviewed him multiple times, and gotten to know him personally and professionally. So I'm admittedly biased in my conversations with him. If you've got a problem with that, this may not be the article for you.

But I digress. Jason Hawes joined us to chat about the show's long life dealing with the afterlife - and offered thoughts about how his approach to the paranormal has changed over that time, how the team has changed without Grant and where he sees things going next.

Q: Wow, season 8.5? You guys are rolling along there!

A: Man, who would have thought? I remember me and you talking years ago and me saying, "Man, I can't believe this show's made it this far."

Q: Over all this time, what do you think has changed as far as how you do things, or how you think of the paranormal?

A: Well, I think I still fall under the same belief system - that 80 percent of these claims can be disproved. And of course, you know I pick all these investigations and Syfy is the one that makes the choice on what airs on their network - which is fine. There's a lot of cases that never air with debunking and disproving, but we're bringing some new equipment in this season, and people are also able to see - with Grant gone - how the whole dynamics of the team have changed.

People start trying to figure where they fit in best, where their new spot is. We brought in a new investigator, and people are going to see how she works out, if her position is going to work out with the rest of the team. You know TAPS; we're a family. We've always been this way, and sometimes people feel like they have a hard time getting into the circle.

Q: Do you find yourself still being surprised after all the evidence you've caught?

A: No, I can't tell you that things don't surprise me anymore. Of course, some of the evidence we got coming up is incredible. I am left speechless, and at one point, one of our production people gets dragged into our investigation. That person really didn't want to get dragged in but it became a traumatic experience. So there's a lot of high excitement; some of the best evidence we've ever caught is going to show up this season.

Yeah man, it's wild. It's been an interesting year. And I'm really having a lot of fun with it.

Q: How tough was it to adapt to the investigations without Grant?

A: Honestly, it wasn’t that tough at all because I still deal with Grant daily on other things and he’s still there. He had to take a leave of absence from the show but we’re - our families are extremely tight and we’re like brothers. And, for many years, I investigated without Grant being there for many years of our friendship ... of course it’s a little odd not having a guy I refer to as my brother standing beside me all the time. But, you know, I think it wasn’t an issue for me at all.

Q: Now that Grant has left, do you see an end in sight for your involvement with the show and when do you think that would be? And do you think Ghost Hunters could continue without you?

A: You know, I don’t - I’m never looking that far ahead to wonder when I’m leaving or if I’m leaving or anything of that nature. To be honest with you, every time I go to do a season, every time I’m requested to do another season, I sit down with my wife and children and it’s a choice that we make as a family ...

I remember my oldest, who’s 21, she used to come downstairs as a little kid and see Steve and me and Grant and everybody sitting around trying to figure out cases, so she sees how this whole thing has grown and how it’s become this international thing now. So, yes, I will stay as long as my family wants me to stay. And if the show can survive without me, I think it could. I don’t know, I guess that would have to be from the viewer’s standpoint.

You know, I know that if I was to step back, Steve - who is 100% adequate and able to - could easily run what is going on. I don’t know how we would feel about doing that on his ow,n though. So, I don’t know, time will tell.

Q: Are you bringing your daughter Hailey back?

A: Hailey will be on a bunch of these episodes. Actually, today's her birthday. I just moved her into her dorm last week. That's one of those heartfelt moments. I'm used to always having her right there, right around, seeing her car in the driveway and knowing she's there. Now, it's like, she's at college. But she'll be on a bunch, and when she's not in school, she'll be heading down to investigate with me.

You know her, she's a really smart kid and highly intelligent, and really wonderful to have her around. She's at school right now for forensic science and criminal psychology, so she's really trying to get into that area where she's able to understand the mindset of the client you're trying to help out. 

Q: You've brought a lot of people onto the team over the years, and guided them to become better investigators, so what's the piece of advice you gave to Ashley, the new investigator?

A: Honestly, I try to get her in the mindset of investigating and debunking. But also, it's one of those things where I can bring somebody on, and then the team has to decide if that person is working out. They have to work with her and teach her all their ways. She'll pick up what she thinks is best suited for her.

But yeah, of course we try to keep her in the mindset of, "Don't automatically assume it's the paranormal." Let's try to figure out an explanation and figure out where that high magnetic field is coming from. Let's try to determine where that sound is originating from, and go from there.

Q: Like me, you are a huge zombie fan. Has there ever been any thoughts on a zombie involvement with the show?

A: Well, I am a huge zombie fan, but I don't really think I could connect the two but we've been asked by a couple people from The Walking Dead if they could come on and investigate with us. So we'll see. 

Q: I know Norman Reedus is a fan. Who knows, it could be the first time TAPS has an investigator toting a crossbow.

A: I'm also a huge fan of his from The Boondock Saints, right?

Q: Spinning off that, TAPS is really a pop culture entity now. I know you're a fan of Dexter, so if you were to use that pop culture power to be on a show, what would it be?

A: I wish The Shield was still on, but I'm a huge fan of Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Californication, those shows. And Breaking Bad? Phenomenal. But Walter is starting to look more and more like me, which has become a problem! [Laughs]

Q: That would be a pretty awesome crew: Heisenberg and Hawes.

A: [Laughs] That would be. I'd love to make an appearance on it.