Saturday, September 14, 2019

A few thoughts about Dark Shadows: Reincarnation

It seems like we're always 15 minutes away from another Dark Shadows revival. Cancelled by ABC in 1971, the gothic soap was back on the big screen a few months later in the form of its second feature film, Night of Dark Shadows. With a backlog of more than 1,200 episodes, fans held out hope that the series would find new life in syndication. While Star Trek was rejuvenated by the secondary market, it took a bit longer to breathe life into Dark Shadows. Fans were able to keep the pilot light on in Collinsport until producer Dan Curtis found a new home for it on NBC in 1991.

By that point a new Dark Shadows had been in the works since 1988, prompted by a strike that year by the Writers Guild of America. With no new scripts being created for the 1988 season, networks sought out old content to recycle. CBS brought back Mission: Impossible with "revised" versions of screenplays used for the original series. Dark Shadows was one of the new/old shows considered, but it took a little more time to get it back on the air.

We'll really never know why the 1991 incarnation of the series was cancelled. Constant preemption by news broadcasts of the first Gulf War is routinely blamed (the Dark Shadows revival frequently had better ratings than Twin Peaks) but the decision was reportedly lamented by the late NBC entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff. Just about everybody thinks the show should have been given a second season to find its footing.

Since then, there have been other attempts at reviving Dark Shadows. A pilot for The WB in 2004 was stillborn, while the 2012 feature film adaption by Tim Burton turned out to be one of the most controversial movies in his filmography ... even by people not familiar with the original series.

This is one of those rare situations where it feels OK to bury the lede. By this time you probably already know there's a new Dark Shadows television series in development. Called Dark Shadows: Reincarnation, The CW and Warner Bros Television are developing it as a continuation of the original series. You can read a few more details about the series at Deadline, but there are a lot of creative decisions left to be determined. (Also lost from the announcement is that Big Finish has been producing a "continuation" of the original Dark Shadows series as audio dramas since 2004, but whatever.)

If you've got any kind of social media account, you already know that fans have opinions about Dark Shadows: Reincarnation. The show hasn't even been cast and I'm already exhausted from putting out fires online. But that's OK. We've got opinions, too! I asked a few contributors to The Collinsport Historical Society to chime in on the news of Dark Shadows: Reincarnation. Here's what they had to say.

PATRICK McCRAY: The vital word is “sequel.”

Because that doesn’t imply that anything needs to be fixed, updated, polished, revised, reconsidered, retconned, enhanced, camped up, played down, or, God help us, deconstructed. We really need to knock it off with this deconstruction business.

DS66 (get ready to see that a lot, folks) was alchemy more than production, and I believe that’s why it’s never been successfully recreated. Hard to recreate the pace of 24 minutes a day. Or the camera style. Colors. Voice. Restrictions. If you extract the story without accompanying it with the production schedule and budget with which it was told, you get… an okay story, but it’s easy to realize that it’s just okay. Every individual element was in the neighborhood of “just okay.” It’s how all of those okay elements blended that matters. The production was too frenetic to allow for more. And that’s a strength, not a weakness. Dark Shadows was a show that turned disadvantages into opportunities, and that fusion is impossible to clone.

But it can be continued. A continuation can have a modern voice. Dark Shadows was, after all, an incredibly modern show for its time. For me, the measure of success will be how well it continues and explores the story threads created by the original show. Did Barnabas try to undo Lamar Trask’s murder of Angelique? Did Maggie get out of the asylum… or did she ever really go? How is Quentin aging? Did the Leviathans return? Does Parallel Time begin to infect Collinwood beyond the Room? What happened to Carolyn? And can we finally get David to come back from Panama?

The multimillion dollar questions are, “Would new audiences know or care, and shouldn’t we start them out with something more basic?”

My answers are, “I don’t care, and yes, if you’re a coward.”

For over a decade, television has been built on mysterious stories that force audiences to pay close attention, wait, and speculate. Even if you watch DS66 from the beginning, you’re already jumping into a story whose “midstream” started hundreds of years before.

Do this for the fans who’ve kept the passion for the franchise alive, and you will have a core whose loyalty is beyond measure. Do it well, and the people who demand great television will follow. Trust what Dark Shadows is. Because even the afterglow of alchemy is magic.

ALICE COLLINS: I am trying to temper my excitement, which at the moment is huge. I wish I knew more and could work on it, it'd be my dream job. It's a sequel series according to the news articles I've read, so they have to somehow involve at least have a few of the original cast members. Hopefully they'll get Lara Parker, Katherine Leigh Scott, and David Selby. (You could easily have some kind of throwaway line about the painting not being stored properly or the werewolf virus mutating to have him show his age.) They seem to be the three that have been most active in keeping the series alive through the years. As far as I know it's only in the pilot phase right now, so who knows if it's going to get a full series order.

I have some faith in Mark B. Perry to do a good job since he worked on The Wonder Years and the Ghost Whisperer, so he's got the ideas and chops to make a nostalgic horror-themed series, but he is seriously gonna need to have the right writers surrounding him. Dan Curtis' family has kept such a tight hold on the series for so long, especially after the 2012 movie debacle, so Perry has to have had A REALLY GOOD IDEA to get them to let him use the IP.

At its heart Dark Shadows is a family drama with historical set pieces, I feel the CW network is a good fit here, if they use the Buffy the Vampire Slayer formula which is basically what all CW shows are, I think it'll work out just fine. It's a great idea to help update the series to keep the soap opera aspect intact with the melodrama and on top of that Buffy was a huge inspiration for Buffy. Ever since Buffy went off the air, they've used that framework for their popular shows and it works, Supernatural has gone on for 15 years under that framework and that's been the CWs biggest hit show. As long as they stick to the family and few high school melodramatics I think we'll be just fine.

I've been talking about Dark Shadows at cons and to a bunch of different people over the years, writing about it, podcasting now, and hopefully this will be the thing that'll finally expand the fan base and give some new perspectives and takes to the series allowing for more discussion. There's only so much to talk about when the series has been dormant as long as it has unless you're a fan of audio dramas, which unfortunately can take an arm and a leg to get people to listen to. In short, I'm excited,  ... but a little apprehensive.

PHIL NOBILE JRDark Shadows fans are a lot of different things, but one thing we all are is enduring. Being a DS fan is a life sentence, and one filled with both hope and disappointment. I think many of us cannot help but be hopeful about this news, and at the same time bracing ourselves for deflation. If the result is not what we want, that means that right now - this second - is the best part. So my advice is to enjoy this feeling, and luxuriate in hope and anticipation that the new DARK SHADOWS will “get it right.” Whatever the outcome, this is an exciting feeling.

JUSTIN PARTRIDGE: Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Producers hinted at it, the Head Office here reported on rumors. But, now it's officially on. And I have to say, ghouls and ghoulettes (and the gender neutral ghoulies), I am pretty excited about it. Lemmie tell ya why.

First off, I think it landing at The CW is actually the right move. I have seen some grousing about it online, mainly centered around their YA focused fare and tendency to cast their shows young. Which I mean, I get it. But also, this is a network that turned Supernatural into a fandom juggernaut. A network that took one weird show that turned Famous Lefty Oliver Queen into a Wal-Mart Batman and spawned a whole MULTIVERSE of incredible DC shows, ones that stay true to the legacy of the source material AND translate them in all their flashy (heh) and pulpy glory across multiple shows. Culminating in a yearly crossover in the might legacy of the Crisis books of old. Can you imagine that kind of attention to fun and serialization turned toward The Leviathans arc? Or even ANYthing involving the I-Ching?

As much as I would have loved a huge, big budget take on the series. I feel it would have lost it's novelty on a streaming service. What makes it truly pop episode-to-episode. A Netlfix DS would have tried too hard. A CW Dark Shadows has to try JUST hard enough. I am excited for that.

And that's the other thing, the team behind this, seemingly full-throatedly backed by the Curtis Estate, seems to be genuine fans of the property. They aren't saying "spiritual sequel". They aren't saying "homage" or, Dark Lord forbid, "parody". They are saying "continuation". They are talking about the timelines with the same reverence as we do Star Trek (which, not for nothing, that was something me and Patrick McCray had touched on MONTHS ago down at the Blue Whale, but who's counting right..RIGHT?).

Do I have "wishes" for the show? Absolutely. I would love to see it more diverse, both racially and in terms of queer content. I also think it would behoove them to at least TALK to some of the Big Finish writers, who have been doing this "continuation" thing for a few years now to great success. And I would like to see some of the original surviving actors make appearances.

But honestly? I am just happy it's happening. Even if it's bad, fans will be drawn to the original series and audios and novels. AND this new revival doesn't negate all that either. It's just another timeline. You can't ever keep a good Collins down forever. 

NANCY KERSEY: I am thrilled at the prospect of another Dark Shadows reincarnation.  The franchise has seen several interesting takes on the show already.  They bring new fans into the existing fandom and they invariably get introduced to the original Dark Shadows, which will always be my favorite.  I am most curious about the casting of Barnabas.  That is the important casting consideration to launch any new series.  I know many fans think that somehow Jonathan Frid would be upset.  Whether the series succeeds or not, Frid said publicly in interviews and Dark Shadows Festivals that he believed every new Dark Shadows project deserved to be judged on its own merits and the people behind the project should put their own stamp on it.  He didn’t feel any competition when it came to the character of Barnabas.

WILL McKINLEY Reboots of Dark Shadows have treated the property like it's one story: vampire returns, seeks to reclaim bride. In fact, the series had a wealth of characters, stories, time periods, and genres over 1,225 episodes. Dark Shadows engaged in "worldbuilding" before we called it that.

I’m excited — and genuinely surprised — that this new version is planned as a sequel, and that the writers will be able to mine the show’s vast mythology. Jonathan Frid called DS a “dark ‘Brigadoon’” and I think he would love the idea of expanding upon that unique world and opening it up beyond Barnabas Collins.

I think he would also be pleased by the tone the new production team seems to be taking toward the franchise and the fans. The idea that a new version will not just acknowledge the characters and stories we love but treat them as canon is thrilling.

Dark Shadows has always been the “little show that could,” kept alive by the passion and creativity of a vocal fan base. Now it's time for the show to claim the position it deserves: as one of the true genre classics of TV.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...