Episode 818: The Green Light

“When I saw myself rising from the dead — with those fangs!”

There are eight turning points in the story of Dark Shadows — moments when the focus and direction of the show changed forever. Four of them are character introductions, and four are backstage events. Here they are, in order of appearance:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Here we are in mid-August 1969, and we’ve reached that final turning point — the moment when a grown-up movie studio agreed to distribute a feature film about a daytime soap opera, using the same cast and crew, while the TV show is still in production. Everything that happens over the next year and a half of the show will be affected by that deeply peculiar decision.

The story that people tell about House of Dark Shadows is that creator Dan Curtis, like all artistic visionaries, was deeply misunderstood. He had a burning ambition to turn his vampire soap opera into a feature film, and nobody at the movie studios would believe in his dream. Finally, Dan found a kindred spirit in James Aubrey, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who recognized the value of a Dark Shadows movie and eagerly gave it the green light.

Once the film was greenlighted, the story goes, the only headache to figure out was how to get the cast off the show for six weeks while they filmed the movie. Dan and the writers came up with a way to focus on the actors who weren’t part of the movie cast, until the shooting was over. That way, the movie wouldn’t have a negative impact on the show, and when shooting wrapped, everything went back to normal. On release, the movie was such a success that it saved MGM from closing down.

That story is almost entirely false. This is actually the story of the destruction of Dark Shadows. It’s also the story of the destruction of MGM. And like all Dark Shadows stories, the line between hero and villain is not necessarily clear.

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So this is the official starting point for the Who Killed Dark Shadows murder mystery game, which we’ll be playing on and off for the next year and a half. House of Dark Shadows isn’t the only one in the lineup, but it’s a major suspect, and the first one on the scene.

Now, there are a lot of details about this story that I don’t know. The thing that I would most like to know is how far in advance the writers knew they were going to write a screenplay, in addition to their regular five-episodes-a-week schedule. But details about the pre-history of HODS are hard to find, because I guess nobody really cares except me. So I’ll tell you what I know, and we’ll see how far that gets us.

Let’s start with Dan Curtis — the creator of Dark Shadows, who had twice the ambition of a normal man, and half the sense. He’d managed to nurture a tame, low-rated soap opera into a monster hit, which is impressive considering he’d never produced scripted television before. Once the vampire was on the show and the ratings were climbing, Dan started looking around for his next challenge.

In 1967, he produced a TV-movie adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which aired on ABC in America and CBC in Canada in January 1968. The movie was scored with music by Dark Shadows’ Robert Cobert, and those music cues were then adapted for Dark Shadows’ use. This was an early example of Dan’s loyalty to the people that he’s worked with before. You should keep an eye on that characteristic, because it turns out there’s a downside.

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Returning from the Jekyll and Hyde shoot, Dan decided that he wanted to try his hand at directing, so he cut his teeth on some Dark Shadows episodes, taking a somewhat experimental approach to the final week of the 1795 storyline. Then Jekyll and Hyde received six Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Dramatic Program, which continued to feed Dan’s restless ambitions.

So Dan produced a pilot for a prime-time show, Dead of Night, working with some of the Dark Shadows team, including writer Sam Hall, director Lela Swift, actors Louis Edmonds and Thayer David, and stunt coordinator Alex Stevens. We’ll talk about this program in a couple weeks, because it airs in late August. For now, the important thing is that Dan was starting to raid the cupboard of his already overworked Dark Shadows family.

And then, guess what. Dan’s also been working on his — I want to say “most ambitious project”, but I’ve already used the word ambitious three times in the last nine paragraphs, so I probably need to come up with another word for it. How about insane? Yeah, let’s go with that.

Dan was working on his most insane project, which was to turn his blockbuster hit daytime soap opera into a blockbuster hit movie, while the show was still in production. The feature-length film would be written by Sam Hall and Gordon Russell, directed by Dan himself, and produced by Dan and Trevor Williams, who was the art director on Jekyll and Hyde. None of these people had ever made a movie before.

So when Dan pitched the idea of a Dark Shadows film to various movie studios, the studios made the obvious and correct decision, and declined.

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But here we are, on August 13th, 1969, with an announcement in Variety: ABC ‘Dark’ Soaper To Be Made Into A Feature Film. In classic Variety style, the piece is only 54 words long, using abbreviations and cutting all of the articles. “Dark Shadows,” it says, “will be turned into feature film with screenplay by Gordon Russell and Sam Hall, show’s regular writers. Feature, with Joan Bennett and Jonathan Frid starring, is skedded to begin in Oct. in N.Y.”

Couple interesting things about announcement, incl: no mention of studio, and skedded in Oct. Feature actually lensed late March. So what that about?

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Well, there’s another relevant article in Variety on August 13th, with the headline: MGM’s Tenderest Hour: Fighting Now vs Compromise. And then a sub-heading: Kerkorian Acquires 24% at $35; May Go for 30% of MGM Shares; Lawyer Sees Control Already Had.

Investor Kirk Kerkorian was known as one of the architects of the mega-casino resort industry in Las Vegas. In 1969, he built the world’s largest hotel, the International Hotel,  and he followed this up in 1973 by building the world’s largest hotel, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Twenty years later, he built the world’s largest hotel, which was also called the MGM Grand. Dude liked his big hotels.

Now, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been in trouble for a while, losing money at a fast clip. In 1966, MGM was taken over by Edgar Bronfman, the head of Canadian distillery Seagram’s. Bronfman booted the MGM president, and replaced him with Louis “Bo” Polk Jr, an executive from General Mills. It didn’t work out that well.

In summer 1969, Kerkorian turned his attention to MGM, and he bought up enough stock to get a controlling interest. During August and September, there was a lot of confusion about Kerkorian’s plans for the studio, and whether he would continue working with Bronfman and Polk.

By the beginning of October, Kerkorian made a definite move, announcing that he would replace Polk as MGM president with Herb Jaffee, a VP from United Artists. Then it turned out that Jaffee said no, so Kerkorian had to find someone else.

Anyway, the reason why I’m telling you all of this is that this is the period when MGM inked a deal for Dark Shadows. That “ABC Dark Soaper” announcement appeared in Variety just as the Bronfman/Kerkorian situation exploded. The article said that Dark Shadows was skedded to begin in Oct., but when Oct. rolled around, it still wasn’t clear who was actually running the studio.

I don’t know what Dark Shadows would have done in Oct. anyway, even if they went with that plan. In Oct., the show was still deep in the Quentin/Petofi storyline. Oct. was not optimal.

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Then on October 21st, Kerkorian installed James Aubrey as the new president of MGM. Aubrey’s going to be an important figure in Dark Shadows history, and everybody gets him wrong.

In the traditional story about House of Dark Shadows, Aubrey is a hero, the guy who believed in Dan’s vision. Here’s how it’s described in the 1990 book The Dark Shadows Companion:

It took two long, persistent years to find a backer — the newly-installed president of MGM James Aubrey, who took a look at the attractive, minimally projected costs and the strong identity from TV and said, “Let’s go — what the devil are we waiting for?” Former head of CBS, Aubrey understood the power of the small screen and had no problem with translating that power to the big screen.

Yeah. Okay. About that.

James Aubrey was the head of CBS Network from 1959 to 1965, and he’s credited with making CBS not just the top television network in America, but the top entertainment provider in the world at that time. A Life magazine article said, “In the long history of human communications, from tom-tom to Telstar, no one man had a lock on such enormous audiences as James Thomas Aubrey, Jr.”

Aubrey accomplished this by going as lowbrow as he possibly could. His biggest hit was The Beverly Hillbillies, a No. 1 hit sitcom about a family of country rubes who move to Los Angeles after striking oil on their farm. It was an incredibly stupid and incredibly popular show, aimed directly at what Aubrey called “the soft underbelly of America.” He wanted simple-minded sitcoms with rural and fantasy themes, aimed at the lowest common denominator — Mister Ed, Gilligan’s Island, My Favorite Martian, The Munsters, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat Junction, and a revived Candid Camera.

He was also the most hated person in the entertainment industry. Like, really, really hated. I’ve never seen anything like it; I can’t find a single person willing to say a nice word about him. Even his New York Times obituary calls him “the smiling cobra”. He was a demanding workaholic, ruthless and treacherous and impossible to please.

His personal life was apparently notorious, although it’s hard to find people talking about it in detail. In Time magazine, he said, “I don’t pretend to be any saint. If anyone wants to indict me for liking pretty girls, I’m guilty.” So just imagine what you had to do in the early 1960s, for people to criticize what you did with pretty girls. Yikes.

Aubrey was finally deposed in 1965, after the FCC investigated him and determined that he was taking kickbacks from producers in exchange for favorable treatment. Apparently, his apartment was paid for by the head of Filmways, the production company that made The Beverly Hillbillies and Mister Ed. Another producer with Mafia connections provided Aubrey with a second chauffeur-driven car, so that he could pursue his after-hours entertainment without CBS knowing about it. Also, Aubrey’s picks for the 64-65 season all tanked, so that was the end of him and CBS.

So with that kind of reputation, why would Kerkorian put Aubrey in charge of MGM? Well, that’s another funny story.

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Kirk Kerkorian wasn’t a movie buff; he was a real estate developer. And MGM had some assets Kerkorian wanted — namely, big expensive movie studios sitting on prime real estate in Los Angeles and London. Kerkorian hired Aubrey to close down MGM’s studios, cancel projects, fire people and sell off the valuable assets.

And it was more than just the real estate. A few months after Aubrey started, MGM sold off its huge inventory of props, sets and costumes to a liquidation company. They even leased the stock footage library. They might as well have posted signs in the windows: Lost Our Lease, Everything Must Go.

For the next four years, Aubrey produced a slate of lowbrow, low-budget movies that would keep the company afloat, while it was being carved up and sold. Under his tenure, MGM withdrew from the MPAA over disagreements about ratings and “exorbitant dues charges.” Then in 1971, they announced that they were going to build hotels in Las Vegas. Remember Kerkorian building the world’s largest hotel, the MGM Grand? They did that instead of making movies.

In 1973, MGM shut down theatrical distribution, and Aubrey resigned, saying “The job I agreed to undertake has been accomplished.” So that’s James Aubrey.

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Okay, back to Dark Shadows. On February 11th, 1970 — six months after the first announcement — there was another short piece in Variety: Theatricalize ABC-TV ‘Dark Shadows’ for MGM. “Previously foreshadowed plans to make a feature pic version of ABC-TV’s fangy soaper Dark Shadows have been finalized for release by MGM,” it said. “Production is scheduled to start in New York in April.”

So this would be the moment that Aubrey looked at the plans and said, “Let’s go — what the devil are we waiting for?” But it wasn’t because he believed in Dan’s vision, or “understood the power of the small screen.” He gave the green light to Dark Shadows because it was cheap, lowbrow, and filmed entirely on location in upstate New York.

The Lyndhurst mansion in Tarrytown was a beautiful old ruin, which made a perfect Collinwood. More importantly for Kerkorian and Aubrey, it wasn’t occupying any valuable Los Angeles real estate.

It’s true that House of Dark Shadows did pretty well at the box office, which helped MGM turn a profit that year. But the movie didn’t “save” MGM, as people sometimes say. House of Dark Shadows was part of the four-year process that turned a movie studio into the world’s biggest hotel.

Oh, and James Aubrey was the guy who told Dan in 1971 that Night of Dark Shadows was too long, and he had 24 hours to cut 35 minutes out of the picture. So much for the power of the small screen.

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Now, as I said, I don’t actually know very much about what the Dark Shadows writers, producers and actors did between the first announcement in August and the “finalized” plans in February.

Here’s what I know: The shooting script reproduced in The Dark Shadows Movie Book says “Second Draft Screenplay”, and it’s dated February 24, 1970. Shooting on the film started on March 23rd — not April, as the Variety article said.

In order to accommodate the cast filming the movie, Dan and the writers created Parallel Time, an alternate universe where they could clear out all the characters they needed in Tarrytown. So they moved Barnabas, Julia, Liz, Roger, Carolyn, Maggie, Willie and David off the canvas for six weeks, and handed the show to Quentin, Angelique, Cyrus, Sabrina, Bruno, Amy and a team of short-term fill-in characters. When the shooting was over, everybody came back to ABC Studio 16, and kept on making Dark Shadows.

But that’s half a year away, so why am I talking about this now?

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Well, there’s a big mystery coming up in the next few months: the transition from 1897 to the Leviathan storyline.

Right now, here in mid-August, Dark Shadows is about to reach its absolute peak, both in the ratings and creatively. The 1897 storyline is almost universally regarded as the best period of the show’s run — especially in its last few months, when Barnabas, Quentin, Angelique, Julia, Reverend Trask and Count Petofi are all running circles around each other, scheming and making plans and being utterly preposterous. This is a team — these writers, these actors, these producers — who have finally figured out how to make Dark Shadows.

And then the show falls apart.

In an episode taped on October 29th — the month that the Dark Shadows film was originally skedded for shooting — Barnabas Collins runs across two strangers in the woods, who paralyze him and lay him out on an altar. They perform a curious ritual and hand him a spooky box, and now Barnabas is evil, and super interested in antiques.

And suddenly there’s this abrupt drop in the quality of the show. You can actually see it happen in the middle of an episode. Things are super thrilling and funny and heartbreaking, and then the Leviathans appear, and everything goes downhill.

A bunch of new characters are introduced who aren’t very appealing. The amazing kaiju team that made 1897 soar — Barnabas, Julia, Quentin and Angelique — are split up, distant and suspicious of each other. The best period of the show suddenly becomes one of the worst periods of the show.

What could possibly have happened in the fall of 1969 to knock the Dark Shadows creative team off their game like that?

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Oh, right — in the middle of August, they suddenly have to write a feature film screenplay, plus they have to figure out how they’re going to get half of the cast off the show by October. Then things get weird with MGM, and nobody’s sure who’s running the place. The movie gets delayed, and now the writers have to figure out what to do if half the cast isn’t leaving for six weeks in October. You can imagine how that might be kind of a distraction.

There are only three people on the Dark Shadows writing team — Sam Hall, Gordon Russell and Violet Welles — and they’re doing an insanely hard job, writing half an hour of witty, action-packed, character-led, plot-twisty melodrama every day, from now until the foreseeable future. And finally, this team has clicked — they like each other, and they’re all heading in the same direction, and they’re producing really good work. That’s why the show is doing so well.

But then you ask them to write a movie treatment, and a plan for splitting the cast in two, and then a full screenplay right away, because we’re skedded for October.

This is why, six months later, they came up with the concept of Parallel Time. The fantasy of Parallel Time is that everybody has a double, who can do half of your work.

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The upside of Dan’s loyalty is that he gets to work with the people that he knows and trusts. The downside is that he will run these people into the ground, and that is exactly what happens.

In a few months, when we leave 1897 and return to the present day, what we find is a wounded show. It’s the kind of storyline that you get when everyone is tired and distracted and pulled in several directions. The Leviathans bring Barnabas to their sacred altar, and everything after that is an exhausted shrug.

Nobody knows what’s going to happen, so it’s impossible to make plans. Dark Shadows doesn’t go in much for plans anyway — they’ve gotten this far by falling downstairs once a day, and coming back up with a script — but there is a limit, and it is called “when do we have to write half the cast off the show.” The Dark Shadows that we see in November is much less sure of itself, and they haven’t even met James Aubrey yet.

It’s not all gloom from here, of course — there are lots of bright spots in the Leviathan storyline, and when everyone comes back from shooting the movie, they manage to rally and do some good work. But we’re going to see what happens when you take an under-resourced team of lunatics, and push them beyond their limits.

This is the final turning point in the story. Starting this week, Dark Shadows will never be the same, not that it was ever the same to begin with.

Tomorrow: War and Peace.

Also: Join me on my journey through House of Dark Shadows
with film critic David Edelstein:
House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games.


Footnote:

Some of the material about James Aubrey and CBS came from The Columbia History of American Television, a 2009 book that I highly recommend. It’s a really smart, well-written account of how television was invented, how it became popular, and all the sudden leaps and false starts as it basically took over America and the world. If you’re interested in how television got to be the way that it is, you should read this book.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

The boom mic dips into frame as Petofi enters Tate’s cottage.

There’s a lot of studio noise at the beginning of Charity and Beth’s scene in the drawing room — loud creaks, then a series of dull thuds.

When Tate approaches his door, there’s another loud noise from the studio.

Something’s wrong with the lights when Petofi talks to Tate about Quentin’s secret; they perform the scene in shadow.

The first five seconds of Act 3 are silent, then the music cuts in.

When Quentin stands up to answer the door, the camera catches a bit of the overhead studio lights, and then corrects.

Charity barks, “Don’t you dare to be polite to me, Mr. Fenn-Gibbons!”


Behind the Scenes:

The colorful afghan shows up again today, this time on the couch in Tate’s cottage. We last saw it early last week, wrapped around Lenore’s crib at Mrs. Fillmore’s house.

Tomorrow: War and Peace.

Also: Join me on my journey through House of Dark Shadows
with film critic David Edelstein:
House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games.

818 hods barnabas julia house of dark shadows

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

33 thoughts on “Episode 818: The Green Light

  1. I think this is the first thing I’ve read about DARK SHADOWS that really puts a solid answer to the collapse of DS that occurred around the time of the Leviathan storyline. Only the external pressures mentioned could explain such an immediate decline in quality and questionable storytelling choices.

    I’m not a fan of HODS — though I enjoy it more as a “curiosity” than I do the 1991 revival. But if the movie had to exist, we can only dream of a scenario where 1897 didn’t end in October of 1969 and Frid, Hall, and co. went off to make HODS. The timing was perfect, as Barnabas was believed dead (and his miraculous return was somewhat anticlimactic), and Selby was carrying the show brilliantly. Judith could have remained in the off-screen sanitarium, and so on.

    If HODS hadn’t happened, I wager DS would have still flamed out — maybe a year later at best.

    1. I agree Stephen, DS was running out of stories to mash up and I think DS would have gone about a year more if HODS hadn’t interrupted the flow. I also agree that working the cast requirements into the 1897 storyline would have been far less jarring. OTOH, this is not the only time good writers think ‘OOO, Leviathans, that will make a great storyline!” and then had it tank the show. (I’m looking at you Supernatural).

      From a personal POV, I left for college in September of 1971, and I would not have been able to continue watching. The timing worked and kept DS as a special part of my fanish life.

      Thank you Danny for explaining why DS fell off so badly during the Leviathan storyline. The pressure on the writers would have mad it virtually impossible for them to do a good job on both.

      1. I think practically any storyline based on Lovecraft is doomed to failure. How do you create ineffable characters for the screen? It would have to be all atmosphere; a bad-smelling, heavy-breathing monster is just not going to cut it.

        1. There was a chance to make a Lovecraft storyline by making it a mystery that slowly unravels. Think of it, Barnabas and Julia return from the past and they find that they changed the present (Ezra Braithewaite and Jane Findley are very much alive, and Stokes is away with Adam). There is a whole storyline that took place instead of the one with Quentin, and THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS. There are strange things, ominous warnings, strange coincidences, and they must slowly unravel them. This way you can build up to the big reveal. And an explosive climax (I always thought it strange that after so many years wandering the world, Quentin did not pick up an explosive device or two to use at the Leviathan altar).

  2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

    The show is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    It maketh me to lie down in Dark Shadows: it leadeth me beside the dry thunders.

    They restoreth my show: they leadeth me in the paths of DVDs for the show’s sake.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of time, I will view no remake: for Frid art with me; thy wolf on thy cane, they comfort me.

    Thou preparest a DVD before me in the presence of mine evenings: thou anointest me with headphones; my beer foameth over.

    Surely viewings of my favorite show shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the House of Dark Shadows forever.

  3. I’m actually a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” at least until it went to color and did an episode where Andy is bigoted towards gypsies (yes, “Dark Shadows” was actually a step up from how popular prime-time series depicted gypsies). But of the lowest common denominator shows you list, the only one I feel needs some defense is “Green Acres.”

    Despite sharing a bloodline with “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction,” it was the best of the bunch (a completely different writer, Jay Sommers, was co-creator, which helped a lot). It was surreal, sometimes satiric, and often just plain bonkers. Yes, Arnold had lowest common denominator appeal ala Mr. Ed or the Hillbilly critters. But you also had people climbing a pole to make phone calls, a plot in which the citizens of Hooterville revolt and declare Oliver their king (really), a lead who wears a three piece suit while riding his tractor, and frequent gags about the credits, which at the time was practically unheard of. (Two old farmers argue during the opening. One says, “Hold it, we may as well sit down. Nobody’ll pay attention to until those names stop comin’ down.” Other times the credits would be on the roof and Oliver would complain about vandals.) And similar madness.

    1. Yeah, Green Acres was special. Sweet lunacy.

      And let us not forget that Gilligan’s Island has become a cultural icon. Who has not heard about “a three hour tour”? Or the question “Ginger or Mary Ann?”

      Plus the possibility that we are seeing a sitcom remake of the Sartre play “Huis Clos”, that they are dead, but they do not know it, and that Gilligan is the devil that does not allow them to leave the island…

    2. To all Andy Griffith Show snobs I always say, watch the episodes with Howard Morris as Ernest T. Bass. Then you’ll “get” Andy’s show.
      Also — anyone who thinks Green Acres is silly, I respectfully request that you give “Hootersville” another look.
      AND – how can anyone not laugh at Jethro Bodine, Double Naught Spy?
      Come on now, it’s not Masterpiece Theater but it’s funny.

    3. I don’t think I’ve seen Green Acres since I was a little kid, and I didn’t watch it very much even then. I basically remember the theme song. So I apologize if I’ve slandered the secretly avant-garde rural sitcom.

      I’ve just been reading an excellent book called The Columbia History of American Television, which I realize now I should have mentioned in a footnote above. One of the many interesting things that I’ve learned is that a new head of CBS decided in 1970 that they needed to go for a more urban, upscale demographic. They cancelled all of the hayseed shows — Mayberry RFD, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee Haw, Gomer Pyle, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. The B.Hillbillies was actually in 18th place when the show was cancelled. To replace those shows, they commissioned All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

      Meanwhile, NBC was cancelling The Andy Williams Show and The High Chapparal, and replaced them with Emergency! and Sanford and Son.

      Basically, over about two years, the whole TV schedule moved north and east. No more farms, no more Westerns. Suddenly, everybody was living in apartments. It’s a remarkable transition.

      1. Yeah, the infamous “rural purge.” As Pat Buttram put it, they canceled “anything with a tree in it,” Even Lassie went.

        Onion AVClub has a pretty good piece on how “Green Acres” was different from the magical alien talking horse shows, although it focuses a lot on Arnold so it may not be clear at first read (if you even feel like delving into it).
        http://www.avclub.com/article/i-ithe-amiable-madness-of-igreen-acresi-72592

        Also, I forgot to remark on the James Aubrey stuff (and that’s a great overview). I didn’t know he was praised in Dark Shadows books (or at least came off well). Most TV reference books or showbiz memoirs discuss the Smiling Cobra. The best anecdote and best proof of his lowest common denominator aims involves “East Side/West Side” (starring George C. Scott, with Cicely Tyson in a major role, using NY people in realistic drama, as social workers in the inner city deal with poverty, racism, minor crime, a rat killed a baby in one episode, etc.) Aubrey hated it (and according to co-star Elizabeth Wilson, didn’t like her casting because he preferred really voluptous women).

        Anyway, in the book CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye (great title), producer David Susskind recalls what Aubrey said in a meeting:
        “Get that [beeping] show out of the ghetto. I’m sick of it, the public’s sick of it and it doesn’t work. They’ve got just as big social problems on Park Avenue and that’s where I want the goddamn show to be.”

        And then when they discuss the issue with their star (and part owner of the show), George C. Scott, who had been cutting an apple, jams the knife in Aubrey’s desk and leaves. (The show was canceled anyway, after an odd retooling effort involving a wealthy congressman.)

  4. Very insightful blog, Danny. Question: How much of a factor do you think Robert Costello’s departure and his replacement, Peter Miner, was on the downward spiral in quality of the show at this point?

    1. I don’t actually know anything about it, except that Costello left to do Strange Paradise. I know that Costello had an important role, but no real details. Do you know things about the Costello/Miner transition?

  5. Great post Danny!

    Do you think you will do one on “Night of Dark Shadows, even though that was filmed after episode 1225? Just Curious.

    1. Yeah, definitely. There’ll be more posts on HODS too. Definitely as we head into the last year of the show, I want to find ways to talk about all of the post-DS spin-offs, including NODS, the Tim Burton movie, and all the comics and novels and audios. My vague plan is that by the time I get to April 2nd, ’71, I’ll have said everything that I have to say about Dark Shadows. 🙂

      1. HODS was a good movie. Dan got his evil vampire. Barnabas wiped out most of the Collins family without blinking an eye and he almost killed Roger Davis.

        My favorite lines are when Barnabas was walking with Maggie in the woods after he was cured (kind of). He’s admiring the sunlight glinting off the trees. Maggie says the other night you couldn’t take your eyes off of me but this morning you’ve hardly noticed me.

        Barnabas says, “You’ve dominated my thoughts all days. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be with you. Look at those trees, how beautiful they look in the sunlight.”

        Maggie, “I love being with you, you have a way of seeing things like you’re looking at them for the first time.”

        Barnabas takes her hand and says, “I’ve never seen them the way I do when I’m with you.” He was so happy he didn’t cane Willie that day.

        The second best line is from Professor Stokes, “Julia, vampirism isn’t a disease. Vampires are the living dead.”

  6. I guess there will be time to discuss this more when we’re into the Leviathan story, but according to the taping dates, they were also tapping wildly out of sequence and 6 days a week to stock pile shows in February and March before they started filming HODS.

  7. More than the show itself, what HODS did was kill off the show’s star main character, Barnabas. Frid refused to be in the sequel, NODS, because he claimed he was afraid of being typecast as Barnabas, which is amusing because he already was. Perhaps the real reason was that Frid disliked how HODS portrayed Barnabas, which was spooky and bloodless — exactly the way he told the writing staff in 1967 that he didn’t want for Barnabas to be written. Frid and Curtis never did see eye to eye.

    The release of the movie had a detrimental effect on the show’s ratings. For the first time, parents got to see what their kids were making such a big fuss over. Up to the fall of 1970, during the 4 o’clock hour dad was still at work and mom was by this time in the kitchen getting things ready for dinner. They only knew of Dark Shadows the same way as everyone does even today who doesn’t watch it — as the “vampire soap opera”. And when parents back then thought of vampires, they thought of Bela Lugosi — and in those movies you didn’t see any blood. But HODS, in terms of blood and gore, is on a par with even the Hammer films of the time. So when parents took their kids to the drive-in to see HODS, there must have been some decisions made on the drive home as to what their kids would and would not be allowed to watch on TV. In the 1968-1969 season, Dark Shadows’ ratings are at an all-time high, with a Nielsen rating of an 8.4 percentage point share of U.S. homes viewing the show; the next season will see a drop to 7.3 — but this is still the same as the 1967-1968 ratings, when the show had become a huge national hit; but ratings for the 1970-1971 season will see a drop to 5.3 — the lowest numbers since the 1966-1967 season (4.3).

    Perhaps the biggest reason for the show ending when it did was Dan Curtis’ declining interest. There’s an actor interview on the DVD set where it is mentioned that Dan didn’t show up as often in the last year. And in another one of those interviews with Curtis himself, he admits that in the last few months he didn’t want to have anything to do with the show, that he just wanted it to end. Perhaps the making of HODS simply fulfilled his sense of accomplishment with the original idea, and after this he had no desire or ambition to go on with the TV show. Because after your dream becomes a hit TV show and then a blockbuster motion picture, where do you go from there?

  8. Was Petofi’s “But one God” line in this episode? If so, fantastic, I agree with you, Stephen — that’s one of the best lines of the entire series, and it helps signal that Petofi was not a “warlock,” as some have said, but a sorcerer who doesn’t owe his allegiance to Angelique’s CEO. It demonstrates how and why he and Angelique are very clearly NOT playing on the same team, and also helps explain Angelique’s tremendous apprehension of him. She doesn’t quite “get” him, and only knows that he’s a terrible force to be reckoned with — an even bigger threat than Laura had been (whose CEO was an apparently rather rusty Egyptian deity who couldn’t hold a candle to Seth, aka Satan, aka Sutekh — a little nod to you Doctor Who fans, coming from a guy who fantasizes about TV mashups).

    We’ll see that very amply demonstrated soon now in my all-time favorite scene in the history of DS. Anyone wanna venture an advance guess as to what that scene is and the absolutely brilliant line that Petofi utters to nail it?

  9. P.S. – Green Acres was a brilliantly surreal television landmark. I’d almost swear its writers were on drugs, except if they had been, it probably wouldn’t have been half as funny.

  10. Limitations often lead to creativity and 1970 PT was a brilliant opportunity to create a story without half of the cast and without two of the major characters (Julia, Barnabas). It’s one of my favorite story lines.

  11. There was quite a purge across the board in TV land at the end of The Sixties.
    No more undersea shows like Flipper, Sea Hunt or Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. Witchcraft and astrology were fading, time was running out for Samantha and Angelique.
    Rural shows were all waving good-bye.
    Once we got to the moon, space stuff was “over”. Star Trek, Lost in Space, and My Favorite Martian all blasted off.

    If it was from the 60’s, it had to go. The scene radically shifted from the suburbs to down-town. Comedies gained a serious streak, that was weird. I’m just glad Carol Burnette made in into the 70’s.

    1. In hindsight, the fact that there even was a vogue for undersea shows feels a little odd. There were even forgotten copycats like “The Aquanauts.” (The fact that divers had a good excuse to be shirtless, much like Tarzan, may have been a factor.)

      The one that makes the most sense is Flipper. He was Lassie in water.

    2. Right, Elizabeth Montgomery went from lovable Samantha to her first made for TV movies – A Case of Rape where she was not only raped but had to strip down and be photographed by the cops and the one about Lizzie Borden where she stripped down and hacked her parents to death with an axe.
      Gritty realism was en vogue and lovable sit com characters were out.

  12. I wonder how big an impact Alexandra Moltke’s departure, as well as the character of Vicki Winters, had on the show. The series is much better without her, and I don’t know if it could have developed as it did with her. Moltke wasn’t strong enough ro play different or darker characters, and Vicki as a lead was a story killer.

    1. I often regret, however, that Moltke couldn’t have stuck around for Quentin’s haunting of Collinwood. The governess role is extremely important in that storyline, as demonstrated by the need to quickly fill the gap with Maggie. Besides, it always struck me as extremely odd that Elizabeth would offer the job of being David’s governess to a coffee shop waitress, no matter how much the family liked her.

      1. The entire governess for David was always a little off for me. Governesses weren’t that big back then. I’m pretty sure Carolyn went to a public school because she knew Maggie and Joe. David was a handful, but he wasn’t so bad that a public or good private school wouldn’t have accepted him. But this was a “gothic” novel and you have to have a governess, so Vicki was a governess and later so was Maggie.

    2. The show transitioning from Vicki-led to not Vicki-led is a big deal, but that takes place long before Moltke leaves. I’d say “Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour” is the relevant turning point for that. They didn’t decide to de-emphasize Vicki on purpose, it’s just the natural consequence of Barnabas causing eleven women to lose consciousness in Fort Wayne.

  13. A delightful blooper in today’s episode occurs when Petofi bumps his head on the hanging lamp in Tate’s studio (the old Evan’s cottage) and sets it swinging for the rest of the scene.

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