Time Travel, part 12: Nevertheless, They Persisted

“She wants to destroy the Collins family for all time!”

On October 23rd, 1970, Richard Nixon gave a speech to the United Nations about his desire for world peace. “In Southeast Asia, let us agree to a cease-fire and negotiate a peace,” he said. “In the Middle East, let us hold to the cease-fire and build a peace. Through arms control agreements, let us invest our resources in the development that nourishes peace.” And then they kept on fighting the Vietnam War for another five years.

But ABC decided that Nixon’s close-order hypocrisy display was important enough to pre-empt their daytime schedule, so as we always do on these pre-emption days, instead of watching the 1960s Dark Shadows that we know and love, we’re going to watch the 1991 Dark Shadows that we’re aware of and barely tolerate.

Now, possibly the strangest thing about Dark Shadows fans is that after two television reboots and two feature film reboots, none of which really accomplished anything in particular, we still think it would be a good idea to go out and find a dark-haired Byronic guy with an English accent and have him act out the make-believe story of Barnabas Collins as seen on ABC-TV’s Dark Shadows, starting with Willie Loomis releasing him from the crypt and then moving through the major plot points of the next four years, including the murder of Dave Woodard, Victoria Winters’ time travel flashback, the arrival of Cassandra and Nicholas Blair, the creation of Adam, a run-in with neighborhood werewolf Chris Jennings, the haunting of Collinwood by the ghost of Quentin Collins, another time travel flashback involving gypsies, portraits, the Hand of Count Petofi and more werewolves, an optional adventure with a gang of mobster Elder Things, a quick visit to a parallel dimension, a glimpse of the tragic destiny of the Collins family as seen from twenty-five years later than whenever the show is being made, a return to the present for an ill-fated attempt to correct a series of tragic mistakes, and the eventual showdown with warlock Judah Zachery, who cursed the Collins family two hundred and seventy-eight years before whenever the show is being made, and who it turns out is the root of the whole entire problem.

Or, at least, most of us think that. I am apparently an outlier.

And that’s a peculiar desire for Dark Shadows fans to have, because on the whole, most people would like to see their continuing serialized drama actually continue in a forward direction, rather than loop around and repeat four years of story that we’ve already seen, especially if it’s currently available to view in its entirety for the price of an Amazon Prime subscription.

Yes, we live in an age of reboots and remakes, prequels and sequels and multiple adaptations. According to my figures, Lois Lane has met and disliked Clark Kent at least 16 times in at least 7 different media, with 11 different actors playing Superman, and someone out there is probably working on starting it all over again, in a high-def streaming 3D hologram motion-capture immersive theme park attraction. This is a thing that our culture does.

But usually, television reboots take an episodic narrative structure and just reuse the premise, like Charlie’s Angels or MacGyver, or they’re a continuation of an original show’s story, like Dallas or Melrose Place or Doctor Who or Twin Peaks, or they’re basically a different show with the same name, like Battlestar Galactica. Nobody tries to launch a new show with the intention of paraphrasing twelve hundred half-hours of afternoon television.

The reason why the story of Dark Shadows has been retold so often is that executive producer Dan Curtis just didn’t have that many different ideas, and there are only so many times that you can remake The Turn of the Screw. The first time he told the story of Barnabas Collins, he actually stopped in the middle in order to retell it as a feature film, using the same writers and actors and music cues. Compared to that, coming back twenty years later and doing the same story over again is relatively sane.

So Dark Shadows fans have come to accept this as a normal thing to do, and wish that someone would try it again for the fifth time. But this is absolutely not a normal thing to do, and that’s why nobody else would even try, except for Dan.

I mean, sure, they remade Dynasty. But who cares about Dynasty?

So the question is: why bother to tell a story that somebody’s already told, in the same medium and the same style as the original? It’s kind of like somebody writing a new novel that retells the story of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the style of J.K. Rowling. Either you’re going to do it worse than Rowling, which is pointless, or you’re planning to be better at being Rowling than Rowling is, which is unlikely.

Now, it’s true that in 1991, access to Dark Shadows wasn’t as easy as it is now. At that time, the reruns on public television had tapered off, and they wouldn’t start up again until the Sci-Fi Channel launched in fall 1992. MPI was working its way through releasing the series on videotape, but the tapes were expensive, and mostly available by special order. So when there was an opportunity to bring this ridiculous five-year shaggy-dog story to a new audience, then remaking it was probably easier than trying to invent a new content delivery system.

And obviously I’m also glossing over the fact that a daytime half-hour show from the 1960s is not really the same medium as a prime-time hour-long weekly show from 1991. The new Dark Shadows only used twelve hours to tell a story that took ten times that long in the original, thanks to an accelerated narrative style that made the show more appealing for mass audiences in 1991, and just because the mass audiences didn’t really take to it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad idea.

The problem of showing people the original 1960s Dark Shadows is that you and I know how exciting and passionate and inventive and fascinating the show is, because we have consciously made the mental tradeoffs that you have to make in order to enjoy it. For example, you have to be okay with the fact that sometimes the show is terrible, and some of the ideas don’t make sense. It’s slow, and it’s made on videotape, and sometimes the actors forget their lines, and narratively it’s a mishmash of haphazard lunatic plot contrivances.

So if you want to watch and enjoy the show, then you have to make the conscious decision to take all of that into account, and enjoy it anyway. You make mental adjustments to your expectations of what television shows are like, in a way that you don’t have to for Breaking Bad or CSI or Black-ish, or whatever television looks like in whatever era you’re currently living in.

It’s hard to get audiences to be excited about television made in the late 1960s, because it’s visibly worse than modern TV. Every single show on television today looks better than Dark Shadows does, just because of the lighting and the high-def digital cameras. Every show does a better job of keeping the boom mic shadows out of the actors’ faces. And every show, now matter how boring or badly-written it is, moves faster than 60s Dark Shadows; you get more information per minute, and you don’t have to watch actors struggling with the teleprompter. If you tried to broadcast the best episode of 1960s Dark Shadows on television as if it were a new show, then it would automatically be declared the worst show ever made.

But Dark Shadows fans know how great this story is, we happy few who can see past the show’s ugly-duckling exterior, and we’re correct. Dark Shadows, in context and using the appropriate mental adjustments, is one of the world’s best uses of television.

The show was made by a group of ambitious and slap-happy producers, working at top speed to capture the afternoon television audience in whatever way they could, regardless of sanity or taste. They pivoted quickly in response to the daytime audience’s needs and desires, and the story evolved through a process of narrative natural selection, following the ideas that worked and downplaying ideas that the audience didn’t like. The show was perfectly in tune with the times, as any successful show should be.

But those times are long gone, and fifty years later, it becomes increasingly difficult to persuade people to make the necessary mental adjustments. Dark Shadows was made for a world that would embrace Jonathan Frid as a matinee idol, and where the romantic male leads could wear suits and ties at all times, even during the love scenes. You can see the 1991 Dark Shadows trying to address that culture gap by serving up periodic portions of hunky male chests, and these days, the standard for visible male muscle tone is even higher.

Dark Shadows was made for a world where a marionette bat on a string is a clever use of special effects, where actors could stand in a line and emote at the audience as if they were on stage, where the idea of plot development on a Wednesday was considered optional. This world is not that world anymore.

So that’s why we want someone to remake this marvelous thing, because we want everyone else to share the pleasurable experience that we have when we watch Dark Shadows, even if they’re not interested in making the mental adjustments. Fans are naturally evangelists, and we want a version of Dark Shadows that our friends would find appealing.

And what we want is to share this specific story that we love, using all the parts that we recognize as good, and erasing all the parts that we would have to apologize for. This invariably means that we want Angelique to turn up at Collinwood immediately after the 1795 time travel story, but refrain from casting the Dream Curse spell. That’s where everybody starts, when you consider how to remake Dark Shadows — the first thing you do is cut the Dream Curse, and you move on from there.

We know that the Dream Curse will repel modern audiences, because it’s repetitive and achingly slow, and it keeps the main characters of the story at arm’s length for weeks, when what we really want to see is Angelique and Barnabas talking about their relationship. And in the end, it doesn’t have any impact on the plot, so it makes for an easy edit.

And if we make judicious cuts like that, and just focus on the story elements that actually worked the first time, then we could have a good, modern version of the show, and then our friends would understand why we like it. That’s a perfectly natural thing to want. It’s what Doctor Who fans experienced in 2005, when their show was revived in a format and style that was more closely tuned to modern audience expectations. The difference is that the new Doctor Who is telling new stories, rather than rehashing an old story and taking out the Dream Curse.

But really, if we’re thinking about a revival series that could be made today, the core question is: what is the pleasure for the artist?

I mean, we want somebody to actually go and make this new version of the story, which means live human producers and directors and writers and set designers need to get together and do their jobs. The set designers will probably get a pass as long as the foyer at Collinwood is big enough, but it’s the writers that we really need to worry about.

Because this kind of cut-and-paste storytelling that we’re suggesting isn’t really a sweet gig for an ambitious writer trying to make their mark in Hollywood. The story arcs are already developed, and the big climactic scenes are spoken for. Willie opening the crypt, Josette teetering on the cliff, Victoria facing the hangman’s noose — these are all covered. You know that Julia needs to come to the house as a historian, that Dave Woodard’s death is a pivot point for Barnabas and Julia’s relationship, that Sarah dies from being out in the rain too long. You even know that your best storyline isn’t going to start until season three. The only real work that you’d have to do is figure out what plot points to cut — starting with the Dream Curse, of course — and even those choices would be scrutinized and questioned by longtime fans, who would all be writing and editing their own reboot of the reboot in their heads the whole time.

You can’t just look at what the audience wants in this scenario; you also have to account for what the writers and directors want, and I’m pretty sure the good ones wouldn’t want to go anywhere near this project. Good writers want to do something creative and new, to bring a fresh perspective to the story. They don’t want to remake a thing just for the sake of remaking it.

And that is the story of the 1991 revival series. For the new show, Dan got together with the following people:

Steve Feke, who wrote Mac and Me,
Bill Taub, who wrote episodes of Supertrain, Magnum P.I. and Freebie and the Bean,
Jon Boorstin, who produced All the President’s Men in 1976 and then not much else,
Hall Powell, whose TV career had up until that point been one episode of B.J. Stryker,
Sam Hall, who was only there because he was being polite, and
Sam’s son Matthew, who had never written for television before.

That’s the team that wrote the first seven episodes of the Dark Shadows revival. That’s the kind of talent that you can attract when the plan is to follow a story as written for daytime television twenty years ago. Dan hired people who couldn’t write dialogue.

And it turns out the dialogue is actually the one area where the original Dark Shadows is competitive with the revival. The lighting and direction and acting and special effects were all several steps below 1991 broadcast standard, but the 1969 dialogue was objectively better than the 1991 dialogue, by a wide margin. It could be stagey, and sometimes it was simply functional, but characters would walk into a room and say things that would be worth an audience’s time to hear. That was not true of the revival show, and that’s the number one reason why people stopped watching nighttime Dark Shadows, and switched the dial to Dallas or Perfect Strangers.

Dark Shadows at its best was a writer’s show. The actors were compelling and the special effects were groundbreaking, but when you identify a period of the show that sparkles — Julia facing off against the vampire, Angelique tricking Barnabas into marriage, Quentin and Magda and Pansy Faye — it’s because the dialogue was like an Off-Broadway play that ran for a half-hour five times a week, forever.

If you want something like the 1897 story, you need the brilliant energy of Sam Hall and Gordon Russell and Violet Welles in full flow — and you can only get that because you have three writers working together against impossible odds, and challenging each other to be even more clever and witty and character-based. Sam and Gordon and Violet were so intensely in love with the show they were creating, and that love comes across to the audience. It’s beautiful and it’s breathtaking, and you can only get that energy when you allow the creative people that you employ to actually create something that they care about.

That’s why the Leviathan story doesn’t work, because Sam was pulled away to work on the House of Dark Shadows script. The team lost that spark that emerged from having these three writers in the same room, and you can tell that pretty quickly they just stopped caring. In 1969, it was crucially important to them to create a scene with Magda and Quentin diving deep into their feelings about Jenny’s murder, and do the hard work of explaining why Magda’s going to forgive him. They cared about those characters, and those plot points. And just a few months later, they completely bailed on Jeb and Carolyn ever having the climactic confrontation that they needed to have, because the writers didn’t care about the Leviathans.

So if you want a modern version of Dark Shadows that’s made by the equivalent of Noah Hawley or Bryan Fuller or Ryan Murphy — or even the equivalent of Sam, Gordon and Violet, if there is one — then you cannot give them the story of Dark Shadows and tell them that it’s okay if they cut the Dream Curse. It will never be good. So maybe what you really want is the version that you’ve been making in your head all these years, which is pretty good and has David Selby in it.

Monday: Time and Tantrums.

For the next flashforward to Dark Shadows’ future,
we take a close look at the 2004 WB pilot in
Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

56 thoughts on “Time Travel, part 12: Nevertheless, They Persisted

  1. I’ve commented before that for today’s younger audiences, DS feels more like modern TV (Buffy, Flash, NewWho) than any other show from 1968 that was episodic, with no real major story arcs. DS though was EPIC with season “finales” that would rival most of what we see now.

    But I will never understand the desire to remake DS word for word. I think this post delves into some reasonable reasons why (lack of ready availability of the original).

    But DS isn’t Star Trek. It didn’t create unique concepts or conceits. So you find yourself trying to redo Barnabas again (though without getting what was cool about Frid’s Barnabas)

    1. Yeah, so this is way after the fact. I was in Jr. high in 91, and am rewatching this lovely drivel while in quarantine. But I never would have watched it, the campy 60s version, so, remaking it is great for a new audience who, you know, wasn’t alive. And I watched House of Dark Shadows. Frid is no comparison to Ben Cross, who was way too old, and definitely no comparison to Weiss ❤ or Adrian Paul (loved Highlander.) So, for the people who don’t want it remade, this remake wasn’t for you. It was for the next generation of campy vampire lovers.

  2. Mine may qualify as a minority opinion, but I never want for anyone to remake Dark Shadows again. What I see in the shots above (especially with that cliched flying Angelique — did they do that gimmick every episode?) are a collection of mere imposters. That’s not my Dark Shadows, the one from my childhood that’s a part of some of my earliest life memories. No one need attempt to remake my childhood, thank you very much. I don’t watch Dark Shadows in the hope of cultivating modern audiences, I watch Dark Shadows to escape modern audiences. The great and timeless thing about Dark Shadows is that it’s a world unto itself — made in the 1960s, but not of the 1960s. In the real 1960s, Willie Loomis would’ve been drafted before he ever could have let Barnabas out of the box.

    I was born in 1966 and grew up with television — there was never a day I went without it. But I stopped tuning in around the same time I gave up on popular music — the mid-1980s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s been all downhill ever since. So my knowledge of current culture is a virtual blank. In fact, I stopped tuning into pop culture completely around the time I gave up fast food, around six years now. Body and mind have never been healthier.

    Instead, I’ve created an inner world built on vintage culture: vintage music, vintage TV and movies, vintage thoughts. To give you an idea how that’s going, this past Christmas holiday I was in the living room with my folks (who are exactly 20 years older) and we watched a YouTube clip of Dark Shadows (“Dark Coffee”), because they know Dark Shadows is one of the things I mainly subsist on. My mother commented on how sparse the set for the Collinsport Diner looked. I explained that these were the most elaborate sets for any show on daytime TV at the time. When a clip of Barnabas appeared, my stepfather says, “It’s about time.” He also commented on the hairstyles. But the hairstyles back then look perfectly normal to me — it’s the look of people in the twenty-worst century that leaves something to be desired. So, yes, every time I step out the door to go shopping, I get a bad case of “future shock.”

    But, who knows, maybe the TV of the present times is just fine — I just have absolutely no interest in taking any of it in.

    I was appalled when I recently found out that someone had the audacity to remake The Odd Couple, and that it had been running for some 3 or 4 seasons before it got cancelled. I just cannot imagine a world in which this could be allowed to happen. The Odd Couple was — and is — Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. I know that before it was Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but I didn’t see the movie until way later — long after my initial associations had been cemented. But Randall and Klugman really were those characters; they not only put a face on The Odd Couple, but they stamped it with heart and soul. The real thing is a tough act to follow.

    Just like Dark Shadows. It’s not the writing of these Dark Shadows remakes that bothers me; it’s the presumption that you can replace the faces of the original characters. But it’s all relative — especially if you didn’t live it the first time around.

    So, you say old television looks cheap, I say it looks golden. You say modern TV looks great, I say it’s unwatchable. You say the 1960s and 1970s are history, I say alright then I’m a historian. You say tastes great, I say less filling. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

    By the way, if I were to just take 22 minutes for someone who’s never seen Dark Shadows, I’d show them the episode where Barnabas walls up Trask in the Old House basement. You get the true, full essence of Barnabas in that episode — he’s the cold-blooded evil murderer and avenging angel all at once. And no modern viewer is going to come away from that episode thinking cheap sets and so on; the image they’ll hold is that bright flame as Barnabas glares into that little hole to taunt Trask one last time, before sealing that final brick to call forth the Edgar Allan Poe archetype involving fear of premature interment — true horror at its quintessential best.

    1. Oh, oh, me too! I was born in 1965, and my current viewing is “Dark Shadows”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, classic “Doctor Who” and “The Avengers”. And I honestly don’t care if the boom mike slips into shot or the special effects are made of spray-painted bubblewrap.

      (And possibly the best thing about living in 2018, is it’s now so easy to get hold of these old series!)

  3. . I know that before it was Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon

    And before that it was Walter Matthau and Eddie Bracken

    And before that it was Walter Matthau and Art Carney

  4. To me, dark shadows is one of the great (accidental) experiments in theatrical improv. They had their own studio, access to quality New York Stage actors, and dedicated writers. They made all kinds of mistakes because they were producing what amounted to a near-live “play a day” without even proper rehearsals. It was like a thousand opening nights.

    Its impossible to re-make as standard TV because the conditions are impossible to re-create. The other problem is that you can’t in a standard series create characters with the sort of depth they had on Dark Shadows nor can you get the audience to invest in the characters. Juila Hoffman’s introduction on the show works so well because its so gradual. But in a normal hour show, the introduction would take half a a season.

    A “new” Dark Shadows could be created and probably be successful. But most of the original would have be ditched to do it. Its the same as Dr. Who. We have a show called Dr. Who today, but its a very different show and its not the show that some of us who loved the low-budget half-hour afternoon version remember.

  5. Totally disagree, Danny, as you know. Your argument is undercut by all the reboots of other franchises you mention, in some cases quite well, many with fan input. Why exactly can’t that happen for DS? Because it had 1200 some episodes and was told in a continuing narrative format? How many issues did the Golden Age or Silver Age Superman run? I love both iterations . I also love the John Byrne reboot. And I love Smallville and the first Christopher Reeve film. There are some reimaginings of Suoerman I haven’t liked, but each one has been fascinating to observe, seeing the choices the writers made in reshaping or clarifying the mythos, or making it more relevant to whatever era it was appearing in. You yourself gave a brilliant analysis of how the Superman story has been told and retold over eight decades, always revealing something new about the culture and how we tell stories. So why can’t that can’t be done with DS? How come Dr. Who fans get to see their franchise updated and fixed up and clarified and made relevant –but DS fans can’t? How come Dr. Who fans get to see a woman as the Doctor but DS can’t see a feminist, empowered Vicki? The reason the DS reboots haven’t worked so far is because they were conceived and written without fan involvement, unlike the Superman reboots, or Dr, Who reboots, or StarTrek reboots. Yes, a fan-driven DS reboot would eliminate the Dream Curse and the Leviathans— but, maybe, also, it would pick up little moments that would echo them, and make longtime fans smile, the way Riverdale does so cleverly with the Archie mythos. (Anyone catch the name of the dog the gangsters give to Jughead?) I don’t crave a DS reboot so that my friends will like it– I crave a reboot that will take me deeper into the lives of these characters I love, that will fill in the missing moments between Barnabas and Julia and Angelique –and Elizabeth and Carolyn–and Roger and David— and the moment when Stokes reveals he knew Barnabas’ secret all along–and Willie gets to confront Barnabas on the abuse—and Maggie, too—and Quentin remains Quentin straight through the series—and Jeremiah admits he’s gay–and we understand how it’s possible for the family to remember Quentin’s ghost when he doesn’t actually die–and the time travel paradoxes get fixed or explained as Vicki’s fucking up of history. Giving us all that wouldn’t take away from the original DS any more than the Silver Age took away from the Golden Age. They’re both the product of their times. Saying the goofs and the continuity issues are what MAKE Dark Shadows is like saying the crude art of the Golden Age is what made Superman. So the artwork of Curt Swan means the Silver Age isn’t really Superman? That’s crazy. It’s a DIFFERENT Superman–but one that honors and respects the spirit of what came before. That’s why the later incarnations of DS haven’t worked –because they didn’t respect the original. They didn’t build on what made the series great: archetypal characters in stories that evoke some classic cultural myths. So why do Star Trek fans get to see a high-tech Enterprise — but we can’t even see the four walls of the Collinwood drawing room and foyer?

    1. The Superman reboots work because Superman is a premise and not a story. To do Superman properly, you need Clark, Lois, Jimmy and Perry working at the Daily Planet. Lois is in love with Superman and not with Clark, and Superman fights a mad genius named Lex Luthor. From that starting point, you can write a thousand different stories, and people have.

      But Dark Shadows is very clearly a story — a sequence of events that goes from Barnabas coming out of the coffin to Maggie’s kidnapping, Julia’s intro, 1795 and back again, and Angelique following Vicki to the present. You can’t start from a resting position as you can with Superman or Star Trek.

      Episodic reset-button narrative is really different from long-form serialized narrative. Dark Shadows is a completely different kind of show than Superman and Star Trek; they have basically nothing in common. Dark Shadows’ peers are General Hospital and Days of Our Lives. What would you say if you heard that someone was going to make a prime-time revival that retells the story of 1988 General Hospital?

      1. Well as you’ve said in earlier posts, Danny, Dark Shadows is really the story of a house. So if I was going to revive the series I wouldn’t retell the story–I’d continue the story of the house. Maybe connect the original series to the continuation by some kind of supernatural mystery that plays out during the first few episodes –after all, the engine that fueled “Dark Shadows” was guilty secrets from the past!

        But then again, Big Finish is already doing that kind of thing, so it’s not really necessary.

      2. I agree, and I find it interesting that Curtis fixated so much on DARK SHADOWS as stories or plot points (HODS and the 1991 revival). Perhaps he himself never realized that his show was the most popular when there was a compelling premise: 1795: Sheltered, somewhat clueless son, cold harsh father, drunk mom, Tom Jones, scorned woman who wants to be loved and to escape the circumstances of her birth, etc. 1897: Prodigal son, pompous uptight elder brother, prudish sister … all vying for control of the family fortunate.

        Of course, those premises aren’t necessarily unique — like “time traveling alien in blue box”.

  6. The improved special effects (both from advancements in technology and increased budgets) in Star Trek and Doctor Who revamps work because they help those shows do what they do better. I’m not sure personally that an increased budget makes DS “better.”

    For one, DS feels like a stage play. I can take a stage play and make it a big budget movie but I also wind up with other challenges: If you expand the world of the play to fit the expanded budget, is it still recognizable or just a superficial distraction.

    Like most of my favorite plays, the best thing about DS is the dialogue, the character beats and the intimacy from a grand drawing room that’s literally smaller than my living room.

    The other issue, I think, is that DS, arguably more so than other rebooted series, is very much a product of narrative mashups and allusions. But really bad art presses pause on those allusions. And so much of DS fandom has contempt for modern pop culture. DS referenced 70 year old stories (at the time) like Dorian Gray. A modern DS referencing, say, Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby or the works of Stephen King would not land as well with this fandom.

    DS also ignored the outside world in a way that was both true to the time and yet also an outlier. Star Trek, for instance, discussed Vietnam without mentioning Vietnam, same with Civil Rights. DS didn’t. That sort of cultural, artistic conservatism (no politics!) is a big part of DS fandom and you immediately see the pushback whenever real world social issues are suggested as story points. The CW comic book shows have gay and POC characters, which isn’t even that overtly political (it reflects the openness in the real world) but many in DS fandom would chafe at this — let alone a Julia who pushes back at Barnabas’s casual sexism or a Roger who is actually gay because camp is no longer in the closet.

    DS is somewhat old fashioned for a show of its genres (sci fi and soap operas). Supergirl is overtly political, Lucifer is morally complex, Doctor Who had openly gay characters and The Doctor is now a woman. Can DS exist in such company? Sherlock evolved from the Victorian era to a very modern 21st century, but it’s possible Barnabas Collins can’t

  7. I’m going to take a middle position here. For me, remakes, whether series reboots, new versions of older films, or covers of songs, are not necessarily bad things in an of themselves. But what is critical is that the artist doing the remake brings something new and better to their version.

    There has to be a fresh perspective. Otherwise what is the point? Additionally, it is reasonable to expect that the new perspective will make the property better in some way.

    Remaking movie franchises is currently a safe and profitable exercise. This is especially true for the current and endless parade superhero movies. Every year there is a new crop of 13-year-olds (Hollywood’s key demographic) for whom a Spiderman movie from three years ago is sufficiently ancient history so as to be irrelevant.

    But Spiderman & 13-year-olds notwithstanding, it is only fair to expect that a new version be an improvement over the original. After all, much of the creative work has already been done by the original writers.

    For a new version to be better than the old one, it will be easier if the older version did not live up to its potential in some way. So for example, if you think that some old movie such as “The Italian Job” or “Ocean’s Eleven” (to cite two examples of 1960s movies that were since remade) had a great premise but just didn’t quite deliver, then you will have more “room” to make a version that improves on the original.

    On the other hand, I’d say that remaking “Casablanca” or “On the Waterfront” is probably a bad idea, because the originals would be extremely hard to top. Danny makes a similar point about Harry Potter, and I’m inclined to see PrisoneroftheNight’s comments about the 1970s “Odd Couple” in the same light.

    For me, one of the truly execrable example was when 1990s Hollywood decided to remake the 1960s film “Bedazzled”. They took a hip, smart, stylish (but very dated) film and assumed that a non-dated version would automatically be better. But making a non-dated product is not enough to make it a better product. The remake was predictably dumber and lacking in both style and substance compared to the original. I think that the 1991 DS producers fell head-long into this same trap.

    I’d say that good remakes are fairly rare. I think this is because the bar is automatically set pretty high for them. They must bring something fresh to their material and improve its quality in some way. I think this is a bit easier to do in music since music is pretty easy to reinterpret stylistically. I love James Taylor’s versions of “Up on the Roof” and “Everyday” in part because they don’t try to recreate those of The Drifters or Buddy Holly. Another person might disagree with me as to whether they like these remakes. But they probably won’t disagree that the artist was at least trying to being a different interpretation to the material.

  8. I tend to agree with Will’s observations. The revival of DS worked for me, at least as for as it went, because it made the original story move along. Had it continued, though, and did the same things it would have fallen flat because after the introduction of Barnabas (with the slight exception of the 1890 timeline) it was downhill. We’ve described and decried the original as being less than, well, “original” and not connecting the story threads.

    For what it’s worth, a reboot isn’t what the show needed.
    What was needed was to take the plot themes and the core characters and give them depth. As Danny pointed out, that was never possible with Dan Curtis because he simply wasn’t able to go further than an initial shock value. It would be cool to see a subtle connection between vampirism and addictions, or of the horror that comes from witch hunts, or of animal instinct vs humanity, or of the search to play god with other people’s lives, and (of course) a good haunting by someone who was murdered.

    Like many others here, i kind of treasure the fictional story of Collinwood and the people who dwelled within her walls. I value the story of these flawed, dysfunctional lives because even when put into gothic horror fantasies, they could be our lives.

  9. I’d love to see a truly fan driven DS remake. My request would be to reunite Joe and Maggie, never to part again. The tragic ending of their story still breaks my heart.

  10. Any views on “Passions”? I never watched it, but I’ve heard people say it was as close as anyone on TV came to doing something modern in the spirit of Dark Shadows that was not a remake of Dark Shadows.

    1. Passions was…a mash up of soap opera, supernatural comedy and soap opera spoof. There were witches, a living doll, mermaid, a floating head, the ghost of Princess Diana…several characters spent a month trapped in hell. It never really took itself seriously

      1. ” It never really took itself seriously.”

        Which is why I didn’t get into it. Ironically, a friend of mine was a member of the directing team and he said he really loved working on that show.

    2. I enjoyed Passions! I think I started to watch after someone compared it to Dark Shadows. The glacial pace of plots certainly reminded me of it! 😉

  11. I read this post to my wife and she said it was the best one you’ve ever written, Danny, and we also completely agree with you (were you at all influenced by my mentioning recently that the only possible medium for a Dark Shadow remake is as a Broadway musical [a.k.a. SONG OF DARK SHADOWS]?). PrisonerOfTheNight, you are also correct. At my house we are currently watching season two of FALCON CREST for pity’s sake, because it has David Selby in it (and Susan Sullivan, who is also Selby’s gal in that one Big Finish production!). The present is okay if that’s your cup of tea, I guess, but in general, culturally speaking, it’s not ours, at all.

  12. Danny’s comments about how fandom wants a version of DS that can be shared with other people makes me realize that that’s what this blog is, as well. Not a remake, but an attempt to reframe this wonderful but strange and dated show in a way that modern audiences can appreciate. And, as Danny said about 35 episodes back, in that regard this attempt has also failed, since nearly all of us were already familiar with Dark Shadows anyway.

  13. I’ll ante in my 2 cents, and give the pot a stir;

    of course, we’d all love to see a new Dark Shadows (well, most of us). But we don’t want it changed, although we don’t want it the same. It rather reminds me of John Fogerty’s legal woes a few years back, when (if I remember correctly) he was sued over his ‘Centerfield’ album, the suit claiming that it sounded too much like Fogerty’s previous group, CCR – then, when Fogerty’s next album came out, he was sued again because the new album didn’t sound enough like John Fogerty.

    Making DS again is kind of a no-win, since trying to use the same elements would be too self-consciously obvious (microphones in frame, glimpses of cameras, the line flubs, the tiny studio space, etc), while trying to ‘tighten’ or improve the story would inevitably leave out what made the original memorable. Bigger budgets haven’t helped. And all the ‘revamps’ except NoDS have tried to tell versions of the Barnabas story, and so far haven’t managed to get it.

    Possibly (and only possibly) using the elements without the story might work – attempting to use the premise as a jumping-off point, instead of trying to recreate the original. But I believe that was attempted in 2012 by Tim Burton? It’s been mentioned that it might have come off a little flat… As mentioned previously in posts, the series was framed in Collinwood, so revisiting the newest group of doomed denizens of the mansion might work, or using another historical era. And I think it might help if they were to use the original format, as a daytime soap opera – but as it seems that genre is fading off (no offense to fans of current soaps), that mightn’t work either.

    In the end, none of it will be “THE” Dark Shadows. That came about because of an absolutely unique combination of elements that cannot be duplicated. Because that would be too much like the first series, and we already have that. (Praise be!)

    1. Well said. My problem with the Tim Burton film is that it was more of a characture (sic) than telling the story with all its myth, magic and mystery. Maybe that’s what has drawn me in so much. That and the house.

      1. I hated the Tim Burton film. What made it worse was Burton and Depp’s insistence that they were fans of the show and would treat it well. I am so glad I didn’t pay to see it b/c I would have wanted a refund. I take it you’ll be covering this and the 2nd Dan Curtis movie at some point, Danny?

        1. Yes! There are four more pre-emption days left, so I’ll do Night of Dark Shadows, the 2004 WB pilot, the 2012 Tim Burton movie, and something else tbd.

  14. I’m reminded of something that Eric Idle said regarding Monty Python reunion shows. I don’t recall it precisely, but it was along the lines of, “People don’t really want to see us get together to do more Monty Python, they just want to feel the way they felt when they were 13 years old, watching it for the first time.”

    I think that may be true of us, when we sometimes ponder a new DS movie, or TV show.

    1. Mike, you have captured the love of Dark Shadows brilliantly with this simple statement. This show entered our lives at a very vulnerable and formative time and we something to help us capture those tender feelings again.

  15. I keep insisting that the best DS reboot was done a few years ago. It was called “Lost Girl” and the basic idea was making Vicky and Barnabas be the same person. As Barnabas, Bo got an old house, a Willie, and a Julia, and as Vicky, she got an Elizabeth, a Burke, and even a Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark.

    Go watch it if you do not believe me.

  16. Ta-DAH! I’m finally caught up with the blog after obsessively reading for over 6 weeks. What fun it has been! I now eagerly await the next post.

  17. You make a very sound argument, Danny, and I agree with a lot of what your saying.

    You are exactly right about the timing. I watched the 1991 reboot because I had always heard about “Dark Shadows” and had never seen it. Today when it’s much easier to get the original I don’t think I’d be as excited about the remake.

    And you’re right you have to get writers excited. If you hogtie writers too much (see the current restrictions on writing an official Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book) you don’t get good writers. If you let writers “make their mark” too much you get “The Last Jedi.”

    I’m not sure I agree “Dark Shadows” is a story over a premise over other properties. There are more characters to keep track of and a few more plot points you have to hit but I think it would be possible to make a good “Dark Shadows” remake for people that would see the show for the first time, whether fans would accept it being different I don’t know. (I would say some of those different ways to tell Superman or other constantly remade properties I wish they’d just called the characters something else because they changed so much from the established story.)

    I’d also like to add that I think the biggest hurdle in a remake is whether you get a lot of the people making it being actual big fans of the thing. I always point to both nuDoctor Who and the movie “Maverick” as examples where fans were running the show and they understood what people liked about the original and kept touchstones that were important to fans, but made changes because of format, etc. and I think a lot of fans were fine with that as a bright new sparkily thing. I point out the train wreck that was “The Dukes of Hazzard” movie as an example where people who didn’t like the original focused what they wrongly thought was why people liked it.

  18. Oh, and just as a point of interest nobody might want to retell “General Hospital”, but who really cares about “General Hospital” certainly not ABC, but there was interest in retelling at least part of “Guiding Light” which was the best soap opera ever. After the show was cancelled one of the former headwriters of “Guiding Light” was in the process of working up a new version which would reset with the iconic Meta Bauer – Ted White storyline from the 1950s, but set today. He died suddenly before he got it done. He’d apparently made a decent amount of headway on the project, but since it was his baby when he died that ended that. (The story wasn’t one that he had originally written if you’re wondering.) This is the storyline. https://glmanny.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/guiding-light-radio-archive/

    1. I suppose the one storyline from General Hospital that could be made into a movie would be that damn Ice Princess story, with the villain trying to freeze Port Charles with his weather machine.

      I didn’t say it would be a good movie.

  19. I’m one of those who would like to go back in time and fix the mistakes made by the daytime version. Maybe I could steal Dan Curtis’ identity.

  20. I have a deep personal fascination with reboots, with what works and doesn’t work, and I will never stop wondering what could have been done with an intelligent and imaginative team who loved the original Dark Shadows. So I have a million uncoordinated thoughts here.
    –For every bad reboot, there’s always the Buffy the Vampire Slayer powerful series remake of the original useless movie. Some reboots can work–can improve the original by mining its potential better.
    –The Dr, Who comparison, however, fails for me because that show was always primarily about bottle episodes, (as you say, a premise more than a story) while DS was always a soap and drew its energy from character and story suspense. But we’re all about overarching narratives now–every effective story becomes a franchise–and there might be a way.
    –I have my own hobbyhorses about what might make a DS reboot work now–I’ll spare you, but I have well-developed fantasies.
    –The disheartening examples do have to be taken into consideration, of course: the Dan Curtis film degenerated into Hammer Horror, the 1991 series reboot lost opportunity after opportunity, pouring on production budget and romance-novel sex scenes where there should have been character writing; the greatest condemnation of the Burton film was that Burton loved DS as a kid but couldn’t stop falling into his frozen habits and totally losing the tone; the Warner pilot had no character development or mystery, and was visually tasteless; by the way, in the 80s Dan Curtis was in talks with the Hartford Stage Company to create a Dark Shadows musical, but it never came to be. So maybe I’m nuts.
    –But I can’t stop imagining a rework of the original. And it’s a part of the show’s power, and our shaggy-dog love for its potentials– that I can’t.

  21. What a great post, and the responses are stellar.

    So I’m in both camps on the DS redo. Yes, I want a new DS. But I do NOT want another warmed over version of the Barnabas story.

    I’d like to see a new TV serial show (HBO would be perfect). Let the previous show inform the new one — especially in mood, intricacy, atmosphere. But in no way whatsoever should it retell the previous show.

    I’d propose setting it in the late 1920s, just before the stock market crash. Liz and Roger are teens, and the good times are rolling at Collinwood, with a big ol’ fancy party. We give them a mother, a couple of older half-siblings from Jameson’s previous marriage from a psycho ex-wife for automatic family tension, and maybe some Evanses, Devlins, Stockbridges (but no Phoenix), Trasks, Murdochs, Jenningses and Stoddards in the village as needed.

    But except for Jameson, Roger, Liz and COLLINWOOD, this is a new canvas. No Barnabas, no Julia, no Quentin, no Angelique. Just another dysfunctional Collins clan with an almost blank sleight. I think this era would be perfect for DS with a noir mood.

    Let the end of the first episode be the news of the stock market crash. Jameson loses half his fortune overnight, and the first creepy supernatural event occurs. This is the beginning of Collinwood going into decay, with rooms and wings being closed off, etc. Keep a mix of human stories with the supernatural, and you’re off to the races. Defy expectations and start off not with a vampire, but a ghost.

    For long-time fans, you’ve thrown them something of a bone. But for new fans, they can pick this up without ever having seen or be burdened/pressured by the original.

    But if a new DS is another Barney redo, it’s doomed to fail and I’m out. But borrow the setting and a few of the original characters and you could really be onto something.

  22. I used to be in the let’s-remake-DS camp, but after reading this blog for many years, I have changed my mind. There is simply no way to recapture, not to mention improve upon the original. Now, if you were to produce new material…

  23. Well, the Amazon Prime exposure is bound to increase interest in aDS reboot. the good thing is, all these new viewers will want the remake to be true to the original series, jus tlike we do.

  24. IF there is ever another reboot, I hope (futilely) that the rebooters would start with Episode 1. A more cohesive backstory and a quicker pace (10 original episodes could easily condense into an hour of story) and the buildup to Barnabas (who would appear around the 21st episode) would be a unique way to retell the story, one that has not been tried. (Of course we’d have to replace the pen with a smart watch, and David would need to read a How-to Wiki to remove the bleeder valve, etc.) Frankly it would improve considerably on the original series’ original episodes (of which I am a fan, but which would not see much fanfare/acclaim if released today).

    Otherwise I’ll still hold out for a revival – in the truest sense of the word, à la 2012’s “Dallas”. I’m sure the Collins Family of 2018 is in no better state than they were 50 years ago.

    If they’re just going to re-tell Barnabas/Angélique/Josette/Vicki and only hit the “high” points…meh, I’ve got the DVDs for that.

    1. But with respect, this isn’t how TV works. Who would greenlight a show where the lead isn’t seen until the 1st season finale? It also isn’t even true to the real DS, which didn’t actually “begin” until 210, when Barnabas was released.

      You could probably, I guess, RIVERDALE DS re: the original pre-Barnabas cast, but… still, I don’t know what DS is without Barnabas and Julia.

      Also, there’s the Netflix format and what would be the first 13 episodes of a new DARK SHADOWS? What’s your story? What’s your hook? The big problem is that most hardcore fans don’t want anything new. They want a note-for-note cover. They want a Carolyn who doesn’t listen to Jay-Z, even if she’s 19 in 2018. They don’t want a David who gets mysterious text messages from a hidden room in the house. They want DS to remain in 1960s forever. And if so, then just watch the version that was made.

  25. Ben Cross was so hot, as were Michael T. Weiss and Adrian Paul. I loved the sexiness they all added to DS 1991. Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas was creepier (in the beginning) while Ben Cross’ Barnabas was much more violent. And sexy. I’d let him bite me, as well as Alec Newman.

  26. Why not just put Barnabas back in the box and have someone release him in the now? Yes the Depp movie did it but I am talking TV. Plus we hate The movie and anyway it’s a retelling which we do not need.

    The Past exists and Barnabas remembers it if course but most of the story moves forward. Or maybe he doesn’t remember it and the first season is like the Bad Wolf Dr Who plot, tantalizing clues that he may have left himself. Maybe he’ll go back maybe he won’t, some flashbacks. Then Ta-Dah “Angelique!” She and Barnabas are the only two to bring back. No other originals no other monsters, just ghosts, eventually. And time travel.

    Big DS issue was the incoherence of time travel stories and those still exist in all time travel stories but we have more templates now and more sophistication.

    And oh – he’s released by Julia Hoffman’s great niece as in daughter of her sisters daughter, who inherited her stuff and who knew the original Julia as a little girl and to whom she told ‘ghost stories’. Plus she’s young and beautiful and Barnabas falls in love with her. And so on. She could even come prepared with some blood in a bag and a crossbow, just in case.

    I realize that you purists will protest but I am actually agreeing with you. This isn’t a remake, it’s not even a reboot, with only one or two of the original characters plus the house for old timers fan service and then a new set of new stories because a retelling simply isn’t needed. Given our popular culture’s fondness for nostalgia and remakes reboots etc I think it may be inevitable anyway though we still have a way to go to heal the wounds that Tim Burton left in all of us.

  27. And so, Rest In Peace, DS Revival. You had your magical moments, almost all of them in the 1790’s:
    “Nothing but bears, snakes, and savages!”
    “Machine wash, tumble dry…”
    “Don’t gloat, girl. You’ll be watched!”
    “Somewhere over the rainbow…”
    “Ze cards! Zey ‘ave anticipated you! …What is it you know zis time?”
    Angelique’s layered laugh track superimposed over Jeremiah’s death parade.
    “…my warm blood for the blood fwrozen forever in his veins…” (& every scene Lysette Anthony is in.)
    Josette’s haunting sprint and leap at Widows Hill…
    Little jewels in the flawed, sprawling saga that is Dark Shadows.

  28. I keep having a recurring dream: a man enters a mausoleum in the dead of night. He trains his flashlight on the burial plaques on the wall beyond the three sarcophagi and then settles on attempting to remove the stone lid of the middle casket. His pulley equipment accidentally trips a mechanism in the wall and a section of it begins opening inward, revealing a secret vault. From the darkness, a shaggy dog pads out and makes for the exit, followed by an ugly duckling, who likewise waddles out of the mausoleum. Recovering from his shock, the man enters the room and sees an ancient coffin. He opens it and finds…it is filled with DVDs, books, magazines, and an assortment of other items. He then notices an old bottle sitting on a pedestal, draped in cob webs. Inside the bottle, lightning bolts flash intermittently! Fascinated, he uncorks the bottle and is struck by a bolt of lightning as thunder roars within the chamber. The crackling lightning bolts, freed from the now shattered bottle, storm out of the chamber, accompanied by the deafening thunder.
    He stands, brushing himself off, and sees that his body is glowing! His hands, his brain, his heart tingle with residual electricity! He stuffs the contents of the coffin into his tool bag and runs out into the dark and stormy night…..

  29. “But usually, television reboots take an episodic narrative structure and just reuse the premise, like Charlie’s Angels”

    Bad example. All three Charlies Angels films, plus the new TV series, are considered part of the same universe as the original–they actually refer to the original characters.

  30. My wife and I started watching Dark Shadows in the Spring of 2020, at first on Tubi, now on Amazon Prime. We live in a college town; the college has an excellent theater program, and there are a couple of community theater venues that maintain a relatively high standard. We’d been going to plays once or twice a week until the Quarantine.

    Dark Shadows turned out to be the perfect substitute. A lot of those plays were black box productions; most of them had at least one actor who was not quite ready for the night’s performance; almost all of them had some rough spots with the technical crew. So the creative process was very close to the surface, and the audience had to do a fair bit of mental work to assemble in their heads the show that was supposed to be produced.

    So that’s another reason for all the reboots all of us are producing in our heads the whole time we watch Dark Shadows. The show is a continual invitation to do just that. When we mentally edit out the boom mikes, the cameras rolling into the shot, the stagehands standing there eating sandwiches, and the gravestones falling over; when we semi-consciously correct the garbled dialogue and read the blue candles as white; when we look at a bunch of unrelated objects placed at weird angles to each other and reassemble them in our mind’s eyes as a room; when we do all these things, and more, we’ve already started restaging the scenes, recasting the roles, rewriting the dialogue, replotting the stories. Once you’ve done all that in your head, it’s only natural to wonder what it would look like on the screen.

  31. A lot of the issues with the 1991 reboot/remake has already been covered, but I do agree that the first half of the season was too focused on hitting plot points that it became unfocused because they couldn’t really freely write a show that makes sense. The second part flows better and I did enjoy the cliffhanger, but had there been a season two they would’ve had to boot out Dan Curtis (which wouldn’t have been popular with the fandom, at least at the time).

    Ultimately, a lot of the best soap opera things happen by accident and because writers/producers are able to see when something works on a show and run with it. Barnabus wasn’t going to last more than 13 weeks on the original show, but obviously they saw something that worked and ran with it. JR only got shot DALLAS because CBS ended up ordering two additional episodes and the writers had to come up with a new plot. Marcia Cross was only scheduled to appear on one episode of MELROSE PLACE and they ended up liking her performance enough to bring her back. And so on…

    Ideally, any reboot/remake has to deviate from the source material (thus functioning like an actual ordinary show) and take note on what’s working and what’s not and not just run on the cliff notes version. But as long as Dan Curtis was there that wasn’t going to happen, so maybe it was for the best that DS ’91 was buried.

  32. The only bad thing about this thoughtful, nuanced post and the comments that follow it is that neither Danny nor anyone else is making fun of the actual events and dialogue in Part 12. I want some of that!

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