“It’s impossible! I just saw him die!”
Today, Roger Collins opens a door in the east wing of Collinwood and discovers another world, filled with familiar people leading different lives at the exact same time. He’s fascinated by it, of course, and he spends the whole week talking about how desperate he is to see those exciting new stories. This turns out to be a tactical error.
Because there really is Another World — it airs on NBC at 3:00pm, and it’s doing so well that they’re creating a spinoff, which will compete directly with Dark Shadows.
Now, back in the good old days of September 1968, when Angelique was a vampire and Quentin was still a twinkle in Henry James’ eye, nobody would dare counter-program against Dark Shadows. It was a nationwide sensation, thirty minutes of thrills beamed every day to everyone who mattered.
The Columbia Broadcasting System was the big dog in the soap world, with chart-busters As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light at the top of the ratings for more than a decade. But in September ’68, CBS took stock of the situation and decided to turn tail and run, moving The Secret Storm from 4:00 to 3:00, where it was safer and the light was better anyway. They threw poor old Art Linkletter into the 4:00 spot, so the squares had something to do if they’d already finished their homework and folded all the socks. And so Art Linkletter’s House Party lived out the rest of its days, unwatched and unloved, a 25-year broadcasting giant felled by a show that at the time was mainly make-believe mad science experiments.
But Dark Shadows has spent the last four months telling a story that nobody really wanted to hear, and squandering the talents of their new werewolf superstar. There is movement in the shadows. The other wolves can smell weakness.
And next Monday, on March 30th — the same day that Barnabas changes channels to Parallel Time, and gives everybody who wasn’t excited about the Leviathans a natural jumping-off point — NBC premieres their brand new soap opera at 4:00pm. It’s not very good, and it doesn’t last that long, but it gets better ratings than Dark Shadows does, because sometimes the wrong people win.
At the time, NBC’s strongest show was Another World, which was five years old at this point, and starting to nip at CBS’ heels. Another World takes place in Bay City, which everyone refers to as fictional even though it’s sitting right there in Michigan, and there’s no use pretending that it isn’t.
The show started strong, with a controversial storyline about abortion in the first year. Pat and her boyfriend Tom traveled to New York so that she could get an illegal abortion, and while she was at it, she also developed an infection that left her unable to have children. When she heard the tragic diagnosis, she ran to Tom, who told her that it was all going to work out okay, because he didn’t love her and wasn’t planning on marrying her anyway. She shot him dead, of course, and was acquitted in her murder trial, because soap heroines are allowed to do basically anything.
By 1970, the hot story on Another World was the Rachel/Steve/Alice love triangle. Rachel was one of those bad-girl gold-diggers that soap towns are permanently afflicted with, who was already married but hoping to trade up. Steve was a self-made millionaire, a land developer and part-owner of the Bay City Bangles. Rachel wanted Steve, but Steve was dating her sister-in-law Alice. One night, Rachel managed to seduce Steve, and then she showed up at Steve and Alice’s engagement party to reveal that she was pregnant with Steve’s baby. Steve denied everything and married Alice anyway, so Rachel decided that maybe it was her husband Russ’ baby after all. Eventually Russ found out he wasn’t the father and divorced Rachel, so she went out and married Ted for a while, and finally landed Steve, until Steve went back to Alice and then died in a helicopter crash, and Rachel developed other interests.
Naturally, this is solid soap opera storytelling, just like mother used to make. NBC wanted to expand the 30-minute show to an hour, but Procter & Gamble didn’t think an hour-long soap opera would work, so they launched a spin-off instead. They took three popular characters from Another World — Sam Lucas, Lahoma Lucas and Missy Palmer Matthews, not that it matters — and moved them to another town, fifty miles away and an hour later in the schedule, just opposite Dark Shadows.
For the first year, they called the shows Another World in Bay City and Another World in Somerset, with one head writer working on both shows, and characters regularly crossing from one show to another. The idea was to entice the audience into sticking around for another half-hour of Another World, although why they didn’t air the shows back to back I have no idea. Instead, they put Bright Promise in the middle, a total dud about a college president that only lasted two and a half years. I’ve never really understood the mentality of 1970s daytime TV executives, and I suppose at this point I never will.
Anyway: Somerset. The initial focus was on the wealthy Delaney family, who owned Delaney Brands, the main employer in town. There was Jasper Delaney and Robert Delaney and Peter Delaney and Laura Delaney and India Delaney, which is too many Delaneys. There are only so many Delaneys that people are willing to put up with.
Eventually, somebody murdered Jasper Delaney, and Robert Delaney divorced India, married a casino singer and left town, and Laura Delaney was sent to a sanitarium. I’m not sure what happened to Peter Delaney. It probably doesn’t matter one way or the other.
For our purposes, the important one is India Delaney, who was played by Marie Wallace; this is what she did instead of playing Megan Collins or whatever in Parallel Time. As we’ve seen, Marie was a lot of fun and almost entirely out of her mind, and it sounds like they gave her a good part. I’ve seen India described as calculating, manipulative, and according to The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, “a fascinating demi-goddess,” so she got to take a little Dark Shadows with her when she left.
Like most of 1960s and 1970s daytime television, Somerset doesn’t really exist anymore; they just wiped all the master videotapes and used them for something else, probably more episodes of Somerset. There are just a few little bits of footage on YouTube, and happily, one of them is a ten-minute sequence of India Delaney having a breakdown.
This is from early 1972, when India had divorced Robert and married Chuck Hillman, a tennis pro from the country club. Obviously, Chuck was socially nowhere compared to the powerful Delaneys, but India has organized a lavish dinner party at a restaurant in order to re-introduce herself and Chuck to the Somerset social scene. In the scene, nobody’s shown up at the party except for India’s sister and brother-in-law, and she’s broken-hearted, running through the list of everyone’s excuses and swinging back and forth between various forms of hysterical. The sister and brother-in-law sit there in silence, as Chuck gets drunk and makes bitter jokes.
Halfway through, India gets up and does a Jenny-style madwoman monologue, pacing around the room.
Ben: Well, perhaps we should go now.
India: Yes, go! (She starts to sob.) Go!
Ellen: India, I just feel awful about this.
India: You do? Well, I don’t! I feel perfectly marvelous! I think it was a wonderful party, I had a marvelous time! I’m sorry that I sent the musicians home, I could have danced all night! I always feel that way after a perfectly marvelous, wonderful, gay party, don’t you?
Ellen: Please, please —
India: I said that this was going to be a memorable party, one that Somerset would never forget, well, it was, wasn’t it? I know I’ll never forget it, never!
Ellen: Please, India!
India: And this whole town won’t forget it either. This whole town won’t forget it, just hear me — they’re going to remember this party, I’m going to make them remember it!
And then Chuck pours some champagne into an ice bucket, and up with the organ music as we head into a commercial for probably Prell concentrate liquid shampoo or something. It’s a great scene.
But you can’t coast forever on Marie Wallace having breakdowns. The ratings weren’t very good in the first year — good enough to put a dent in Dark Shadows, but not what you’d call good, so they dropped the Another World part of the title, phased out the Delaneys, and brought in a new head writer, Henry Slesar, who was also the head writer for Edge of Night. Slesar ditched all the business intrigue and social climbing, and focused on crime and mystery stories.
So India’s husband Chuck decided to bludgeon her to death with a candlestick, which narrowly edged out the party as the new worst night of her life. She survived, but made for the exit anyway. Peter Delaney ankled as well, just pausing on his way out to sell Delaney Brands to an underworld syndicate, as you do.
Slesar replaced the Delaneys with a new wealthy and eccentric family, the Moores. There’s a surviving episode on YouTube that begins with Emily Moore’s stepson Carter admitting that he’s in love with her daughter Andrea. It quickly heads in a non-promising direction.
Emily: Carter — I’m sure you’re sincere, I have no doubt of that. But are you sure this isn’t the result of what you’ve just found out about Andrea — about her illness, I mean? Couldn’t this be some kind of over-reaction?
Carter: Yes, I’m sure it has a great deal to do with that. Because what I felt, when I first heard the news… the terrible sense of loss! It made me realize how I really need your daughter!
Emily: I, um… I don’t quite know what to say.
Carter: I guess that’s why I didn’t put up any kind of resistance when you first suggested that I date Andrea. It’s ironic, really. Something that you wanted me to do, I was already thinking about.
Emily: You’re not very good at displaying emotion. I suppose you know that.
So that’s a bad sign, when your characters start critiquing each other’s performance on screen. But just wait till you hear what’s causing Andrea’s illness.
This is Jingles the Clown. I’m just going to let that sink in for a moment.
In this clip, Jingles sneaks into Andrea’s bedroom in the middle of the night, tapping her on the shoulder to wake her up. Andrea screams, which is apparently not what Jingles was hoping for. He motions for her to pipe down, but Carter’s already on his way, so the clown hides behind the door as Carter rushes in to comfort Andrea. While they’re occupied, Jingles slips away.
Carter: What happened? Was it the nightmare?
Andrea: He was here!
Carter: Who was here?
Carter: What are you talking about?
Andrea: Jingles — isn’t he here now?
Carter: There’s no one here.
Andrea: But he was here! See, I thought it was that dream again, and it frightened me, Carter, and I screamed —
Carter: Of course you did. I don’t blame you.
Andrea: But no, I shouldn’t have, don’t you see, I had no right to scream! Jingles, I’m sorry — please come back!
So there you have it: Jingles, an actual story point from the show that got Dark Shadows cancelled. It turns out that Andrea’s getting sick because Jingles is slowly poisoning her each night with arsenic, so then there’s a lengthy mystery story where they try to figure out who’s dressing up as a clown and sneaking into Andrea’s room every night. It takes months.
Oh, and there’s Christopher Pennock; this was his next stop after Dark Shadows, too. He’s playing Dana Moore, Andrea’s older brother. I can’t really find any information about Dana; I guess you have to throw a party or dress up as a clown in order to get attention around here. All I can tell from his scene in this existing episode is that his relationship with his little sister is WAY too affectionate.
And then there’s Joel Crothers, as Julian Cannell. He’s part of this insane family too; he’s married to Zoe, who’s Philip’s sister, and Philip is married to Emily, the mother of Andrea and Dana, so that makes Julian their step-uncle-in-law. He’s a concert pianist who never plays the piano, because Zoe apparently didn’t want him to do it anymore. Zoe’s the one who turned out to be Jingles, by the way.
The show continued to struggle, and there were several more head writer changes, so the weird Moore family got pushed off the canvas, sooner or later. But Joel Crothers stayed, because he was gorgeous and awesome, and he became the main character of the show. Julian eventually gave up on being a pianist and became a newspaper editor for The Somerset Register, which put him at odds with all of the criminal syndicates in town.
After Zoe is sent to an asylum, Julian marries Chrystal, who’s secretly a gun moll from the syndicate. Zoe escapes from the nuthouse and murders Chrystal, so then Julian kind of bobbles romantically back and forth between Andrea and a woman named Eve, who I can’t quite figure out who she’s supposed to be. Eve keeps him coming and going for most of 1974, until she admits that she’s afraid of intimacy and isn’t sure if she knows how to make love anymore. He finally loses patience with her, and marries his publisher, Kate. But Kate has an abortion and tells Julian that it’s a miscarriage, so he divorces Kate and tries to get back together with Eve. But by then, Eve has married someone else, so he falls in love with Vicki, who’s the sister of Eve’s new husband.
So Julian basically spends the better part of four years falling into and out of love with a long sequence of random women, which is essentially what soap operas are for, and it turns out Joel Crothers is very good at doing it.
But Somerset never really got a handle on what it wanted to be. They went through a lot of producers and head writers and reboots and pivots, until they finally gave up on New Year’s Eve 1976, and NBC replaced it with Lovers and Friends, which tanked almost immediately and was cancelled after four months.
But Somerset did a lot better than the other two soap operas that premiered on the same day. ABC tried out a couple early-afternoon soaps — The Best of Everything, which is about four secretaries in a publishing firm and a mysterious villain named Squirrel, and A World Apart, which is about middle-aged people trying and failing to understand their children.
The Best of Everything lasted for six months, and A World Apart lasted for a little over a year, just a couple months past Dark Shadows’ last episode. The Best of Everything was replaced by Bewitched reruns, and A World Apart was replaced by Love American Style reruns, and Dark Shadows was replaced by a game show, and that is what happens to soap operas, if you wait long enough.
All of these little worlds, these parallel times, where everybody makes different choices, i.e., they choose to be on a different television show. Somewhere in the stratosphere, there’s a time band where Megan Todd throws a party, and Jeb Hawkes has a little sister, and Joe Haskell is a crusading newspaper editor who marries at least one woman per year. There’s a mystery behind every one of these doors, where people with familiar faces have new names and stories to spin. There’s Carolyn on Ryan’s Hope, and Roger on All My Children, and Julia on One Life to Live.
And Jingles the Clown sneaks into your bedroom every night, to feed you arsenic and tell you whether you’re any good at displaying emotion. You probably are.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There’s a break in Roger’s conversation with Bruno, where they’re supposed to be interrupted by Chris’ anguished groans. But Chris is late, and Roger and Bruno spend seven seconds pretending that they’re listening to sounds that we can’t hear. Then they hold the shot on Roger’s face for another seventeen seconds, while he listens to an entire exchange between Chris and Carolyn without doing or saying anything.
When Roger and Carolyn hurry to the door after the werewolf has escaped, somebody in the studio coughs.
Liz tells Roger, “Whatever we found out — find out won’t do anyone any good.”
This is intentional, not a blooper, but it’s such a terrible scene I have to mention it here. Carolyn is in the woods, walking to the Carriage House, when suddenly Bruno appears. He’s already tried to harm her, earlier in the evening. She doesn’t run away. He tells her, “He isn’t going to see me, and you’re not going to see him!” — an obvious threat. Carolyn’s response: “What do you mean? What are you going to do?” He tells her that they want to get even with Jeb, and the best way to do that is through her. Without her, Jeb won’t have a reason to live. She says, “I don’t understand,” still not running away. He says, “I’m going to KILL you!” She doesn’t run away. She says, “You’re insane!” and she actually just stands there and looks at him while he slowly wraps his fingers around her throat. I like Bruno’s pantomime villainy, and I’m not a stickler for theatrical realism, but there are limits.
In the PT room, Bruno says, “My dear Elizabeth,” and pauses while the camera focuses on Roger. When the camera cuts to a close-up of Bruno, he looks offstage for his cue to say the rest of the line. They’ve been doing a lot of this sort of thing in the last week, where people stop talking while the camera focuses on someone else. It’s not a good technique. Even when it works correctly, which isn’t often, it doesn’t make sense.
The end credits are crooked.
— Danny Horn