Episode 1105: The Burning Question

“You don’t know how much I’d like to have been in that crypt.”

“I didn’t know what else I was going to do,” says Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows’ executive producer and driving force. “I couldn’t think of another idea.” This is from an early-2000s interview for the DVD box sets.

“I was becoming very disenchanted, right along with the audience. Probably, over the last six months of that film — people didn’t see a lot of me, during that last six months of the show.”

So there’s a Freudian slip for you — when Dan looks back at this period, he can’t help thinking about the thing he really cared about, which was the Dark Shadows films.

“I was just hoping it was going to end,” he continues. “I just wanted to move on. I couldn’t squeeze my brain any harder to come up with one more story, and I wanted to move on and out.”

You can tell that we’re approaching that last-six-months mark, because they’re currently doing scenes from House of Dark Shadows as if they’re part of the show. For today’s episode, they drag poor Willie Loomis back out of retirement, so he can shine his flashlight through the door of a darkened crypt, and find the coffin of the vampire who’s killing Maggie Evans. They might as well put up a chyron saying “House of Dark Shadows, currently in theaters”.

So it’s worth asking the question: How do you run out of ideas for a soap opera, a genre that’s specifically designed to run forever?

That theme has come up in the comments lately, and long-time commenter William wrote about this question a couple of days ago, under episode 1103. William, I hope you don’t mind me quoting your post, because I think these are good examples of how Dark Shadows fans think about where the show should have gone.

I simply don’t buy this “we ran out of ideas” thing. For Pete’s sake, they had many more avenues than the average soap for story-telling. Here are three that I think would have worked in 1971:

A) A jealous colleague from medical school slips Julia drugs to make her insane and he commits her to Windcliff, which he’s turned into his own little private house of experimental horrors. (Could possibly recast Maggie and Joe.)

B) Roger and Elizabeth’s surprise half-brother comes to town to lay his claim on a third of the Collins estate. In tow is a wife whose greed exceeds his and a son, about 18, who is slowly developing a hidden talent for reading emotions and thoughts (but the more he does it, the more he loses his own sense of identity). Son falls in love with nice teen girl from the village that David likes, too. David’s early penchant for messing with car parts returns.

C) Barnabas, Carolyn and Professor Stokes get a mysterious summons to an estate outside Boston. Turns out it’s Adam, now a wealthy lord of the manor. His physical scars are gone, but not the emotional ones. What are his intentions? And that of his business assistant, Mr. Yamata?

These are all excellent ideas, and you can add all of the audio stories that Big Finish has produced since 2006 — more than 60 stories and more on the way, many of them taking place after the show ended. And there’s also the comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment — 23 issues, plus a “Year One” miniseries and a cheesecake Vampirella crossover. Even Lara Parker has continued the story in novel form.

Clearly, it’s possible to keep telling new stories about Barnabas, Julia, Quentin and the Collins family. Apparently the only people who couldn’t do it are the people who invented them in the first place.

One reason why this was difficult for the original show was that those are soap opera plots, especially idea B with the long-lost relative and the teen romance. Anybody who knows soaps can instantly recognize a story like that as the kind of thing a new writer would spring on General Hospital or Days of Our Lives viewers, who would all hate the new family, except for the con-artist bad-boy son, especially after he’s aged up to his early 20s and married to someone from a core family.

But the de facto “head writer” on Dark Shadows was Dan, and to get through to him, you had to connect it to something he liked. Dan didn’t care about soap operas — he never produced any others, and as far as I know, he never even watched one. Dan knew Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror, and the classics of English lit.

Here’s another quote from that DVD interview:

“The reason we went to the classics as much as we did, ripping off portions of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, or Turn of the Screw, is that all stories are basically the same. These are great story elements, to put our own spin on them. It’s so difficult to think of a story that hasn’t in some way been done, and why not go right to the gold mine, where it all really lies?”

He’s incorrect about all stories being basically the same, obviously, that’s a silly thing people say that falls to pieces after three examples. There are plenty of stories. It’s just that Dan had a set that he really liked, that’s all.

And once Dark Shadows was over, Dan didn’t suddenly discover a whole new world of stories to tell. His first project was Night of Dark Shadows, released in August 1971, and then he spent the next three years working on TV-movies that chewed over the same themes and lit hits that he’d explored on Dark Shadows.

He started with The Night Stalker, an ABC TV-movie that aired in January 1972, about an investigative reporter who realizes that the serial killer he’s writing about is actually a vampire. This was a big success, getting the best ratings ABC had ever seen for an original TV-movie. People liked it so much that they sold it overseas as a feature film, and it took Dan a few years to get over it.

So Dan made a sequel, The Night Strangler, which aired on ABC in January 1973. This was basically the same thing as The Night Stalker, except that the killer is an immortal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type elixir-maker, another favorite of Dan’s.

Then he started making TV-movies for ABC’s Wide World of Mystery late-night programming block, starting with Frankenstein (January 1973),  and then The Picture of Dorian Gray (April 1973) and The Turn of the Screw (April 1974).

Meanwhile, he made a February 1973 TV-movie for NBC called The Norliss Tapes, which was a lot like The Night Stalker, except it’s about a doomed investigator who discovers an immortal undead blood-drinking dude who gets his power from an Egyptian god and has a big scarab ring.

Dan also did a TV-movie adaptation of Dracula for CBS in late 1973, and another ABC TV-movie in January 1974 called Scream of the Wolf, which was basically The Night Stalker with werewolves. When Dan Curtis runs out of ideas, he really runs out of ideas.

But even if Dan has reached the end of his library shelf, why didn’t the other writers come up with more ideas, the way that Big Finish has, or William’s three pitches?

Part of the answer is that they were under a tremendous amount of pressure. From here on, it’s just Sam Hall and Gordon Russell, writing five soap opera episodes a week — a job that’s now typically done by a couple dozen people.

They’ve just released House of Dark Shadows, which was written by Sam and Gordon, and that explains why the Leviathan story was such a mess. Now Dan wants Sam to write the script for Night of Dark Shadows, and that explains why the 1841 story will be such a mess.

They manage to get through 1840 by basically doing a pastiche of previous Dark Shadows stories, including the witch trial from The Crucible, and in the last two months of the show, Dan goes back to the classics for Wuthering Heights. Then Sam writes Night of Dark Shadows and Dan’s Frankenstein adaptation for Wide World of Mystery, and after that, presumably, he gets a decent night’s sleep.

We also have a big advantage, in our own “what I would have done with Dark Shadows” dreams, which is that it’s fifty years later, and we’ve had a lot more experience watching good TV.

In 1970, there weren’t a lot of examples of good-quality long-running narratives on television. Everybody expected TV audiences would forget everything from one week to the next, so there wasn’t a lot of continuity between episodes, even on the drama shows. Things would just reset. The only genre that was doing long-running serialized narrative was soap operas, and prime-time shows only became worthwhile in 1981, once Hill Street Blues started using soap opera techniques on a cop show, and expected people to pay attention.

I wrote about Hill Street Blues and advances in television narrative back in the post about Episode 514, so if you’re interested in that particular thread of this story, you can check it out there, while I do a quick survey of advances in fantasy-horror-science-fiction-soap-operas in American television.

Because we’ve got way more pastiche opportunities than Dan, Sam and Gordon had in 1970. There’s Twin Peaks in 1990, which was basically an avant-garde lysergic police procedural science-fantasy soap opera, which opened up people’s expectations about what prime-time television could do.

Then there’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997, which established all the rules that fantasy/sci-fi shows have followed for the next two decades. Buffy openly used fantasy elements as metaphors for what’s happening in the characters’ personal lives, so it’s kind of a soap opera with weekly monster kills. Buffy also pioneered the “Big Bad” season structure, building an overarching storyline throughout the season that comes to a big conclusion in the season finale. And then everything post-Buffy is basically playing according to those rules, including the Big Finish Dark Shadows audios.

And as the home video technology has advanced from VCRs to DVRs to streaming, our expectations about season-to-season continuity have increased tremendously. By now, it’s expected that people will go back and watch old episodes if there’s a reference to a previous event that they don’t remember, and obviously, everybody reading this blog has access to Dark Shadows episodes from any period you like.  So William’s idea of Dark Shadows returning to the Adam storyline after three years of not mentioning him makes sense to us, a lot more than it would have made sense in 1970.

By now, we’ve had Lost and True Blood and American Horror Story and Game of Thrones, and the interconnected comic-book shows on the CW and Netflix, and our narrative expectations for television shows that blend soap opera structure with fantasy/sci-fi/horror themes have gone through the roof.

The Dark Shadows writers didn’t have access to any of those examples and inspirations, of course, because they were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place.

But there’s one traditional soap opera approach that was available for Dark Shadows to use: new family members, and new families. When soaps get tired, they introduce new people with an important tie to an existing character, like All My Children’s Kendall, Erica’s long-lost daughter who was played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s always a need for scheming daughters and bad-boy nephews who come to town; that’s how you get love interests and co-workers and serial killers.

By 1970, Dark Shadows has lost the knack for that, which is frustrating, because they did it perfectly in 1968 with the introduction of the Jennings family.

Chris and Amy were basically the best-case scenario for a new soap opera family. They were an opportunistic hire, new relatives of an unexpectedly popular short-term antagonist. When they brought in Chris as Tom’s twin brother, they revealed that Chris and Amy were Joe’s cousins, so there was already a familial tie to a core character.

Then they quickly established a friendship between David and Amy, and a romance between Chris and Carolyn. The Jennings family immediately brought interesting new story elements — Amy basically conjured up Quentin’s ghost, and Chris was a werewolf. By 1969, the Jennings family was strong enough to start bringing in their own supporting characters. Chris’ ex-girlfriend Sabrina joined the canvas, along with her brother Ned, who would have become a love interest for Maggie if Kathryn Leigh Scott hadn’t put her foot down and refused to deal with Roger Davis.

And in pure soap fashion, it turned out that the Jennings had a familial tie to the Collins family after all, thanks to the ultimate long-lost bad-boy nephew of all time, Quentin Collins. Quentin was such a great “long-lost relative” that they had to invent an immortal oil painting, to keep him around.

But starting in late 1969, they lost the knack of introducing new families. Megan and Philip Todd should have been a great new family — a couple that moves to town, and immediately develops close relationships with two core cast members. Plus, the Todds’ main set was a public community space, where other characters could bump into each other and have story-productive conversations. They even had a child with Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, who developed relationships with more characters.

At the same time, the show introduced more new characters with close ties to existing cast members — Paul Stoddard as Liz’s ex-husband, and Sky Rumson as Angelique’s new husband. Then the Todds’ child grew up into Jeb Hawkes, who married Carolyn and earned his own place as a permanent resident of Collinwood.

But it all fell apart, somehow. They had five new characters who could have become regular cast members, but instead the show decided they were all antagonists who needed to be “cleaned up” before the next time travel adventure. Paul was killed mid-story, and the other four were slaughtered one by one, over a couple of weeks.

Now that we’re back in the present day of 1970, they’ve introduced one new long-lost relative: Professor Stokes’ niece, Hallie. Unfortunately, being connected to Stokes doesn’t really do much for Hallie — he’s a secondary character, who sometimes disappears from the show for a long stretch and nobody notices. I think she only has one scene with him; the rest of the time, she’s a second-hand Amy.

There are four more characters that they’ve introduced in 1970 — Gerard, Daphne, Roxanne and Sebastian — but they’re all antagonists to one degree or another. I suspect that if the show had ever returned to the present day in 1971, they would have found a way to keep Daphne around, but they never got the chance.

Overall, I don’t think Dan was interested in creating new, long-term families for Dark Shadows. All of the storylines in the last year have involved at least one set that’s off the Collins estate — the Leviathan story’s antiques shop, Cyrus’ laboratory in Parallel Time and Sebastian’s horoscope factory in 1970 — but they’re not built to last. They’re just temporary outposts for a specific story thread, which get dismantled once that story is over.

Unfortunately, a daytime soap opera that refuses to establish new core characters is going to run out of story-productive material sooner or later. But Dan was never really interested in soap opera; he wanted to make a series based on Jane Eyre, and it was a soap opera because that was the only format available to him. He doesn’t really care about the minutia of daily life, which is what most soap operas are about. He likes big, ambitious things — a huge mansion falling down, an evil housekeeper telling her mistress to jump out the window, a severed head that you carry around in a glass box.

Dan’s idea of a new family is the Collins family of Parallel 1841, who have a lottery in every generation to sacrifice people to the insane ghost that lives in a locked room in the west wing. New families on Dark Shadows don’t have babies, they have portraits and curses and witch trials. Those are the kinds of ideas that you can run out of, eventually.

Dark Shadows absolutely could have survived past April 1971, if they stopped looking for inspiration from 19th century novels and Universal Monsters, and started pulling in plot devices from other soap operas instead. But that would have turned the show into something smaller, less melodramatic, and more ordinary. It probably wouldn’t have been a lot better. It just would have been longer, and at a certain point, a show like this is long enough.

Monday: Lady Is a Vamp.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the beginning of act 3, when Willie’s reading the riddle off a piece of paper, his spoken line practically overlaps with his “thinks” monologue. The first two lines of thinks also have a weird echo.

At the cemetery, one of the gravestones wobbles back and forth in the strong wind.

Monday: Lady Is a Vamp.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

65 thoughts on “Episode 1105: The Burning Question

  1. It’s a shame that Dan Curtis wouldn’t turn over the reins to someone else – perhaps even hire a head writer – while he went on to do his other projects. David Jacobs created Dallas and Earl Hamner created Falcon Crest. They nurtured the shows during the first few seasons and then turned them over to other head writers. The shows lasted a long time. They would go through good times and not so good times, but they kept us entertained, and Jacobs and Hamner still received royalties for their creations.

    1. The entire show, I think, was Curtis’s Victoria. In that he may not have been able to do right by her or it past a certain point, because he couldn’t imagine her or it any differently than in his first dream of her, or it.

      He couldn’t let go of his shows, even when he was tired; or more accurately, couldn’t let them go on without him. When he walked, they had to crumble to dust.

  2. You can see Dan’s tunnel vision as early as the episodes after Barnabas comes on the scene. Vicki wasn’t allowed to grow and change as a character like the other characters did. Maggie went from sass talking Burke hating waitress to the local ingenue. Carolyn became a monster attractor. Alexandra Moltke didn’t get the chance to play another character (even Jonathan Frid will get Bramwell), and because Vicki was Dan Curtis’s baby (for all we know Dan Curtis was Vicki’s father since that story didn’t get wrapped up on screen) Vicki wasn’t allowed to get dirty.

    Dan has set up this incredible toy box so he should have let others play with it. Toy box, dolls. Creepy dolls. A ghost inhabiting a doll. That’s an idea! You get a potential ventriloquist act, never not creepy, and talky tina as well (make sure the switch isn’t flipped to evil).

    Anyway, the best way to do it is to take a human aspect and use the supernatural to make it manifest, or amplify its effects. The Flip Side uses an established supernatural phenomena in the Dark Shadows-verse to make Carolyn face who she’s become and come out the other side a better woman for it. You could take away that phenomena and still get her to that realisation, but it makes for a distinctly Dark Shadows story.

  3. Wonderful post. I’ve often thought that if the show HAD continued, we’d probably not be talking about it today. For one thing, it’s less probable all its episodes would have survived. For another, given their tools at the time, it may have become “just ‘another’ soap opera” that we watched out of habit and were a little bit grateful when it ended.

  4. Good thoughts, all, but i like Jason’s point that if the show survived, it might have been forgotten. The Titanic is remembered because it sank. If it lived a normal ships life into the 1930’s it would have been one among many. Maybe we enjoy DS, in part, because we can envision what might have been among the many plot lines which, in themselves, had a lot of potential.

  5. Love your post (as always) and wanted to add to this insight; “Buffy also pioneered the “Big Bad” season structure, building an overarching storyline throughout the season that comes to a big conclusion in the season finale.”

    The X-Files (1993 – 2018/future) and its seasons-Long “mytharc” are also a big part of this sort of TV series storytelling evolution. They would alternate 3 basic types of episodes at varying intervals;

    1.) Mytharc episodes where the overreaching alien invasion/colonization/government conspiracy plot would be directly addressed and usually has deeply personal connections for Mulder and/or Scully. Usually your premiere/sweeps/finale episodes and multi-part.

    2.) Monster of the Week – your various creepies and crawlies that were self-contained episodes – the overreaching mytharc would rarely, if ever, be addressed in these episodes. MOTW episodes were the most common type of XF episode.

    3.) Comedy/Meta episodes where the show would play with their own format and often be self-referential. Certainly the least common episodes but often fan favorites (Darrin Morgan’s episodes especially).

    The X-Files definitely was a pioneer in the reshaping of serial television narrative into something more sophisticated and innovative…I urge Dark Shadows fans in particular to check it out!

    1. Thank you for posting this.

      ‘Buffy TVS’ was a singular influence in many ways, but probably not season/episode story structure.

    2. Supernatural’s meta episodes leave the fourth wall irreparable. The French Mistake is gloriously the biggest offender.

    3. I’m not sure X-Files did anything format wise that Star Trek: The Next Generation hadn’t initiated with Best of Both Worlds, which was a cliffhanger season finale that wrapped up in the next season premiere. Like X-Files, the show would quickly reverted to status quo with MOTW episodes before repeating the cycle.

      Buffy, however, had a stronger, tighter narrative with the season antagonist a major figure throughout most of the episodes. The show also pushed the envelope about defying the status quo. Just as Iris on FLASH learned Barry’s identity during the first season, Scully likely would’ve become a believer sooner or Mulder would have found his sister sooner — rather than simply having the characters on narrative hamster wheels.

      1. I will note that Babylon 5 had a great series arc (disturbed by being cancelled, so JMS wrapped much of the story early, only to be uncancelled) It had season arcs that were handled well and built into the series arcs. The effects are… not good, partly because master tapes got trashed and so can’t be upgraded, but the story telling was really good. It started in 1994, so after X-Files, but it was a major step forward in serial storytelling.

      2. The main problem with the X-Files myth arc is that Chris Carter kept avoiding giving answers, or if he did it came with a lot more questions. By season 4 you’d find yourself looking forward to the MotW episodes more. Twin Peaks was another show that kept adding more for the sake of prolonging the mystery and weirdness. Character and story arcs need resolution to achieve satisfaction. With Dark Shadows you have Vicki’s past which never gets resolved on screen despite her being around for half of the show. Buffy wrapped up story and character arcs within a season or two. Angel and Angelus in season 2. The Initiative and Adam in season 4. Willow’s magic addiction as well as Spuffy in season 6.

        1. Yeah, X Files, became, in later seasons, the embodiment of George Carlin’s riff about drug use: “What do drugs make you feel like? They make you feel like more drugs.”

          After a while an audience needs answers and closure on at least some part of the story.

      3. So, like XF, ST:TNG would keep returning to an overreaching “mytharc” over several seasons? I’m pretty unfamiliar with ST:TNG…

        1. No, that wasn’t until ST:Voyager, then ST:Enterprise. Voyager kept encountering new (and dramatically rich) alien cultures as they traveled through the Delta Quadrant; Enterprise was set at the start of the Federation, so we had ‘mini-arcs’ as they met the aliens we knew from STTOS, and bigger ‘season arcs’ as they had some major crisis that needed solving.

        2. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” had a myth arc in the “Dominion War.” It didn’t really start until season 3, but it would shape the series the rest of the way. BTW, ST:DS9 is a vastly unappreciated series – great, complex stories and excellent acting, particularly Avery Brooks and Rene’ Auberjonois.

  6. Sam Hall actually did have plenty of ideas as to how to move the show forward, as can be seen in the TV Guide piece he published in October 1971 about the resolution of dangling story arcs from the show…


    …but the trouble was, according to a Sam Hall interview from the DVD set, Dan Curtis would just continually reject them.

    One of those ideas involved killing off the Julia Hoffman character, so that someone else would discover the secret of Barnabas and a new conflict could be created.

    Part of the problem in moving Dark Shadows forward is that after a point it is afraid to take chances. You can’t kill off Julia Hoffman! But why not? They killed off Dr. Woodard, didn’t they? Sam Evans as well. Even Burke Devlin — a core character from day one.

    Eventually, they let the fan mail decide the story arcs, the “wall count” (the amount of names written in chalk by kids outside the TV studio). Dark Shadows became a slave to the ratings game, in that way playing it safe, instead of pushing the envelope and taking a chance with something new, the way it did in the years leading up to 1970. In a very real sense, it was the fans who co-produced the show.

    1. I don’t think the killing off of other characters holds up as comparisons for killing Julia. Julia was clearly at the center of the show. Dr. Woodard was a secondary character. Sam Evans was even more peripheral by the time he was killed off, and he was not performing well. The original Burke Devlin (Mitch Ryan), when there was vibrancy to his character, was gone. Besides all that, in purely practical terms, I doubt they’d kill off the character played by writer Sam Hall’s wife anyway!

  7. Had Dark Shadows not gone the super-supernatural route with monsters, would we still be talking about it today?

    I think that had it stayed with its original format (Gothic mystery and romance), most people probably wouldn’t have. But then again, in the first few months of the show, there was very little story and in spite of the somewhat engaging atmosphere created by location footage, Sy Thomashoff’s art direction, and Robert Cobert’s scores, it was still pretty hard to get through.
    I think the supernatural elements were necessary and set the show apart from other soaps.

    They simply went too far.

    I know I sound like a broken record, but Dark Shadows could have morphed into more of a melodrama with a few supernatural elements. The Edge of Night worked so well with crime and melodrama for over 25 years. We didn’t need a new monster every few months that would be more horrific than the previous ones. Barnabas’ and Angelique’s powers could be used to manipulate the action in a crime drama, but the focus would still be on crime, romance, melodrama with some lighter comedic moments mixed in.

    With a format like that, I think the show would have lasted longer and we’d still be talking about it.

    (If Dan Curtis wanted the show to end, I wish that the main actors and/or characters had been transferred intact to either All My Children or One Life to Live – especially Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Lara Parker, Jonathan Frid, and Grayson Hall.)

    1. Speaking of monsters….James Hall.

      Too bad he got canned before the bar fight with Burke.

      That would have been a satisfying pummel.

      Love Karlen, but it was Hall’s face that shoulda been all pulpy.

  8. Dark Shadows should have taken advantage of their huge number of young teen viewers and done more kid oriented story lines. Why not have David caught driving without a license? Have some new friends he makes in the village introduce him to pot. At least give him a record player and an album collection – it would have been fun to see Hallie and David dance in the drawing room and maybe share a kiss.
    The Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family capitalized on a growing youth audience – Dark Shadows could have done the same.
    It didn’t all have to be about Quentin and crypts.

  9. At the time, “The CBS Radio Mystery Theater” was to late night radio, what Dan Curtis was to late night television. Would have been marvelous had “Mystery Theater” presented a “Dark Shadows” adaptation here and there, given that “Shadows” syndication was still elusive at the time. Took several decades for Big Finish Productions to finally meet with that mission. To every thing, there is a season.

  10. So…
    after a year of not-so-spooky ‘atmospheric’ episodes, and another year of more supernatural-oriented shows, then three years of over-the-top horror stories, we the viewers would have settled for the same melodrama we could get from any other soap opera on the TV?


    Danny, you won’t even write entries about the pre-Barnabas shows, because it wasn’t ‘really’ Dark Shadows yet. I can’t believe you would have written entries about any post-‘spook show’ stories, either, with (for instance) Roger being cheated out of his share of the Collins fortune by a golddigging Alexis Carrington type; or Liz discovering she has a rare form of cancer and has only six months to live; Carolyn being raped and deciding to keep the resultant baby; David making two dates for the same night; or Barnabas, finally cured, marrying Julia, only to have the wedding interrupted by Moloccan terrorists. That wouldn’t have been Dark Shadows, either.

    If the show had continued, we might remember those four or five first years, when the show was good, maybe even be talking about it, and I’m sure there would be fans who would passionately embrace the later years when the show finally ‘settled down’, and dismiss those wild ‘creepy’ shows as ‘just finding their way’ or ‘trying to set themselves apart’. And, just as we are discussing, those who felt the genre was by no means worn out, that there were still lots of good spooky ideas that could have been written in, and that the show had settled for mediocrity instead.

    For myself, I’m just glad it happened, all the accidental hits and misses, Fridspeak, Quentin, time travel, brandy, mink eyelashes, filigreed pen, Maggie and Joe, smart Vicki, idiot Vicki, Angelique, Tom and Chris (oh, SO glad!), even Dr. Lang and effing Jeff Clark, even if I missed it the first time around. And everything that didn’t happen is what we’re able to talk about now, what the fans can finish from what DS started.

    1. Yeah, we all treasure the Dark Shadows we have, flaws and all and even because of the flaws. But, speaking as someone who was 14 in 1970, I know I would have been way more interested in watching a teen storyline where David & Hallie struggled with modern day problems than watching them stand around frightened in a baby’s playroom. There are some basic things that could have been done to make the show more watchable during that 1970 interlude that could have helped the show’s ratings.
      They still could have had them haunted by Daphne & Gerard and eventually possessed by Tad & Carrie.
      I remember how my friends and I would laugh out loud whenever one of the adults told that big, strappin’ girl Hallie to go to bed! Really – she didn’t LOOK 8 years old!

  11. I remember the “Night Stalker” TV show, based on the “Night Stalker” TV movies, which was sort of like the pilot. Darren McGavin, the intrepid Chicago reporter, met a new mythical monster every week. It was a cool show, but I think they ran out of monsters. Did Dan Curtis do the weekly “Night Stalker” TV show too?

    I think DS could have lasted longer with more a blend of supernatural and traditional soap elements, perhaps had Dan Curtis taken more of a back seat and allowed the writers to try out some different ideas. Sure, you could kill off “Julia Hoffman,” but hopefully they could figure out a creative way to bring back Grayson Hall – Julia’s long-lost twin sister – or just a person who looks like Julia with no explanation. Even bring back Magda’s descendant into modern day Collinwood?

    1. Tim, Dan Curtis was not involved with the weekly Night Stalker TV series. I don’t know why other than he didn’t want to get bogged down with constant deadlines.

      1. Darren McGavin was once asked if he’d consider returning as Kolchak–he was great in the role–and he said something to the effect of not as long as the sonovabitch Dan Curtis is alive.

      1. Darrin McGavin’s appearance on X Files as the originator of them was a huge tribute to fans of both series.

    2. Curtis had no connection to the TV series. Apparently, the real producer on the series was Darrin McGavin, even though he was not credited and not paid for it. It was one of the factors that lead to the series ending abruptly.

  12. Fans wanted Barnabas and Julia together according to letters submitted to the magazines at the time. One fan wrote that Josette was considered only a “literal character”, though I think she meant “peripheral”, and they wanted Barnabas and Julia as a couple.

  13. Dark Shadows really should be celebrated for its longetivity: The original Star Trek, for example, ran 3 years. DS as we know it ran for 4 and produced a 1,000 episodes, which is astonishing. Its “peak” period is the 184 episode run in 1897. Few fantasy shows run half that long.

    The problem is DS is compared to standard soap operas, which is unfortunate, especially now when so much of modern TV resembles DS.

  14. I think the problem was less of a “dry well” of ideas, and more with Dan Curtis being bored and wanting to move on. Gordon Russell and Sam Hall had years of story ideas in them which they put to use on One Life To Live. Granted not all of their stories would have worked on DS

  15. They had stories aplenty. All they needed was to practice economy on the supernatural stuff and have stories grounded on character – and the recognition than non-supernatural characters could be major troublemakers.

    Hey, I wrote a DS continuation that run to 51 stories, of about 15 chapters each. I finally stopped doing it because I had become tired of it and wanted my life back. So, yes. DS could have run forever on those terms.

    1. Great post. As you point out DS could have gone on for several more years by moving beyond the original core group. When DS went off the air and like several people here I concocted my own stories to continue the show. I added new characters and families (The 1840 time trip which changed history created new lines of the family and new cousins to pop up in 1971) And I was just a teen so I can’t imagine the writers or new ones..not being able to do the same as I did. It was Dan Curtis with his narrow thinking who blew it. . I know that many of the actors had grown weary of DS but they weren’t allowed to grow. I’m sure KLS would have returned if they brought back the tougher Maggie Evans who was introduced in 1966. If David Henesy had been allowed to be a misunderstood teen character he too might have stayed.Given all his childhood problems I could see him hanging around with bad crowd of Collinsport High School students. And so on…

        1. Adriana. I’ve never posted them. I don’t even think I’ve looked at my folder of stories in over 20 years! I’ll see if I can find them,. I might even revise them with ideas I’ve had over the years

  16. I think if Dark Shadows had ended on a better note, fewer people would be disappointed that it ended.

    Five years is a good run for a drama series; I think it only seems short next to something like Days of Our Lives.

    I’ve always loved that shot of Amy and Chris through the fish tank. It’s like they’re trying to peer through all the mysteries surrounding them.

    1. I was so unhappy with the way it ended that I always wanted to “fix” it. Of course I cannot, but it’s good to know that there are others out there who are just as unhappy with the ending as I am.

  17. Danny, that was an excellent column with great insights. And yes, please quote me anytime you wish.

    I want to comment on one really good point you made: They were down to two writers. And yes, when you’re a duo churning out about two hours of scripts a week, that really doesn’t leave you time for long-term planning.

    I’ve spent my career in the news business, a good bit of it on breaking news. It can get very frustrating to be asked about coming up with long-term story ideas when you’re putting out 20 breaking news fires every night.

    So creatively speaking, I feel like they still had plenty of stories to mine. But yeah, two writers doing it all on a 30-minute soap can’t turn good ideas into TV-worthy material themselves. Just not enough hours in the day.

    As for the longer-term direction, I’m with the crowd advocating a remix of the ratio of the formula, not a return to full-on typical soap fare. Yeah, it would be crazy to steer the show toward realistic medical crises and the usual romantic triangles after unleashing werewolves, witches, vampires and ghosts. That would have been a big fail.

    1. Just adding another opinion here: I am quoting from memory, but when Elliott Stokes makes his way into 1840 and Julia starts feeding him the plot exposition, he accuses her of giving him the plot of a conventional Romantic novel; the fact is, the DS writers invested heavily in non-supernatural, character-conflict, novelistic story-writing in the 1840 segment, tacking on, rather clumsily, I thought, the supernatural intervention of Judah Zachary as a way of keeping it Dark Shadows. So I can’t see that they lost the ability to tell stories with conventional soap pleasures–it’s just that they integrated the supernatural elements poorly this time: Angelique’s soap-vixen jealousy and scheming embodied as witchcraft or Quentin’s sexy-antihero way of destroying lives with his charm and recklessness embodied as lycanthropy, or Barnabas’s rage at being denied his love embodied as fang-rape and forcible identitiy-swapping a la Vertigo all linked the supernatural to character, it had the strength of metaphor–but it would be a strain to say the same of the 1840 story coming up, or the 1841PT one after that. There were many possibilities for story here, and untried modes of supernatural metaphor (spooky pirates in New England were a great idea (Barnabas was already a kind of Flying Dutchman)–what about mermaid lore, or Native American myth, or other kinds of immigrant populations’ folktales?)–the problem was integrating soap and spookery, which was DS’s signature. That’s what made DS wha it was, and what, poorly done, undid it.

  18. I find the issue with Dark Shadows, both in success and failure, boils down to the singular control of Dan Curtis. Control issues tend to have a positive effect on the initial development of a creative vision, as the vision doesn’t get watered down. Decisions to alter direction and add elements can also be made without the delay and compromise of committee. However, when the singularity of vision meets the inevitable need for change beyond the vision of the visionary, and that visionary becomes a) intractable or b) disinterested, then the vision inevitably dies. Control issues. Double edged sword.

    1. My feelings exactly – Sam Hall said he had ideas, but Curtis kept shooting them down. Curtis wanted it to end, he was bored with it, so it had to end. But I like the idea that he could have handed the show off, kept making money off it without working on it, but I don’t think he was that kind of man – if his name was on it, he had to be involved (in the same way David O. Selznick had to be invested in what he did, sometimes to the point of getting in the way.)

      1. If you read about Dan, you hear things like larger than life, strong willed, hard on people. I think Sam got fed up with how he treated people in 91. Dan was Creative, you bet but also sounds stubborn, egotistical and actually kind of a Jerk. He was one of the 1st producers to have strong female directors so in that sense ahead of his time. But he sounds like Selznick. Did he not know what a mensch Sam and the writers were and how lucky he was to have them. Yup, give me the 1890s

        1. Dan started in sales for MCA. It takes a strong, stubborn personality to sell old repeats and make money at it. I doubt he knew how to take no for an answer.

    2. In comparison, there’s “Supernatural”, created by Eric Kripke, who stepped down as showrunner after the first 5 seasons. The show continued for another 10 seasons with different showrunners. Personally, I prefer Kripke’s original 5-season story arc over most of the remaining 10 seasons which vary in quality. (No one seems to be able to make a good Leviathan story!) There are some excellent episodes in the remaining seasons, though. If Kripke had decided only he could produce the show, it would not have become the longest-running horror show on American television.

  19. You left out “Triology of Terror” – one of the best things Curtis ever produced. Personally, I think that “The Night Stalker,” “The Night Strangler,” “Trilogy of Terror,” along with Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” are some of the best horror films of the 1970s, and some of the best “made for TV” movies ever made. I also liked “Dead of Night.”

    Not sure how much credit goes to Curtis, the one common denominator in all of those films is the writer Richard Matheson – one of the greatest horror/fantasy authors to ever live. For “Stalker,” he adapted Jeff Rice’s novel, greatly modifying the Kolchak character. “Strangler” was a original teleplay by Matheson. The other two films were based his stories. He is a legend – credits include Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Star Trek, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, etc.

    1. My introduction to Matheson was the Vincent Price movie “The Last Man on Earth” (based on “I Am Legend”) which scared me so much as a kid that I looked up who wrote it! I didn’t know he wrote the screenplays for the Kolchak movies.

  20. After all this high level chat, I feel the need to point out another blooper… after Willie finds the unconscious Maggie, they cut to close ups of Julia and Barnabas hovering over maggie’s Bed. At the bottom of the frame, you can see Kathryn Lee Scott getting into the bed, having just run from the crypt set

  21. I don’t think the killing off of other characters holds up as comparisons for killing Julia. Julia was clearly at the center of the show. Dr. Woodard was a secondary character. Sam Evans was even more peripheral by the time he was killed off, and he was not performing well. The original Burke Devlin (Mitch Ryan), when there was vibrancy to his character, was gone. Besides all that, in purely practical terms, I doubt they’d kill off the character played by writer Sam Hall’s wife anyway!

  22. This is my first time posting here.
    I appreciate your thoughts and insights, and enjoy reading your entries for each episode.
    Some thoughts of my own here…
    I think Dan Curtis & co. could have continued to pull material from the endless supply of classic gothic horror tales in existence, tying them into the lives of the family at Collinwood. Curtis was resistant to doing a mummy story, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Lot No. 249’ would’ve
    worked quite well as a springboard for such a plotline – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lot_No._249

    This could’ve opened the door to a Laura resurrection too, especially if they’d done ‘Lot 249’ as a hybrid with the Karloff version of the mummy.

    I definitely think Adam needed to come back, but not exactly in the way Sam Hall described in the TV article. I suspect Curtis would have gone much more for something out of Shelley’s novel, with Adam coming back, scars intact, but fully erudite and with some dark plot of his own. I mean, if Paul Stoddard could show up three years after the Jason blackmail storyline, I think Adam could’ve still been on the (lab) table.

    Count Petofi surely would have returned as well and, in fact, they could’ve linked/overlapped these stories in some fashion.

  23. PS – Another possibility, which was part of a fun 1971-1972 fantasy episode summary series by writer “Charles Delaware Troll”…
    A mysterious, long-lost family member arrives at present-day Collinwood in 1971, but this time, it turns out that he’s from the future – one of David or Carolyn’s great-grandchildren The time-displaced descendent is there to avert some impending disaster in the future, much in the same way Barnabas and Julia have done before. I thought this was a fun twist on the oft-use DS trope.

  24. This is an unpleasantly loud episode, with Karlen as the major offender. He’s in an Actor’s Studio funk throughout and by the halfway point I wanted to douse him with a bucket of ice water.

      1. When I watch DS while the rest of my household is asleep, I often find myself reaching for the mute button whenever I anticipate certain characters suddenly getting loud (and I’ve gotten pretty good at anticipating that). Willie is definitely a repeat offender, but Julia’s another one, and don’t even get me started on barking mad Quentin.

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