Category Archives: Ron Sproat

683 dark shadows julia barnabas up

Episode 683: The Very Last Ron Sproat Episode

“I want you to tell me what you know of a tall blonde woman in a long, flowing white dress.”

On February 5th, 1969, ABC aired what is generally considered to be the worst half-hour of network television, the first episode of a sketch comedy show called Turn-On. The show managed to be both offensive and incomprehensible, which is quite a trick, and on at least one station, it was cancelled during the first episode.

The conceit of Turn-On was that it was produced by a computer, which spliced together lots of little shards of not-funny. The show didn’t have any sets; it was just filmed against a stark white background. An odd-looking character would appear and do something strange, and then they’d cut to something else.

Almost all of the jokes were about sex, and sometimes they just flashed the word SEX! on the screen, in various colors. They also flashed captions with jokey references to sex and gay people, including “God Save the Queens,” “Free Oscar Wilde,” “Make Love Not Wine,” and “The Amsterdam Levee Is a Dike.” Sometimes the screen would be divided into four comic-strip panels, and the sketch would be performed in discrete chunks, one in each panel. The ending credits were split up into pieces and aired throughout the show.

WEWS, an ABC affiliate in Cleveland, took the show off the air during the first commercial break, and just didn’t show the rest of the episode. I don’t know what they filled the extra twenty minutes with, but it was better than Turn-On, so it could have been literally anything.

And on the same day — February 5th, 1969 — ABC also aired the last episode of Dark Shadows written by Ron Sproat. ABC was just having a bad day overall.

Continue reading Episode 683: The Very Last Ron Sproat Episode

682 dark shadows maggie mirror

Episode 682: The Four Maggies

“We know you were destroyed by some evil force! Now is your chance to destroy it!”

It’s a situation that only happens in long-running serialized narrative. The main character has run away, never to return, and she didn’t even bother to make up a decent excuse. “I’m going to go and live with my husband’s past-life doppleganger,” Vicki said. “If you need to reach me, I’ll be in the 18th century.”

So what can you do? You hire a new governess, and you move on with your make-believe life. The Collins family has lost their lost princess, and to take her place, they’ve found Maggie Evans, a waitress with no experience in education, and a gaping hole in her LinkedIn profile that she can’t explain.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for Maggie, because the process of Vickification involves stripping away all ties to her old life. In fact, on the night that she was offered the governess job, both her fiancee and her house were torn to pieces by a wild animal. I don’t know how you arrange for an onboarding process like that, but it definitely made the point. Her father and her fiancee are gone, her home is destroyed, her memory is wiped clean, and she has become Vicki.

But that interpretation assumes that there’s only one Maggie, and one Vicki. It’s more complicated than that. There are actually four Maggies, and most of them are Vicki.

Continue reading Episode 682: The Four Maggies

673 dark shadows werewolf cane

Episode 673: The Shambles

“The blast from that gun should’ve killed any living creature. And it should’ve.”

Eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins is out on the grounds of his family estate in the middle of the night, hunting for werewolves by the light of the full moon.

He hears something moving in the woods — and as the vicious beast advances, Barnabas lets fly with a rifle shot, smacking the animal right in the heart. But this is a supernatural creature with the raw power of whatever demon cursed its malignant soul; it shrugs off the gunshot, and comes back for more.

Thinking quickly, Barnabas tosses the rifle aside, and prepares to beat the snarling beast to death with his cane.

You know, they don’t make eccentric millionaires like this anymore. It’s a lost art.

Continue reading Episode 673: The Shambles

672 dark shadows werewolf stalking

Episode 672: Werewolf By Night

“There must have been something about this bracelet that kept the animal from killing me.”

Okay, let’s get right into it, because pretty much everything happens today, and I don’t have time to mess around. This is one of those episodes your mother would have warned you about, if she was dead.

Continue reading Episode 672: Werewolf By Night

668 dark shadows david amy cool kids

Episode 668: The Aristocrats

“Sometimes I get scared to like people, because I’m afraid.”

There are five more Ron Sproat episodes, and then, I swear to you, he is out of my life for good.

To catch up the uncaught: Over the last three months on Dark Shadows, there’s been a behind the scenes tug-of-war between two of the writers, Ron Sproat and Sam Hall. Ron’s been on the show since November 1966, and he lkes to slow things down and take his time. He writes a lot of recap scenes, and a whole week can go by without anything really happening. Sam joined the show in November 1967, and he’s the opposite. He’s smart, fearless and easily bored, and he wants to make the show faster, funnier, and more interesting.

Ron and Sam have been out of synch for a long time, and their disagreements are getting worse. That’s why the last few months have been a patchwork of exciting episodes and boring episodes, even more than usual.

By now, Sam has won, and Ron is on his way out. There’s only a handful of Sproat episodes left — and based on today’s episode, it sounds like he’s already cleaned out his desk.

Honestly, he’s not even trying anymore. I mean, he never really tried that hard in the first place, but now he’s not even trying to look like he’s trying.

Continue reading Episode 668: The Aristocrats

667 dark shadows cleveland amory 2

Episode 667: Take the Actors, Please

“And once you’ve seen that action, you will look back on that dialogue as manna from heaven combined with the balm of Gilead.”

One year ago on Dark Shadows, a man shot his wife in the drawing room, in the shoulder, and in the middle of ABC-TV’s afternoon programming lineup.

As she lay there, weltering in gore, she set a terrible curse upon his house, which summoned a marionette bat from the gates of Hell. The bat swooped at the man’s throat as he screamed and screamed and screamed, and I think you could make a good case that this was the moment when sensible grown-ups should have intervened.

And yet it runs on, this perpetual bad-influence machine disguised as a harmless daytime soap opera, because normal working adults in 1969 have exactly zero interest in what the housewives and teenagers of America are doing at four o’clock in the afternoon. As long as everyone’s mopped up the blood and erased the chalk pentagram on the floor by the time Dad comes home, there are no further questions.

Continue reading Episode 667: Take the Actors, Please

666 dark shadows willie julia second coming

Episode 666: The Second Coming

“I know what I’m saying, Julia, he’s out there, Barnabas is out in the mausoleum, and he’s alive! He’s alive!”

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Or, to put it another way:

“If you believe,” he shouted, “clap your hands! Don’t let Tink die.”

Continue reading Episode 666: The Second Coming

665 dark shadows vicki asleep

Episode 665: Vicki Ruins Everything (Reprise)

“She did have to undergo the hanging, yes.”

Victoria Winters is dead!

Sorry, spoiler alert. I always forget to say that. Sorry!

Still, this hardly counts as a news item anymore. VDub has tried to leave the show twice now, and they keep on dragging her back on screen. A few weeks ago, she disappeared from Collinwood, traveling back to 1796 to reunite with her husband Peter “Jeff” Bradford-Clark. Then she found out the authorities still wanted to execute her for witchcraft, so Barnabas had to cross the barrier of space and time in order to save her.

Unfortunately, Barnabas arrived too late to stop the execution, which makes you wonder why he chose to shatter causality just to show up at the last minute. And now here’s Vicki, freshly hanged and laid out to dry.

Today, the sorcerous soap vixen Angelique stands over the body, and says a bunch of words about putting Vicki under a spell, and now Vicki’s going to be buried alive. Angelique is super into burying people alive these days, even though it sounds like a damp fizzle of a story point. It’s like an annoying song that’s stuck in her head, and she can’t shake it.

And hey, you know what would be great to see right now? David Selby.

Continue reading Episode 665: Vicki Ruins Everything (Reprise)

664 dark shadows vicki noose header 2

Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

“Don’t ask questions. Now, you mustn’t panic, or ask — or be afraid, or ask questions, because something unexpected may happen. And you mustn’t panic! Do you understand?”

So where do I even start with this? Barnabas Collins has handwaved himself back into his own history, where girl governess Victoria Winters is still awaiting execution for witchcraft. You’d think the statute of limitations would run out after 170 years, plus she’s already been hanged for this, so it’s double jeopardy. Also, it’s not even the real Vicki.

But Barnabas is doing what the Collins family does best, namely: rewrite their family history with a black magic marker, powered by authentic black magic.

This is the start of a challenging run of episodes, because Sam Hall and Gordon Russell — also known as the good Dark Shadows writers — are taking a week off to figure out what they’re going to do with the show following this little cul-de-sac in story progression.

So the next five episodes are all written by Ron Sproat, who’s not a very good writer, and directed by Dan Curtis, who’s not a very good director, and it’s smack in the middle of nine consecutive episodes featuring Jonathan Frid, who’s not very good at remembering his lines. It’s like the perfect storm of barely adequate television production.

Continue reading Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

656 dark shadows david amy spooky kid

Episode 656: Unspooky

“No human hand has touched these clothes since I took them away.”

Okay, the Ron Sproat script countdown continues; we are currently at nine episodes and holding.

Sproat, if you haven’t read my other posts on the subject, is the third-best out of three on the Dark Shadows writing team, and he and I have been engaged in a tense standoff since April 1967. He’s got one month left until he leaves the show, and it’s going to come down to the wire on which of us is going to crack first.

Now, I’m going to write today’s post as if there’s somebody out there who still likes it when I spend the entire day complaining about Ron Sproat and his terrible scripts. “Oh, boy,” this make-believe person might say, passing by in a hot-air balloon. “These are my very favorites. I shall read today’s entry with particular relish.”

But now that I’ve written that down, it doesn’t sound super likely. I mean, does anyone even talk like that? And why a hot-air balloon?

Continue reading Episode 656: Unspooky