Soap History: Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows was the first supernatural soap.
This Gothic daytime offering has had many incarnations since its inception by ABC in 1966, yet somehow has never left fans of the cult classic fully satisfied. It was the first soap opera to use paranormal elements, which resonated with the teenage crowd of kids getting home from school each afternoon. But it wasn’t until vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) arrived a year into its run that “Dark Shadows” really took off. The overly dramatic performances, eerie and innovative music and crazy plot twists made it an innovator for the five years it ran. The 1991 return to NBC was a redo of the original, albeit at a much faster pace, but was produced again by Dan Curtis. A pilot was filmed for the WB in 2004, but was never picked up. In 2012, Tim Burton directed the film version starring Johnny Depp.
Original run dates: June 27, 1966 – April 2, 1971
At the start of the show, orphan Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) arrived at Collinwood to begin her job as a governess to the disturbed David Collins (David Henesy). The reclusive matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett), had not left the home in 18 years. She resided at Collinwood with her brother Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds) and daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett). Soon, a long lost relative from overseas, Barnabas Collins, arrived and with him came mysterious and strange happenings.
Barnabas Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall).
“Dark Shadows” scored right from the beginning by casting Elizabeth with venerable stage and screen actress Joan Bennett, who, along with Edmonds, appeared in the first and final episodes of the series. Throughout its run a small company of actors each played many roles, with some characters played by more than one actor. The reboot in 1991 cast Jean Simmons in the role Bennett made famous and then-child actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Ben Cross tackled the role of Barnabas.
“Dark Shadows” had a very weak start in the rating game, and it wasn’t until ghosts, goblins, werewolves and vampires came on the scene did it pull away from the rest of the pack. Characters would often come back from the dead in the unprecedented use of parallel times and flashback scenes. The show also had no problem borrowing material from classic and creepy sources. Storylines can easily be traced to “The Crucible,” “Jane Eyre,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Rebecca,” and “The Lottery.”
The writers of “Dark Shadows” were given just two week’s notice to wrap up the series, which left viewers with a rather abrupt ending and plotlines unfinished because at the time the main characters were off making a movie and the plot at the time was happening in a parallel universe. Most of the plots came to a happy conclusion though, thanks to the soap opera standard of a voiceover explaining future events in the last minute of the finale.
* Its daily slot allowed it to amass more single episodes during its run (1,225) than most other science-fiction/fantasy genre series, including “Doctor Who” and the whole “Star Trek” franchise. Only “Passions” had more with 2,231.
* Actress Alexandra Moltke (Victoria) was subpoenaed as an unwilling witness in the attempted murder trial of her one-time lover Claus von Bülow in the 1980s.
* It was originally aired in black-and-white, but switched to color starting with the August 14, 1967 telecast.
* When it was cancelled, it was replaced with the hit game show, “Password.”
* A syndication deal saved “Dark Shadows” from sure destruction. Most daytime programs at the time were destroyed in an effort to recycle the tape.
* Numerous on-camera bloopers earned it the nickname “Mic Shadows,” thanks to unintentional boom microphone appearances and wobbly sets.
* The 2004 pilot shot by Warner Brothers starred Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters and Alec Newman as Barnabas Collins.
* Ratings fell when most of the cast was pulled for six weeks to film “House of Dark Shadows” in 1970, and never recovered.
* “Dark Shadows” was cancelled during budget cuts at the studio mainly because of its young audience, who usually did not make decisions about buying household goods and food products, the two key industries that bought airtime during soaps.
* The 1991 reboot’s ratings suffered from constantly being moved to accommodate news coverage of the Gulf War.
Photos courtesy: ABC
– Hollie Deese