Sci Fi Trifles: Dark Shadows Did Not Start Out as a Show About Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Supernatural Beings




 

Tidbits, trivia, anecdotes, little-known nuggets and more from the worlds of sci fi and fantasy television.

When people think about the cult supernatural soap opera from the 1960’s Dark Shadows, usually the first image that springs to mind is the iconic visage of the vampire Barnabas Collins . But did you know that he only showed up on the series during its second year and that the series had little in the way of supernatural elements when it first began?

Barnabas_Collins_Jonathan_FridAllegedly, series creator Dan Curtis came up with the idea for the show when he had a dream about a mysterious woman on a train and he pitched it to ABC as a Gothic soap opera which they immediately snatched up for their daytime schedule (if only it were so easy these days to sell a story idea!). Originally titled Shadows on the Wall, the first writer’s bible for the soap opera did not mention any supernatural elements and for the first few months the series focused on the Gothic settings of Collinsport, Maine with the storylines revolving around the mysterious main character Victoria Winters. But the show got off to a slow start and was criticized for its tepid, uninteresting plot threads. This prompted the writers to start introducing supernatural elements into the stories about six months into the show’s first year. But it wasn’t until the second year that Dark Shadows cemented its place in pop culture, and genre, history.

In the show’s second season, we were introduced to the vampire Barnabas Collins, played by the incomparable Jonathan Frid, and he became so popular that Dark Shadows did a complete course shift and dove headlong into the supernatural and macabre. Werewolves, ghosts, zombies, alternate timelines, and other fantasy elements would come to dominate the soap opera throughout the rest of its run. And the show took a lead in the ratings in its afternoon timeslot as it attracted not only the typical soap opera demographic of housewives but kids coming home from school as well. Plus, this was also one of the rare soap operas that would live on in reruns in syndication (sans the first season) for years after it was cancelled in 1971. The show also generated two feature film continuations during its run (House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, both with the original cast from the show) as well as a short-lived revival on NBC in 1991 (and the WB almost brought it back in 2004 as well). Of course Barnabas Collins would remain one of the most popular characters on the soap opera and still represents the face of the show for most people (and the less said about the Tim Burton feature film flop, the better).

The entire original run of the series is available on DVD for those who want to go back and revisit it: