“Nothing seems more important to me at the moment than the strange goings-on in this house.”
And so the afternoons wear on, Monday through Friday, and day by day, everyone’s getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. That’s the usual arrangement, of course, and it generally works out okay, but it’s something of a problem for a television show like Dark Shadows, whose market share is determined by the audience’s appetite for the deeply unwise.
There’s been a steady drumbeat of cultural warning signs over the last year, signaling that the space that Dark Shadows occupies in the American consciousness is destined to be rezoned. There was that push for non-toxic children’s television, which resulted in the fall 1969 debuts of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sesame Street. There was the disaster at the Altamont free music festival in December ’69, when everyone discovered, to the surprise of an entire generation, that an enormous crowd of drug-addled young people is not innately loving and peaceful. There was the embarrassing string of House of Dark Shadows ads over the summer promising a “bizarre act of unnatural love,” and the shift in public opinion around April 1970 that made people start to classify Dark Shadows viewers as perverts, dabblers and scag freaks.
And then there’s another case study to consider, as we tumble towards 1971: the fall of Aurora’s Monster Scenes.
Continue reading Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On
“Judah must be dead, or you would still be in his power.”
“It’s over,” Julia breathes, sinking into an armchair. And it’s not, really, but give it five months or so; we’ll get there.
Continue reading Episode 1138: The Trouble with Tulips
“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
“You had no right to break out of here and kill Paul Stoddard!”
Here’s the thing: Teenagers are terrible. They’re selfish, entitled, self-righteous, irresponsible and rude. Honestly, the only good thing you can say about them is that adults are worse.
So here we are, approaching the teenager’s bedroom — the “Chosen Room,” apparently, add “overly dramatic” to the above list — and it’s January 1970, so he’s probably doing something countercultural in there, like smoking something, or balling someone, or turning into a hideous acid-spitting tentacular failure demon.
We knock on the door, not sure what to expect…
And there he stands, the dark angel of Altamont, saying: Please allow me to introduce myself.
Continue reading Episode 935: The Monster at the End of This Week
“Barnabas never ceases to be exciting.”
My husband opens the doors to the drawing room, and finds me deep in thought, puzzling over an old book. I’m reading carefully, and transcribing some of the more difficult passages.
As he makes his way to the drinks cabinet, he asks, “Is that for the blog?” I tell him it is, and I show him the cover. He asks why I’m writing about this now, and I say that the book just came out.
“But that looks old,” he says.
“Yeah, it just came out.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m in January 1970. This was published in December 1969.”
“Oh, I see,” he says. “You were meanwhiling.” This is why our marriage works.
Continue reading Episode 922: To My Fans, the Audience
“I tried to get it off my finger, but I can’t!”
In a way, Quentin’s having a tough week. He’s scheduled to marry a psychotic sorceress in a week’s time, the girl that he was planning to elope with went and eloped without him, his enchanted portrait was pinched from his bedroom, and now a wicked wizard is casting some kind of mysterious hoodoo on him that will almost certainly lead to ruin, desolation and despair, in that order.
But in another and much more important way, Quentin is having the time of his life. He’s currently in a streak of 14 straight episodes, and over the next six weeks, he appears on 26 days out of 30. He’s booked solid from Monday to Friday, and now they’re even sending him out on weekend excursions to wave at people.
Continue reading Episode 854: Positively Like a Beatle
“I can’t take my mind off this bullet.”
Yesterday, somebody found a silver bullet outside Collinwood, and now Quentin’s taking it super personally. As a Werewolf-American, naturally he’s sensitive to displays of lycanphobic sentiment. Trying to explain that anybody could be killed by a silver bullet is not at all reassuring.
Continue reading Episode 768: Number One with a Bullet
“This was because Barnabas was only partly dead.”
Quentin Collins has been up all night, worrying about gypsies. He killed his wife Jenny yesterday, and as a result, Magda put a curse on him that will last all the days of his life. He’s terrified, naturally, as anyone would be, but eventually nature gets the better of him, and he settles into an uneasy doze.
He’s awakened by a woman’s voice — Jenny’s voice — calling his name. But that’s not super surprising; everybody’s been calling his name lately. He’s caught on.
Continue reading Episode 749: The Big Break
“There were infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.”
Monday’s episode was the first credited to Violet Welles, one of the best writers on Dark Shadows, and one of the most mysterious. She was a theatrical press agent, working on a varied slate of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. She also wrote for several television shows, but almost always as a ghost-writer; Dark Shadows is her only credited work as a writer, and she had to be talked into becoming a full-time writer on the show.
There are several websites that list Violet’s credits as a press rep — Playbill Vault, Internet Broadway Database and the Internet Off-Broadway Database — but almost nothing is known about her television work.
Happily, there’s a fan resource to the rescue: The World of Dark Shadows, the flagship DS fanzine which ran from 1975 to 2001. Issue #59/60, published in June 1991, ran a four-page interview with Violet Welles, giving us a rare glimpse into the day-to-day experience of the Dark Shadows writing team. The interview is fantastic, and I’m going to post it here in its entirety. It was conducted by Meghan Powell-Nivling, who I have not contacted for permission, so I hope nobody minds. Here’s Violet.
Continue reading Extra: An Interview with Violet Welles
“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