Tag Archives: turning point

Episode 818: The Green Light

“When I saw myself rising from the dead — with those fangs!”

There are eight turning points in the story of Dark Shadows — moments when the focus and direction of the show changed forever. Four of them are character introductions, and four are backstage events. Here they are, in order of appearance:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Here we are in mid-August 1969, and we’ve reached that final turning point — the moment when a grown-up movie studio agreed to distribute a feature film about a daytime soap opera, using the same cast and crew, while the TV show is still in production. Everything that happens over the next year and a half of the show will be affected by that deeply peculiar decision.

The story that people tell about House of Dark Shadows is that creator Dan Curtis, like all artistic visionaries, was deeply misunderstood. He had a burning ambition to turn his vampire soap opera into a feature film, and nobody at the studios would believe in his dream. Finally, Dan found a kindred spirit in James Aubrey, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who recognized the value of a Dark Shadows movie and eagerly gave it the green light.

Once the film was greenlighted, the only headache to figure out was how to get the cast off the show for six weeks, while they filmed the movie. Dan and the writers came up with a way to focus on the actors who weren’t part of the movie cast, until the shooting was over. That way, the movie wouldn’t have a negative impact on the show, and when shooting wrapped, everything went back to normal. On release, the movie was such a success that it saved MGM from closing down.

That story is almost entirely false. This is actually the story of the destruction of Dark Shadows. It’s also the story of the destruction of MGM. And like all Dark Shadows stories, the line between hero and villain is not necessarily clear.

Continue reading Episode 818: The Green Light

Episode 701: The Most Important Thing About Quentin

“Life was more exciting, when I was around.”

So, the lesson, I suppose, is that you shouldn’t lock up your relatives, build paneling over the door, and pretend that they went to France.

I mean, I understand the impulse. Quentin is selfish and mean, and practices dark sorcery. You’ve tried to kick him out of the house, but he just laughs, and keeps on drinking other people’s brandy. And then there’s a sale at Home Depot, and you think, This could be so easy…

The downside, of course, is that then your descendants come along and unseal the tomb, because they’re young and curious, and you forgot to write “Dangerous ancestor, do not open” on the entrance portal. Although they probably wouldn’t have paid attention anyway; descendants are dumb like that.

So now the genie’s out of the bottle, and nobody knows the magic words to get him back in. The sinister specter is running roughshod over the house, stealing children, throwing mediums down the stairs and messing with people’s hairstyles. But eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins has decided that enough is enough, so he uses the mysterious Chinese art of I Ching in a desperate attempt to communicate with the ghost.

Strictly speaking, this is unnecessary, because the kids already have a magic telephone that they’ve been using to communicate with Quentin for months. Barnabas could talk to Quentin any time he wants; Quentin just doesn’t care. Communications technology is not the issue.

Continue reading Episode 701: The Most Important Thing About Quentin

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

Episode 646: The Turning

“What we did was bury Quentin’s bones. His spirit is still alive, isn’t it?”

There are eight turning points in the history of Dark Shadows — moments where the focus and direction of the show changes permanently. You can’t really talk about the development of the show without these eight pivotal events.

Four of the turning points are character introductions, and four of them are backstage developments. In order, they are:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Today isn’t one of them, by the way. I just thought I’d mention it.

Continue reading Episode 646: The Turning

Episode 601: The Last Days of Ron Sproat

“It’s happening, Julia! The spirit of Philippe Cordier is killing Adam!”

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present — for one night, and one night only — the insubstantial spirit of Monsieur Philippe Cordier.

Now, for people who are just joining us, I’d like to give you a brief introduction to Philippe, so that you understand his role in the current storyline. Unfortunately, this is impossible. He only showed up at the end of Friday’s episode — and by “showed up”, I mean he possessed Barnabas at a seance and ranted in French for two minutes — and in today’s episode, he’s banished forever, immediately following the opening titles.

An explanation of who Philippe is, and why he’s on the show right now, would involve at least six character names, two Universal Monsters references, an anagram, the French Revolution, the phrase “life force”, and maybe a couple of Doors songs. You basically need a Ph.D. in Dark Shadows to approach this particular plot point.

Continue reading Episode 601: The Last Days of Ron Sproat

Episode 497: Frid’s Big Week

“Here they were, with these thousands of kids, and this idiot on top of this hearse with fangs, and what was going on, you know? What’s happened to America?”

A year ago, Jonathan Frid stepped out of the mystery box for a limited 13-week run as a villain on a struggling soap opera. Now it’s May 1968, and by some strange magic, Barnabas Collins is the most popular character on the hottest show on daytime TV. The ratings have jumped from 9 million viewers to 16 million, and they haven’t peaked yet. As “America’s cool ghoul”, Jonathan Frid is suddenly at the center of a pop culture sensation.

That’s good news for ABC, obviously, and the most exciting part is that Dark Shadows has caught on with teenagers, whose daily lives are the original social media.

Traditionally, soaps were watched by housewives, recluses and the unemployed. These are people with a fairly limited amount of social interaction, and word-of-mouth doesn’t spread that far. But high school and college students talk to and influence a huge number of friends and acquaintances, and they have lots of free social time when they can evangelize about their new favorite show. Plus, they’ll buy spin-off merchandise, which brings in revenue and continues to spread awareness of the show to potential new viewers. In a couple months, ABC is going to move Dark Shadows from 3:30 to 4:00, to make sure that kids can get home after school to watch the show.

And this week, they’re sending Jonathan Frid on a week-long whistle-stop national tour, traveling to 10 cities in a private Lear jet. Frid’s job for this week is to show up at airports and supermarkets dressed as Barnabas — complete with cape, cane and fangs — and tell children what it’s like to be a vampire. P.S. Jonathan Frid is a grown man.

Continue reading Episode 497: Frid’s Big Week

Episode 472: Lethal Weapon

“I was just noticing your harpoon collection.”

“I’m sorry, Sheriff,” Julia says, in a spot of unhurried telephone acting, “but Mrs. Stoddard is resting. I’ll be glad to give her a message.” Then her face darkens. “I see. Yes, I’ll tell her — and, please, call the minute you hear something else.”

Then Barnabas just walks into the room. Nobody let him in, which means that Julia must have given him a key, and therefore they’re dating and they’re totally in love with each other.

Continue reading Episode 472: Lethal Weapon

Episode 368/369: A Wicked Woman

“I am your servant. You are my master. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it is to be.”

Okay, let’s talk some more about The Crucible, the 1953 Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. Everybody knows that The Crucible is the inspiration for the Collinsport witch hunt that’s coming up next month, but the influence goes even deeper than that, all the way down into the soul of Dark Shadows.

The play is a dramatization of the hysteria in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts. A group of young girls is found dancing in the woods, in defiance of the strict Puritan laws against dancing, music and anything that might be enjoyable. Horrified at being discovered, and desperate to find a scapegoat, the girls pretend that they’ve been seduced and tormented by witches living in the village. Directed by the eldest girl, Abigail Williams, they become a terrifying mob who accuse dozens of their neighbors. Guided only by the “spectral evidence” of the girls’ testimony, the court convicts and executes 20 innocent people.

Abigail is a terrifying figure in the play — self-centered and vengeful, taking a special delight in wielding the power that she’s suddenly acquired. Abigail was a servant of farmer John Proctor, and her tangled relationship with him is the emotional heart of the drama.

Over the last few weeks, the crucial new idea on the show is to introduce these narrative collisions, weaving characters from other fictional worlds into the story of Dark Shadows. There’s a beautiful woman from another story walking into the house today, and things are going to get ugly.

Continue reading Episode 368/369: A Wicked Woman

Episode 357: When Worlds Collide

“Why do you think you’re the only one who hears dogs?”

Let’s start, once again, with the notebook. I’m going to assume you’ve been following the story, and you already know everything you need to know about the vampire, the doctor, the experiments, the murder, the notebook, the niece and the crystal chandelier. If you’re new to the group, feel free to read up on the old episodes, because frankly I’ve had it with trying to explain this weird little knot of a storyline.

Fortunately, the show is less than two weeks away from coming to the exact same conclusion.

Continue reading Episode 357: When Worlds Collide

Episode 291: The Alchemist

“The basis of your problem is the destructive nature of your blood cells.”

In Friday’s episode, Julia baited Barnabas into coming to her room to strangle her. But she knew he was coming, and waited quietly in the corner. Now she steps into the moonlight, and delivers some absolutely explosive dialogue.

Julia:  I know what you are. You’re Barnabas Collins — the only Barnabas Collins, who died over a hundred and thirty years ago.

Barnabas:  That’s an absurd statement.

Julia:  Don’t try to deny it. I’ve investigated you thoroughly, and I’ve seen you in your coffin.

Barnabas:  You realize that such knowledge puts you in great danger.

Julia:  Well, of course. That’s why I took the precaution of putting a dummy in the bed.

Which is an unbelievably badass thing to say. Whenever someone asks you for an example of why Dark Shadows is the most surprising and therefore the greatest television show of all time, you can direct them to this scene.

(Note: There is a very good chance that nobody will ever ask you this question. But it’s good to be prepared, just in case.)

Continue reading Episode 291: The Alchemist