Remembering Dark Shadows

“My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is just beginning. A journey that I am hoping will somehow begin to reveal the mysteries of my past. It is a journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place. . . to a house high atop a stormy cliff at the edge of the sea. . .to a house called Collinwood.”

So began the first episode of Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera with supernatural plotlines that ran from 1966 through 1971. I remember racing home from school each day to catch the show at 4:00pm, sandwiched between the traditional soap opera General Hospital and Dick Clark’s daily rock ‘n’ roll show, Where the Action Is.  Viewers of my generation will be setting their Tivo and home-recording devices for this Wednesday, May 11, at 3:00am EST, because TCM is airing House of Dark Shadows, the feature film based on the soap’s most popular character, vampire Barnabas Collins.

JOAN BENNETT (SEATED), LOUIS EDMONDS, AND ALEXANDRA MOLTKE WERE THE ORIGINAL STARS OF 'DS.'

Though Barnabas Collins is the character most associated with Dark Shadows, he was not introduced until the second season. Initially, the show centered around Victoria Winters, played by Alexandra Moltke (later Alexandra Isles). Each episode began with Moltke intoning, “My name is Victoria Winters,” followed by a cryptic description of her most recent predicament. For example :  “I have been swept up in the whirlpool of emotions that has at its vortex this great house called Collinwood. And others have swept along this same inexplicable tide.” The first season unfolded from Victoria’s point of view as she uncovered the dark secrets of the Collins family, which included murder and blackmail. Halfway through the first season, a supernatural element in the form of the sobbing ghosts of Collinswood was introduced, and viewership steadily increased.

When the vampire Barnabas was introduced the following season, the popularity of the show soared. Female viewers fell for the brooding, charismatic vamp played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, and school-aged children loved the openly supernatural storyline. At first a sinister predator with designs on Victoria, Barnabas evolved into a tragic, sympathetic character as his popularity grew. This is not unusual in soaps where viewers sometimes become attached to characters played by attractive, appealing actors, even if the characters are initially presented as villainous antagonists. When this happens, the character is redeemed, and his or her motivations reconfigured. This convention of soap operas takes into consideration the opinions and wishes of fans in a way that traditional weekly dramas do not, and it speaks to the fluidity of the continuous storylines that are the hallmark of the genre.

JONATHAN FRID AS BARNABAS

Two years of appearing in nearly every episode exhausted Jonathan Frid, and he requested that the producers bring on another monster. David Selby was cast as Quentin Collins, who was originally an evil spirit hell bent on possessing the soul of young David Collins. Eventually, he was cursed by gypsies and turned into a werewolf. In addition to delving into all the traditional monster storylines, the narrative transported characters back into time, giving the program a fresh vibe and allowing the actors to play multiple characters.

Those who were not fans of the series may look at House of Dark Shadows or clips from the original series on Youtube and wonder what the fuss was about. The production values reveal the hardships of performing a daily series live on tape. The set designs were limited to the Collinwood drawing room, the inn in Collinsport, the old Collinwood mansion, and a few others. In addition, the occasional mishap, such as wobbly walls, misspoken lines, off-screen clatter and crashes, and the intrusive shadows of crew members or microphones, went uncorrected. Once a character’s long dress in a garden scene got caught on a fake tree and uprooted it, forcing the actress to drag the tree around for the entire scene. Another time, a character changed into his street clothes not realizing he was not finished with his scenes. When he was suddenly called back to the set, he had no time to return to his period costume, so all his shots were framed from the chin up. And, for all its horror-film touches, Dark Shadows was indeed a soap opera, with the broad acting style, melodramatic flourishes, and lovelorn characters that define the genre. However, dig beneath the surface and move past the negative stereotypes assigned to soaps, and it is easy to understand Dark Shadows’ special place in popular culture.

KATHRYN LEIGH SCOTT, DIRECTOR DAN CURTIS, & JONATHAN FRID ON THE SET OF 'HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.'

The series was created by Dan Curtis, a TV auteur whose name is well known to fans of small-screen horror. Curtis produced high-profile miniseries and made-for-tv films such as The Winds of War, but he also produced and directed well-crafted horror fare, such as the television movie The Night Stalker (1972) and a well-respected version of Dracula (1974), in which Jack Palance offered a sympathetic interpretation of the character. Curtis took the horror genre seriously, producing atmospheric, dramatically solid programs that I recall with admiration to this day. Legend has it that the inspiration for Dark Shadows came from a strange dream Curtis had in which a young woman rides a train alone while reading a letter and looking out the window. She was on her way to the New England seacoast to be a governess at an old mansion. The dream ended with an image of her standing alone in an empty train station at night. Collaborating with writer Art Wallace, Curtis spun the dream into a concept for a daytime soap opera that focused on mystery and thrived on gothic atmosphere.

The appeal of Dark Shadows was the gothic atmosphere that reeked of Romanticism with a capital “R.” Even in the soap’s early days, in which the story unfolded at a snail’s pace, the atmosphere carried the show, giving the series a Turn of the Screw vibe. Foggy exteriors, gloomy mansions, creepy portraits of revered ancestors, and mysterious sobbing—combined with Robert Cobert’s background music –created a mood that lured viewers into the world Dark Shadows. Once Barnabas Collins arrived at Collinwood, and the show shifted direction from murder and ghosts to vampire mayhem, the horror conventions multiplied. By the way, Cobert’s score was released as a soundtrack album, which broke into the top 20 of Billboard’s album charts in 1969.

ALEXANDRA MOLTKE'S LIFE TOOK A SOAP OPERA TURN WHEN SHE BECAME THE MISTRESS OF CLAUS von BULOW. RUMORS HAD HER AS THE REASON HE INJECTED HIS WIFE, SUNNY von BULOW, WITH A DEADLY DOSE OF INSULIN. Von BULOW WAS ACQUITTED ON APPEAL.

Dark Shadows left a lasting impression on subsequent generations of directors, writers, and actors—from Joss Whedon to Tim Burton. Today, sympathetic vampires are common in horror films, but that was not true in 1967 when the door to Collinwood opened to reveal Barnabas Collins standing in the fog. If Dan Curtis and his associates didn’t pioneer the tragic vampire caught halfway between being hero and monster, they certainly influenced future generations in that direction. Curtis was not only responsible for Barnabas but also Jack Palance’s tragic version of Dracula a few years later.

The legacy of Dark Shadows is not only the sympathetic vampire but also the serialized story with a supernatural theme. The soap opera conventions of a continuing storyline and continuous characters are perfect for unfolding suspense-style narratives and charting the shifting motives of dark characters. Dark Shadows inspired a Canadian soap called Strange Paradise, which was syndicated in America in 1969-1970, and the next decade, Aaron Spelling developed a pilot for a supernatural serial titled Dark Mansions, but it did not get picked up. In the 1990s, the daytime soap operas Port Charles and Passions switched to horror-themed narratives in the face of sagging ratings. Prime-time programs Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon, took full advantage of soap opera conventions and Dark Shadows’ legacy of continuing plotlines involving sympathetic vampires. On occasion, Whedon took his characters back into time to reveal an extensive back story, not unlike Dark Shadows in later seasons.

KATE JACKSON AS DAPHNE

Like all soap operas, Dark Shadows offered juicy roles for veteran movie stars and also proved to be a training ground for young actors, many of whom went on to long careers. Joan Bennett, star of such classic Hollywood films as The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, played matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the anchor of Collinwood. A young David Selby, who played Quentin Collins, later costarred in the long-running prime-time soap Falcon Crest and recently appeared in a small role in A Social Network. Louis Edmonds, who chewed the scenery as oily Roger Collins, ended his career in a 16-year-run as Langley Wallingford in All My Children. John Karlin excelled as Willie Loomis, the Renfield character to Barnabas’s Dracula. Karlin’s face is more recognizable as the husband to Mary Beth Lacey in the CBS series Cagney & Lacey. Mitchell Ryan, recognizable in countless prime-time shows for 50 years, got his start as mysterious Burke Devlin. Kate Jackson, whose fame rests in her identity as “the smart one” on Charlie’s Angels, was only 22 when she landed the role of DS’s Daphne Harridge in 1970-1971. And, Donna McKechnie, the break-out star of the original run of A Chorus Line on Broadway, played Amanda Harris on DS in 1969-1970.

THE 1991 VERSION OF DARK SHADOWS STARRED BEN CROSS AS BARNABAS AND JOANNA GOING AS VICTORIA.

While looking at the cast list, I was reminded of all the well-respected actors and stars who honed their craft on daytime dramas. There have been so many—from F. Murray Abraham to Tommy Lee Jones to Martin Sheen to Ruby Dee—that this is almost a service provided by the soaps for other arenas of acting. Also, while doing a bit of research, I was reacquainted with the devotion and support of fans for their “stories,” as my Mom used to call them.  Recently, Disney, which owns ABC-TV, cancelled two long-running soap operas, All My Children and One Life to Live, which have been on the air 41 years and 43 years, respectively. Rumors have it that the third ABC soap, General Hospital, is on its way out, too. In typical corporate double-speak, Brian Frons, President of ABC Daytime, blamed the audiences for the cancellation by noting that they were not just not interested in watching soap operas anymore. Really, Mr. Frons?  Programs that have been on for more than 40 years lose ratings under your watch, and you blame the audiences. Given the devotion that Dark Shadows still inspires, I don’t believe Frons knows much about soap-opera fans and their viewing habits—or the genre for that matter. Even those who are not fans of the much-maligned genre must recognize that the demise of the ABC soaps represents the end of an era. I doubt if the low-budgeted talk shows that are in the works to replace these soaps will last long, just like the game show that replaced Dark Shadows did not succeed in the time slot.

Curtis understood the popularity of his show and reworked Dark Shadows into two feature-length films released in theaters, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). The former, which airs on TCM on Wednesday, revamped (pardon the expression) the storyline of Barnabas Collins and his arrival to Collinwood. This time he falls for Maggie Evans instead of Victoria Winters, a character who did not make it through the entire series.  Also, in this feature film version, Barnabas is not sympathetic and tragic but treacherous and predatory. Jonathan Frid, whose approach to the character went a long way to creating sympathy for him, disliked this backward step and refused to appear in the Night of Dark Shadows, which then focused on Quentin Collins. In 1990-1991, Curtis revisited Dark Shadows as a weekly, prime-time program but disruptions by the network interfered with the continuing storyline, and the program did not survive the season.

Those who know little of this legendary soap might want to catch House of Dark Shadows this coming Wednesday to get acquainted with the story of Barnabas Collins. Next year, a new feature film based on Dark Shadows will be released. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, it promises to be better than the typical Hollywood rehash of a well-known film or tv series.

44 Responses Remembering Dark Shadows
Posted By Kingrat : May 9, 2011 1:58 pm

Suzidoll, thanks so much for your warm appreciation of this show. There’s an excellent companion book made with the assistance of Kathryn Leigh Scott. Making the feature films may have hastened the demise of the series because of the divided focus of Dan Curtis. Gordon Russell and Sam Hall (husband of Grayson Hall) were talented writers, and the journeys into the past were the most carefully worked out part of the show.

Posted By Kingrat : May 9, 2011 1:58 pm

Suzidoll, thanks so much for your warm appreciation of this show. There’s an excellent companion book made with the assistance of Kathryn Leigh Scott. Making the feature films may have hastened the demise of the series because of the divided focus of Dan Curtis. Gordon Russell and Sam Hall (husband of Grayson Hall) were talented writers, and the journeys into the past were the most carefully worked out part of the show.

Posted By debbe : May 9, 2011 2:44 pm

great post suzidoll. i have to admit i never watched dark shadows, although i knew of its existence…. but your post and time and experience…. makes me want to see it. set the tivo……. i thought this was a timely and fascinating post. thank you.

Posted By debbe : May 9, 2011 2:44 pm

great post suzidoll. i have to admit i never watched dark shadows, although i knew of its existence…. but your post and time and experience…. makes me want to see it. set the tivo……. i thought this was a timely and fascinating post. thank you.

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 9, 2011 6:04 pm

Definitely those of us of a certain age were caught in “Dark Shadows” enticing web — part soap, part horror movie, part romance…all good! I wasn’t completely hooked on it but watched occasionally and appreciate very much how it predated today’s intense TV interest in all things vampiric. Into every generation a great vampire is born — and for us teenyboppers in the 1960s, it was Barnabas!

Also so interesting how many soon-to-be stars cut their teeth on the show.

Great post, Suzi!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 9, 2011 6:04 pm

Definitely those of us of a certain age were caught in “Dark Shadows” enticing web — part soap, part horror movie, part romance…all good! I wasn’t completely hooked on it but watched occasionally and appreciate very much how it predated today’s intense TV interest in all things vampiric. Into every generation a great vampire is born — and for us teenyboppers in the 1960s, it was Barnabas!

Also so interesting how many soon-to-be stars cut their teeth on the show.

Great post, Suzi!

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall : May 9, 2011 7:40 pm

I really enjoyed the 1990 prime time revamp and was very disappointed with the cancellation. It was fun to relive that Creepy Collins feeling.

“In typical corporate double-speak, Brian Frons, President of ABC Daytime, blamed the audiences for the cancellation by noting that they were not just not interested in watching soap operas anymore. Really, Mr. Frons? Programs that have been on for more than 40 years lose ratings under your watch, and you blame the audiences. Given the devotion that Dark Shadows still inspires, I don’t believe Frons knows much about soap-opera fans and their viewing habits—or the genre for that matter.” Hear, hear! My stories were on CBS and it was the decline in quality, which I believe encouraged by the networks so they could cut daytime drama from their budget, which turned me away as a viewer.

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall : May 9, 2011 7:40 pm

I really enjoyed the 1990 prime time revamp and was very disappointed with the cancellation. It was fun to relive that Creepy Collins feeling.

“In typical corporate double-speak, Brian Frons, President of ABC Daytime, blamed the audiences for the cancellation by noting that they were not just not interested in watching soap operas anymore. Really, Mr. Frons? Programs that have been on for more than 40 years lose ratings under your watch, and you blame the audiences. Given the devotion that Dark Shadows still inspires, I don’t believe Frons knows much about soap-opera fans and their viewing habits—or the genre for that matter.” Hear, hear! My stories were on CBS and it was the decline in quality, which I believe encouraged by the networks so they could cut daytime drama from their budget, which turned me away as a viewer.

Posted By Maryann : May 9, 2011 8:50 pm

It will be interesting to see how Tim Burton and Johnny Depp handle Dark Shadows. It was a wonderful soap and enjoyable to the end. It is sad that ABC has decided to end the soap opera. ABC has dozens of channels dedicated to sports through ESPN; children’s channels. ABC replacing soaps with a cooking program although there are more than enough cooking shows and channels dedicated to food but they can’t provide an afternoon of soap operas. They are changing SoapNet to another children’s channel as well. Its not the audience that is lacking but the management at ABC that is ruining the soap.

Posted By Maryann : May 9, 2011 8:50 pm

It will be interesting to see how Tim Burton and Johnny Depp handle Dark Shadows. It was a wonderful soap and enjoyable to the end. It is sad that ABC has decided to end the soap opera. ABC has dozens of channels dedicated to sports through ESPN; children’s channels. ABC replacing soaps with a cooking program although there are more than enough cooking shows and channels dedicated to food but they can’t provide an afternoon of soap operas. They are changing SoapNet to another children’s channel as well. Its not the audience that is lacking but the management at ABC that is ruining the soap.

Posted By missrhea : May 9, 2011 9:49 pm

I hate to admit it but I loved Dark Shadows. I always remember a funny story that happened in my family at that time. My mom had had surgery on her hand and for some reason had two small puncture marks on the inside of her wrist. My cousin who was four or five at the time wouldn’t go near her because she said she had been bitten by a vampire. Here it is 45 years later and both of them have died but it still makes me laugh.

Posted By missrhea : May 9, 2011 9:49 pm

I hate to admit it but I loved Dark Shadows. I always remember a funny story that happened in my family at that time. My mom had had surgery on her hand and for some reason had two small puncture marks on the inside of her wrist. My cousin who was four or five at the time wouldn’t go near her because she said she had been bitten by a vampire. Here it is 45 years later and both of them have died but it still makes me laugh.

Posted By missrhea : May 9, 2011 9:50 pm

Oh, I forgot to add that we lived next door to a cemetery at the time!

Posted By missrhea : May 9, 2011 9:50 pm

Oh, I forgot to add that we lived next door to a cemetery at the time!

Posted By dukeroberts : May 9, 2011 11:38 pm

I remember the 90′s version, which was rather good. That encouraged me to check out the two movies when they were shown on TBS or TNT around that time. The first movie was okay, but I remember being disappointed that Barnabas wasn’t in the second. I have never seen the actual show, but it is in my Netflix queue.

Also, I happened to catch some scenes from some of the soap operas in the past year or so. That digital video that they shoot the soaps on now is horrible. It looks so cheaply made. I don’t blame soap viewers for abandoning their “stories” after seeing that junk. When The Guiding Light got canceled after a combined 70+ years on the air (radio and TV), I figured any of those shows could get the ax. Now it looks that way.

Posted By dukeroberts : May 9, 2011 11:38 pm

I remember the 90′s version, which was rather good. That encouraged me to check out the two movies when they were shown on TBS or TNT around that time. The first movie was okay, but I remember being disappointed that Barnabas wasn’t in the second. I have never seen the actual show, but it is in my Netflix queue.

Also, I happened to catch some scenes from some of the soap operas in the past year or so. That digital video that they shoot the soaps on now is horrible. It looks so cheaply made. I don’t blame soap viewers for abandoning their “stories” after seeing that junk. When The Guiding Light got canceled after a combined 70+ years on the air (radio and TV), I figured any of those shows could get the ax. Now it looks that way.

Posted By leojn : May 10, 2011 9:46 am

I think Suzidoll needs to write the definitive history of the rise and fall of the soaps in general and how this reflects a change in society. What is replacing the soaps in the endless chasm of new media? Or is the form itself dead? Inform us Ms. Doll.

Posted By leojn : May 10, 2011 9:46 am

I think Suzidoll needs to write the definitive history of the rise and fall of the soaps in general and how this reflects a change in society. What is replacing the soaps in the endless chasm of new media? Or is the form itself dead? Inform us Ms. Doll.

Posted By Gayle : May 10, 2011 1:19 pm

Ooh, Barnabas! I was 11 when Dark Shadows debuted and in the days before VCRs, Tivo, DVRs, it was torture to return to school and have to wait for vacations to watch again (in my time zone, DS was over by the time I got home from school). I have to admit the last couple of years that involved time travel sometimes got tedious. Lara Parker who played the treacherous witch Angelique was my favorite of the female characters. I love the notion of a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp reworking!

I am saddened by the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. I stopped taping them (+General Hospital) to watch several years ago but they were also part of my growing up and knowing their storylines and rosters of changing characters. However, a recent TV Guide editorial on the topic pointed out the shocking fact that current viewership is way under 200,000. The article discussed the generational tradition of watching these programs from mother to daughter that seems to have vanished and therefore the networks cannot sustain the expense of these programs with large casts. It is painful to acknowledge that under these circumstances that daytime serial dramas may be another vanishing phase of television like westerns and variety shows (taken from the article as well). I would agree that the ‘replacement’ shows taking AMC/OLTL’s places sound very run fo the mill and just more of what’s already out there. My partner asked me if therefore soap operas are disappearing for good. I don’t think so necessarily. We have a good many options in term of entertainment. There are already various types of programming only available on the Internet. It is easy to envision an Internet soap that might air with less frequently and with smaller casts. Also, the telenovela style of soap from Latin America might bring a new influence to the US equivalent. Many telenovelas there deliberately have a short life span of 16 months though their popularity might generate a ‘sequel.’ This might be a more sustainable model of programming for a network to consider.

In the meantime, I am sorry to think of life without AMC/OLTL and hope General Hospital can continue to run. About 15 years ago I was standing in a grocery store checkout line. I noticed the woman ahead of me had 2 little girls who were ignoring her requests to behave. She finally shouted “Brooke, Erica! I’m warning you!” I nearly fell over laughing when I realized the origins of her daughers’ names.

Posted By Gayle : May 10, 2011 1:19 pm

Ooh, Barnabas! I was 11 when Dark Shadows debuted and in the days before VCRs, Tivo, DVRs, it was torture to return to school and have to wait for vacations to watch again (in my time zone, DS was over by the time I got home from school). I have to admit the last couple of years that involved time travel sometimes got tedious. Lara Parker who played the treacherous witch Angelique was my favorite of the female characters. I love the notion of a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp reworking!

I am saddened by the cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live. I stopped taping them (+General Hospital) to watch several years ago but they were also part of my growing up and knowing their storylines and rosters of changing characters. However, a recent TV Guide editorial on the topic pointed out the shocking fact that current viewership is way under 200,000. The article discussed the generational tradition of watching these programs from mother to daughter that seems to have vanished and therefore the networks cannot sustain the expense of these programs with large casts. It is painful to acknowledge that under these circumstances that daytime serial dramas may be another vanishing phase of television like westerns and variety shows (taken from the article as well). I would agree that the ‘replacement’ shows taking AMC/OLTL’s places sound very run fo the mill and just more of what’s already out there. My partner asked me if therefore soap operas are disappearing for good. I don’t think so necessarily. We have a good many options in term of entertainment. There are already various types of programming only available on the Internet. It is easy to envision an Internet soap that might air with less frequently and with smaller casts. Also, the telenovela style of soap from Latin America might bring a new influence to the US equivalent. Many telenovelas there deliberately have a short life span of 16 months though their popularity might generate a ‘sequel.’ This might be a more sustainable model of programming for a network to consider.

In the meantime, I am sorry to think of life without AMC/OLTL and hope General Hospital can continue to run. About 15 years ago I was standing in a grocery store checkout line. I noticed the woman ahead of me had 2 little girls who were ignoring her requests to behave. She finally shouted “Brooke, Erica! I’m warning you!” I nearly fell over laughing when I realized the origins of her daughers’ names.

Posted By suzidoll : May 10, 2011 1:40 pm

Thanks for the kind comments everyone and for remembering Dark Shadows with me.

Kingrat: I did not know that Sam Hall was Grayson Hall’s husband. Interesting.

Dukeroberts: The production values of soaps never looked that terrific, even with video. But, you are right: Digital and HD do nothing but accentuate the weaknesses.

Gayle: The TV Guide writer has bought the ABC partyline regarding soaps. The viewership he quoted doesn’t take into consideration women who record soaps (think of how many women work during the daytime), or those who watch the soaps on Soapnet. Both of these viewing habits are hard to track, making it difficult to appease and lure sponsors. The numbers were issued by ABC and Frons to “prove” that viewership was weak, so they could justify canceling. You may be right about the mother-daughter observation. This tradition was dealt a severe blow when Frons decided a few years ago to “update” soaps for the youth market by eliminating heavy storylines for many middle-aged and older characters, with Susan Lucci and Erika Slezak as exceptions. If you watch General Hospital, there is no matriarch at all on the show, and women past 45 are shuffled to the back burner. Plus, the storylines on GH revolve around men, male issues of honor and responsibility, and violence (sometimes involving children, always a no-no on soaps). Many older female viewers began to abandon the ABC soaps when ABC Daytime (Frons) chose to ignore the strengths and conventions of the genre for this type of sensationalistic, male-oriented fare. The complete lack of understanding of and condescending attitude toward “a woman’s genre” led to lower viewership (still not as low as they claim). That Frons, ABC, and Disney insist on blaming the audience for the cancellation of the shows is insulting to soap viewers.

Posted By suzidoll : May 10, 2011 1:40 pm

Thanks for the kind comments everyone and for remembering Dark Shadows with me.

Kingrat: I did not know that Sam Hall was Grayson Hall’s husband. Interesting.

Dukeroberts: The production values of soaps never looked that terrific, even with video. But, you are right: Digital and HD do nothing but accentuate the weaknesses.

Gayle: The TV Guide writer has bought the ABC partyline regarding soaps. The viewership he quoted doesn’t take into consideration women who record soaps (think of how many women work during the daytime), or those who watch the soaps on Soapnet. Both of these viewing habits are hard to track, making it difficult to appease and lure sponsors. The numbers were issued by ABC and Frons to “prove” that viewership was weak, so they could justify canceling. You may be right about the mother-daughter observation. This tradition was dealt a severe blow when Frons decided a few years ago to “update” soaps for the youth market by eliminating heavy storylines for many middle-aged and older characters, with Susan Lucci and Erika Slezak as exceptions. If you watch General Hospital, there is no matriarch at all on the show, and women past 45 are shuffled to the back burner. Plus, the storylines on GH revolve around men, male issues of honor and responsibility, and violence (sometimes involving children, always a no-no on soaps). Many older female viewers began to abandon the ABC soaps when ABC Daytime (Frons) chose to ignore the strengths and conventions of the genre for this type of sensationalistic, male-oriented fare. The complete lack of understanding of and condescending attitude toward “a woman’s genre” led to lower viewership (still not as low as they claim). That Frons, ABC, and Disney insist on blaming the audience for the cancellation of the shows is insulting to soap viewers.

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 10, 2011 5:15 pm

Good analysis, Suzi. Clearly the decision to dump most of the soaps was in the works for a long time, the ABC execs laying track well in advance, including the impending changeover of SoapNet to a kid’s network which was announced a long time ago. It’s always such a hollow move when changes are made to “update” for demographics, especially when there seems to be a bit of a mindset shift because older viewers seem to have more money to spend, though we tend to spend it more wisely too, which advertisers don’t like one little bit!

We all know that things change, but trying to make daytime soaps more like crime shows in primetime is, as you say, insulting.

I’ve watched my favorite documentary-type channels turn into havens for pawnshops, gator hunters and so forth, so we shouldn’t be surprised that change these days seems to be mostly for the worse. Pandering for audience is the only goal.

With all the hours to fill on TV, you would think that serving a robust niche audience would be enough, but nowadays young men viewers are the real prize and everything else is falling to their appeal to advertisers. Woe is us! :-)

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 10, 2011 5:15 pm

Good analysis, Suzi. Clearly the decision to dump most of the soaps was in the works for a long time, the ABC execs laying track well in advance, including the impending changeover of SoapNet to a kid’s network which was announced a long time ago. It’s always such a hollow move when changes are made to “update” for demographics, especially when there seems to be a bit of a mindset shift because older viewers seem to have more money to spend, though we tend to spend it more wisely too, which advertisers don’t like one little bit!

We all know that things change, but trying to make daytime soaps more like crime shows in primetime is, as you say, insulting.

I’ve watched my favorite documentary-type channels turn into havens for pawnshops, gator hunters and so forth, so we shouldn’t be surprised that change these days seems to be mostly for the worse. Pandering for audience is the only goal.

With all the hours to fill on TV, you would think that serving a robust niche audience would be enough, but nowadays young men viewers are the real prize and everything else is falling to their appeal to advertisers. Woe is us! :-)

Posted By Maryann : May 10, 2011 9:06 pm

One last comment about soaps, consider the fact that nighttime serials are often very successful, whether its Gossip Girl or the more adult oriented Sopranos, The Tudors, The Borgias, Game of Thrones. ABC is killing the daytime serial on purpose.

Posted By Maryann : May 10, 2011 9:06 pm

One last comment about soaps, consider the fact that nighttime serials are often very successful, whether its Gossip Girl or the more adult oriented Sopranos, The Tudors, The Borgias, Game of Thrones. ABC is killing the daytime serial on purpose.

Posted By May Newsletter « Write On Online : May 11, 2011 2:09 am

[...] * * * Suzi Doll’s post on Dark Shadows is up on the Turner blog. You can read it here. [...]

Posted By May Newsletter « Write On Online : May 11, 2011 2:09 am

[...] * * * Suzi Doll’s post on Dark Shadows is up on the Turner blog. You can read it here. [...]

Posted By Dave : May 11, 2011 3:45 am

Wonderful recap of the original series and the 1991 revival–loved them both. The pilot of the revival series borrowed much from the movie “House of Dark Shadows” by plunging immediately into the release of Barnabas from the tomb by Willie Loomis (but it happily restoring Victoria Winters as the central female character). Available on DVD, the newer series was well-cast (Ben Cross, Jean Simmons), beautifully shot and costumed, but it was filmed, exteriors and all, in California, which really rang false to me. (Collinwood on the Pacific?) As hilariously inept as the production values could be in the original series, at least the (clumsily inserted) location shots–including the crashing waves in the opening credits–were filmed on the East Coast, in Newport, Rhode Island, mostly. One of the great disappointments to many Dark Shadows fans was the failure of the WB to pick up a new series pilot that was shot 7 years ago, originally included in the 2004 fall primetime schedule, but pulled at the last minute. It starred Alec Newman (Barnabas), Blair Brown (Elizabeth Stoddard), Martin Donovan (Roger Collins) and Marley Shelton (Victoria Winters), dir. by P.J. Hogan with Dan Curtis executive producing. There’s a detailed postmortem on it in the #239 issue of Fangoria (Dec. 2004). The upcoming Johnny Depp film has a great cast–Michelle Pfeiffer stepping into Joan Bennett’s shoes as Elizabeth, Jack Earle Haley as Willie, and Helena Bonham Carter (unconfirmed) as Julia Hoffman.

Posted By Dave : May 11, 2011 3:45 am

Wonderful recap of the original series and the 1991 revival–loved them both. The pilot of the revival series borrowed much from the movie “House of Dark Shadows” by plunging immediately into the release of Barnabas from the tomb by Willie Loomis (but it happily restoring Victoria Winters as the central female character). Available on DVD, the newer series was well-cast (Ben Cross, Jean Simmons), beautifully shot and costumed, but it was filmed, exteriors and all, in California, which really rang false to me. (Collinwood on the Pacific?) As hilariously inept as the production values could be in the original series, at least the (clumsily inserted) location shots–including the crashing waves in the opening credits–were filmed on the East Coast, in Newport, Rhode Island, mostly. One of the great disappointments to many Dark Shadows fans was the failure of the WB to pick up a new series pilot that was shot 7 years ago, originally included in the 2004 fall primetime schedule, but pulled at the last minute. It starred Alec Newman (Barnabas), Blair Brown (Elizabeth Stoddard), Martin Donovan (Roger Collins) and Marley Shelton (Victoria Winters), dir. by P.J. Hogan with Dan Curtis executive producing. There’s a detailed postmortem on it in the #239 issue of Fangoria (Dec. 2004). The upcoming Johnny Depp film has a great cast–Michelle Pfeiffer stepping into Joan Bennett’s shoes as Elizabeth, Jack Earle Haley as Willie, and Helena Bonham Carter (unconfirmed) as Julia Hoffman.

Posted By David Del Valle : May 11, 2011 1:55 pm

The loyality this series inspires is not to be underestimated. I attented several conventions for Dark Shadows over the years and can attest to it’s cult status first hand. The New York convention in 1995 was in fact the 35th anniversary of the show. Barbara Steele and I were producing a vhs tape for Dan Curtis and began by judging a look a like for Barnabas as well as taking a film crew out to Sam Hall’s very Dark Shadow-like home by the Hudson river.

Dan came very late to the party in regard to all the retro attention for Dark Shadows and never attended any of the conventions until the very last tribute held at the Television academy in Hollywood. Dan Curits was a throw-back to the “man’s man way of living, being tough and self made and very proud of it. He did not suffer fools glady so it took him all this time to adjust to the fact he would be remembered for this show above all else.

Thanks for this warm article about a show all we baby boomers grew up watching…let’s hope Tim Burton honors the past as well as making a film that will resonate for this next generation hooked on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and TWILIGHT.

Posted By David Del Valle : May 11, 2011 1:55 pm

The loyality this series inspires is not to be underestimated. I attented several conventions for Dark Shadows over the years and can attest to it’s cult status first hand. The New York convention in 1995 was in fact the 35th anniversary of the show. Barbara Steele and I were producing a vhs tape for Dan Curtis and began by judging a look a like for Barnabas as well as taking a film crew out to Sam Hall’s very Dark Shadow-like home by the Hudson river.

Dan came very late to the party in regard to all the retro attention for Dark Shadows and never attended any of the conventions until the very last tribute held at the Television academy in Hollywood. Dan Curits was a throw-back to the “man’s man way of living, being tough and self made and very proud of it. He did not suffer fools glady so it took him all this time to adjust to the fact he would be remembered for this show above all else.

Thanks for this warm article about a show all we baby boomers grew up watching…let’s hope Tim Burton honors the past as well as making a film that will resonate for this next generation hooked on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and TWILIGHT.

Posted By Jenni : May 11, 2011 10:53 pm

I was a bit too young to watch DS when it was in its heyday, but I vaguely remember asking my mom about it and being told I couldn’t watch it. Thank you for the heads up about tonight’s movie, I’ll set the tivo machine very soon! I did rent some of the DS dvds at our local library, and did find the episodes I watched intriguing, despite the wobbly sets and all. :)

Posted By Jenni : May 11, 2011 10:53 pm

I was a bit too young to watch DS when it was in its heyday, but I vaguely remember asking my mom about it and being told I couldn’t watch it. Thank you for the heads up about tonight’s movie, I’ll set the tivo machine very soon! I did rent some of the DS dvds at our local library, and did find the episodes I watched intriguing, despite the wobbly sets and all. :)

Posted By rhsmith : May 12, 2011 1:18 pm

Huge Dark Shadows fan here. It’s effect on my life cannot be underestimated!

Posted By rhsmith : May 12, 2011 1:18 pm

Huge Dark Shadows fan here. It’s effect on my life cannot be underestimated!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 12, 2011 1:25 pm

I happened to be looking at a Vanity Fair slideshow of Playboy bunnies and saw this gorgeous shot of Kathryn Leigh Scott:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/05/vintage-playboy-bunnies-slide-show-201105#slide=30

The whole collection of photos is worth looking at — a great moment in time!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : May 12, 2011 1:25 pm

I happened to be looking at a Vanity Fair slideshow of Playboy bunnies and saw this gorgeous shot of Kathryn Leigh Scott:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/05/vintage-playboy-bunnies-slide-show-201105#slide=30

The whole collection of photos is worth looking at — a great moment in time!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 12, 2011 3:39 pm

Nice article, Suzi! I caught some of the movie playing on TCM last night and really enjoyed it. I’m only familiar with the TV series that I watched on video when it was released in the ’80s but I hadn’t seen the movie before. Hopefully I can see the whole film soon.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : May 12, 2011 3:39 pm

Nice article, Suzi! I caught some of the movie playing on TCM last night and really enjoyed it. I’m only familiar with the TV series that I watched on video when it was released in the ’80s but I hadn’t seen the movie before. Hopefully I can see the whole film soon.

Posted By Harold : May 21, 2011 11:45 am

Great article, Suzi. But as a life long DARK SHADOWS fan, I have to point out one error. You write that the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS movie “revamped (pardon the expression) the storyline of Barnabas Collins and his arrival to Collinwood. This time he falls for Maggie Evans instead of Victoria Winters…” That’s incorrect. It was indeed Maggie Evans who Barnabas believed was his lost Josette in the original series, not Victoria Winters. You may have confused the original series with the revival series. In the later series it IS Victoria that Barnabas falls for. But it’s Maggie in the original.

But thanks for the great article.

Posted By Harold : May 21, 2011 11:45 am

Great article, Suzi. But as a life long DARK SHADOWS fan, I have to point out one error. You write that the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS movie “revamped (pardon the expression) the storyline of Barnabas Collins and his arrival to Collinwood. This time he falls for Maggie Evans instead of Victoria Winters…” That’s incorrect. It was indeed Maggie Evans who Barnabas believed was his lost Josette in the original series, not Victoria Winters. You may have confused the original series with the revival series. In the later series it IS Victoria that Barnabas falls for. But it’s Maggie in the original.

But thanks for the great article.

Posted By John : June 29, 2011 6:20 pm

Suzi, Thank you for this excellent article. I loved the movies growing up, and remember watching the series after school as well. Back then ABC was something of the “horror” network with many TV macabre movies (Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, Trilogy of Terror, The Night Stalker, etc.). Just FYI, John Karlen’s last name is spelled with an “e” not “i” Again, thanks for this excellent, well-written piece.

Posted By John : June 29, 2011 6:20 pm

Suzi, Thank you for this excellent article. I loved the movies growing up, and remember watching the series after school as well. Back then ABC was something of the “horror” network with many TV macabre movies (Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, Trilogy of Terror, The Night Stalker, etc.). Just FYI, John Karlen’s last name is spelled with an “e” not “i” Again, thanks for this excellent, well-written piece.

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