Tag Archives: decline and fall

995-sesame-street-big-bird-snuffleupagus

Episode 995: I’ll Bite Anything

“It is difficult to rechannel my thoughts after three years of thinking about nothing but you.”

So it’s not the late 60s anymore, is what I’m saying, and eventually a show that’s as adamantly late 60s as Dark Shadows is going to run into trouble when it tries to outlive its environment.

As you know, the difference between the 1960s and the 1970s is that in the 70s, America discovered the concepts of responsibility and safety. In late 1969, the innocent flower children of Woodstock met the lawless, murderous Hells Angels of Altamont, and the good trip became a bad one, to our lasting disadvantage.

At that point, the American people decided that maybe giving their children exposed metal hot plates as toys wasn’t such a great idea, and maybe we should try wearing seat belts, and using child-proof caps, and not letting the Manson Family stay in the guest house. You know, the whole actions have consequences, gravity is real, sometimes people are assholes thing that ruins so many promising utopias.

Continue reading Episode 995: I’ll Bite Anything

990-mary-tyler-moore-hat

Episode 990: Let It Burn

“Coming back from the dead is not a trick, Bruno!”

Okay, everybody gather round the table; it’s seance time again. Our hands must touch, obviously. Everybody knows about the hands. You can’t get anything done unless your hands touch.

Today, we’re making contact with my friend Randall Jessup, who’s going to confer with me on several subjects of great importance, specifically: what’s wrong with Sabrina, the dubious value of re-enacting things, what’s wrong with Parallel Time, what’s wrong with Sabrina (again, at length), and finally, a foolproof plan for what’s going to happen in the final year of this blog.

Continue reading Episode 990: Let It Burn

978-dark-shadows-jigsaw-puzzle

Episode 978: What’s Cooking

“Aren’t you about to be recommitted to the underworld?”

So it turns out Julia can’t cure vampirism after all, just like she can’t cure lycanthropy or Frankenstein Syndrome or acute-onset Creature of the Black Lagoonism. I’m afraid that universal health care for Universal Monsters is still just a dream.

Now Barnabas is reacting to her anti-vamp treatments by becoming even more of a vampire than he was in the first place, which puts the kibosh on the Nobel Prize for sure. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences does not want to hear your excuses. They want results.

And sadly, the result here is that we had Megan as the sleepy co-dependent vampire blood slave a couple weeks ago, and now we’ve got Sabrina in the same role, which means I’m supposed to watch Sabrina urging Barnabas to drink her blood, and consider that entertainment. Well, I’m not having it. The show has refused to provide me with a single reason to like Sabrina, and if she wants to die from blood loss and neck trauma, then she should go and do it on her own time. This window is closed.

So instead of watching that, let’s go — for the very last time, I’m afraid — and look at a new form of Dark Shadows merchandise.

Continue reading Episode 978: What’s Cooking

976-dark-shadows-roger-bruno-parallel

Episode 976: Another Another World

“It’s impossible! I just saw him die!”

Today, Roger Collins opens a door in the east wing of Collinwood and discovers another world, filled with familiar people leading different lives at the exact same time. He’s fascinated by it, of course, and he spends the whole week talking about how desperate he is to see those exciting new stories. This turns out to be a tactical error.

Because there really is Another World — it airs on NBC at 3:00pm, and it’s doing so well that they’re creating a spinoff, which will compete directly with Dark Shadows.

Now, back in the good old days of September 1968, when Angelique was a vampire and Quentin was still a twinkle in Henry James’ eye, nobody would dare counter-program against Dark Shadows. It was a nationwide sensation, thirty minutes of thrills beamed every day to everyone who mattered.

The Columbia Broadcasting System was the big dog in the soap world, with chart-busters As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light at the top of the ratings for more than a decade. But in September ’68, CBS took stock of the situation and decided to turn tail and run, moving The Secret Storm from 4:00 to 3:00, where it was safer and the light was better anyway. They threw poor old Art Linkletter into the 4:00 spot, so the squares had something to do if they’d already finished their homework and folded all the socks. And so Art Linkletter’s House Party lived out the rest of its days, unwatched and unloved, a 25-year broadcasting giant felled by a show that at the time was mainly make-believe mad science experiments.

But Dark Shadows has spent the last four months telling a story that nobody really wanted to hear, and squandering the talents of their new werewolf superstar. There is movement in the shadows. The other wolves can smell weakness.

And next Monday, on March 30th — the same day that Barnabas changes channels to Parallel Time, and gives everybody who wasn’t excited about the Leviathans a natural jumping-off point — NBC premieres their brand new soap opera at 4:00pm. It’s not very good, and it doesn’t last that long, but it gets better ratings than Dark Shadows does, because sometimes the wrong people win.

Continue reading Episode 976: Another Another World

962-dark-shadows-jeb-carolyn-tired

Episode 962: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

“The dead sheriff was standing over me with a gun, and I woke up here.”

Paul Stoddard is missing, again. The Leviathans desecrated his grave a couple weeks ago, with the vague intention of dragging the corpse out of the ground and interrogating it, and when they cracked the coffin, they found the dead man grinning at them in a frozen, ghastly moment of post-mortem mirth. What could this mean? they asked. How could there be something out there that’s crazier than us?

So they burned the body, and by “they” I mostly mean Jeb Hawkes, the master of murder who’s currently standing graveside, comforting Paul’s daughter, as she grieves for a father who just keeps on disappearing.

“When I was a little girl, my father went away from me,” Carolyn chokes. “I told myself then that I was so small, I couldn’t keep him. Then I grew up, and he came back to me. I had another chance. And he went away again.”

Jeb approaches, the secret author of her pain. “Carolyn, this is not the same!”

“Maybe not,” she shrugs. “But I did lose him again, didn’t I?” He embraces her, and for a moment, he almost feels like maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea to murder someone in his girlfriend’s immediate family. And Carolyn cries, “Why are there so many ways of losing people, and so few of holding on?”

So you look at this couple, at this point in the show’s history, and you can’t help but think of the six words that could bring down a government: Don’t you think she looks tired?

Continue reading Episode 962: The Second Law of Thermodynamics

919 dark shadows tate head rolls

Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

“That’s right, I’m a werewolf, and that’s why you’re gonna start painting right now.”

Here we are, in another haunted mansion, and sitting at the front desk is an audio-animatronic Charles Delaware Tate. He speaks, he turns his head, and his chest moves up and down like he’s breathing; I’d estimate this action figure has maybe six points of articulation. But it can’t be the real Chuck D, because he should be seventy-two years older than this.

Quentin and Chris are visiting this weird wax museum because they’re hoping that Tate can paint a picture for them. But Tate laughs at them, just laughs and laughs, until Quentin picks up a vase of flowers and hits him square in the chest with it.

And that’s how Charles Delaware Tate dies laughing, the target of a floral drone strike. He falls face first onto the desk, and then his head pops off and rolls across the floor.

Continue reading Episode 919/920/921: The New Neighbors

901 altamont crowd

Episode 901: Sympathy for the Devil

“You gotta keep your bodies off each other, unless you intend love.”

Barnabas Collins has been brainwashed by cosmic horrors from beyond the mind, who are employing him as a kind of unpaid Faustian process server. Paul Stoddard has just learned that he made a bet with a baby twenty years ago, and lost. Young David Collins has shoplifted himself into a growing army of imaginary snake worshippers.

And to make matters worse, over the weekend, the 1960s ended, which is kind of a bummer.

Continue reading Episode 901: Sympathy for the Devil

711 dark shadows angelique fire demon

Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)

“What demon have you summoned up with your lies and spells?”

Soap opera is a hungry beast. It chews through stories, as fast as you can write them. It eats ideas and feelings and relationships — stripping them down to the bone, and beyond. Creators retire and actors die, fashions change, networks rise and fall. And the soap opera keeps going, driven by its remorseless hunger for more story. You can cancel it, but it will be replaced by another, just as ravenous. Soap opera can not be stopped.

In its day, Dark Shadows was the hungriest of all, chewing up stories and characters and whole generations, every few months. And that’s why it stopped, in the end. The writing team stuffed the beast with tears and wit and English lit for all of 1969, but found their cellar depleted within a year.

Here on the blog, we’ve just reached the Leviathan story, an ambitious tale for a washboard weeper, and one of the first signs of trouble. The show will go on, for another sixteen months or so, but we’re already starting to line up suspects for the Who Killed Dark Shadows murder mystery dinner theater. As we go along, we’ll uncover a lot of different explanations for why the show eventually got itself cancelled, but the most important one is the simplest — they just ran out of stories to tell.

Dark Shadows flourished because they thought outside the box, busting out of the normal confines of a 1960s daytime soap, because it was fun and they didn’t know any better. They built themselves a new box — a mystery box, stranger and more exciting than anyone else’s — and they spent a few years exploring all its dark corners and secret passageways. But once they’d investigated the contours of that space, it turned into a familiar toy box, with a particular set of tropes and a limited set of characters. After a while, there just weren’t any new stories left to tell.

So that puts Big Finish in something of an awkward situation, because they’ve spent the last ten years making more than 60 new Dark Shadows audio dramas, continuing and expanding on a franchise that ran out of juice four decades ago. If the original creators couldn’t think of anything new to do with this story, then what hope does anybody else have?

Continue reading Your Lies and Spells (Blood & Fire)