Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 17


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1084

David and Hallie come to grips with the haunting by writing down their entire narrative in a notebook. Meanwhile, Sebastian Shaw visits Collinwood and is asked to sense what he can of the ghostly entities there. He has visions of Rose Cottage and haunting music, but he keeps them to himself, a fact that frustrates Julia after she hears him playing the tune she heard in 1995. Shortly after finishing their notebook, the children are shocked to find that it has vanished, leading them on a hunt that ends at the playroom. Throwing the doors open, they see it being read by their 1840 equivalents, Tad and Carrie.

There are so many metrics for change in DARK SHADOWS (and the culture) in a four year span, and 1084 is as vivid as any of them. The 1966 show begins with sweaty businessmen, Brill-creamed and boozing, in skinny ties, holding court over missing pens in the drawing room. From there, we wind up with a darkly flirtatious Julia Hoffman, at Collinwood irrespective of Barnabas, confronting a leather tunic-wearing, long-haired astrologer about music from the future. And they’re the stars of the show right now! If there is any better argument against entropy, this is it.

After Jeb and Cyrus/Yaeger, Chris Pennock was unsure if he’d appear on DARK SHADOWS again. The words “hippie astrologer” were ones he didn’t have to hear twice. He found a darker, more vulnerable and secretive approach to take, differentiating Sebastian from Jeb. This is complimented by a heavier brow and more recessed eyes. With these subtle choices, he deftly avoided creating a “Pennock-type,” instead furthering a truly individualized roster of unique characters. It takes a delicate touch that pays off. Sebastian’s ambiguity is just palpable enough in this episode that he can get away with almost any story while accumulating just enough suspicion from the audience.

Julia, with great purpose, strides further and further into the position of unofficial, heroic lead, now with Stokes as her sidekick. It’s a shame that the proper breakdown of DARK SHADOWS and its various storylines is absent from much of pop media. Everyone’s losing it for the new, female Dr. Who, citing this as some kind of watershed, which it really isn’t. Over two decades ago, STAR TREK VOYAGER was a franchise tentpole with a female lead hero. And over twenty years before that? I give you Dr. Julia Hoffman… at least at this point on the show. She even passes the Bechdel Test, which measures female protagonists by their independence from romantic involvement.

On this day in 1970, we had a partial lunar eclipse and the American space probe, Venera 7, soft landed on Venus.

Louis Edmonds: The Country Gentleman of Collinsport, 1969

The Country Gentleman of Collinsport 

From "Afternoon TV" #9, 1969

by Jay Edwards

"Right now—especially when we go into the past—I always hope I can be a tyrant, or very selfish, or anything unattractive. Bad people are much more fun to play."

That terribly proper, terribly English, terribly dignified aristocrat who has been a star of Dark Shadows right from the beginning —that Louis Edmonds — had a teen age ambition that may come as a surprise to you.

"When I was a teenager I always wanted to play the villain in a cowboy picture," he said recently.

There's another interesting thing you discover in talking to him—he would probably still love to play the villain in a cowboy picture. You realize this when he starts talking in the present tense, saying "Actually, I could save them a lot of money, since they wouldn't have to hire a stuntman. I could do my own riding; I can even jump — moderately but not extravagantly."

Louis Edmonds, today, is a star. But the teen-age dream is still there.

There is also no reason to doubt that he could do it since he not only plays a country gentleman as Roger Collins— Louis Edmonds is a country gentleman. As a child (he was born in Baton Rouge on Sept. 24) he grew up on a sugar plantation near a levee on the Mississippi River, visiting his grandfather's farm in upstate New York during the summers.

"I was always around open spaces without really being conscious of it," he said. "I was very active in outdoor sports — not competitive things like football; I mean sports like riding and swimming. I did all the things little boys do when they grow up in the country."

That part of Louis Edmonds really hasn't changed as much as you might assume, considering that he is now a successful New York actor with two movies, several Broadway plays and almost three years of Dark Shadows to his credit. He doesn't live in an over-priced, noisy, hectic, uncomfortable Manhattan apartment. Louis Edmonds is still a country gentleman.

"About four years ago I realized that New York was changing," he said, "and I didn't like the city anymore. I still have an apartment here, where I stay when I'm in town, but I live now in a little New England-style farmhouse on Long Island, where I have maximum privacy."

Louis (pronounced Louie by his friends) was obviously reacting to his Southern boyhood when he withdrew from the hustle of the city, but the house itself is not necessarily done in a Southern style.

"When I was up in Cape Cod (Mass.) I saw lots of little farmhouses like mine painted in a pure blue with no green in it — there it's called Puritan Blue; in Virginia it's called Williamsburg Blue; some places it's called Dutch Blue — with white trim and bottle-green shutters. I liked it so much I decided to have my house done that way."

Somewhere between leaving the countryside of Louisiana and settling in the countryside of New York Louis Edmonds lost — obviously—the Southern accent that comes with a Louisiana childhood. Even when he is not playing Roger Collins he still has the sound and rhythm that has made English actors think he is English, too.

"It's not unusual for Southern people to do an English accent easily," he said, "but it has been a problem. As an actor I get typed as anything but an American — and that's not good.

"I can get back into a Southern sound if I need to, and I played a German in a movie once. I think I was blessed with a good ear for the way people talk; the only sound that's very difficult for me is the Midwestern or the Madison Avenue sort of businessman."

Acting—which certainly contributed to his present very correct English diction—has been the most important thing in Louis Edmonds' life. "I wasn't a very good student in high school," he said, " but I made the Honors List when I started studying acting at Carnegie Tech because expressing myself made me interested in learning. I didn't become aware of me until I started acting."

After he discovered himself as an actor in college he was off to the navy (he started as a pilot then became a Communications Officer in Panama), after which he wound up in New York (where he was once a doorman at Radio City Music Hall), then did a series of plays that finally led to Dark Shadows.

"l started out as a villain on the show, which was great fun, but they made me nicer as time went along. Right now — especially when we go into the past — I always hope I can be a tyrant, or very selfish, or anything unattractive. Bad people are much more fun to play."

Again the word villain, so unlikely coming from this gentle, flawlessly dressed country gentleman (he was wearing a terribly British brown jacket with short lapels which the wardrobe mistress had originally brought in for Roger Collins, gray pin-striped slacks, a brown pullover shirt, suede walking boots and one of those short-brimmed British caps made famous here by singers such as Donovan and Bob Dylan).

The fact is that Louis Edmonds requires challenge — like playing roles from Shakespeare to the musical version of Candide—and he most enjoys playing eerie, evil roles; roles unlike himself.

But his life does — unlikely as it may seem—include one thing very much in keeping with the foggy, mysterious world of Dark Shadows.

Louis Edmonds, in the comfort of his quiet, dignified farmhouse, really does live right across the street from a graveyard. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 16


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 565

Barnabas is tortured over the plight he suspects is being experienced by Collinsport’s new vampire. In between excursions to search for him, Barnabas returns the ring Vicki allegedly lost in the woods. This incites a skeptical Jeff to search the Old House, where he finds Lang’s notebook before being escorted out. Shortly thereafter, Tom Jennings attacks Julia in the basement lab.

I think this episode was written by Plato, in that it is an ideal example of the show at… if not its best, then its most entertainingly durable. There are multiple storylines that all crisscross through Nicholas Blair. We see characters evolving in unexpected ways, such as Barnabas mustering maturity about Vicki. At its worst, the ratio of exposition to new information is woefully slanted toward covering old ground. In the case of 565, I feel as if the show’s story is very deliberately advanced with each scene. Best of all, the characters show appropriate doubt in themselves, allowing them to contemplate aloud where they’ve been and where they’re going with cerebral eloquence.

It’s also a good opportunity to contrast Vicki and Julia. Because of Julia’s age, angularity, and more than occasional severity, we discount her too easily for the show’s leading lady. No, the story does not revolve around her, but it is through her mortal eyes that we see much of the action unfold. Her sense of heroism is unlocked by the story. Her moral compass, realigned by it. She is not a Collins, but she gives her all for that house, nonetheless. Like Vicki, she is something of an orphaned stranger at Collinwood, but Julia is a catalytic agent of action. For all of her moments of frightened “Barnabaswhatarewegoingtodo?” she’s just as likely to issue orders of the day. I like Vicki, but I often get tired of her baffled timidity. (In fact, the version of Victoria seen in the 2004 pilot is the only one I can really get behind.) Things happen to her. She is too often the object and too rarely the subject. Julia’s the opposite. And Julia has an arc, too, from shrill villain to brassy defender, with lots of steps in between. Often, Vicki’s arc is frustratingly restricted to going from, “I just don’t understand,” to, “I understand a little more than I once did, but that may not be saying much.”

Not only does Julia seemingly do more and make it through the entire show, her episode count is only two shy of Vicki’s. Vicki appeared in 347 episodes before vanishing. Julia? 345, returning from the past on her own two feet. (These numbers soar above Carolyn at 267, Liz at 264, Maggie at 203, and Angelique at 175.)

She’s also a Jackie Gleason fan. “Love is Here to Stay,” from the 1953 album "Music for Lovers Only," is heard playing as rare source music in her lab as she labors on the mate for Barnabas’ sake. The song says a lot about Julia, and is an Easter egg is useful insight.

In other news, it was the birthday of Gordon Russell. Born in Salem, MA, Russell is one of the two finest writers on the show. Christopher Pennock noted him as the man behind the show’s most sparkling dialogue. Sam Hall was about the gravitas. Russell was pure elan.

Twelve years prior, in 1956, the world said goodbye to Bela Lugosi. It wasn’t ready to, though, and I hope it will never be.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 15


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 826

Gypsies take Magda to the secret room in the crypt where she is to stand trial. Johnny announces that her jury will be comprised of dead murderers. She asks for a gypsy witness. Szandor appears, but as she tries to question him, she is constantly interrupted by King Johnny. She is sentenced to die. Johnny announces that her method of death is a game called ‘hunt the weasel,’ and she is the weasel. She battles various phantom gypsies, and once more, Szandor appears to her. She says he belongs to the dead and tearfully banishes him from the earth. The cliff of Widow’s Hill behind her, Johnny stalks Magda, forcing her toward the edge.

With a cast of nine, 826 is packed with both players and excitement. And yet, it has a strange intimacy; the only speaking parts are Johnny, Magada, and Szandor. Interesting to note that many of the gypsies should seem familiar. Henry Baker, who plays Istvan the mute soldier, can be seen as Jackal the Giant, towering over Jonathan Frid in Oliver Stone’s 1974 comedy, SEIZURE. Another, Joseph Della Sorte, was one of the “Buttons” that Joe Spinell witnesses about in THE GODFATHER PART II. (He was also on CAGNEY AND LACEY, with John Karlen.) Another gypsy, John LaMotta, also appeared on that show, as well as playing sweaty wife-beater model, Trevor Ochmonek, on NBC’s prequel to THE X-FILES, the science-fiction thriller, ALF. Additionally, he was Jake LaMotta’s nephew. Yet another gypsy, Victor Mohica, appeared in many of the same series as the others. I think they all appeared on that sophisticated comedy-of-manners, AIRWOLF. Norman Riggins, yet another gypsy, was a man of mystery. Know him by his subsequent appearance in THE ALIEN DEAD. As far as the final gypsy, Andreas, goes, we have feud on our hands. iMDB credits Joe Van Orden. But Craig Hamrick’s BARNABAS AND COMPANY, as well as THE DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC, cite the part as played by Ray Van Orden. Will any of us sleep? Joe only has one credit on iMDB, and it’s the episode. Nothing for a Ray van Orden. I can’t solve every mystery. I had a crush on Joan van Ark from KNOTS LANDING, if that helps.

On this day in 1969, the Woodstock music festival opened in Bethel, New York. A dream to some. A nightmare to others. It would be the basis for Colonel Robert Neville’s favorite documentary. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Ratings Battle: Dark Shadows Vs Twin Peaks, 1991


Before FIREFLY came along, TWIN PEAKS was the poster child for great television shows cancelled too soon. The David Lynch/Mark Frost joint debuted to stellar ratings in the spring of 1989, but had lost much of its audience during the following 12 months. A television series hadn't lost its luster so quickly since BATMAN in the 1960s.

But there was another television show cancelled in 1991 that managed to hold a grip on its audience long after it left the airwaves: Dan Curtis' reboot of DARK SHADOWS. If you were to compose murder ballads for DARK SHADOWS (1991) and TWIN PEAKS, the verses would be almost identical. Both had incredibly strong openings, but fell victim to network uncertainty, shuffled schedules and multiple preemptions by news coverage of the Gulf War. Each production fought like hell to keep their audiences engaged, but were foiled by the inability of their respective networks (NBC for DARK SHADOWS, ABC for TWIN PEAKS) to provide them with ideal timeslots.

Those ballads, however simplified, are also accurate representations of what happened ... more or less. After reviewing the ratings for both programs, though, I was shocked to see that DARK SHADOWS, the little television show that could, had consistently stronger ratings in 1991 than its spiritual counterpart, TWIN PEAKS.

(Before I go on, let me stress that this is merely an amateur comparison of the ratings of two television shows. None of this is meant to suggest that these ratings make either show better or worse than the other. Good ratings do not automatically equal quality. In other words, there's no reason to fight.)

From the very start, the DARK SHADOWS "revival," as it would come to be called, was being compared to TWIN PEAKS, a show that arguably owed a debt of gratitude to the original 1960s gothic soap.

"NBC is expending a large amount of its attention on promoting 'Dark Shadows,'clearly hoping it can be the 'talked about' show this winter, the "Twin Peaks" of 1991, wrote Bill Carter for The New York Times in January, 1991. "Even the show's own producer, Dan Curtis, described it as a 'gimmick' show."

Unfortunately for TWIN PEAKS, though, when it broadcast its first episode of 1991, the series was already hip-deep in its creative nadir. "The Black Widow" aired Jan. 12 to approximately 10.3 million viewers, which is among the lowest ratings of any show broadcast that night. The following evening, DARK SHADOWS aired the first of its three-part debut, with 23.6 million people turning in. (A "thank you" to for providing a terrific archive of A.C. Nielsen ratings for 1991.)

Now, it's not entirely fair to compare a series premiere to a random installment of an established television series. But it's worth noting that TWIN PEAKS began the year on already unstable footing. And this footing would become more precarious throughout the rest of the season as it was shifted to different days and times before finally getting axed after its June 10 finale. By June, DARK SHADOWS had already been mothballed, having aired its last episode March 22 ... despite pulling in ratings consistently better than TWIN PEAKS.

A look at the ratings for both shows illustrates just how far TWIN PEAKS had fallen. NBC killed DARK SHADOWS after two months of episodes averaging a viewership of 12.5 million people. During its final months, TWIN PEAKS failed to reach even 10 million people, bottoming out for two consecutive weeks in 1991 with 7.4 million. The lowest-rated episode of DARK SHADOWS fared better than the highest rated episode of TWIN PEAKS.

So, when ABC brought TWIN PEAKS back from the dead for one week in June to air its final two episodes, its was an act of kindness. Even though the Lynch-directed finale was an amazing piece of work (and one of the best episodes of the entire series) it was incredibly unlikely that ABC would bring the show back for a third season. After all, at least once in April, TWIN PEAKS was the lowest-rated show broadcast by any network that night (April 18, 1991.) It finished out the year #100 on a list of 134 shows.

Below is a chart comparing the ratings between DARK SHADOWS and TWIN PEAKS during 1991. I've tried to group these episodes by their closest weekly counterparts, but schedule changes made that a challenge. Also, none of these ratings identify which episodes were preempted by news alerts.

KEY: A ratings point represents 921,000 TV households. Shares are the percentage of sets in use. Number of viewers is in millions.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1085

Daphne slowly seeds the path of the children with further opportunities to identify with their past doppelgangers, Tad and Carrie. Meanwhile, Julia and Quentin investigate the family history of the 1840’s and find the journal of Quentin Collins I, who discusses his theories on time travel and outlines his plans to build a staircase through time in the west wing around the spot of the playroom. Upon investigation, it’s nothing but a linen closet. Quentin later struggles to gain freedom his fascination with Daphne as the ghosts of Tad and Carrie continue to beckon to David and Hallie.

At the heart of what is so often the most dismissed and unpopular section of the series is a story that is the quintessence of DARK SHADOWS and, in many ways, brazenly defiant of its shopworn conventions. Perhaps more than any other storyline, this one is devoted -- with a very tight focus -- to the supernatural. No potboiler elements are simmering elsewhere. Discounting the Roxanne storyline, it’s right up there with Parallel Time in its extremely tight emphasis on one major threat that consumes all of the characters to the exclusion of subplots.

In middle of this emerges a post-Barnabas romance Julia Hoffman, arguably the hero of this arc. She contrasts interestingly with Quentin, and it’s a good example of the writers knowing on which side of the bread they’ve spread the butter of audience vicarious identification. A largely middle-aged, female audience is finally given a strong, middle-aged female hero. Grayson Hall carries the show effortlessly as she plows through the Collins history to get to the origin of these particular shadows of the past. It’s gently nostalgic to see Julia with longer hair going through the family history in the drawing room, just as she did when we met her, but now it’s no longer as a cover story. It’s to save an adopted family… adopted in the same way that the audience has. Not a Collins, either, she makes for the ultimate surrogate.

Contrast this with Quentin. By the time 1897 winds down, the writers have no idea what to do with this invulnerable immortal. Instead of making him a Man of Action, they leave that to the unlikely Julia as Quentin slides into hopelessly impotent lovesickness, once the domain of the good Doctor H. By this point, having been scared shishaless by Collinwood over and over, Julia has seasoned into a dogged adventurer before the audience’s eyes. If DARK SHADOWS is a story about finding and transforming into your true self, few do it quite like Julia.

On this day in 1970, Stephen Stills was arrested for drug possession.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Aug 8-11 Recap

If you've been paying attention to the Dark Shadows Daybook, you already know this was a weird week at the ABC studios in Manhatten back in 1967. When you live in Collinsport, it's reasonable to expect a timeslip or two. In New York City this week, though, something happened with the production that forced them to shoot episodes of DARK SHADOWS out of order.

If you've been following along at home, this might have made for a confusing experience this week at the Collinsport Historical Society. Patrick McCray has been chronicling these episodes as they were taped, which meant (for this week, at least) that episode 302 came before episode 300. It also meant that episode 304 came before episode 301. (Maddeningly, episode 303 was not taped until Aug. 14!?) So keep this in mind the next time you pester your favorite cast member about their experiences with the series. Odds are they were deeply confused and just trying to get through the workday with their skins intact.

Here are some highlights from the week that was, featured below in their proper narrative order:

Aug. 8, 1967, Episode 300
"Dark Shadows was not really genre television. It was a soap opera aired in the late afternoon for housewives, designed to sell canned hams and pantyhose. That makes the subversive moments enjoyed by the show even craftier." LINK

Aug. 10, 1967, Episode 301
"The centerpiece of this episode of Dark Shadows may be the series’ most famous verbal battle… that doesn’t result in gunplay, witchcraft, or a hurled brandy glass. It's also actor Jonathan Frid's favorite scene from the series." LINK

Aug. 7, 1967, Episode 302
"This episode is a special treat for fans of Grayson Hall. Is she at her most athletic in it? No. People looking for pursed lips, eyelashes the size of palm fronds, and sandpapery shrieks will have to wait. No one watching this episode could cite Hall for anything outside of insightful, shrewd, witty, subtle, and urbane gamesmanship." LINK

Aug. 9, 1967, Episode 304
"Do you want the Rosetta Stone for Dark Shadows? Okay, here it is; these people aren’t the sharpest stakes in the hunter’s bag. They can’t be. In fact, no main character on a soap can be. From a writer’s perspective, that makes for a helluva challenge. The characters on Dark Shadows are seemingly about as bright as they are allowed to be." LINK

On Friday, Patrick did the time warp to 1897 and found himself ankle deep in the battle of wills between County Petofi and Barnabas Collins. It's just a jump to the left.

Aug. 11, 1969, Episode 821
"Leave it to 1897 to deliver a wacky, splashy comic book of gypsy lore, threats, torches, and monologuing. And, in fine DARK SHADOWS tradition, it manages to turn five minutes of plot progression into twenty-two minutes of show." LINK

Friday, August 11, 2017

The first color episode of "Dark Shadows" turns 50

"Good news! This program, Dark Shadows, is now being presented in color!"

Those were the words that greeted audiences during the upgraded opening credits for DARK SHADOWS 50 years ago today. Granted, anyone with a color television set would have figured that out, having already seen a dazed Maggie Evans wander into the Blue Whale during the cold open. Still, it was a not-so-subtle reminder that audiences still watching their old black and white sets needed to get with the program.

The first color episode, #295, was taped July 31, 1967, following a week-long break to allow the production to make whatever technical changes were necessary. Sadly, the show's second color episode has been lost, and has been replaced in syndication and home video with a B&W Kinescope copy.
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