Episode 567: The Show Goes On

“Why, you –“

I was going to talk about free will today. I had it all planned out.

I’ve been reading up on determinism lately, and I’ve got a theory — you would’ve loved this theory, if I had the time to tell you about it — using the concept of a mad scientist as a metaphor to talk about whether moral choices are even possible, if mental phenomena are reducible to neurological materialism. Seriously, it would have blown your mind, literally and figuratively.

But that’s going to have to wait, because there’s a breaking news story that I need to cover: this is the episode where Roger Davis bumps his head.

567 dark shadows vicki pointless

I’m serious. About four and a half minutes into the episode, the actor playing Jeff Clark bangs his head on the set, and that’s what I’m going to write about today.

This may in fact be the stupidest thing that I will ever write in my entire life. It’s actually kind of a relief to get that out of the way, now that I think about it.

567 dark shadows jeff stupid

So here’s the stupid plot point that sets it up: Three weeks ago, girl governess Victoria Winters was kidnapped by Adam, the enormous teenage Frankenstein who’s been gradually running amok through the halls of Collinwood.

Eventually, Vicki was transferred from Adam’s hideout to Nicholas’ lair, and then after a while Nicholas decided to let her go, but hypnotized her so that she’d forget what happened to her.

Today, Adam is prowling around outside Collinwood, peering in the windows for no particular reason. Vicki and Jeff are passing by — and as soon as Vicki spots Adam, she instantly regains her memory of the kidnapping, which leaves us exactly nowhere.

567 dark shadows jeff why you

Vicki cries, “That’s the man who kidnapped me,” and Jeff says, “Why, you –” and then he lunges at the enormous superhuman behemoth, because Jeff is a dick and he doesn’t plan ahead very well.

567 dark shadows adam windup

So here’s the wind-up…

567 dark shadows adam pitch

And the pitch…

567 dark shadows adam review

And this might be an opportune moment to review the concept of “live-to-tape” filming.

We’re in August 1968 right now, and videotape editing is difficult and expensive. By “difficult”, I mean that it’s done with an X-Acto knife and scotch tape, and by “expensive”, I mean that this is a television studio that can’t afford an X-Acto knife and scotch tape.

They actually don’t even have access to the physical videotape in this studio; if they want to make any edits, they have to go to the WABC/Channel 7 studio where they film the news, which is thirteen blocks away, and full of snooty news people.

So they film Dark Shadows “live-to-tape”, which means that once they start rolling, they do the entire show in one take, including all the special effects and music cues, and leaving empty space for commercials. That’s why Dark Shadows is famous for its on-air bloopers — when an actor says the wrong line, or the set wobbles, or a camera loses focus, they literally do not have the resources to stop filming, and fix the problem. The show goes on.

This problem wasn’t specific to Dark Shadows — all daytime programs were filmed this way, including all of the soap operas. That’s why every other soap opera in history tended to downplay the “giant rampaging monster hurls contract players around the set” story beats.

567 dark shadows adam six foot

So Adam — who has the proportional strength of an enraged six-foot-six television actor — throws Jeff down against the stairs, with a sickening thud that sounds like the melodrama just got a little less mellow.

567 dark shadows adam flees

It’s clear that I’m not the only person who’s concerned about that, because Adam takes a moment as he’s fleeing the scene to stop and look back, to make sure that he didn’t actually just injure the guy.

567 dark shadows jeff thud

And as our hero falls to the vaguely grass-colored burlap that they grow at Collinwood in place of a lawn, I find myself leaning forward anxiously, trying to figure out if I should call somebody.

567 dark shadows jeff headache

But it’s tough to figure out if the actor is really hurt, because all of the dialogue is about trying to figure out if the character is really hurt. He’s certainly rubbing the back of his head a lot, and he’s breathing heavily, but isn’t that exactly how an actor would play someone who just hurt his head? Or am I over-thinking this?

567 dark shadows jeff rubbing

All I know is that he keeps on rubbing his head like that for another three minutes, all the way inside the house and then into the drawing room. And instead of paying attention to the dialogue, because who cares, I’m spending the entire scene wondering if he’s all right.

567 dark shadows jeff case

Anyway, my point is that this is a television show where the welfare of the actors on a moment-by-moment basis is a legitimate area of concern.

It is actually possible that Roger Davis banged his head against a corner of the plywood railing and is now nursing a mild concussion, and they keep on filming the scene. That’s the kind of show that Dark Shadows is.

Like I said, this “damn the torpedos, full speed ahead” production style used to be the way that daytime television worked — when there’s a mishap on a soap opera set, the camera keeps rolling. This is part of how television worked.

But for modern audiences, we never see any other examples. There’s a good chance that most of the soap opera episodes taped in 1968 don’t even exist anymore — and if the master tapes do exist, then nobody has any interest in dusting them off and releasing them.

Dark Shadows is literally the only daytime television show from this period that the general public has any kind of access to. This style of production hasn’t existed for decades, and there’s a very good chance that this is the only show made in this style that you will ever see.

Watching Dark Shadows is a form of time travel, taking us back to a period when the audience could engage with a show in this kind of raw, visceral way. It’s live theater from the past, hurled forwards into the present day, and if it bangs its head when it lands, then all we can do is watch, and hope for the best.

Tomorrow: Do You Want Vicki to Die.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Towards the end of Adam’s scene in the Old House basement, as he threatens to come back sometimes and make sure that Barnabas doesn’t forget about him, you can hear people walking around in the studio.

During Jeff’s thinks in act 4, when he’s supposed to be all alone in the Old House basement, there’s a scraping sound from just offstage. Jeff turns, startled, and then pretends that he didn’t notice it.

Tomorrow: Do You Want Vicki to Die.

567 dark shadows jeff possibly

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

17 thoughts on “Episode 567: The Show Goes On

  1. CBS’ policy through the ’70s was to tape over episodes to save money. When I think of all the great stories and performances – and no doubt, glorious bloopers – lost from such shows as “As the World Turns” and “Edge of Night,” I feel cheated.

  2. I love the ‘grass’ that Jeff/Peter falls on. Vicki looks like she wishes they would kill each other and get her out of this storyline. I really is a miracle that these episodes survived. A curious thing is that the only episode that was ‘lost’ was one of the last ones (1219) from 1971 where you would think at that time they would have had more of the ability to record and save the broadcast with improved technology.

  3. Other actors have bumped their heads as well. Once when leaving the secret room, John Karlen hit his head against the lintel while going over the top step, hard enough to bring his hand to his head and hold it there for a couple of seconds while reaching for the lion’s ring to close the secret door. David Selby being quite tall forgot to duck as he was walking through the foyer and through the doorway beneath the stairs, sounding like an enormous bass drum on impact which caused Selby to crouch forward in obvious pain as he turned the corner and out of sight. At least we know from these instances that these sets were made solid, and the lingering pain of bumping heads is a credit to set designer Sy Tomashoff.

  4. Being old enough to remember, I appreciate how you explained that TV production is very different from what it was in the 1960’s. At nine years old in ’66, I had seen a few of my mother’s soap operas, and they were none too exciting. The sets were often painted on canvas. I don’t remember ever noticing the sets on any soap, until Dark Shadows happened. When I saw that stairway, and all those working fireplaces, I wanted to move in. It wasn’t hard to figure out that they were not able to do retakes, but that never really bothered me. Every night was opening night. And you may notice extra levels of mayhem and set damage when Roger Davis is allowed on the premises. He likes making things go boom. Sets have to be put back together when Roger is done exploding all over them.

    1. Yeah, the Collinwood set is really extraordinary. The equivalent “core” set on General Hospital at the time was the nurses’ station, and there’s just no comparison between them. GH looks like a stage set, only shot from one direction, and often with just a single camera moving back and forth as characters enter and exit.

      Besides just the size and rich detail of the Collinwood set, there’s also lots of room for multiple cameras to move around, and shoot from multiple angles — not just a long shot and a close-up from the same direction.

      Dark Shadows’ origin story is a lot like Doctor Who’s — a collection of weird, talented people brought together by a hyper-focused, assertive and extremely ambitious producer. The music, the sets, the costumes, the direction — everyone was punching above their weight. And then they got lucky and introduced a monster that caused a sensation.

      1. I love that comparison – Doctor Who has always been my favourite thing ever, and Dark Shadows has easily and quickly leapt into a tight second place. I’m pretty well-versed in how early DW (and UK TV in general) was produced, so it’s fascinating to hear how similar and yet completely different the process was for US daytime television.

        And I completely agree on the Collinwood set – sometimes, like if Vicki or Jeff or both are talking, I spend an entire scene just marvelling at the beauty of that house. This episode, I was all about the drawing room sofa.

        On topic, it didn’t occur to me while watching the ep that Davis might have been injured for realsies – but I did rewind the fight and watch it again, because it seemed like Jeff fell against the steps, thought it wasn’t dramatic enough, stood up, clutched his head, went “ooooh”, then bad-pretend-fell over again, more or less centre stage.

        Which was hilarious.

        But if he actually hurt himself for real… Well, I can’t pretend that makes it any less hilarious.

  5. Isn’t there supposed to be a scene during the 1897 story where David Selby is brandishing a sword and he hits Jonathan Frid in the head with it? I’ve seen every episode, but don’t remember seeing this — something I’m not likely to have forgotten. I know there’s supposed to be an episode with a scene that was removed from the VHS and original DVD release, but that was restored in the big coffin boxed set. Is this it?

    1. In that scene, Quentin pulls a sword off a display on the wall, and the rest of the display falls to the floor with a clatter. No actors were harmed.

      The restoration was the Bathia Mapes blooper in episode 451. The crazy old witch forgets her lines, and the producer has to shout them to her from off camera. Overzealous DVD producers thought that they should edit out this obvious mistake — and they would have been right, on any show but Dark Shadows. We love our obvious mistakes.

  6. I find it amusing that Jeff spends such a long time inspecting Julia’s makeshift basement laboratory before noticing the body on the table. He inspects the silly Frankenstein electrical equipment, the hilarious collection of glassware filled with colored water, and finally Lang’s journal, before noticing the “500 lb gorilla” in the room. Another thing: It’s hard to imagine a worse place to set up a lab for this level of tampering in God’s domain than a house with no electrical service. It shows a high level of commitment to creepy atmosphere over modern convenience.

  7. Roger Davis: Uh, Gordon, I think I’m bleeding, here..can we cut?

    Gordon Russell: Nah, go with that, use it! (Muttering) Damn candy-ass actors.

  8. I love the phrase “gradually running amok” but if I try to figure out how exactly that would work, I’m left feeling like I bumped my head on something.

  9. What I wish Julia had said to Barnabas:

    Barnabas: Good, now I’ll take you upstairs to Josette’s room. We’ll keep you locked up there.

    Julia: Barnabas, I’ve waited forever for for you to say that!

  10. Jeff finds the big naked woman under the blue sheet pretty readily. Adam searched the lab earlier but didn’t find his future mate. They must have hidden her pretty well before Adam’s inspection visit, then decided, “You know, we should put her out in plain sight so that anybody else who comes around here can find her.” (If that doesn’t make sense, that’s my point.)

    This raises the issue of how Barnabas and Julia can possibly think that Adam does not have a right to look over their shoulders. After all, suppose he doesn’t like the cut of “Eve’s” jib? He is expected to create a super-race with a woman he has never seen? What is this? An Old World arranged marriage where Adam has to settle for whatever they give him?

    1. She’s sort of hard to miss, isn’t she? Especially the way they’ve committed to reminding us it’s a lady monster by giving her the perkiest, sky-highest undead bosoms you can possibly fit a sheet over.

      But I don’t see why they shouldn’t expect Adam to just settle – after all, they’re expecting the as-yet-to-be-built woman to settle for Adam. Honestly, the way they talk about her, it’s like they’re building him a nice new soapbox car or something…

  11. “Take it off, Julia!” How long has she waited to hear those words? And when they finally come, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

    Julia tells Adam that it might take four weeks to finish the experiment. That lady corpse under the sheet is going to smell pretty ripe by then.

  12. And of course when Adam wanders into the lab, he bumps his head on the equipment as part of his discovery scene. So a blooper winds up prefiguring a scripted moment.

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