About the Show
A brief history of Dark Shadows
 

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"My name is Victoria Winters... my journey is just beginning..."

On 27 June 1966, those words began the journey of a young governess to the remote coastal town of Collinsport, Maine, which for the next five years would be the home of the assorted supernatural forces inhabiting the world of ABC-TV's Dark Shadows, the first gothic soap opera.

From the murky images of virginal governess Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) on a twilight-bound train, to the hulking inky outline of the ominous Collinwood mansion, the opening moments of the first episode made it clear that Dark Shadows did not intend to play by any of the traditional soap opera rules. A heady distillation of gothic romance plots and intrigue, producer Dan Curtis' brainchild was not an overnight success. Intially faced with poor viewing figures and twee mysteries surrounding the parentage of the young governess, in desperation a ghost story was added to the mix. When viewers responded positively, the producers decided that the supernatural plots were where the show's future lay, opening the floodgates for a vivid cast of spectral characters to menace the tortured Collins family and their ghost-ridden mansion, Collinwood, a dark wonderland housed in a tiny Manhattan studio.

Nine months into the show's run, grave-robbing drifter Willie Loomis (John Karlen) released vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) from imprisonment in the Collins family mausoleum, and pop-culture history was born. Dark Shadows pioneered the silhouette of the angst-ridden vampire searching redemption some three decades before Angel lusted after Buffy. In spite of Dan Curtis' mandate to introduce a bloodsucking fiend as his vampire protagonist, the writers and production staff took a more considered approach, using the vampire myth as a metaphor for loneliness and isolation.


In the coming years, the residents of Collinsport would be victims to werewolves, witches, and warlocks, even the Devil himself. Amongst the most popular supernatural characters were Angélique (Lara Parker), a beautiful vengeful witch who gave the vampire curse to Barnabas, and Quentin Collins (David Selby) a Byronic teen idol afflicted with the werewolf curse.

Moving back and forth through various time periods with bravado, and featuring an ersatz 'repertory company' of actors in multiple roles, Dark Shadows delivered imagination and adventure in abundance, drawing massive audiences. The cast toured the country to huge acclaim, regularly drawing thousands of enthusiastic fans.


In 1970, Barnabas' story was retold in graphic detail--replete with gallons of lurid gore--in the first of two Dark Shadows films, House of Dark Shadows, which proved a box office smash. Featuring the television cast, and filmed concurrently with the tapings of television episodes, the film's gory nature may have alienated some viewers. For Jonathan Frid, it resolved his growing dissatisfaction with the role of Barnabas, and confirmed his suspicions that the role would leave him typecast. In 1971, when his contract had expired, Frid proved reticent to re-sign, and only agreed when offered the chance to play another character, Bramwell Collins.

After 1,225 episodes, and still commanding impressive viewing figures, Dark Shadows ended its network run in April 1971, a cult television legend and a unique footnote in television history. A final voice over assured viewers that "...for as long as they lived, the Dark Shadows of Collinwood, were but a memory of the distant past."

Within days of the final taping, production began on a new Dark Shadows film, Night of Dark Shadows. With Jonathan Frid declining the starring role, David Selby, Kate Jackson and Grayson Hall fronted an evocative ghost story with shades of Rebecca. Sadly, an eleventh-hour editing session saw nearly half an hour excised from the film, leaving it disjointed and confusing. In spite of this, its takings were respectable enough for MGM to request another Dark Shadows film, but Dan Curtis was not interested.

However, this did not signal the end of Dark Shadows. Nationwide syndication of numerous episodes throughout the next two decades maintained interest in the show, and helped foster a strong fan culture. The late 1970s saw the first Dark Shadows convention, ShadowCon, which ran for several years before being superseded by the Dark Shadows Festivals, which continue today.

From 1975, a number of Dark Shadows alumni were reunited for the ABC daytime drama Ryan's Hope, which taped at the original Dark Shadows studio. In addition to a cast that included Nancy Barrett and many Dark Shadows guest actors, producer Robert Costello, directors Lela Swift and Henry Kaplan and scenic designer Sy Tomashoff were also involved extensively. Costello and Swift both won Emmy awards for their work on the show.

Dark Shadows itself continued to endure throughout the 1980s, and after many rumours of reunions and sequels, Ben Cross assumed the familiar Inverness cape and wolf's head cane for a short-lived prime time NBC revival series in 1991. Dan Curtis returned to spearhead the new project, which also starred Barbara Steele and Jean Simmons. Boasting lavish production values and locations, the series retold the original Barnabas storyline for an adult audience. Sadly, in spite of a rigorous publicity campaign, the misfortune of debuting on the eve of the Gulf War proved insurmountable. The new Dark Shadows was cancelled after just 12 episodes, in spite of NBC receiving over 50,000 letters of protest.

The 1990s saw the entire Dark Shadows archive repeated via the Sci-Fi Channel, which continues broadcast today, and their European counterparts gave its territories their first ever broadcast of the show from 1995-1999. MPI Home Video has released the entire series on US home video, and HarperCollins published two Dark Shadows novels in 1998 and 1999.

Today, 40 years since its first broadcast, it maintains an enthusiastic following of fans, fuelled by successful annual conventions and a vast array of merchandise. Rumours of a variety of new Dark Shadows production formats persist, and 2003 saw classic cast members reunited for Return to Collinwood, an audio play bringing the story into the present day. Spring 2004 saw another cast embracing the familiar Collins personalities as part of an ill-fated pilot for the WB network's fall season.

2006 saw Dark Shadows fans mourn the passing of Dan Curtis, the show's founding father. Ironically, at the same time, the Dark Shadows legend began another chapter with the announcement of a new series of audio dramas, starring original cast members.

Indeed, much like Barnabas Collins himself, Dark Shadows retains an immortality that time steadfastly fails to erode.

Related Features
· To read more about the Dark Shadows Movies, click here
· To read episode summaries for the original series, click here
· To read more about the Dark Shadows cast, click here

 
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Original Content © Copyright Stuart Manning. Design by design@collinwood
Dark Shadows © 1966 Dan Curtis Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.