Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

“That’s right, I’m a werewolf, and that’s why you’re gonna start painting right now.”

Here we are, in another haunted mansion, and sitting at the front desk is an audio-animatronic Charles Delaware Tate. He speaks, he turns his head, and his chest moves up and down like he’s breathing; I’d estimate this action figure has maybe six points of articulation. But it can’t be the real Chuck D, because he should be seventy-two years older than this.

Quentin and Chris are visiting this weird wax museum because they’re hoping that Tate can paint a picture for them. But Tate laughs at them, just laughs and laughs, until Quentin picks up a vase of flowers and hits him square in the chest with it.

And that’s how Charles Delaware Tate dies laughing, the target of a floral drone strike. He falls face first onto the desk, and then his head pops off and rolls across the floor.

919 dark shadows chris tate heads off

So that’s where we are, goofiness-wise. Man-on-mannequin action, at four o’clock in the afternoon. This is a logical result of the Dark Shadows aesthetic, which is to do the most ridiculous thing you can think of, every weekday, until somebody makes you stop. Even the characters are laughing their heads off.

Quentin skedaddles, but Chris finds the real Charles Delaware Tate by paying attention to the man behind the curtain. Tate is an ancient thing, a sad old man who was once a celebrated artist. Now he’s hiding in a big empty house and playing with puppets. He still dreams of what could have been, if he’d trusted his own abilities, instead of making a deal with the devil for a shortcut to fame and fortune.

He could be respected, now, in his old age. He could have a young protegé, carrying his vision forward to a new generation. He could have art history majors dropping by the studio, fascinated by his work and his long, difficult struggle for recognition, asking for a few minutes of his time. They would listen, and write down everything he said. Some of them would probably be female.

Instead, he’s got Chris Jennings, who wants a picture that’ll make him not be a werewolf anymore. There’s going to be another full moon tonight, and if Tate doesn’t make with the magic, then Chris is going to turn into a savage beast and reduce the painter to his component particles. That’s where Dark Shadows is at, these days.

919 all my children opening

Meanwhile, a storm is gathering on the horizon. It’s January 5th, 1970, and earlier in the day, ABC premiered its newest soap opera, All My Children.

A year and a half ago, legendary soap writer Agnes Nixon created One Life to Live for ABC, a bold serial with a racially and socioeconomically diverse cast. It wasn’t getting huge ratings by 1970, but its popularity was growing, and the network asked Nixon for another show, focused on young love and contemporary social issues.

Nixon created All My Children, adding a fourth soap to the ABC schedule. That legendary lineup — General Hospital, One Life to Live, All My Children and Dark Shadows — anchored ABC’s daytime programming for four decades, except for Dark Shadows, which didn’t.

So this is an opportune time to look in on the Who Killed Dark Shadows murder mystery game, and ask: why did the other three shows run until 2011, while Dark Shadows collapsed in April 1971?

919 dark shadows tate makeup

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that 1970 All My Children has a lot to live up to, if it’s trying to be better than 1970 Dark Shadows. Tate’s dummy head rolling around on the carpet is unbelievably goofy, but it’s also good television. At least, it’s unique, and once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it.

In fact, today’s episode is packed with great visuals — the head on the floor, and then the reveal of Old Man Tate; Michael giving the Naga necklace to Carolyn, and staring at her until she gets uncomfortable; Quentin walking around in the dark woods, being handsome and tormented; Tate desperately trying to finish the portrait of Chris before the guy falls to the floor and turns into a wolf. Plus, there’s a soundtrack — dramatic, full-orchestra music cues that accentuate every tense moment.

There’s pretty girls and special effects and an exciting countdown, with at least one big plot point hanging in the balance. If you can step back from how silly it is, which admittedly is difficult to do, then what you see is a really good half-hour of madcap action that does everything that television is supposed to do. So how could Dark Shadows fail, when all the other soap operas are just people sitting around in the living room talking?

Well, let’s take a look at 1970 All My Children, and see what we can figure out.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many episodes that still exist from All My Children’s first six years, because the network actually taped over old episodes, to save money on videotape. They kept black-and-white kinescope copies, but those were destroyed in a fire, so now there’s just a handful of surviving kinescopes. So there’s hardly anything left of All My Children, General Hospital and One Life to Live, as far as the early to mid-70s are concerned.

Happily for us, Dark Shadows and Ryan’s Hope were owned by their respective producers, who were both smart and ego-driven, and they kept all the tapes, hooray.

But there’s one surviving All My Children kinescope that made it onto YouTube, so let’s check out this clip, and see what the show was like back then.

919 all my children nick mona watch

Hey, what do you know, people sitting around in the living room. And right off the bat, there’s some obvious stylistic differences.

There’s hardly any music, for one thing, just a single cue for transitions between scenes and commercial breaks. Once the scene gets rolling, the characters just sit and do their business in icy silence.

Also, All My Children is using three cameras, just like Dark Shadows does, but they don’t move them around very often.

In the first scene in this clip, camera 1 is doing a single two-shot to establish where Nick and Mona are, and then they cut to camera 2, for a close-up of Mona. They cut between 1 and 2 a couple times, and then camera 2 stays on Mona, so that camera 1 can move in to get a close-up of Nick. And then they just cut between the two close-ups, switching back and forth for each line of dialogue.

Erica enters the scene, and camera 3 is there by the door, getting a shot of her as she hangs up her coat. She enters the room, and camera 1 pulls back to get a two-shot of Erica and Nick, and then it follows Erica as she moves toward the mantelpiece. Now camera 1’s on Erica, camera 2 is still on Mona, and camera 3 has moved over from the front door to pick up a shot of Nick, and now it’s all close-ups again. The scene is essentially static.

919 all my children erica mona

So, for comparison’s sake, here’s a breakdown of the last three minutes of this scene.

Mid-shot of Erica, sitting down on the couch.
Close-up of Mona.
Close-up of Erica.
Close-up of Mona.
Close-up of Erica.
Close-up of Mona, which pulls back to track her as she sits down.
Close-up of Erica.
Close-up of Mona.
Close-up of Erica.
Close-up of Mona.
Close-up of Erica that pulls back for a mid-shot, which tracks her as she gets up.
Wide shot.
Mid-shot of Mona, as she gets up.
Mid-shot of Erica.
Mid-shot of Mona.
Mid-shot of Erica.
Mid-shot of Mona.
Mid-shot of Erica.
Mid-shot of Mona.
Mid-shot of Erica.
Close-up of Mona, fade to black.

So that’s how All My Children blocks a scene.

919 dark shadows chris tate backacting

And here’s three minutes of the Dark Shadows scene, starting when Chris discovers Old Man Tate behind the curtain.

Mid-shot of Chris.
Close-up of Tate.
Close-up of Chris, pulling back for a backacting mid-shot, as seen above.
Wide shot as Tate walks around the desk, then pulls in for a mid-shot.
Mid-shot of Tate.
Mid-shot of Chris, which pulls out for a wide shot.
Close-up of Tate.
Wide shot, which pulls in for a mid-shot, and then keeps pulling in for a close-up of Chris.
Close-up of Tate, which pulls in for an even tighter close-up.
Mid-shot of both, as Chris grabs Tate’s arm.
Mid-shot of Tate, as they walk to the fireplace.
Mid-shot of Chris.
Close-up of Tate.
Wide shot, which starts pulling in for a mid-shot, but gets interrupted by —
Close-up of a callbox on the wall.
Mid-shot of Chris, pulling Tate away from the callbox.
Close-up of the callbox, as Chris tears out the wires.
Mid-shot of Tate, as Chris grabs him by the arm, and pushes him to the middle of the room.
Close-up of Chris.
Close-up of Tate.
Wide shot, as Chris follows Tate to the desk.

The cameras and the actors are way more dynamic on Dark Shadows. They’re not just setting up a richer variety of shots; they’re actually changing in the middle of a shot. There’s a close-up of Tate that pulls into an even tighter close-up, and I don’t even know what that’s called. It’s possible that there’s no term for it, because it’s not a thing that ever occurs to directors to even try and do.

The blocking is way more complicated on Dark Shadows, too. On AMC, Erica goes from the front door to the mantel, sits down on the sofa, gets up and stands near the door, and then walks out, completing a circuit of the room. But Chris and Tate are moving all around the set, from the desk to the middle of the room, to the fireplace, back to the middle, a move to stage right as they grab for the callbox, back to the middle, and they finish by moving to the desk at stage left.

And it’s got music, and it’s got old man makeup, and they’ve got a countdown before Chris turns into a monster.

919 dark shadows carolyn wolf

And at the end of the scene, they fade from a tight close-up of Chris to a tight close-up of a stuffed wolf’s head. Then they pull back from the wolf to reveal that we’re in the antique shop now, and the wolf is lurking just over Carolyn’s shoulder, metaphorically.

We haven’t even seen that wolf’s head before; it’s not one of the stuffed animals that they’ve used on this set. But the director, Lela Swift, decided that she wanted to do an interesting transition, so somebody went and found some extra taxidermy, and then they built the blocking around the wolf’s head.

And they did all of that extra work just for one little transition shot, from Chris to the wolf. Thirty-five seconds later, they go to a commercial break, and when we come back, the wolf’s head has been removed from the set, and they just carry on as if it was never there.

That is an unbelievably weird thing to do, because it’s entirely unnecessary. They could just fade in on Carolyn fussing with papers in the antique shop, and nobody would think, man, that’s a missed opportunity. It would just be a normal scene. And it’s not like this is a movie that’s going to get screened at film festivals — this is one shot, which as far as they knew would be broadcast once, and then forgotten. But they went and got the wolf’s head anyway.

919 dark shadows mona closeup

So here’s my question: How is it possible that Dark Shadows will be off the air in fifteen months, and All My Children will run for another forty years?

Because I’ve just demonstrated conclusively that Dark Shadows is a way better show. There’s more action, there’s more movement, and the plot moves faster. The director is spending extra time setting up interesting shots. There’s metaphors and old man makeup, and at the end of the episode, we see Chris’ hand grope around the desk and it’s a brown fuzzy werewolf hand.

Right now, Dark Shadows is getting better ratings than both One Life to Live and All My Children. And even next year, when DS takes a tumble, it’s still got a bigger audience than All My Children does. So why is Dark Shadows the one that fails?

Tomorrow: To My Fans, the Audience.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Carolyn tells Michael, “I don’t think you’re a foolish child, and I’m not laughing at you,” in response to a line that he didn’t say.

When Carolyn gets up to speak to Philip, a boom mic can be seen in the top left corner.

Behind the Scenes:

This is the only triple-numbered episode of Dark Shadows. The numbering system finally catches up to the unscheduled pre-emption for the Apollo 12 splashdown five weeks ago, plus adds a number for the scheduled pre-emption on New Year’s Day last week. So now we’re back to Fridays happening on 5s and 0s again, which probably doesn’t mean anything for you, but it makes my life easier.

Tomorrow: To My Fans, the Audience.

919 dark shadows tate head

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

58 thoughts on “Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

  1. “…who were both smart and ego-driven, and they kept all the tapes, hooray”

    That can even be true of the performers, since privately-owned videotapes go back farther than people might think (even though obviously it was a lot more difficult the farther back you go). I’ve had actual experience trying find copies of tapes of a little-known show from the performers themselves (a show a lot later that 1970, early ‘ 80s instead), and they didn’t have any. In fact, I had the same experience with at least one early ‘ 90s one, which is that much harder to fathom. It makes you wish the people you ask about that were egotistical “Ted Baxter” type TV personalities, because then it might be a lot more likely!

  2. Danny,
    BTW, General Hospital survived the great ABC soap-purge of 2011 and is the only ABC soap on the air today (2016). GH started in 1963, and I think is the oldest soap still on the air in 2016 for the old major 3 broadcast networks — Days on NBC 1965, Y&R on CBS 1973, B&B on CBS (mid to late 1980’s?).
    “All My Children” survived for 41 years because it started with an interesting young-love-triangle but with more than a nod to the contemporary world. The romance of Phillip (Richard Hatch) and Tara (Karen Gorney) was legendary and very sweet — they married (only by reciting vows to each other, so it wasn’t a legal marriage) — just before Phil went off to fight in the Viet Nam War and eventually be MIA. Tara of course was pregnant with “Little Phillip,” but married Phillip’s best friend Chuck. Chuck raised Little Phillip as his own and was the only father that Little Phillip knew for his first 5 years. Phillip miraculously returned from Viet Nam in 1974, so the love triangle continued….
    The whole show’s major storyline was built around that love triangle and all the other family members and plot complications and storylines were added later.
    Unforunately, the great Mary Fickett’s Ruth’s anti-war speech (she was part of Mothers Against The War, again tying in to the great protest movements of the late 60’s-early 70’s) won her an actually Emmy win (BEFORE there were separate “Daytime Emmy’s”!)
    And of course, the great Erica (the incomparable Susan Lucci), as mundane as she may seem in this scene, truly was THE Scarlett O’Hara of all soaps, the only soap character to ever have a true motivation behind all her multiple marriages (her unresolved father issues) and she ultimately turned into the show’s break-out star.
    So AMC grew to be much more than the characters sitting around in the living room — it limped along, building its audience, and then overtaking the #1 spot from CBS’s “As The World Turns” sometime in 1978. With Agnes creating stories to really educate people about real situations and issues, the show was almost like a walking “Public Service Announcement.” I personally was inspired to join the Bone Marrow Donor registry after a bone-marrow leukemia cancer storyline provided an interesting twist to a baby’s paternity.
    At the last major AMC fan event in late July 2011, during the big on-stage Q&A, I stood at Susan Lucci’s table the entire time so I could be first to get my 25 year anniversary AMC book autographed. I was so overwhelmed in meeting her that I wept — I also wept when I met Cadie McClain (Dixie) and some of the other female actresses. To me, they, or their characters, represent an ultimate resilience of the human spirit, something I can only hope to emulate.
    All of that, in my opinion, is part of why AMC lasted 41 years…

  3. Terry Jones of Monty Python received advance word that the BBC was about to wipe the Flying Circus TV series, so he bought the tapes himself for £90 a reel ($1,348.03 in 2016 U.S. dollars). In the early days of television, they apparently didn’t think in terms of historical significance, only about saving money.

    Dark Shadows fails so that Louis Edmonds can appear on All My Children:

    and so that Anthony George, Nancy Barrett, and Grayson Hall can appear in the same episode of One Life to Live in 1983, with Sam Hall writing (Gordon Russell, too, wrote for OLTL for a while):

    Seriously, though, Dark Shadows fails because its subject matter is too derivative. As Sam Hall explained in one interview, they just ran out of material to borrow from, whereas the more conventional soaps were presenting the ordinary dramas of ordinary people without having to worry about where their next story line was coming from.

    1. Prisoner, I agree with you (and Sam Hall). General Hospital was in bad shape and was about to be cancelled in ’77. ABC hired Gloria Monty and she saw that the hospital format was what was holding the show back. So, she began to change the emphasis of the stories, still with ties to the hospital. She also insisted on characters moving around during every scene – no more sitting behind desk blocking. I think that she and writer Doug Marland transformed GH into the hit it became by keeping ties to the past but adding new exciting characters and locales. Too bad Dan Curtis couldn’t have turned DS over to someone with fresh vision and still respect the past.

  4. “Seriously, though, Dark Shadows fails because its subject matter is too derivative.”

    Watching 1840 at present for the first time, I’m inclined to agree with this. It seems to me that a failure of the imagination is the root cause of the problem. The whole Roxanne-bloody-Drew/Destruction of Collinwood line just seems to be freewheeling and clutching at straws. Of course they were making the movie while these storylines were in play, so it’s not to be wondered at…

    But then the parts of 1840 which work are essentially recyling – I won’t mention them specifically, for fear of spoiling things. But one gets the impression that they’d been made aware of a (well-deserved?) downward bump in the ratings, and were basically grabbing all the elements which worked /once/, and stirring ’em all in together in the hope that they’d pull it off again…

    It’s certainly the best it’s been in a long while, but that’s mostly due to the decision to trot all the kaiju out again in my opinion. It certainly makes a nice change from a seemingly-endless series of talking telephone poles, but clearly it wasn’t enough…

    If I had been Dan th’ Man, perhaps what I would have done is called the writing team together, tossed a copy of the I Ching on the table, and said, ‘There! Throw some sticks or whatever, get some hexagrams, and go wherever they take you!’

    …hey, it works for the Junior Detectives, doesn’t it…?

  5. I don’t think DARK SHADOWS failed. It aired for four years as the series we remember, which is longer than most sci-fi/fantasy series of the period. STAR TREK and BATMAN made it for three years and two and a half respectively. DS also matched those series in endurance after cancellation and also in overall transcendence of the medium with movies starring the TV cast. As Danny reveals in this post, DS has very little in common with other soap operas of the time and is closer to the production values (well, at least the ambition) of a prime time weekly series. It might not have had the budget of TREK or early BATMAN but it’s not that different from DOCTOR WHO.

    WHO lasted 26 years before its 1989 cancellation and 2005 reboot, but it had the benefit of replacing its leading man and drastically changing its format periodically. That wasn’t an option for DS, which soon became the Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman show.

    I push back on the description of the show as “derivative.” I like Danny’s term “narrative collision.” There was a mad creativity to how it enployed external sources. It is no more derivative than a Tarantino film.

    But discussions of DS’s perceived failure reminds me of how discussions of the dinosaurs focus on their demise rather than their longevity. They were very successful in the grand scheme of Earth’s existence. There is no sci-fi/fantasy series with more than 1,000 episodes. Even aired twice a day in an hour timeslot, it takes two years to get from the opening of the magic box to the final episode. I don’t even think WHO comes close, and again, it wasn’t the same primary cast. The show at its peak (1897) gives you 184 episodes that would hold their own against the best of the genre.

    Even TWILIGHT ZONE “flamed out,” and it shared some similarities with DS.

    Most successful soaps have aired longer but none have inspired three movies and had their runs collected on home video.

    1. “But discussions of DS’s perceived failure reminds me of how discussions of the dinosaurs focus on their demise rather than their longevity.”

      Interesting points. I agree with much of what you say, albeit I should have defined my terms more carefully before speaking of ‘failure’. What I mean is not that the show was cancelled as such, but it became unentertaining enough for this to be reflected in the ratings with cancellation being considered as a result.

      Of course that’s not necessarily ‘failure’ – after all when DS reached that point before Dan reacted with the admittedly brilliant casting of Frid – but this time around, watching 1840 for the first time, I’m getting the impression that it’s just as Dan said – he was/they were running out of ideas and he simply didn’t care enough to stir the pot again.

      I think that if it had continued much longer it would have sputtered to a halt anyway. Perhaps it would have been at the end of a season, but even so…it was all a glorious accident, which I think rested heavily on the involvement of ‘serious’ NY theatre people who might not even have been cast in later years. A look at the lineup for the ’91 reboot is hardly encouraging, with a few exceptions.

      In just the same way, for me, just personally, as a kid watching Dr Who in the 70s, it really came to an end when the BBC moved Philip Hinchcliffe sideways to ‘Panorama’ in response to bloody Mary Whitehouse’s constant whinging. The shows immediately had less interesting scripts, and even with Tom Baker at hand things were already going downhill from there. (That damned robotic dog, for instance!) Then they cast the vet from ‘All Creatures Great and Small’…

  6. God, it’s killing me! I’ve looked all over the internet and cannot find the far side comic where a painter is torn to shreds in front of a portrait of a man changing into a werewolf!
    It’s so damned perfect for this episode.

    1. Someplace I’ve got a cartoon–not Far Side, I don’t think–of a painting of a hole in a floor. No painter, because he’s fallen through the hole in the floor just in front of the canvas. 🙂

  7. Having been an viewer of the original ABC broadcasts of Dark Shadows, I was really becoming worried that the show would be cancelled around this point in time. During the summer of ’69, I tuned in to The Edge of Night on CBS, which aired a half hour before Shadows. There was a storyline going that featured loan sharks kidnapping the main character’s daughter and the hero rescuing her. He then forced one of the mobsters into a van and locked him in the back. The other mobsters arrived and, thinking the girl was in the van, torched it. Eventually the cops brought the mobsters to justice. Now this was presented LIVE and had many, many action sequences, including the torching of the van in the studio, though I suspect that scene was pre-taped and rolled in.

    This took several weeks to totally play out, but I was on the edge of my seat at the end of every episode. Then I’d switch over to ABC to catch Shadows, and it was in the thick of the 1897 Petofi story. (I loved Count Petofi, by the way.) In contrast, Shadows was just a different kind of animal, and by this point, they’d shown most of their best gimmicks.

    In projecting my own feelings about Edge vs. Shadows, I liked the contemporary story on Edge, and the feeling that it was realistic fiction. I was tired of Shadows constantly going back in time and changing its canvas in the process. I was hopeful that when 1897 ended, there would be no more time travel and that the show would again focus on the anchor characters.

    Of course this was not to be the case, and by the time 1840 began, I was just plain fed up with Shadows. I think it could have lasted much longer if the emphasis on the supernatural was de-emphasized in favor of more of the Gothic mysteries, and love stories. I would have loved it if characters like Quentin, Angelique, Julia and Barnabas banned together to solve murder mysteries, protect people from much more realistic threats.

    By the summer of 1970, I had switched over to One Life to Live (from Edge), and really enjoyed it. Then Dark Shadows came on after it and it was like looking at a friend with a terminal disease. As much as I loved that friend, I knew there was little hope.

    BTW, All My Children became my favorite soap from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. Louis Edmonds had such a fun time on that show. I got to visit the AMC studio in ’82 and had a nice conversation with him during camera blocking. I said that it looked like he was having a lot more fun on AMC than on DS, and he agreed.

    1. »»…I think it could have lasted much longer if the emphasis on the supernatural was de-emphasized in favor of more of the Gothic mysteries, and love stories. …««

      I’ll second that.

      Dark Shadows was a spectacle, and a costly one at that. It burned REALLY bright and then faded fast. But because of that, we can gaze at the whole easily.

      1. I thought it tried to go more “normal” (Gothic mysteries and such) in 1841 PT, which didn’t work.

        I think the closest DS came to a “normal” soap opera that was actually engaging is at points during 1897, ironically enough (the Collins family dramas, struggles over the will and the estate, up to and including Judith marrying Trask).

        But BATMAN or MISSION IMPOSSIBLE might have lasted longer if it had gone “straighter” but it wouldn’t have been the same shows.

      2. They had to learn about economy of supernatural elements. I am (tooting my own horn) again written a continuation of DS in the eighties, and I did a return trip to Parallel Time. For supernatural happenings I had Barnabas and the ghost of Will Loomins – earthbound until he FINALLY writes a good book. The drama I provided with non-supernatural means, just taking advantage of the concept of Parallel Time. So I sent Barnabas into a totalitarian USA, with Barnabas caught in a “Casablanca” style love triangle. “A fight for love and glory”.

        But there were supernatural storylines they could have used:


        The Flying Dutchman (both logical if you notice that they are by the sea)

        The Stone Guest

        Indian curses

        Swan Lake

        Elves, and fairies, both Seelie and Unseelie. (the storylines there would be endless)


        You just have to start digging

        1. I’m surprised they never tried The Mummy.
          Like, an elderly Nora Collins returning from Egypt, bringing a curse with her.

  8. “I don’t think you’re a foolish child, and I’m not laughing at you,” Carolyn tells Michael. “Just in case you were wondering.”

    I think Dark Shadows killed itself.

    I watched it from the beginning and I was never ready for it to end. But look at the fan base: housewives (who were most likely watching other soaps too–I know my mother was) and kids. And we kids were growing up. If you were a kid who started college in 1966, you graduated in 1970 and went out into the world to get a job. You were probably at work at 4:00 in the afternoon.

    If you were in high school, you’d either moved on to college or you were already out in the world–and by then, college was the world, with protests and drama going on right there where you could take part. You didn’t need to watch TV to see interesting things happening; you could go out and be a part of them. We were growing up.

    And reality was in. “All in the Family” was bulldozing the happy-happy sitcoms out of its way to make room for more of its kind. “Here’s Lucy” and “The Doris Day Show” were still around (and Lucy was still getting good ratings), but they were tired. Tired sitcoms can repeat jokes or get big name guest stars. But “Dark Shadows” was getting tired too, and if your game is excitement and surprise, you can’t repeat yourself.

    I think that’s the real difference between DS and the other soaps: the others can (and do) repeat themselves endlessly, with only the occasional stand-out moments. But “Dark Shadows” is like Daffy Duck’s great act where he swallows gasoline, nitroglycerin, gunpowder, Uranium-238, and finally, a lit match—blowing himself up. The audience loves it, but as Daffy (as a ghost) explains, he can only do it once.

    1. The Daffy Duck analogy — brilliant, and spot-on!

      DS plots were so byzantine and memorable that any form of repetition stood out as repetition. Other soaps generally didn’t have that problem, so they could go on and on.

      I also wonder how common it was for various station affiliates across to country to do what the affiliate where I lived as a child, near Richmond, Virginia, did. During the last year or so of DS, they moved the show from its late-afternoon time slot to late night, after the late-night news. They did this in response to complaints from neurotic busybody nut-job fundamentalistic religionists that the show was a bad influence on kids. My parents (who weren’t neurotic busybody nut-job fundamentalistic religionists) didn’t mind me watching DS in its late-afternoon slot, but I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late on school-nights. So the only time I could watch DS during its final year was Friday nights, when I was allowed to stay up that late. (Remember — this was before VCRs became routine household appliances.) If that sort of thing was commonplace, it would have wrecked the show’s ratings.

      1. Thank you! I had a similar time-slot problem when they ran DS at 3:30 for a while and I could only catch the last few minutes of it. That was a horrible time. How did we survive? 🙂

    2. Yes, Carose, having school-age kids as a large part of the audience was possibly the major problem. Short attention span. All of my friends watched 1897 because of Quentin/David Selby. After resolving the Amanda storyline, the show never seemed to know what to do with him. By 1840, none of my friends were watching regularly anymore. Dark Shadows was never in the top 10 soaps. Most adult viewers were watching more traditional soaps. Teens were aging out of it. Think how much a kid’s interests change between ages 10 and 15! I don’t think there’s any way Dark Shadows could have attracted more of the As the World Turns crowd without ceasing to be Dark Shadows. If parents did become more concerned about what younger kids were watching, the potential for onboarding of new viewers from that demographic would have been greatly reduced. I think as far as daytime tv is concerned, comparing Dark Shadows to other soaps is like comparing apples and oranges. Dark Shadows was a daily sci-fi/horror show that happened to be shown in a time slot usually occupied by soap operas. It had ceased to be one itself when they introduced a Phoenix followed by a vampire.

  9. So many great insights on this topic here. I watched All My Children steadily from start to finish for forty years. It was, of course larger in scope than DS in terms of storylines, especially after it switched to an hourlong format, yet it felt less epic in scale because it was a bit more grounded in reality. I say “a bit more” because some plot lines were quite outlandish. The reveal that Erica had had a child (Kendall) as a teenager through a rape by one of her father’s friends created years of riveting story. Finding out that her father was a circus clown or that her aborted baby had been stolen by the doctor and inserted into his own barren wife were fantastical (and far less successful.) But I loved AMC and mourned its loss.

    However, I have no interest in watching it all again, whereas DS transcended (basically, ignored) modern fashions, topical issues and human relationships to focus on a reimagining of classical horror tropes. If it had been better written, if it had created new stories for these characters along the lines of Big Finish, if it had spent more care on fixing the mistakes, sure, it might have run longer. Maybe it wouldn’t have attained such mythological status for its fans, since we love it’s rough edges as much as its unique place in the soap opera firmament. But maybe it would have been just as famous and cherished, along the lines of Dr. Who.

    I know that 1840PT was painful to watch as it seemed to be the death knell of the show. But viewer exhaustion was directly tied to the drying up of the creators’ imaginations. Even this schoolboy could see that Gerard Stiles and Daphne Harridge were a pale imitation of Quentin and Beth. I don’t think we all understood that Bramwell and Catherine were a capitulation to Frid’s wish to “play something else” which probably only came about because Dan Curtis was done. I blame Curtis for most of this. When he created the remake in the 90’s, he didn’t have the energy or imagination to make new stories. If only someone else had gotten hold of these characters (and cast the show better), maybe we’d be talking about Dark Shadows 2016 today! But then again, maybe not . . .

  10. Well, knock my head off with a flower pot!

    I finally found my family’s Collinsport Afghan, along with a dark family secret…
    Visiting my sister last night, I thought to ask if she knew what had become of “that afghan, the black one with the colored squares”.
    ” Oh, the Dark Shadows quilt?”
    “Well, I’m told it’s called The Collinsport Afghan.”
    “Yeah, it’s upstairs.”
    In a few moments, I was gazing on the fabled artifact. “How did you know it was from Dark Shadows?
    ” Oh, Kirsten Lowery and I used to go to Daria’s house and watch it after school. Kirsten’s parents were super strict, but Daria’s mom was cool.” (Daria’s mom wore pink granny glasses, and peasant skirts – unerring indicators of hipness.) “She liked Jonathan Frid, and Dar liked David Selby. Kirs was all about Roger Davis…” (So he DID have some fans.) “…and I thought Don Briscoe was SMOKIN’ hot.”
    “Well, it worked out for everyone, then.”
    “Kind of. Dar thought Roger was gross. Then David Selby knocked off Roger’s head, well it was like a big doll of him…”
    “Yeah, I know.”
    “And then Don turned into a werewolf and killed him. Then Kirs didn’t want to go over to Dar’s house and watch anymore. Kirs and I were friends, so I didn’t go either. ”
    “You never said anything about this.”
    “Well, Mom didn’t think Dark Shadows was a good show for kids, so don’t tell her about it.”
    “It was fifty years ago, I don’t think it’s a big deal.”

    So, now there’s another reason for the DS cancellation. Grant knocked off the Tate doll’s head, and they lost the Roger Davis demographic.

    Kind of trippy, though, my finding out about my sister’s DS secret JUST at this point in the weblog!

  11. Tate’s age makeup in this episode looks like a cheese pizza that’s been left in the oven a few minutes too long.

    1. It’s not saying ‘old man’ to me, either – more like a burn victim. Guess they didn’t have the same guy who made up Angelique (though I don’t recall that hers was a lot better).

      1. Dick Smith was the master in that department. They brought him back for House of Dark Shadows, but never again for the show. Doing the makeup in today’s episode was their long-running makeup artist Vincent Loscalzo, but he was not with the show in 1968. The Dark Shadows IMDb does not list a makeup department for the episodes where Cassandra/Angelique aged.

        1. Barnabas’s old-age makeup, however, when he over-dosed on Julia’s treatments was fantastic — perhaps the single best makeup job on the entire run of the series.

  12. That image where Chris is standing looking down at the doll’s head of Tate he holds in his left hand: As your eye moves above and over his left shoulder we see a familiar bit of wallpaper over the mantel that appears to have been taken from the set of Nicholas Blair’s drawing room in his house by the sea (image from DSED 600):

    I’m very fond of the lighting for the scenes in this room at Tate’s house, highly atmospheric use of deep shadow and effective in accentuating tension and a general sense of foreboding.

    1. Yes, it was very theatrical. When you entered Tate’s house with its stage lighting and talking puppets, it was like you were stepping into a different sort of reality.

    2. One can never say for certain, but repackaging the set design from Dr. Lang’s house for that of Tate’s house may well have been something of an inside joke among the set design department, given that one of Roger Davis’ former characters Jeff Clark not only worked for Dr. Lang, but also lived in Lang’s house for a while — and especially given how after the mannequin is destroyed Tate laments the destruction of what he refers to as his “creation”.

  13. “Even this schoolboy could see that Gerard Stiles and Daphne Harridge were a pale imitation of Quentin and Beth. ”

    I know the second haunting of Collinwood is commonly considered derivative of the first, but I would argue there’s a lot to distinguish it.

    The 1st haunting of Collinwood is primarily about Quentin and his corruption/possession of David. The female participants (Amy and especially Beth) wind up taking a backseat. Also, because few of the adults even see Quentin, the storyline feels in some ways like a supernatural spin on the more sinister David of 1966. Quentin in some scenes come across like David’s Tyler Durden, inspiring him to horrific acts.

    The 2nd haunting is thematically different. Daphne is more active than Beth was. She is very much the “evil governess.” Her control over someone else in the household is also an interesting twist. Gerard is a different animal than Quentin and his slow destruction of the Collins begins with the minds, then their bodies, and even Collinwood itself. There was a level of catastrophe that 1969’s haunting never reached. Granted, that could be a matter of taste: Some prefer the more subtle and chilling image of a deserted Collinwood as Quentin laughs in triumph, while others might prefer the ’70s disaster film image of a Collinwood in total ruins.

    1840 also feels more directly linked to the events of 1970, whereas 1897 struggled a bit with its connection to the present day. I also think 1840/1841 has a stronger ending — not just to the overall storyline but to the show itself. Perhaps it’s fitting that DARK SHADOW truly begins and ends with the first and final appearances of Barnabas Collins.

    1. Stephen, I remember enjoying 1840 the first time around. I haven’t watched it since 1971, so there is much that will come back this time around. What I do remember is this:

      1) the “overshooting” of Barnabas and Julia into the future was a terrific start because it felt so different.
      2) the set-up of five signs was derivative of the lead-in to 1897, but this time THEY GOT IT RIGHT!
      3) the introduction of Hallie and the ghosts of Gerard and Daphne were what felt especially derivative.
      4) I don’t remember all the details of 1840, but it seems it wasn’t as choppy as 1897, although no character was quite as rich there as Count Petofi had been.

      I’m looking forward to watching it again.

  14. The aged Tate hiding behind the curtain and puppeteering is (of course) from The Wizard of Oz, but the puppet itself derives (I think) from Coppelia.

    There were still many good plots for DS to use, they just needed to find them. And with only three writers, and Dan Curtis probably giving his attention to the movie before losing interest altogether, nobody had the time to look for the ideas.

    That ‘Flying Dutchman’ idea, for instance. The whole cast on board a ship, sailing to New England, Jonathan Frid as captain, David Selby as first mate, both in love with Lara Parker (that’s from ‘All The Men Were Valiant’); Thayer David and Joan Bennett as Lara’s parents, David Henesy as young Joshua Collins. Kathryn Leigh Scott could be gentry, traveling with her husband, Jerry Lacy, her sister, Nancy Barrett and her parents, Clarice Blackburn and Louis Edmonds. (And the rest. Maids, valets, sailors, colonists.)
    Coming upon a small boat, with Christopher Pennock aboard, barely alive…

    Or has Big Finish already done it?

      1. “I left Grayson Hall on the dock!”

        Very funny, John E!

        This makes at least the 100th time I’ve wished there were “like” “love” “haha” etc. buttons on the blog, for both Danny’s posts, and reader comments. Come on, WordPress, give us buttons!

  15. Dark Shadows may have been a serialize daytime drama, but I don’t think it was ever fully a soap opera. It was sort of a hybrid creature in its own Frankengenre.

    Thank you so much for the shot of Chris’s portrait! It’s a great likeness, especially those haunting eyes. The really cool thing, though, is how it plays up the family resemblance to both Quentin and Barnabas. I’ve always said the casting on this show was brilliant in that respect.

    1. One key soap opera element that DARK SHADOWS lacked was the dueling family dynamic (Newmans/Abbotts; Bradys/Dimeras). It not only opens up the series but it even provides ample Romeo & Juliet starcrossed lovers opportunities. DS rejected two early opportunities to establish this: Burke Devlin’s contempt for the Collins could have been an ongoing theme, and his marriage to a friend of the Collins (and potential Collins herself) Vicki would have provided the foundation for generations of storylines. Losing Mitchell Ryan didn’t help, of course, but there was also Carolyn’s flirtation with Tony Peterson, who hated the Collins, but that was also abandoned.

      The 1991 revival, which felt like it was written not just by people who never worked on a daytime/primetime soap but people who had never watched one, also didn’t bother to include a basic ingredient for conflict and narrative tension. Another family could threaten to either topple the Collins or be responsible for their fall from grace.

      The much-reviled 2012 movie at least explored the latter by having Angelique as head of the rival company that was intent on ruining the Collins family. It was a supernatural spin on the Devlin storyline (because a scorned witch is probably more interesting that someone framed for a manslaughter charge). (Might also work for Julia to be related to the anti-Collins family)

      And this is how a long-running soap opera works: Angelique’s now adult grandson is torn between his hatred of the Collins and his love for new teen actor Ingenue Collins. But that’s not really DARK SHADOWS, which became a show about one man and his supporting cast.

      1. I suppose it could have been difficult to tell these multi-family sagas when you could only contract up to six actors a day, but I think it was a missed opportunity. The Collins’ vs. the Dupres’ in 1795; the Collins’ vs. the Stokes’ in modern day or parallel time; the mortal battle throughout time between the Collins family and the Trask family. Might’ve been interesting.

        1. The advantage would be that the same six actors wouldn’t have to carry the show. I love the repertory theater feel of DS but one major drawback was that Carl, Willie, Desmond or Gabriel, Cyrus, Sebastian or Pansy, Charity, and Carolyn were played the same actor. A rough analogy would be if you stumble upon a character like Phyllis from Y&R but she has to be put on the backburner eventually because the same actor plays Victoria. A Collinsport with all these great characters would have been as vibrant as Salem or Genoa City. And traditional soaps would also allow characters to leave for a while (sometimes years ) and come back or be recast completely. But recasting major characters on DS feels as off as doing it on STAR TREK or any other prime time series. Recasting Vicki Winters should have been as straightforward as recasting Vicki Newman but it wasn’t. I think this is further evidence of how DS wasn’t really a traditional soap opera in many ways.

          You raise some good points about the missed opportunity of multi-family sagas. There was no real tension in 1795 between the Collins and Dupres (and one would think that would be a slam dunk, especially with the Barnabas/Josette relationship). And the Collins vs. the Trasks would have been a great idea. There was potential for this in 1897 but it’s interesting to see how quickly the Trasks get “absorbed” into the Collins family: Worthington Hall burns down and they move into Collinwood. Gregory Trask soon becomes the evil brother in law — so more a “threat from within” (like any other family member) than an external threat.

          1. I wonder if DS was gun shy about recasting. They had 2 major recasts, Burke when Mitch Ryan was fired and Vicki when Alexandra Moltke had to leave more quickly than expected due to her pregnancy. Neither recast worked well, possibly because they had to be done so quickly.

            I don’t think Dan Curtis would have allowed for a recast of Vicki. The speed with which they got rid of Betsy Durkin makes me think that. I think he had his idea of Vicki and Alexandra was it. The fact that he refused to bring her back in an evil role makes me think that he had her and Vicki pigeonholed in a certain way. Alexandra was Vicki and she could never be anything other than good.

            I do wonder if they would have been more willing to recast roles if Anthony George hadn’t been such a bust as Burke. But with two that didn’t work, why risk another recast?

            1. Anthony George was laughably miscast as Burke — too old for Vicki and with little chemistry. It was as if they didn’t know what was appealing about Ryan’s performance. Frankly, Selby as Quentin filled the hole Ryan’s Devlin left.

              KLS was a sort of stealth recast of Vicki (again, I liked the 2012 film’s wink on the subject). She was just far more interesting as Maggie the governess than Vicki ever was. She was also better as Rachel than Alexandra would have been.

              KLS’s role in 1970 PT is also very Vicki like but more demanding emotionally.

              I’d heard a theory that KLS would have been Samantha Collins if she hadn’t left and even Virginia Vestoff’s bio lists her time on DS as a “replacement.” No way Alexandra could have been as delightful as VV in the part.

            2. Recasting gets tricky and more risky as the show heightens in popularity. Not many realize that there was an actor playing Willie Loomis before John Karlen. James Hall wasn’t very theatrical and was terrible at delivering his lines, but even in his quietest moments he seemed a good deal more menacing than did Karlen at his most explosive when having first taken over the role. So a recast like this goes largely under the radar because this was still in the days before Barnabas arrives, when there were millions less in terms of viewing audience.

              Mostly, recasting was done out of necessity, for the good of the show. David Ford replaced Mark Allen as Sam Evans because the first actor had trouble with his lines; same issue with James Hall, who, in addition, was a bit flat, without the theatrical flair that distinguishes the rest of the cast. Then Anthony George for Mitch Ryan because one day when Ryan goes out for breakfast and doesn’t come back for camera blocking, they go out searching the neighborhood only to find him in a Puerto Rican barber shop giving himself a mohawk, with his neck tie wrapped around his head as he announces, “I’m Cochise!” So when they get him back to the studio he can’t even make it through camera blocking, so they have to cancel the taping for that day. This, after having come to the studio numerous times previously with a terrible hangover, made him a serious liability. Peter Turgeon for Robert Gerringer because the latter refused to cross picket lines during the technician strike in the fall of sixty-seven. Sam Evans they didn’t even bother to recast, who was fired for the same reason as the first actor to play the character. They recast Harry Johnson for one episode, but that’s not something most fans would have taken note of. Most viewers won’t remember George Mitchell as the first Matthew Morgan before Thayer David — all the actors when eating would talk with their mouth full and were very adept about it, but when George Mitchell talked with his mouth full there would always be large flecks of food falling out: Once when Vicki was over at Matthew’s cottage he had the kettle in the sink after taking a last bite from his supper and was chewing and talking as he filled the kettle with water to make tea, and in the midst of this he coughs out a chunk of egg white that for all we know may have landed in the tea pot. “You like yer tea strong, Miss Winters?” Some castings we are just glad to see let go.

              Mostly, Alexandra Moltke became disillusioned with the role of Victoria Winters because the writers were no longer providing an intelligent portrayal. In the first year Vicki is very smart as well as assertive; it was mainly her thinking things through that made the connections that prevented Laura the Phoenix from completing her mission with success. Instead, in the end, Vicki is largely clueless and not making good choices; whereas initially she was romantically linked with characters the audience liked — Frank Garner and Burke Devlin — in the end she is hopelessly besotted with an overbearing character in Jeff Clark, and Alexandra Moltke is just plain bored, wishing she could get out of her contract.

              If one notices, there didn’t seem to be any recasting done after the first two and a half years. All the ingenue actresses auditioned for the role of Victoria Winters, not just Alexandra Moltke but also Nancy Barrett and Kathryn Leigh Scott. But only one was chosen. Dark Shadows began with a dream that Dan Curtis had, and Alexandra Moltke was his “dream” girl.

              1. Great post, you pretty much summed up all the questions I had regarding all the recasting, I’m curious about where / how you found out about that information, It’s never discussed on Darkshadows.wiki.com, or any of the interviews I’ve seen on youtube. Perhaps it’s detailed was in the KLS, book?

                1. The best source for information on the cast is Barnabas & Company, which has detailed biographies for everyone in the main cast. It’s available on Amazon:

                  But I’m not sure where the Mitchell Ryan Mohawk story comes from; that’s a new one to me. 🙂

                  1. KLS told the story on a podcast… that’s where I heard it anyway. She was a huge fan of Mitch Ryan. As I recall from the podcast, she couldn’t remember Anthony George’s name.

                    1. Yes, that’s right. I heard it on a podcast, too. About a year ago. I think it’s one of those podcasts that are archived over on The Collinsport Historical Society, but I haven’t been able to track it down.

        2. For a while they did have that dynamic with the Collinses on the Hill vs. the townies down below. But that did fall by the wayside when the supernatural plots went to the front burner.

          1. For a while they did have that dynamic with the Collinses on the Hill vs. the townies down below.

            Yes, and IIRC there’s an early episode where Maggie first visits Collinwood and it’s kind of a big deal since she’s been throwing shade at them from the coffee shop since episode one.

  16. The older Josette is, technically, a recast though I doubt KLS would have played her had she been around.

    And the difficulty of recasting these characters should also be evident from the fact that the whole lineup has been recast three times (1991, 2004, 2012) and we basically know how that worked out. (Granted the material for those recastings wasn’t always showing them at their best.)

  17. When I was in the second grade, the Haunting of Collinwood story was playing out and everyone in my class ran home to watch DS.

    When I was in the fourth grade, the 1840 PT story was spinning out and I found out to my sadness that I was the only DS fan left in the class. Everyone else had abandoned the show. I knew the series was dying, I could see it everyday on the family black-and-white TV, but I still hoped it would turn around.

    It’s funny, even after all these years, even with the syndication airings, the videocassettes and the various DVD releases, I have never, ever watched 1840 PT again. I just can’t do it to myself. Why would you want to watch something you love die and die again?

  18. I’m watching the show all the way through for the 4th-5th time and I do force myself to watch 1840PT, though sometimes I will get up to let the dog in/get something to eat/take a phone call without pausing it. Not so much because it’s the final story but because it’s just awful. A mediocre soap opera with pretty costumes.

  19. One correction Danny… 108/109/110 was also triple numbered, but I know you don’t count the preBarnabas episodes as being part of the series ha ha.

  20. Given the choice between looking like Charles Delaware Tate in 1970 or Roger Davis in 2021, I’ll pick Tate every time.

  21. Seeing Charles Delaware Tate’s fake head put in mind a series of commercials that started to air around this time.
    Gillette developed a men’s hair spray called “The Dry Look.” It was for men who didn’t want to use Vitalis or Brylcreem or any of the wet applications. The slogan was “The Wet Head is Dead.”
    If I recall correctly, one of the commercials showed a gullotine scene with one of the witnesses saying the products slogan. So when I saw Tate’s head rolling around, I thought of the commercial! Anyone else remember these commercials?

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