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Cult TV Essentials: Dark Shadows

From 1966-1971, the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows ran on ABC. Believe it or not, it was on in the afternoon! The show was about the exploits of the wealthy Collins family in Maine. On the surface, it appeared to be just like every other melodrama of the era.

However, what distinguished it from your average run of the mill program was that it routinely featured zombies, monsters, werewolves and other creatures of the night. The most famous character was Barnabas Collins, a cursed vampire played by the amazing character actor, Jonathan Frid. Barnabas was doomed to immortality while mourning the demise of his true love, Josette.

The entire concept was the result of a reverie. Sounds positively Hollywood, right? Creator and executive producer Dan Curtis had a strange dream about a girl on a train. The next day he told his wife about it, had a meeting with the network and a cult tv sensation was born.

At first, audiences did not respond well to the show because it plodded along just like any other series in that time period. Once the supernatural elements were introduced, the ratings went through the roof. Most of the principle cast members ended up playing multiple characters thanks to the inventive convention of parallel time lines.

Not surprising, much like today’s shows Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, the main audience was teenagers. Anyone following the television industry knows that ultimately a show’s fate rests in the hands of advertisers especially if the program is broadcast on a network. A couple of factors worked against Dark Shadows.

Somerset was launched in 1970 which was a spin-off of NBC’s hugely popular show, Another World. This didn’t help the ratings for Dark Shadows. Another thing that didn’t work was the release of the movie, House of Dark Shadows. The film contained some gory sequences that parents objected to causing viewership to drop for the show. They didn’t want their kids being subjected to questionable material.

Despite the fact that fans rallied to save their favorite show, the network cancelled it on April 2, 1971. However, that wasn’t the end of the program. It is a very popular audio drama for Big Finish Studios.  Dark Shadows was also a comic book. Hulu and Hulu Plus have the show available for streaming. The entire series is offered on DVD.

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