“No, it wasn’t in this room, it was in another room, but it was behind the same door!”
Young Daniel is drawn to the drawing room of Loomis House, aka the Old House to anyone who matters. He’s here on an art school field trip, on the advice of a spooky oil painting of a Collins ancestor who speaks to him through the pounding of an off-screen kettle-drum heartbeat. Once he enters the house, Daniel isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do, because it turns out kettle-drum heartbeat is not as precise a communications medium as people sometimes think.
Looking around, his eye lights upon a manuscript sitting on the sideboard. He picks up the top page and begins to read, because Daniel is nosy and he has no respect for other people’s intellectual property.
“For long enough,” he reads, “the world has lived in ignorance of this terrible truth.” Realizing that this must be a page of Will’s new book, Daniel sits down and helps himself to some literature.
So, yeah, me too. This is a thing that young Daniels do, apparently, when we find ourselves just south of episode 1006, wondering what happens next. We read a book.
I wrote yesterday about that day in 1986, when public TV station New Jersey Network ended their broadcast of Dark Shadows reruns right here, in the middle of Parallel Time, and how that left me stranded, with no way of following the rest of the story. This was before the age of Dark Shadows Wiki and streaming video — a bygone day when if I wanted to find out what happened in Dark Shadows episode 1007, I had nowhere to turn, and 1008 even more so.
That’s my story, but it’s yours too, one way or another. Anybody who watched Dark Shadows in those first two decades after April Third came to a sudden stop at some point, until the Sci-Fi Channel picked up the show in 1992 and showed the entire run of the series from 1 to 1245, and went back around for another lap.
But even if you watched the show on Sci-Fi, bought the DVDs on Amazon or are currently working your way through the series on YouTube, this is still your story, because the choices that Dark Shadows fans made in the 1970s and 80s — and one crucial choice, in particular — affected how and why and whether you’re watching Dark Shadows today.
Today I’m going to tell the story of the Dark Shadows Concordances, the huge detailed episode guide books that were self-published by fans from 1977 until 2003, only stopping when Dark Shadows Wiki started and we didn’t need them anymore.
This is the story of a dedicated team of vampire soap archaeologists, who reconstructed the entire story of Dark Shadows, and kept it alive for decades. Even if you just started watching the show, the way that Dark Shadows is presented to you — actually, the fact that it’s presented to you at all — is bound up in the story of the Concordances.
It starts with Star Trek, back in 1969, which was just about to stop boldly going. Two dedicated fans, Bjo Trimble and Dorothy Jones, decided to self-publish their extensive notes on the first two seasons of the show, calling it the Star Trek Concordance of People, Places & Things. The 84-page book had listings for everything that appeared in the show, as well as episode listings and airdates and actor bios. It went through several printings, and a supplement for the third season was published in 1973.
Now, a concordance, if you don’t happen to be a Middle-Ages monk, is a cross-referenced index of every significant word used in a work, including commentary, definitions and topical cross-indexing. The concept was invented by a Dominican friar in the 13th century, who organized 500 monks to write a complete concordance of the Bible. It’s basically Lostpedia for monks.
It’s a lot of work to compile one of these, so obviously you would only make one for really important texts, like the Hebrew Bible, the Qu’ran, Shakespeare’s plays, Sherlock Holmes stories and the first two seasons of Star Trek.
Trimble and her husband printed these up on an offset press in their basement, and mailed it out to their friends. It became very popular in fan circles, and it was even used at Paramount Television as a reference tool in the 70s. In 1976, a revised version was published by Ballantine Books, including all three seasons and the Saturday-morning cartoon.
Now, as we’ve discussed before in “Nothing Lasts“, there was no connection between Dark Shadows and Star Trek when they were both on the air in the late 60s. Dark Shadows was a half-hour daytime soap opera shot on videotape, that told a continuous story in 1200+ episodes, with no clearly defined chapters. Star Trek was an hour-long weekly prime-time action-adventure show, filmed at a movie studio, which aired 79 self-contained episodes. Dark Shadows was gloomy and slow, taking place entirely in a big house and a small town; Star Trek was loud and bright, and explored new worlds every week. Star Trek wasn’t very popular, and it was cancelled too soon: Dark Shadows was a nationwide sensation that cancelled itself four months before it stopped making episodes. The only thing these two shows had in common was that they were groundbreaking and silly, and the people who liked them really liked them a lot.
And then there was Kathy Resch.
Kathy Resch is a pivotal figure in DS fandom, and the work that she did in the mid-70s basically defined how being a Dark Shadows fan works. But it turns out that she also had a strong presence in Star Trek fandom, specifically in Kirk/Spock slash fiction.
If you’re not aware, slash is a popular kind of fan fiction about same-sex relationships between characters in other people’s stories. Sometimes, the gay romance is supposed to be happening just off-screen, slotting into gaps between scenes in the show, and adding an extra, charged subtext to what we see. In other cases, it’s a different fictional world, where the relationship plays out the way that the writer wishes that it would. Slashfic is mostly written and read by women, and it’s mostly about male/male pairings, and there’s slash fiction about pretty much anything you could think of. Yup, that’s one example. That one, too. Yes, all of them. I know, it’s hard to imagine, but yes to that one too. The answer is always yes.
The people who invented slash fiction were Star Trek fans, writing about Kirk and Spock, and “slash” refers to the symbol between K/S. Then the idea migrated to other fandoms that Star Trek fans were connected to. It was the 70s, and you couldn’t find this kind of thing unless you knew somebody who had a copy, so the propagation from Star Trek slash to other shows and franchises was based on individual Star Trek fans who happened to also be into something else. So the next group to embrace slash fiction — I swear this is true — was Starsky & Hutch, a late-70s primetime cop show that’s also known, as I’ve just learned, as S/H.
Here’s Kathy’s origin story, from Legacy, a 2007 zine about the history of Kirk/Spock fiction:
“Who would ever think buying a paperback book would be a life-altering experience? But that’s exactly what happened in 1975 when I found the book Star Trek Lives, an examination of Star Trek fandom. When I read the chapters about Trek conventions, I sighed in envy, convinced that I’d never be able to go to one of those wonderful events. Never say never!
“This book included a chapter on fan fiction — what a revelation! You mean there were people other than me who fantasized Star Trek stories? And actually wrote them down?
“It’s hard to overstate the first flush of my obsession with Trek fanfic. I bought everything. I read everything. Adventure, Mary Sue, adult fic — you name it, I read it.
“My favorite stories were those which focused on the friendship between Kirk and Spock. While watching the series in the 60s and the reruns in the 70s, I always ‘wrote stories in my head’ about the two of them. I didn’t have the concept of K/S yet. I did know these two men belonged together, forever. And these early friendship stories really hit all my buttons.”
Kathy went on to have a long and well-respected career in Star Trek slash fandom, writing and publishing multiple zines, and organizing conventions. Oh, and she also liked Dark Shadows a little.
Because the other thing that Kathy did in 1975, I guess shortly after reading Star Trek Lives, was to start The World of Dark Shadows, the flagship zine of Dark Shadows fandom. Over the next 25 years, she published 88 issues, which just kept getting bigger and more impressive. The zine had news, fiction, poetry, interviews, reviews, episode guides and a very active letters column, all in tiny little print because there are so many things you can do in a zine, and Kathy wanted to do all of them, in every issue.
The World of Dark Shadows was our internet. It was that important. That zine is a huge part of why Dark Shadows fandom exists.
Now, the funny thing is that I didn’t realize that Kathy was also important in Star Trek slash fic until literally today, when I was looking for information about The World of Dark Shadows and the Concordances on the Fanlore wiki, and then I found that interview which I quoted above. It turns out Star Trek slash people love her just as much as I do.
Fanlore has an article about Kathy, and it’s only about her Star Trek zines. It was clearly written by people who know her from Star Trek fandom, and at the moment that I’m writing this post, there isn’t a single word in her article about The World of Dark Shadows. There’s practically no mention of Dark Shadows at all.
So I’ve just realized that Kathy Resch is a well-known, respected fan in two different fandoms — Dark Shadows, and Kirk/Spock — and I don’t think either fanbase knows anything about her impact on the other one. I’ve been reading and loving her work for more than 30 years, and if I hadn’t been looking stuff up for this post, I never would have known anything about her K/S work, which was obviously very important to her.
I hope that this is actually okay, because it feels a little bit like I’m “outing” her, even though the information that I’m talking about is one click away from the World of Dark Shadows article on Fanlore. Clearly, during her zine-making career, she kept those two interests separate — apparently never mentioning the Dark Shadows zine in T’hy’la, and vice versa. It was possible to do that in the zine days, because at the time, you’d only know about zines if you read about them in other zines. The people who knew her personally or met her at conventions probably knew about both interests, but as a reader, I didn’t have a clue. And now there’s the internet, where it’s impossible to keep anything from anyone.
So my long-time esteem for Kathy and her work just went up several more notches. I can’t believe that she was making zines and Concordances for me to read while also keeping up an ambitious publishing schedule for a whole other group of fans.
Also, stories about gay relationships between apparently straight fictional characters are awesome, and I write them in my head literally all the time. So that’s a plus as well.
Now, publishing fanzines isn’t everything, obviously. Another, equally important part of DS fandom is the Dark Shadows conventions, where fans can meet in person, and they invite cast members to appear as guests. Oh wait, Kathy invented that too.
Reruns of Dark Shadows started airing in syndication in 1975, with a six-month package that started with Barnabas’ introduction, and ended with Dr. Woodard’s death. After some success, they released another six months in 1976, which included the entire 1795 flashback time travel storyline, a fan favorite.
The show was airing in LA, and people were starting to get interested in Dark Shadows again, after five years off the air. So Kathy Resch organized an informal fan meetup at Equicon ’76, a science-fiction convention with a focus on Star Trek.
This worked out, and they met some new people, so the next year, Kathy put together the first planned DS gathering at Starcon-77, another sci-fi convention, and this time, they had John Karlen participate as the guest of honor, which I’m sure was super exciting.
But the really interesting thing is the company that Dark Shadows was keeping. In the Starcon-77 flyer pictured above, there are eight items printed under the heading “Fan Clubs”:
- Star Trek
- Dark Shadows
- Logan’s Run
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
- Mythopoeic Society
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Creative Anachronists
- Fantasy Wargames
That is a very peculiar list of interests, especially for Dark Shadows, which has absolutely nothing to do with any of the others.
In case you don’t recognize some of these: Star Trek is Star Trek, Logan’s Run is a 1976 science-fiction film about a dystopian future, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a mid-60s primetime network spy show, Mythopoeic Society is for J.R.R. Tolkien fans, Dungeons & Dragons is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy role-playing game, Creative Anachronists are basically Civil War re-enactors from the Middle Ages, and Fantasy Wargames is Dungeons & Dragons for people who don’t like Dungeons & Dragons.
So four items on that list have something to do with medieval-times magical fantasy stories, two of them are science-fiction futures (one TV show and one movie, one dystopian and the other hopeful), one of them is primetime 60s spy-fi adventures, and then there’s Dark Shadows, which is a soap opera.
I’m sorry, that didn’t really express the sheer weirdness of this concept. Let me try that one more time.
And then there’s Dark Shadows, WHICH IS A SOAP OPERA.
I mean, that’s just bonkers. Up until the exact day of Starcon-77, any list that contained Dark Shadows would also contain Somerset, One Life to Live, All My Children and The Doctors, and possibly The Newlywed Game and The Art Linkletter Show. It was afternoon television for housewives.
Yeah, I guess Dark Shadows had magic spells, so it’s a little bit like Dungeons & Dragons, and Dark Shadows had time travel, so it’s a little bit like a primetime science-fiction show if you squint really hard, but explain the connection to Tolkien, or The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
If you were going to make any comparisons outside of soap opera and daytime television, you would say that Dark Shadows is like Universal Monsters movies and Hammer horror films, or it’s like Jane Eyre the Vampire Slayer in Waiting for Godot. You would never in a million years think of Creative Anachronism. I’ve written more than 800 blog posts about Dark Shadows, and it could have been 8,000, and I still would never have come up with Creative Anachronism as a reference point. So all of a sudden, this weird little live-to-tape daytime soap opera spookshow is in very mixed company.
But there’s one thing that every item on that list has in common, which is that the people who really like it aren’t quite normal. We are not, on the whole, the captain of the football team. We’re awkward and shy, and we stay indoors, and a lot of us are gay. For any given thing, we either like it a lot, or we don’t care about it at all. We read. We like computers. We make lists of People, Places & Things.
So that’s how — six years after the show went off the air — Dark Shadows became the same kind of show as Star Trek.
And that’s why it’s called Dark Shadows Concordance 1795. It’s not actually a concordance, by the way. A concordance is an alphabetical cross-referenced list of words and phrases used in a giant work; that’s why Bjo Trimble’s book was Star Trek Concordance of People, Places & Things. The Dark Shadows Concordance 1795 is a long, detailed episode guide, which isn’t the same thing.
But everyone in the Star Trek – Tolkien – model-building – fanzine-reading – cosplay community that suddenly included Dark Shadows knew what a big, heavy, nerdy, self-published reference book was called, and it’s a Concordance, so here we are.
Kathy actually started publishing her first episode guide in 1976, in the pages of The World of Dark Shadows issue #2 — or it would have been an episode guide, if this show was anything like Star Trek.
The episode guide in The World of Dark Shadows started at the beginning of the show, as episode guides do, and goes chronologically from there. Unfortunately, almost nobody involved in Dark Shadows fandom was actually watching the show when it first started, and the reruns all began with episode #210, so they had to reconstruct the 1966 episodes out of practically nothing. We’ll come back to these 1966 episodes later on.
But the first year of syndication that people have been watching includes the four-month 1795 storyline, so compiling this first concordance is pretty straightforward, compared to all the other storylines. The job gets harder from here.
So, if I can take an unacceptably long tangent from this chronological account, the reason why any of this affects you in 2017 is because this is why there are Dark Shadows DVDs and streaming video.
The decision to turn Dark Shadows into Star Trek, rather than All My Children with vampires, is important because shows like Star Trek get rerun, and released on home video, and soap operas do not.
If Dark Shadows is “cult TV” like The Prisoner and Doctor Who, then the audience is a specific group of people who are willing to spend money to collect their favorite show, but if Dark Shadows is a soap opera, then the audience is a formless group of housewives and kids, who would be just as happy watching something new. And then everyone at Big Finish would be standing around looking at each other, saying, gosh, I wish there was one more cult TV show in the world that we could make audioplays about.
Also, the way that you talk and think about the show is actually based on choices that Kathy Resch made about the Concordances in the late 70s and early 80s, and I can prove it.
The big question is: how many parts is Dark Shadows?
There are two correct answers to that question: Dark Shadows is one thing, or it’s 1,245 things. According to the rules of the soap opera genre, there aren’t any chapters, or seasons. A daily soap opera is one continuous story with lots of overlapping storylines, one episode setting up the next in an unbroken chain.
Even when there seems to be an obvious break point — let’s say, episode 461, when Vicki returns from 1795 and falls off her chair — then it’s not actually the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Everything that happens in episode 461 and onward is related to the end of 1795 — Vicki searches for Peter, Barnabas fears that Vicki knows his secret, Angelique returns as Cassandra. You can’t say that 1795 is concluded and the new chapter begins; all you can say is that everybody changes costumes, and that’s not the same thing.
But if Dark Shadows is more like Star Trek than a soap opera, then it needs to be broken down into parts, because people who watch Star Trek like to make lists of People, Places & Things. And if you want to talk about your favorite parts and your least favorite parts — which is literally the only thing that Star Trek-style fans do when we get together, besides gossip about each other and have non-procreative sex — then you can’t expect people to memorize 1,245 episode numbers in order to do it. For example: my personal list of favorite Dark Shadows episodes includes 250, 357, 459, 701, 882 and 900. What would you say to that?
Instead, you need to come up with a way to break up the five-year mission into chunks, like you would if there were seasons and episode names. But for Dark Shadows, it’s not obvious where those separations would be.
The Dream Curse, the Adam saga, the werewolf story and Quentin’s ghost — are those separate storylines, or is it one long run that we call “1968,” even though it includes the first two months of 1969? And what about those episodes where Barnabas and Kitty are trapped in 1795 — are those the end of the “1897” storyline, or the beginning of the “Leviathan” storyline?
And what about the nine-month period that includes episodes set in 1995, 1970, 1840, 1841 and 1841PT — is that one storyline, or several?
I mean, if we consider Quentin’s haunting to be the end of “1968,” and we’ve decided that “1897” begins with Barnabas’ I Ching trip — then by that logic, Gerard’s haunting should be “1970,” and the time travel trip is a separate storyline called “1840”. Right?
It all sounds hopelessly esoteric, but if fans are going to speak a common tongue, then somebody has to make those decisions, and codify one system as fan consensus. And guess who made those decisions, and mailed them to people for $17 apiece?
Yup, Kathy again. The reason why Dark Shadows fans think that there’s a thing called “1897,” which starts with episode 701 and ends with episode 886, is because Kathy Resch made a Dark Shadows 1897 Concordance, and those are the episodes in that book.
Except nobody knew the episode numbers back then, so what we actually agreed to was that the “1897” storyline started with Sandor throwing knives, and it ended with Oberon saying, “He shall show us the way to a new and everlasting life!” We only learned the episode numbers later, when Jim Pierson told us what they were. Jim’s important, too; we’ll get to him a little later on.
So I’m jumping ahead for just a second, to wrap up this bit about how the Concordances shaped the way we think about the show. The flyer posted above is an ad for Kathy Resch’s Dark Shadows Concordance 1840. Here’s how she’s decided to structure things:
“The conclusion of Parallel Time. Barnabas and Julia step into the time-changing room, expecting to return to their own world — and find themselves 25 years in the future, in a Collinwood abandoned, ruined and haunted by ghosts…
“Thus begins a chase through time to unlock the mystery of the destruction of Collinwood. Barnabas and Julia escape back to 1970, with the cryptic clues Carolyn gave them. But they are powerless to change what happens, and are forced to journey even further — to the year 1840, where the ultimate secrets of the Collins family are revealed.
“This new book will cover the final year Dark Shadows was on the air. Note: Parallel Time 1970 will be covered in a separate publication.”
So there you have it. There’s a story called “1840” that begins with episode 1061, and encompasses 1995, 1970 and 1840. That is the entire final year of the show.
Oh, and there’s also a three-month storyline in 1841 Parallel Time, but nobody would buy an extra 1841 Parallel Time Concordance, so that gets tacked onto the end of the “1840” storyline. Obviously, 1841 Parallel Time doesn’t count as its own storyline, because who even cares.
But “1970 Parallel Time” does count as its own storyline, because otherwise the “1840” Concordance would be too big, and that’s why everybody agrees that there are two separate storylines called “1970 Parallel Time” and “1840”. It’s because that’s how Kathy Resch’s publishing plan worked out.
So Dark Shadows fans know that the show is made up of eight parts: 1966, the early Barnabas episodes, 1795, 1968, 1897, Leviathan, 1970 Parallel Time and 1840, because that’s how the Concordances went.
Actually, there is another way to think about the storylines, which was put forth in Jim Pierson’s two editions of the Dark Shadows Almanac, in 1995 and 2000. According to Jim, there are actually 21 storylines, including:
- Victoria’s Arrival (episodes 1-6)
- The Revenge of Burke Devlin (eps 1-201)
- Matthew Morgan Kills Bill Malloy and Kidnaps Victoria (eps 46-126)
- Laura the Phoenix (eps 123-191)
- The Blackmailing of Elizabeth (eps 193-275)
- The Introduction of Barnabas (eps 202-220)
- The Kidnapping of Maggie (eps 221-261)
- The Introduction of Julia (eps 265-365)
And so on. Remarkably, according to this scheme, the seven months that we think of as “the early Barnabas episodes” actually have four different overlapping storylines, in which Barnabas’ introduction is 19 episodes long, and Julia’s introduction is 100 episodes long, which is about right. But the action-packed “1897” is just one storyline, episodes 700-884.
Also, the title for that third segment — Matthew Morgan Kills Bill Malloy and Kidnaps Victoria — is kind of a spoiler.
Actually, the strangest thing about the way Jim breaks down the show — sorry, Jim, I’m going to say lots of nice things about you later on — is that he lists “Quentin and Amanda” (eps 904-934) as its own separate storyline, distinct from “The Leviathans” (eps 885-980), even though “Quentin and Amanda” isn’t very impactful, compared to almost anything else that ever happens on the entire rest of the show.
So those are the two competing blueprints for understanding Dark Shadows — Kathy’s 8-part story, and Jim’s 21-part story — and the Concordances win.
By the way, this is possibly the most “inside baseball” blog post that I’ve ever written. I’m sure people stopped reading, like, twenty minutes ago, because it’s incomprehensible to anybody in the world except for you and me.
Hi, by the way! Thanks for sticking with this, I appreciate it. Sorry this post is so long, but there’s actually still a lot left, so I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Okay, back to the post.
More time travel. Kathy published the 1795 Concordance in 1977, and then followed it up in 1981 with Dark Shadows 1897 Concordance, which is when things got really exciting.
You see, fans who were watching the reruns had already seen the 1795 storyline, so it was great to have the book — especially if you lived in an area that didn’t get the reruns — but it wasn’t breaking new ground. The 1897 storyline was the big one — the storyline that everyone loved, and everyone remembered, and nobody had seen for more than ten years.
In 1981, there was still only one year of Dark Shadows episodes in syndication, from the unearthing of Barnabas to just past the end of 1795. It would be another few years until New Jersey Network paid for more syndication packages, and that was a lucky break which nobody expected. So when Kathy and her friends were compiling the 1897 Concordance, nobody had access to those episodes.
There are 180 episode summaries in this book, compiled without the use of videotapes, and they pretty much nailed it. Some of the summaries are long and some are short, but as far as I know they’re accurate, or as close as they needed to be for anybody who wanted to know how that story went. The summaries came from several sources — diaries, audiotapes that people had recorded off the TV, occasional scripts that had come into circulation, and when all else failed, they asked people what they remembered. And they made a lovely 134-page book, which I treasured.
This was the first concordance that I bought, when I started subscribing to The World of Dark Shadows in 1985, and I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. I lost the back cover at some point — it isn’t bound, it’s just a pile of paper held together with brass paper fasteners and feelings.
And check out the front cover, above, which is phenomenal. They didn’t have the ability to take screenshots, or any episodes to take screenshots from, so instead they asked fan artists to draw every scene they could think of, and used those as illustrations. Some of the art is good and some of it is not as good, but there are a few people who I think are extraordinary, and one of them is Barbara Fister-Liltz, who drew this cover and the majority of the interior illustrations for the 1897 book. That link is for her Fanlore page, and you can find more of her work if you click around for a while. I don’t know anything else about her, except that she wins 1897.
Okay, back to 1966! Dark Shadows Concordance 1966 was the third book, the one that nobody talks about. It’s much smaller and slimmer than the others — just a 64-page booklet, stapled in the middle — and it’s not very detailed.
This concordance was published in 1982, a year after the 1897 opus, and this was mostly the “episode guide” that Kathy published in issues #2-10 of The World of Dark Shadows, with some extra material.
The heart of the book is a 19-page article called “Dark Shadows Summaries,” by Diane Hall and Sandy Smith, and it’s one long summary, written as prose, with no indications of an episode breakdown.
Here’s a taste:
“Vicki assured David that Roger wouldn’t send him away; that he was just angry. David didn’t believe her and said that he hated his father and wished he was dead. That same night Burke invited Roger to a party…”
And so on. There are also some illustrations, which I’m not crazy about.
But I’m not criticizing the 1966 Concordance, because this was real Dark Shadows archeology. For the Dark Shadows fans of the late 70s, the first ten months of the show were unknown territory. Most of the people who loved the show only started watching it after Barnabas came out of the box — or maybe a year after that, as the show got more popular.
It was possible to piece together a reconstruction of 1897 based on diaries and sporadic audiotapes, but hardly anybody bothered to keep a Dark Shadows diary on day 1. Why would you? So Diane and Sandy pooled their notebooks and memories, and came up with a storyline, which was vague and probably some of it was out of order, but it was better than anybody else could do.
After the main section, there’s a separate 8-page account also titled “1966 Dark Shadows Summaries,” this time by Ron Bowling. He had his own notebooks and memories, so he wrote down everything that he knew. There are some clear memories from the first couple weeks, and then sporadic diary entries: September 5th, September 6th, September 19th, “Late September – October”, October 20th. That’s pretty much all you could get, as far as 1966 was concerned.
Geoff Hamell wrote an introduction for the 1966 Concordance, and he invokes what is now the standard frame for how fans think about Dark Shadows:
“Ask any die-hard fan how Star Trek began, and you’d better be prepared to hear a detailed synopsis of both pilots — perhaps memorized word-for-word from tapes or scripts or just from seeing the episodes a hundred times.
“Ask any avid Holmes buff how Sherlock first met his Watson, ask any comic collector his favorite hero’s origin, and the response is likely to be prompt, accurate, and spoken with the reverence very properly reserved for describing a classic moment.
“Yet ask a Dark Shadows fan — however loyal, dedicated and enthusiastic — what happened during the first week of DS… and you’re likely to draw an almost absolute blank!”
So there you go, Star Trek again, and the funny thing is that the show he’s discussing — the Dark Shadows of June 1966 to March 1967 — is the least like Star Trek that it could possibly be. The only point of comparison is that they were both television shows made by carbon-based life forms. He might as well be saying, “Ask any Star Trek fan to describe all the appearances that William Shatner made in the late 50s on The Kaiser Aluminum Hour.” It hardly seems relevant.
And his other point of comparison is Sherlock Holmes stories, which is even farther away from Dark Shadows in terms of content, style, tone, medium and distribution channel. The only thing that Dark Shadows and Sherlock Holmes have in common is that the people who really like it are list-makers. There were Sherlock Holmes concordances, too.
But time marches on, and as we get into the mid-80s, New Jersey Network starts showing the second year of syndication reruns, taking viewers all the way through the Dream Curse, Dr. Lang’s experiments, Angelique becoming a vampire, Carolyn being attacked by a werewolf, Quentin’s haunting — you know, the thing we call “1968”. After that, NJN springs for the third year, so we get to see 1897, and the Leviathans, and halfway through Parallel Time.
And it’s not just the lucky people in New Jersey and the surrounding areas who get to see these episodes, because people are videotaping them and sending bootlegs to friends around the country. Obviously, only the most devoted fans would even know those tapes existed. My family finally got a VCR at the very end of the 1897 story, and I bought some bootleg tapes of the early 1897 episodes.
Then, in 1986, New Jersey Network cuts our supply. So the larger DS fan community has information on everything from 210 to 1006, leaving two sections of the map still uncharted. There’s the 1966 pre-Barnabas episodes, and then everything from Parallel Time through the end of the show.
And 1987 brought huge gains in Dark Shadows scholarship on both of those missing areas, from two different compilers with very different information sources.
Because here’s Jim Pierson, hooray! I told you he’d be back.
Jim is another very important figure in Dark Shadows fandom, and I’d like to be able to tell his story the way that I have Kathy’s, but it feels like he’s more private than she is. I know a lot of his work, but he doesn’t really open up. Kathy clearly enjoyed showing people her process, writing introductions that explained how a project started, why it was delayed, who came in at the last minute and gave some information that saved the day. Jim is more reserved and professional, and I can’t read him in the same way.
But here’s some of what he’s done: he didn’t create the first Dark Shadows Festival in 1983, but he started running them at some early stage, and he’s still running them now. He was very involved in the campaign to keep Dark Shadows on public TV, and wrote editorials through the mid-80s in The World of Dark Shadows telling fans what was going on, and how they could support the show. This got especially intense in 1986, when New Jersey Network dropped the show — all the “Save Dark Shadows” stuff was from Jim.
In 1990, he was hired as the marketing director for Dan Curtis Productions, and since then, he’s been involved in pretty much everything — the MPI videos and DVDs, the non-fiction books from Pomegrante Press, the Lara Parker novels, the comic books, the Big Finish audio plays.
He’s also responsible for my favorite Dark Shadows book, The Dark Shadows Almanac: Millennium Edition, which was published in 2000 and is chock full of all the facts about everything. It’s basically 238 pages of delicious list-making trivia, followed by a chapter called “Trivia” which gets even more trivial and list-makey. I love it.
So if Kathy is the scrappy fan outsider who pulls together big research projects by calling on a large assortment of friends and collaborators and woodland animals, then Jim is the insider fan who acts like he runs everything, until he gets hired by Dan Curtis and starts running everything.
Part of the way that he worked himself inside was to contact everybody involved in making the show, and ask them for stuff. Instead of listening to scattered twenty-year-old audiotapes, he went and got all of the actual summaries from the camera scripts, and published them in a big concordance-type book called The History of Dark Shadows, 1966-1967.
This is a huge advance in Dark Shadows studies. 1966-1967 has episode numbers and tape dates and air dates, with writers, directors and cast lists. We hardly knew anything about the 1966 episodes before, and this book was filled with facts that weren’t even technically that interesting, and it made the list-makers happy.
This is when Dark Shadows fans cracked episode numbers, because Jim went and figured it all out. Fans were baffled, all through the 70s and early 80s, because the few episode numbers that they knew didn’t seem to match up with the number of episodes. Jim discovered that some episodes were double-numbered when there was a pre-emption, which fixed everything.
Now, reading the book is a pretty dry experience, especially in the second half, when the summaries tend to be shorter. Here’s an example, from episode 100:
Collinwood drawing room: After confirming Vicki’s suspicions that Roger lost the pen, Carolyn pleads with Vicki to keep her date with Burke a secret; Vicki agrees. Foyer: David overhears the conversation. Drawing room: David threatens to tell Roger about Carolyn’s date with Burke. Vicki leaves for town, borrowing Carolyn’s car. Burke’s hotel suite: Vicki reluctantly tells Burke what she’s discovered about Roger. Vicki agrees to go back to Collinwood and search for more evidence, feeling that she is in no danger as long as Roger is unaware of what she knows. Carolyn’s room: Roger is shaken after he finds out from Carolyn that Vicki knows about the pen.
So it’s not an easy read, and there aren’t any fan-art pictures to break things up on the page. This is definitely a factor in my lifelong refusal to ever watch the 1966 episodes; I’ve already experienced them, and while I’m so appreciative of the research that Jim Pierson did, this book killed any desire to watch this period of the show.
But it did inspire some excited list-making on my part, and somewhere around this period, I started taking notes for the imaginary book that I was going to write someday about Dark Shadows. I did eventually start writing that book, which you’re reading right now.
I’m never going to actually write about the 1966 episodes, so I might as well use some of my ’66 notes. Here’s a short piece that I wrote probably twenty-five years ago, about a minor character named Frank Garner:
Frank Garner is a bland slice of romantic-interest product created to give Vicki someone to talk to while she’s being distant with Burke.
He meets Vicki in ep 92 and “turns on the charm,” promising to help her find out about her past (which he doesn’t) and planning to invite her on a date (which he does). Their date in ep 94 is a good excuse to rehash everything we already know about Vicki’s past.
In eps 107, 108 and 111 – while Matthew menaces Vicki – Frank has a lot of conversations with Vicki, the Sheriff and Liz. He becomes anyone’s sidekick – available to talk over suspicions and worries with whoever has a free moment.
He’s forgotten during the entire kidnapping storyline, and then reappears in 136 and 144 so Vicki has someone to talk to about Laura. He becomes Lieutenant Riley’s sidekick in 148, then comes back to play Nancy Drew with Vicki in 153, 154 and 159.
Dr. Guthrie appears in ep 160 – a psychic investigator apparently recommended by Frank, because young lawyers usually know a lot of psychic investigators. Frank transitions to Guthrie’s sidekick in 169 and 174, then helps Guthrie and Joe to open Laura’s coffin in 179 and 180.
Then the unthinkable happens – Frank is replaced by someone interesting. In 182, the spark of attraction flares between Vicki and Burke again. By 186, Burke and Joe are talking about how Joe and Guthrie opened Laura’s coffin – and there’s no mention that Frank was there too. Vicki and Burke are back in business, and Frank is never mentioned again. He’s a sad victim of soap-character natural selection.
So there you go, young Danny with the “serialized narrative is natural selection” idea already in place, thanks to this boring book about these boring episodes, which I love very much.
And then, the most exciting book of all, the fourth year come to life. In the summer of 1987 — just three months after Jim’s 1966 book — Kathy published The Dark Shadows 1840 Concordance.
New Jersey Network had cancelled the show in late 1986, leaving us abandoned in an unfamiliar time, without a map back to the Collinwood we knew. But the very next summer, here it is, arriving at my house like a gift-wrapped mystery box full of cliffhangers.
Oh, it’s magnificent. 288 pages of Dark Shadows, perfect-bound like a real book, with episode numbers and summaries and quotes and fan illustrations. This is the book that Kathy has decided is one big storyline, “the final year Dark Shadows was on the air” — 1995, 1970, 1840, the whole deal.
They still didn’t have the episodes to watch, but they’ve got audiotapes, scripts and diaries, and every episode has a full page of tiny little typescript text, zine-splaining everything.
This is the one that I read like a book, every word, cover to cover. I devoured this book.
And I can remember very clearly the night that I was alone in my parents’ room for whatever reason, lying across the bed and reading the 1840 book, and getting to the part where I found out what happened to Edith.
And I thought, No, that’s impossible. It couldn’t happen that way. It shocked me so much that I started flipping forward in the book, scanning for her name, trying to figure out how this got undone, where the loophole was that made it all make sense.
I was angry. I remember feeling angry. This was a part of Dark Shadows that I thought I would never see, and I was absolutely furious about it. How could they do that? I asked my book of vampire soap opera episode summaries. What were they thinking?
So I don’t know if there’s a Kennedy-assassination type cultural memory — where were you when you found out what happened to Edith? — but that’s where I was, anyway.
And then the next summer, in June 1988, Kathy released The Dark Shadows Concordance: 1970 Parallel Time, finally scratching that two-year-old itch and letting me know what happened in 1007 and beyond.
This is another clear memory for me, sitting outside in a lawn chair on a warm summer day, drinking orange juice and reading the summary for episode 1007.
By this point, there’s just one illustrator — all of Kathy’s concordances from 1840 on are illustrated by Warren Oddsson, who’s very good and very productive. There must be around 100 illustrations in the 1840 Concordance, many of them full-page. For me, this is what the final year of Dark Shadows looks like; the actual episodes are just approximations, based on Oddsson’s drawings.
At that point, the Concordances became more reliable, because they were summarizing episodes that were still airing on some public TV stations, and circulating on bootleg video. The books came out a lot more often, too, because people didn’t have to listen to 20-year-old audiotapes and cross-reference people’s diaries.
In 1988, Jim released his second book — The Introduction of Barnabas — which had the same informative but dry tone.
And then Kathy released three books in the space of two years — a 2nd edition of 1795 and the first half of 1968 in 1989, and the second half in 1990.
MPI started to release the show on videotape in 1989, starting as usual with Barnabas coming out of the coffin, and over the next few years, Dark Shadows got the Star Trek treatment that we’d always believed it deserved, ever since Starcon-77.
The Sci-Fi Channel started airing in 1992, and they included Dark Shadows on its opening-day schedule, which by this time seemed normal to us. They started with episode 1, which felt odd — everyone made wry jokes about how confused the new viewers would be, watching months of a half-hour gothic soap with no apparent science-fiction elements at all. But we all thought it would make sense once Barnabas came out of the box in 210, because Dark Shadows is the same kind of show as Star Trek, except in the sense that they’re absolutely nothing alike.
At this point, the concordances aren’t doing historical research anymore; they’ve become something else. We don’t need them anymore, although obviously it’s fun to collect them and use them as reference books. But they aren’t the primary way that fans experience the show anymore — we can actually watch it on television, thanks to Kathy and Jim, and the Festivals and Concordances, and thanks to K/S slashfic, which every Dark Shadows fan should respect.
Kathy started working on a 2nd edition of the 1897 concordance, which was split into two parts. The first part was published in 1993, a year after the Sci-Fi Channel started airing reruns, and she never bothered with part 2.
These bookzines are big and hard to produce, and by this point, Kathy’s been working on Dark Shadows episode guides for more than 15 years, so enough already.
But she did return in 2003 — a year after MPI started releasing the show on DVD — with The Dark Shadows Concordance: Leviathan, just to finish the set. Between Kathy’s books and Jim’s books, every Dark Shadows episode had been pinned down, described and appreciated. And then Dark Shadows Wiki came along in 2005, which finally put the concordances out of business.
But they were so important to us then, on those sunny summer days, when every once in a while, the past would appear in the mailbox, shimmering and silent and full of secrets. I still have them, of course, all of Kathy and Jim’s books, the Concordances and Companions and Almanacs, currently spread out all over the floor so I can write them a love letter.
I’m currently in the process of rewriting these books on the internet, one episode at a time. But it’s okay for me to pretty much ignore an episode, like I’m doing today, and go and write about something else, because my blog isn’t an episode guide.
The episode guides have already been written, and here they are, all around me. Look how beautiful they are.
Tomorrow: The Great Train Robbery.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Daniel notices a page from Will’s book, the camera drifts a little too far to the left, and you can see past the edge of the set, with someone in blue walking by.
When Quentin tells Daniel to go upstairs, they’re a bit off-mic, and Daniel’s answer is indistinguishable.
When Quentin says that he’ll make sure everyone’s out of the house, Angelique starts to say, “A seance,” but then waits for Quentin to finish his line.
Behind the Scenes:
The stand-in for the ghost of Joshua Collins is played by Anthony Sacco, in his only episode. In 1971, Sacco appeared in the mondo film Is There Sex After Death?
Tomorrow: The Great Train Robbery.
— Danny Horn