1 9 6 6 – 1 9 7 1 (USA)
1225 x 30 minute episodes
1 9 9 1 (USA)
Daytime television’s most unconventional serial, Dark Shadows premiered on 27 June 1966 on the ABC network, airing an impressive total of 1225 episodes until its final broadcast on 2 April 1971.
The original script told the story of a secretive, reclusive woman whose husband had been missing for many years. The recluse was the rich, matriarchal Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her luxurious home was the haunted, cursed manor house called Collinwood.
Initially, the series was envisioned as a straight gothic romance in the style of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca , and for its opening months the series centred around orphan Victoria Winters and her arrival at the small fishing village of Collinsport (situated somewhere on the coast of Maine) to take up the post of governess to Elizabeth’s young nephew David.
Early reaction to the new show was lukewarm. The introduction into the storyline in quick succession of first one ghost, then another, followed almost immediately by a mythical Phoenix creature, proved to be the unique angle which set the series apart from anything else being produced in the unimaginative field of daytime drama.
Realising that tapping into the previously unexplored area of the supernatural was the road for the series to take, a character was introduced who arguably embodied the most potent appeal of the horror genre – a vampire.
With the arrival of the tortured, romantic antihero character of vampire Barnabas Collins on 14 April 1967, the series became a sensation and swiftly gained a loyal, hardcore audience.
Barnabas abducted waitress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) because she reminded him of his wife in the 1700s, Josette DuPres. She escaped to Windcliff Sanitarium and a doctor there, Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), became intrigued with her story and went to Collinwood to investigate its validity. She would spend the rest of her run in a tangled effort to undo the curse on Barnabas while coping with her growing affection for the man.
At first, she was not successful, and Barnabas stopped his reign of terror (for a few episodes anyway) only when he saw the ghost of his little sister Sarah Collins.
Then a seance held at Collinwood transported Victoria Winters back to 1795, where she learned of how Barnabas had lost Josette due to a hex from Angelique, an envious witch. Angelique then “died,” and Victoria was tried as a witch by the cruel Reverend Trask.
When she returned to the present, Victoria was haunted by her memories and eventually went insane. Maggie assumed the governess role, but the events of the past had implications for the present, as Collinsport in 1968 found itself swarming with creatures of the night.
Angelique arrived at Collinwood disguised as Roger’s new wife Cassandra to hound Barnabas, who was now being treated for his vampirism by Dr Hoffman and Dr Eric Lang. The latter created an artificial man named Adam before dying.
Adam got a mate named Eve courtesy of the influence of warlock Nicholas Blair, but eventually killed her. Blair, on the other hand, transformed Angelique into a vampire to menace Barnabas.
To round out the year, Amy Jennings came to live at Collinwood and brought her werewolf brother Chris, whose twin brother Tom became a vampire thanks to Angelique.
Amy and Chris used a disconnected telephone to summon Quentin Collins from 1897, who arrived in town in late 1968 after an unsuccessful attempt to possess his descendent David.
Quentin merited his own story the following year, when Barnabas went back to 1897, learning how Quentin became a werewolf and other details about his family’s past. This was the first of several sequences in which the Barnabas either travelled back through time or the characters experienced “parallel time.”
The parallel-time sequences depicted what would have happened to characters had different choices been made. For example, Barnabas and Julia saw a parallel 1995, and realised how dreary Collinwood would be if they did not change the past, and in an 1840 sequence, Barnabas fought Angelique one last time and had his son Bramwell fall in love with Catherine Harridge, with the latter being able to break the curse of the supernatural in the Collins family.
There were all sorts of sexy, cleavage-heaving women fainting in tight-bodiced dresses and lots of carnal love-bites to the neck, flashing capes, people getting bricked up into walls, evil laughter . . . and always a cliffhanger on Fridays.
In keeping with the traditional daytime soaps of the time, Dark Shadows was videotaped live on small sets in ABC’s New York studios, and over the course of its run, the series would embrace storylines which involved all manner of supernatural events and creatures, as well as time travel, alternate worlds and the reworking of the basic plots borrowed liberally from the great classics of horror literature.
The show quickly developed an in-house repertory company of seasoned actors who, despite the occasional fluffed line caused by the pressure of too little rehearsal time, rose to the challenge of playing multiple roles with a conviction and professionalism that enhanced even the most unlikely of scenarios.
The show was so popular that in 1970 the first motion picture spin-off, House of Dark Shadows, was released, followed in 1971 by the inferior sequel, Night of Dark Shadows.
The series also spawned a vast array of merchandise, which continues to this day, including novels, comic books, video compilations and model kits.
In 1968 Quentin’s Theme, a light instrumental featuring a celeste piano recorded by the Charles Randolph Greane Sound, became a surprise hit, cracking Billboard‘s Top 20 singles chart, the first for a song from a soap opera.
The series was resurrected in 1975 and aired in syndication on various local TV stations and PBS across the USA until 1990 when the Sci-Fi Channel purchased exclusive rights to broadcast the show, which afforded UK viewers their first exposure to what had, until then, been an often mentioned, but unseen series.
1991 saw the show revived briefly for the NBC network (running from 13 January to 22 March 1991) in an expensive, but ill-fated remake featuring an all-new cast. The series lasted less than three months.
Imaginative, unique and ground-breaking in its daring and successful use of horror motifs, Dark Shadows even to this day commands an affection and respect from its fans which is perhaps second only in terms of popularity to Star Trek.
Carolyn Stoddard Hawkes
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
Joe Haskell/Nathan Forbes
Dr Julia Hoffman
Kathryn Leigh Scott