Dark Shadows

By Kraven The She-Wolf

      The year was 1966 and in the rise of the TV
Soap Opera era, a new more darker tone series
was about to make its debut.  Like many shows
of the time and its genre, soap operas centered
around much melodrama with its cast being in
lost in love triangles, work disputes and other means of conflict that made for a series with never ending
story arcs that with most episodes and with a cliffhanger to pull the viewer into the next day’s show.  Since
soap operas ran every day, unlike nighttime series, this gave a show many ideal storylines to work with
and greater character development.  Among these daytime series such as The Guiding Light, Search For
Tomorrow, As The World Turns, Days of Our Lives and The Edge of Night, a new show would come into
being with a slightly newer take on the genre.

      On June 27 1966, Dark Shadows took its time slot in TV history and added itself into the genre that so
many daytime viewers enjoyed.  Much like other shows of the time, its mainstay was the given formula of
people’s lives in the truest form of love, work and overall trying to get by in a 1960's world.  What made
Dark Shadows depart from other soaps of the day was its darker tone with spooky landscapes,
atmospheric settings and supernatural overtones.  Upon its premiere, Dark Shadows was not a hit and for
months it lingered in or near last place in the ratings and was on the verge of being canceled when
something new was added to the show that brought fresh blood into the dying series. A Vampire!

      Enter Barnabas Collins, the vampire who saved the show
and turned the low rated series into a legend.  Although origin-
ally Collins was only to breathe new life into the series for a 13
week run, his presence was so impactful, that he not only remain-
ed on the show for its entire run but became inadvertently the
show’s star. Today it’s nearly impossible to even imagine the
show without its vampire protagonist/ antagonist in place and
yet the series ran for 10 months before its central character was
even added.  Played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid, his crea-
ture of the night was much in the vein of that of a Dracula who’s
suave and dashing.  This vampire used his wits and centuries of
experience to hide in plain sight as he took his place among the
Collins family who at the time saw him as only a long lost relative
coming home.  As the show went on, other monsters were added like ghosts, werewolves and zombies
adding to the shows Gothic theme.

      Dark Shadows was the creation of Dan Curtis, who was at
the time a master of terror and in particular vampires.  Adding the
vampire Barnabas to the TV series was something of a pet pro-
ject that he wanted to do since he had in his mind of doing a
vampire movie at some point.  He would get that chance twice
when he would produce the TV movie The Night Stalker in 1972,
and again in 1973 with his production of Dracula with Jack
Palance in the role of the Count.  It was this passion for the
vampire that saved Dark Shadows from ABC network killing the
show when its ratings were at their lowest.  Curtis first got the
idea for the show from a dream he had in 1965 of a young woman
in a Gothic setting riding a train.  The dream sparked an idea and
he pitched it to the heads of ABC Television.  They liked the idea
of a dark creepy approach to the traditional soap opera where
others opting for more romantic settings and storylines.  Dark
Shadows would be the bridge to gap all the traditional tropes of the standard soap opera with that of a
Gothic horror movie, a formula that worked better than anyone thought.  Now it was not just housewives
watching soap operas but younger viewers turning in to see what the vampire Barnabas Collins would do
next.  Teenagers would come home and take a seat in front of the tube at 4 P.M. solely because this show
had a vampire and other supernatural creatures.    

      Within the TV daytime landscape, while other soaps played on love relationships, betrayal, corporate
espionage and other dramatic aspects of the TV genre, Dark Shadows did all that plus added the
supernatural and all of its tropes to blend a well-crafted Gothic horror series.  This was also the very first
time that this style of storytelling was put onto the small screen.  Horror movies have been in existence
since the very beginning of film in the late 1800's.  Television was still in its baby years by way of
comparison to film and up until that point, no TV show ever tackled the subject of horror.....not in a serious
way.  Before Dark Shadows hit the air, the only resemblance of the paranormal was in TV sitcoms like The
Munsters, The Addams Family, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.  Never before was the occult or
anything mystical ever seen in a serious TV show where the monsters were taken very significantly.  Dark
Shadows would be this forerunner to Dan Curtis next TV horror project, The Night Stalker.  That gave birth
to the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.....the first true prime-time horror television series.

      When in 1971 Dark Shadows finally came to an end after ratings had slipped again and ABC was
cutting much of their TV line-up of programming, Dark Shadows had produced 1,225 episodes over the
span of 6 seasons.  But like the vampire of lore Barnabas was not done yet!  Even before the show went
off the air, there was a theatrical movie being made while the show was still in production.  A marketing
strategy that the Batman TV series also tried, and so under the direction of Dan Curtis himself with MGM
as his backer, House of Dark Shadows went into production.  Filming took place in much of Sleepy
Hollow.....yeah that Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, NY.  In the film, Barnabas is looking for a way to once
again become human so he can be with the woman he has falling in love with.  By the films end, it
concludes with the death of the vampire Barnabas, even though the series was still running making an odd
ending to a movie that still had its vampire star still living in the series.  Now had the film been the final
word to wrap things up from the series, that would make sense, but filming things this way only confused
the overall series continuity.  The film however did have the body of the vampire turning into a bat and
vanish at the closing credits, I guess leaving something open for the series to work with.  This movie was
going to have a sequel soon after the series had gone off the air with the vampire returning.  But actor
Jonathan Frid was no longer available and so when Night of Dark Shadows was released, it followed the
story of other Dark Shadow cast members but leaving the vampire to be replaced by the story arc of a

      In 1990 an all new take on Dark Shadows was produced as a
new TV series that ran on NBC as a prime-time soap opera.  Again
created by Dan Curtis, this new series starred Ben Cross in the role
of Barnabas the vampire and had much of the same flavor as the
classic series with many of the storylines lifted right from the original.  
Much of the show covered Barnabas quest to become human again
taken right from the 60’s series and movie.  Although one would
think having the same creative team as the original would make for
a new classic hit, sadly the show only lasted for 12 episodes before
NBC pulled the plug due to low ratings.  Like its 60’s counterpart,
reruns of this series were again shown on The Syfy Channel in the
late 2000's in dally blocks of episode marathons.  The series also
saw an even more ill return with a 2012 movie starring Johnny Depp
in the lead role of Barnabas Collins that....well let's say, didn't live up
to the classic series it was based on.

      Today Dark Shadow is a classic and remembered for pioneering a Gothic style on television that to
this day, still lives on in every horror themed series we have now.  It was shown on the Syfy Channel in
reruns in the mid 90’s on a daily basis like its run 30 years earlier and can be found on DVD.  Its lasting
impact can be still seen today in every vampire show that has come in the wake of the past 50 years.  Not
bad for a little failing soap opera that added a vampire.