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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Man, it’s been hot here lately… and although those on the East Coast have probably seen more than enough water with the advent of Hurricane Irene, it’s still time here for a cooling dip and a visit from a very unusual denizen of the deep.

Five quotes:

“This show has style.  It’s not great science fiction.”

“We would do the sets that didn’t have to be wet.”

“…we knew what it was going to be — it was a wet Batman.”

…the very first American television series ever sold to stations in mainland China.

…a place where an infinite number of stories could be told, and infinite number of possibilities existed.

This week, a trip back decades, and deep into the depths, featuring an article about a memorable show from my youth, and exactly why you shouldn’t set a series there… this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“It goes like this:  you see a movie or read a book or even play a game, something you really love, but when you’re done the first thing that pops into your head is “But what if they had done—” or “And then what happened?” or “Gee if there had been a character like this—”
–Bestselling SF/F author Mercedes Lackey

As a fan of television, I always wonder what happens to various characters I’ve developed a fondness for.  Especially when you deal with limited-run series like the ones found on this site, certain characters cry out for more adventures, or at the very least some type of resolution to dangling plot threads or unfinished cliffhanger endings.  But the concept still holds true for those shows with lengthy runs, because fans still have ideas for stories that will never see the light of a television screen.

I’ve always said that everyone has at least one good story, one good song, one good poem inside them, waiting for that creative spark to ignite and to be shared with the world.  And you may (or may not) be surprised to find that a great many other people have been inspired in various ways by the shows we all watch and the characters that we’ve invited into our living rooms day after day, year after year.  Such familiarity almost demands consideration.

After the Korean War

The more professional version of such consideration usually takes the form of spin-off series, containing certain (but not all) characters from the original source show.  Some wanted M*A*S*H to continue, while others were satisfied with the many years they’d already created, so the series AfterM*A*S*H was born.  It lasted only a season, because it wasn’t the original.  Television is littered with these kinds of shows, from The Sanford Arms to the various Stargate sequels, because the bean counters want “more of the same”… except they weren’t really the same.

Fans know the difference.  They want their characters, not replacements, and they want to re-capture the drama and feelings they felt when watching the show.  So, for many of them, it’s a different kind of consideration they indulge themselves in, and that consideration often takes the form of “fan fiction”.

Ever ask yourself “Wouldn’t it be great if” such-and-such a character found themselves in a certain situation?  Or a deadly nemesis from the past would come back to threaten our heroes?  Or perhaps it’s a certain combination of characters which have created sparks of the romantic kind, yet the show never followed through on-screen with what you were certain was there, under the radar.  These are the things which find their way into the basics of fan fiction, no matter what show, no matter what era.

The cast of The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne

Fan Fiction started almost as early as mass fiction did.  There are reports of fan parodies and unauthorized versions of Alice in Wonderland and the Sherlock Holmes novels, and H.G. Wells and his fantastic fiction inspired many similar works.  The romances of Jane Austen had their own devotees, some of whom wrote in a similar style (and their legacy continues today).  You could even call some of the shows later developed from these properties another version of “professional” fan fiction, like what was done on television with The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne.

But true fan fiction can probably be traced back to the mid-sixties and the advent of the original Star Trek.  The imaginative stories and “anything can happen” settings of science fiction, available with continuing characters, was a playground for inventive (and not so inventive) authors to insert their own tales into the ongoing narrative.

The first “fanzines” of this era were almost crude by today’s standards; typewritten and mimeographed, and sales breaking one hundred were considered successful.  Fans were eager to read any “new” adventures with their heroes, and even more were encouraged to write their own when they saw that the “writers” were simply fans like themselves.  In those days, the “dandelion” effect of one fan telling another, and those fans telling others, etc., etc., led to an underground network of such groups, each with their own focus and style of stories.  Those who actually OWNED the characters were often completely unaware of their existence.

Rock City Rebels: A Bugaloos book

When the first pure Trek conventions started popping up in the early and mid-seventies, knowledge of these stories, no matter how amateurish or professional, became more widespread.  Book publishing houses took notice as well, and started doing more licensed tie-in work with various projects, instead of just novelizations of existing stories.  These featured everything from the aforementioned Star Trek to original novels based on children’s shows like The Bugaloos.  For a short while, almost every show on television got a novel or adaptation, but because of necessary lead time for publishing, books sometimes didn’t appear until the shows were canceled.

Fans, however, weren’t concerned with making a profit, or character ownership.  They simply wanted to get their ideas out there, for others to enjoy and for them to express.  Especially with now “dead” series, adventures were only going to continue if the fans did the hard work and wrote the “episodes” themselves.  Various types of stories became prevalent, especially amongst those who had lots of enthusiasm… but not nearly as much talent.

There’s the “Mary Sue” story, so named because our more well-known heroes suddenly develop romantic feelings for the new “Mary Sue” character created especially for the story.  These are wish-fulfillment type stories, written for the authors to “put themselves” into a scenario where they can win the heart of their favorite TV personality.  Mary Sue stories are derided by most who read fan fiction, and yet, almost every writer has one somewhere, just as a starting point.

Others see characters on-screen and creating pairings where they may (or may not) exist.  “Shippers” (as in “relationship” fans) tend to want the romantic fulfillment of various character pairings, whether or not they’re actually couples on-screen.  They write stories to satisfy their impatience with the seeming lack of televised progression between the characters in question.  Since much of dramatic television also depends on sexual tension (and the obstacles keeping people apart), some fan fiction just “cuts to the chase” and lets the principals finally get past that televised friction (and into the hot and steamy romance).

Gabrielle and Xena

The more obscure version of “shipper” fiction is “slash” fiction, usually bringing together two characters in more erotic and explicit ways.  These also posit more homoerotic stories (as well as hetero-type encounters), creating a much more adult version of the normal televised adventures of our heroes and heroines.  Kirk and Spock from the original Star Trek were written as lovers (the “slash” moniker coming from the abbreviation K/S, for Kirk/Spock), but the lesbian angle was also seen in a large number of Xena:  Princess Warrior stories with her constant companion Gabrielle.

Star Trek fans also created entirely new ships, populating them with their own creations but still using the framework shown in the original series (and its sequels).  There are probably well over a hundred or more ships in the Star Trek universe you may have never heard of, but their adventures are available in written, audio, or visual form.  Star Trek fan fiction has taken amazing forms, up to and including Star Trek:  Phase II, an almost complete re-creation of the original series.  Phase II has even used actors and props from the franchise, and tells many stories written (but unused) for the original characters.

There are some excellent stories out there, by fans who just wanted to share their love of shows and characters (and who also happen to be possessed of talent to spare).  Some professionals got their starts as “fan” writers, advancing up the ladder with their craft into more original stories and characters.  And some stories found their way into print thanks to book companies who didn’t even know (or politely ignored) the fact that the story they were buying was based on a different property.

“When Pocket Books got the licensing to do Star Trek books, the first editor of the line, David Hartwell, phoned all his agent friends asking who among their clients had old Trek tales in their bottom drawers–knowing we all did.  I dug out Ishmael (which I hadn’t touched since I was seventeen and which was only about half written), and wrote David a letter. (…) … I was really rather surprised when it actually saw print.”
–author Barbara Hambly

Really? Here Come the Brides meets Star Trek?

Published in 1985 (more than fifteen years after the original series ended), Hambly’s Ishmael concerns Spock being tossed back in time to Seattle in 1867.  Spock is suffering from amnesia, and gets named “Ishmael” by the locals (as in the first line of Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael.”)  He soon meets a group of logging brothers and their prospective brides (while also fighting off a Klingon time travel plot).  The brothers and their brides happen to be, verbatim, the characters from Here Come the Brides, an adventure comedy show on ABC in 1968, featuring the same actor, Mark Lenard, that had played Spock’s father on the original Star Trek a season earlier.  Not only was this a Star Trek story, but it gave a conclusion to the central plot of Here Come the Brides over a decade after its series run.  This idea of crossover for characters from multiple shows is also a feature of fan fiction, as different studios and production schedules often preclude such events (something fans don’t have to worry about in the least.)

The point of all this is, fan fiction is now a much more pervasive part of any group of zealous fans, eager to provide their own views on the shows they love.  The advent of the internet has made these fans not only easier for each other to find, but it provides a repository for a multitude of stories of almost every modern television series possible, obscure or otherwise.  Mass media has spread from the television screen to the computer screen in more ways than just video.

“”Fan fiction’ — or whatever you want to call it — has been around for a long time, but never like now. The internet has changed everything. Whereas before the fanfic might be published in obscure fanzines with a circulation of a hundred, now tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, can read these… well, let’s just call them ‘unauthorized derivative works.'”
–George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant, in the pilot for Rex is Not Your Lawyer

Want to find stories about Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in the ’90’s?  Done.  Firefly in the 2000’s?  Easy.  Beauty and the Beast in the ’80’s?  There’s now a library full of them.  I can even point you towards stories from classic shows like Gilligan’s Island.  Fans of certain stars will follow them to projects as unknown as Rex is Not Your Lawyer, a show that only had an unaired pilot for 2010 that didn’t make it to series… yet new stories were written and published online by devoted fans.

The best location for many of these is FanFiction.Net., containing multiple thousands of stories featuring the characters and situations people came to love, from Japanese Anime to Broadway musicals.  Television shows, of course, are what is focused on here, but even then, there are multiple sections that can be searched by show, by character, by length, by age appropriateness (for those who wish to avoid all “slash” and such), and by almost any search method desired.  There’s also a section just for “crossover” fiction, where you can have Mulder and Scully from The X-Files finally meet up with the denizens of Picket Fences, even though the potential on-screen crossover didn’t happen thanks to the network suits.

“I think what TV/corporate media had wrong for a long time was how they understood the idea of a “water cooler show.” They saw it as making the audience talk about their show, on their terms.  So any fan-created media is them losing control of their material.  I see this more as the natural evolution of culture in a shared digital age.  I will be blunt — other than the satisfaction of our own creative urges (and all that entails:  the quest for perfection, artistry, craft, etc), our job in media is to give you stuff to talk about in your conversations, to integrate into your social circle in whatever way you see fit.”
–John Rogers, creator/producer of Leverage

Of course, some aren’t nearly as happy about this type of activity as others.  You’ll note that almost every story online written by fans has a necessary disclaimer that the characters and situations aren’t actually owned by the author, and that no copyright infringement is intended.  Some authors are very protective of their livelihood, not only by choice, but also because the rules of copyright in America say that all copyrights MUST be defended, or else the original holder “gives up” the right to continue holding it.  In plain English, it is most possible that authors could lose the rights to certain characters (and their money-earning potential) if they ever allow others to “play in their sandbox”, so to speak.

Some authors don’t really care all that much, believing that the properties in question have outlived their usefulness (and profitability) to those who might gain monetarily, and simply ignore these stories.  Other artists are flattered that the fans they try to reach are moved enough to apply pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  They simply stick their figurative fingers in their ears and sing “La, la, la”, ignoring these efforts for as long as fans aren’t making any kind of profit and endangering their copyrights.  Still others are fiercely protective of their characters and plots, required (as the law reads) to actively defend them, even against those who simply want to indulge their wish-fulfillment fantasies and put themselves into a show they love.

The ways the laws are written, there are no good answers to these dilemmas, and yet, for our purposes, they can be ignored.  If the focus is on shows that ended-too-soon, then the commercial capabilities of the franchises are usually spent, and the fan fiction is allowed to remain untethered by studios and creators  The advent of the internet has allowed fan fiction, both good and bad, to flourish, and let the focus of these types of stories narrow to better serve their readers.  With the search capabilities of FanFiction.net and other sites, I don’t have to even be aware of the backstories of some characters to indulge my fascination with others, even on the same show.

"What are they writing about us now, Mulder?"

“…there are those of us professionals that still write fanfiction for fun (although I doubt there are very few who will be as up-front about it as I am). Sometimes it’s because someone else’s creation got us by the throat and our storytelling demon won’t let us go until we get our version down on paper or in pixels.”
–Bestselling author Mercedes Lackey

I write the articles on this site because I love the characters and situations from all these old shows, and I don’t want them lost to the fog of memory.  Fan fictions writers do the same thing, with new fictional stories instead of factual descriptions.  Ultimately, it’s the sheer love of these televised presentations which have made all of us become “fans” in the first place, and brought us to the point of writing.  I’ve said before that “Passion breeds creativity”, and never is that more true than in the art of fan fiction.  The best of such endeavors re-create a world we all long to continue, years (or even decades) after the unfortunate end of a show.  Whatever spark we found in watching, we hope to re-live and share by allowing those characters to exist again, not only in our hearts and minds, but hopefully in the imagination of readers as well.  Those readers may not be many, but they are just as passionate and just as eager to continue whatever the network and circumstances conspired to end prematurely.

Everyone has a story.  Even if the characters aren’t yours originally, the story is still worth writing, and worth sharing.  If the passion moves you to do so, then don’t let the world stop you.  Go create….

–Tim R.

Television provides many things for those who love to watch.  The passion fans have for certain shows and characters inspire them to imagine much more than is ever presented on the screen.  Some like this idea, and some hate it, but the phenomenon is here to stay.

Five quotes:

…and yet, almost every writer has one somewhere, just as a starting point.

“I was really rather surprised when it actually saw print.”

“…our job in media is to give you stuff to talk about in your conversations…”

The ways the laws are written, there are no good answers to these dilemmas…

“…our storytelling demon won’t let us go until we get our version down on paper or in pixels.”

Whether good, bad, or somewhere in-between, there’s a ton of it out there, all inspired by those little moving lights on our screens.  A primer on what happens when we can’t turn off the television in our minds, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“The United States of America would like to invite you… to come spy with me.”
–Mr. Lavender, in the opening of Masquerade

Rod Taylor as Mr. Lavender

Don’t go on a cruise to the Caribbean this season.  Join World American Tours instead, the bus company that travels all over the world to provide our guests the best vacation they’ve ever had.  Join our uniquely trained tour guides and see sights ordinary tourists never get to visit.  Not only will this vacation be special, but (thanks to a deal we’ve worked out with the US Government) we’ll pay YOU an entire year’s salary to join us on this once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind adventure!  A free trip, a glorious time, and wonders to explore beyond your wildest dreams….

… with only one little catch.  You see, there’s this job we need you to do while you’re here….

Sounds like a scam?  Some thought so.  The trips were real, and so was the money.  But World American Tours was a front for the CIA, and the job (even if it’s something you do every day) is the most risky thing you’ll ever do.  Because you’re engaging in espionage during the Cold War, and there’s only so much our team can do to protect you.  Appropriately, what’s going on is an elaborate Masquerade.

Premiering at the end of 1983, Masquerade presented the somewhat tongue-in-cheek adventures of a beleaguered CIA chief, known only as Mr. Lavender (Rod Taylor).  His entire operation had been compromised, leading him to a radical idea:  instead of spending the time and money to train new spies (which he figured would take over a year to do), he’d simply spend the money to gather hard-working, patriotic Americans to do his spy work now.

Paying each citizen a free trip abroad and a year’s salary, Mr. Lavender brought people of all walks of life and all special skills together for a unique brand of espionage.  As they were total unknowns to the spy community, they could easily infiltrate without tipping off enemies.  Of course, what you gain in anonymity you lose in experience…  but it’s only one mission for each, right?  What could possibly go wrong?

Greg Evigan as Danny Doyle

“The other members of our team, sir… aren’t they going to be a little put off by having to work with two rookies?”

“Won’t bother them.  They’ve never been on a mission either.”

–Lavender, responding to Danny and Casey about their new assignment

Kirstie Alley as Casey Collins

Well, now that you mention it… plenty.  These people weren’t trained spies at all, so they had handlers to help them out with all the cloak-and-dagger stuff.  Lavender chose two relatively new CIA training graduates as assistants (remember, the entire previous staff had been compromised), and charged them with wrangling the untested newcomers (much to their chagrin).  Danny Doyle (Greg Evigan) and Casey Collins (Kirstie Alley) were there more to be conversational foils for the characters and providing a reason for dumping plot information, but they also provided some contrast to the covert proceedings.

So, with real (but still green) agents undercover as “tour guides” if our ordinary Americans got stuck (or did something really foolish, like get caught), the episode guest stars got on with the normal things their characters knew.  Like the plumber from Minneapolis, sent to Paris to cause hotel drains to plug up at a precise moment.  Or a thief from Chicago brought  in for the use of his pickpocket skills.  Or an out-of-work actor chosen because he could become a dead ringer for a Russian diplomat.  Whatever skill or ability was needed, that person soon “won” a free trip overseas and a year’s salary, just to do what they already did everyday.

“Welcome to Operation:  Masquerade.”
–Lavender, to the gathered “operatives”, in every episode

Each episode starting with a briefing aboard a private airplane on the way to some foreign locale, where Lavender would lay out the plan to those he had chosen for the mission.  They were free to back out anytime before the plane landed, but after that, they were “in”.  The presentation was like the opening tape recording of the late ’60’s series Mission:  Impossible, where the bad guy was shown and the group was informed of what they had to do… but whether they could do it without complications was the interesting part for the audience at home.

The “ordinary Americans” are where The Love Boat angle comes in, as they were guest stars each week.   Portrayed by various actors who weren’t necessarily on the A-List, but still were recognizable enough to bring an audience to the show, they ranged from movie actors, to television favorites, to celebrities who were only known for being, well, celebrities.  Classic television names like Cybill Shepard, Ernest Borgnine, and Lynda Day George worked alongside baseball great Steve Garvey, supposedly in Italy or Germany or even Brazil, just to present a feel-good caper show that was comfortable and easy on the brain.

And, perhaps, that’s why Masquerade didn’t do so well in the ratings competition as it did in the Cold War.  Storylines on The Love Boat, as a romantic comedy, lent themselves to more silliness and less consequence, whereas on Masquerade, mistakes made by our guests didn’t lead to comical misunderstandings, but to apprehension and imprisonment by a deadly enemy.  It’s hard to make escapist ’80’s television when the threat is so worrisome.  The stakes for the characters (and therefore the viewers who identify with them) are not comfortable ones by any means.

One would hope that Masquerade would be a more serious show as a result, but producer Glen A. Larson wasn’t known for that kind of depth on his series in general.  Plots used some really odd ideas, like beauty contestants (supposedly with martial arts skills) going up against ninjas and the Yakuza.  Yeah, that sounds rather silly (and unfortunate), but this was the height of the ’80’s, and some shows weren’t asked to go for the cerebral, by any means.  Using The Love Boat meets Mission:  Impossible as a template caused many (including the network) to focus on the vacuous first part, to the detriment of the dramatic second, ruining the series as a whole.  Having to play the “outrageous” as completely straight overwhelmed any credibility Masquerade may have hoped for.

sheet music for Crystal Gayle's opening theme

A decent idea descended quickly into a combination of silly spy thriller and unintentional (?) comedy, but maybe there was a reason for some of that.  Masquerade was the fourth try for the concept, as pilot movies had been done for the same concept (titled Call to Danger) in the ’60’s and ’70’s.  Containing varying degrees of seriousness, they never got off the ground as series, but at least Masquerade showed enough style to get episodes ordered beyond the pilot.  The opening title sequence shows much of the ’80’s James Bond influence, with over-the-top spy flair and terrific music by Crystal Gayle.  (In fact, one of the best remnants of the series was that theme song, which even got a release as sheet music during the run of the show.)

The show never really had a chance anyway, as it aired on Friday nights in 1984, in the path of the buzzsaws that were Dallas and Falcon Crest.  As mentioned previously in my article on The Quest, this was a spot for networks to gamble, as any ratings they could gather against those two series were something of a gain.  Dallas and Falcon Crest were simply unbeatable for years on Friday nights, and Masquerade failed as spectacularly as anything else put up against them.  It replaced an even more forgettable show, Lottery!, about the winners of a Publisher’s Clearing House type sweepstakes, and the dramas that ensued.

Another problem with the scheduling was premiering Masquerade in the middle of December, and running it during the holidays, traditionally low-rated times for any television programming.  The show ran through January, then was pre-empted for eight straight weeks (to run off remaining Lottery! episodes), before returning in April, where it resumed with another five episodes before being removed from the airwaves permanently. (Apparently, World American didn’t have any tours running during February and March that year….)

All told, Masquerade was a good idea that went bad very quickly.  Even the best ideas become shallow imitations of themselves when decent writing, production values, and acting aren’t part of their presentation.  Add in a woeful time slot with killer competition, and an airing schedule that almost no show could survive intact, and perhaps the show was appropriately named.  Whatever was left after all those problems was little more than a shell of what could have been, a pretend copy of a TV series, with a neat idea and not much more.  Truly a Masquerade….

ROD TAYLOR (Mr. Lavender) played many iconic Hollywood roles in his career, including leads in the original The Time Machine and Hitchcock’s classic The Birds.  Regular series roles included appearances on Outlaws, Bearcats!, The Oregon Trail, Falcon Crest, and Walker, Texas Ranger.  Most recently, he played Winston Churchill in the hit film Inglourious Basterds.  Taylor was also the voice of Pongo, the lead dalmatian in the original Disney animated film 101 Dalmatians.

GREG EVIGAN (Danny Doyle) has starred in numerous different series, from A Year at the Top (with David Letterman bandleader Paul Schaffer) and BJ and the Bear (with a chimp for a sidekick) through his biggest success, My Two Dads.  The syndicated TekWar (with William Shatner) followed, plus short-lived stints on Melrose Place, Pacific Palisades, and Family Rules.  He’s a consistent guest actor in many series, and most recently appeared in Desperate Housewives and Cold Case, as well as a number of TV-movies.

KIRSTIE ALLEY (Casey Collins) made a splash as Lt. Saavik in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan before becoming a mainstay on television.  Her role as Rebecca in Cheers won her an Emmy, and a starring role in the successful sitcom Veronica’s Closet followed.  While her ups-and-downs with weight loss have made tabloid fodder (and been featured in a reality series, Fat Actress), she was recently the runner-up in season 13 of Dancing with the Stars.

Masquerade isn’t available on DVD, but the episodes are up on YouTube thanks to the generous links of a certain user named imstillstuckinthe80s, where you will also find some other show episodes if you happen to be searching for another lost series.  There’s also an Italian site (in English) for Greg Evigan with stills taken from the show, but unfortunately not much else.  One would hope for a DVD release, considering the name value of the regulars, but such a thing hasn’t happened at this time (and it’s unknown what kind of shape any remaining copies might be in anyway, as there wasn’t a market for home video in those days, and a failed series often stayed forgotten as far as preservation was concerned).

Sometimes, you don’t ask for Shakespeare.  Sometimes, just escapist fare with a bit of fun, a bit of deception, and a bit of style fills the bill.  For those things, Masquerade did pretty well, but for any who asked more of the series, then perhaps it fell short of the mark.  To be a great series, it has to be all those things.  With better execution (and a little less over-the-top scripting), there’s still a quality show here somewhere.  We were just left with something pretending to be otherwise.

Vital Stats

1 90-minute pilot and 11 other aired episodes — 1 unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  December 15, 1983
Final aired episode:  April 27, 1984 (with a large 2-month gap in the middle)
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  An hour later, Friday @ 9/8 Central.  I don’t care how it was disguised, it was still fodder for Dallas at the time.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

All aboard for a tour of exotic places, with a little espionage thrown in (if you’re up for it).  A two-week vacation and a year’s salary, and all you have to do is be yourself… under life-and-death pressure.  Could you do it?  Would you?

Five quotes:

“The United States of America would like to invite you… to come spy with me.”

Of course, what you gain in anonymity you lose in experience…

“…aren’t they going to be a little put off by having to work with two rookies?”

The opening title sequence shows much of the ’80’s James Bond influence…

Sometimes, you don’t ask for Shakespeare.

Not the best series in the world this week, but one that could have had some promise, if it wasn’t for the usual lousy time slot and some rather strange choices for plots.  But the premise showed such possibilities that this was the fourth time around for a pilot… and it still wasn’t a success.  But it will be featured this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“My name is Victoria Winters.  My journey is just beginning.  A journey that I’m hoping will somehow begin to reveal the mysteries of my past.  It is a journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place… to a house high atop a stormy cliff at the edge of the sea… to a house called Collinwood.”
–Victoria Winters, introducing viewers to Dark Shadows (1991)

Enter the Dark Shadows

Some say that Hollywood hasn’t had an original idea in ages.  Remakes, re-boots, and “re-imaginings” are everywhere, mostly because those with the money have become the ones making the creative decisions.  Ideas with any “name recognition” are considered (by bean-counters, at least) vastly superior to more original scenarios, only because those bean-counters (and therefore the audience they think they’re serving) can get a very quick handle upon what is being presented.  The audience is familiar with it, after all.

But sometimes, the idea of a remake isn’t a bad thing.  Especially when the guy with the original idea is involved from the beginning.  And, if done properly, the remake can get rid of some of the problems the prior incarnation may have had, like a limited budget, slower pace, and the occasionally wobbly set or two.

Dark Shadows was a gothic soap opera on ABC, running on weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. Creator Dan Curtis (who also brought Kolchak:  The Night Stalker to television) believed that, with a bit of tweaking, the Dark Shadows scenario was ready-made for a more modern prime-time audience.  NBC agreed, and an initial order for 13 hours was made… and although the storyline was familiar, it certainly wasn’t the original 13 episodes of the original show.

Dark Shadows concerns the Collins family, whose ancestors were founders of the town of Collinsport, Maine back in the early days of America.  Their family history runs extremely deep (along with their family secrets), and the new governess, Victoria Winters (Joanna Going), starts to uncover truths that most would prefer to remain hidden.  She is introduced to the family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons), and to the rest of the rather strange clan living at ancient Collinwood Manor.  These include Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Barbara Blackburn); and Elizabeth’s brother Richard (Roy Thinnes) and his young son David (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whom Victoria has been brought in to tutor and care for.

Barnabas Collins

Another Collins soon arrives on the scene.  Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross) claims to be a long-lost relative, descended from his ancestor namesake who led the family back in colonial days.  This is confirmed by the painting of the original Barnabas, who looks strikingly similar.  In true gothic horror tradition, however, there’s only one Barnabas.  He is a vampire, eternally undead, who was chained up and sealed in the Collins mausoleum to protect the town all those years ago.  Now accidentally set free by the Collins family groundskeeper, Willie Loomis (Jim Fyfe), Barnabas has revived and is ready to take his rightful place again… and perhaps the heart of Victoria Winters as well.

“Hope you like this freak palace, Miss Winters.”
–Willie Loomis, upon bringing Victoria to Collinwood

There’s a large and involved web of relationships between the Collins family and the locals. Daphne Collins (Rebecca Staab), niece to Elizabeth, is unfortunately attacked by the newly revived Barnabas, and is ultimately killed by the authorities after becoming a vampire herself.  Her boyfriend Joe Haskell (Michael T. Weiss) pursues vengeance against Barnabas.  The attack on Daphne is also investigated by Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele), who figures out Barnabas’ secret, and ultimately convinces Barnabas that only she can create a cure for his curse.

The vengeful Angelique

The curse is, obviously, part of those old family secrets, when Barnabas was seduced by Angelique Bouchard (Lysette Anthony), the maidservant of the woman he was set to marry back in 1790.  Enraged when Barnabas rejects her, Angelique uses the powers of dark magic to curse Barnabas with vampirism.  She punishes him further by dooming all he loves to an early death, an anguish which he must continually experience throughout his unending existence.

“She is a force so evil, so powerful in nature that even now she reaches across the centuries to destroy me.”
–Barnabas, to Willie, describing Angelique

There are other residents of Collinwood, both helpful and suspicious of the Collins family and their secrets.  The series concerned the ever-changing nature and allegiance of the characters relationships, like on many soap operas, with a few good scares thrown in.  But, as stated earlier, this wasn’t the original Dark Shadows soap opera.

First, audiences had changed significantly from the late ’60’s.  The style and pace of television presentation was much faster in 1991, especially when compared to the almost glacial speed of the original daily half-hour afternoon serial.  Therefore, if there was to be an updated version, rewrites were mandatory.

Original creator Dan Curtis and his production team went to work.  The new version would take the arrival of Victoria as its beginning, just as the ABC soap opera did.  But the original series ran for a season before the arrival of Barnabas Collins, who shows up about 15 minutes into the first episode of the revival.  After that, each episode of the 1991 series encompasses about a month (or two) of the main storylines from 25 years earlier.  Six episodes of the new series used up the main daytime soap opera plot for almost a year.

“I, Victoria Winters, begin this journal in the hope that no matter what happens to me there will at least be a written record of these extraordinary events. Somehow, I have been thrust backward in time.”
–setting the stage for 1790

Barnabas and Victoria

In 1967, Dark Shadows bent the rules even more, as the gothic soap introduced a time-travel storyline.  The 1991 revival followed suit, when Victoria (who by now had become a love interest of Barnabas, even though she knew nothing of his curse) was convinced to participate in a séance.  When the lights go out, she is somehow transported back to the year 1790, caught up in the interactions of the original inhabitants of Collinsport, and the origin of their secrets.  These new characters (except for Barnabas, of course, who was still the same long-lived individual) were played by actors from the modern-day storyline, in new, dual roles.  We see the doomed love of Barnabas, the original seduction with Angelique, and others of the early Collins clan, as Victoria tries to save Barnabas from his fate… at the risk of trapping her in the past forever, or even dying in his lover’s place.

This time-bending storyline took the better part of another year on the original series, yet in the 1991 revival it took only another six episodes to play out.  Unlike the beginning of the revival, however, small but significant changes were made to the soap opera storyline (again, “re-writes”), and it was hoped that these changes would slowly move the new adaptation of the show away from slavish devotion to the original.  Besides, at six or so episodes equaling a year of previous plot, new storylines were going to be necessary all too soon.

Of course, that was only true if the show were to continue.  While the late winter run had debuted to tremendous ratings, the beginnings of the Gulf War shortly derailed any momentum built up by the show.  NBC constantly pre-empted and delayed the series for news reports and specials, and even audiences who actively wanted to watch the show were frustrated by uncertainty over finding it.  Ratings suffered, and ultimately Dark Shadows was canceled again, as it had been decades earlier.

What witchcraft is this? To cancel our show?

BEN CROSS (Barnabas Collins) was one of the starring actors in the Oscar-winning Best Picture Chariots of Fire, kicking off a terrific career.  He’s been seen as everything from a medieval prince (First Knight) to Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to biblical hero Solomon (Solomon) to Spock’s father Sarek in the most recent Star Trek movie.  He’s also an accomplished musician and composer, with multiple musicals to his credit.

JOANNA GOING (Victoria Winters) also made the jump from soap operas to Dark Shadows, having appeared previously in both Search for Tomorrow and Another World.  She starred in the series Going to Extremes, as well as playing recurring roles on Spin City and Close to Home.  Most recently, she played Sean Penn’s wife in the award-winning independent film The Tree of Life.

JEAN SIMMONS (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) came to prominence in the ’40’s and ’50’s, both in her native Britain and in America.  Best known here for her starring turn in Guys and Dolls and television miniseries roles in North and South and The Thorn Birds, she was nominated for two Oscars (twenty-one years apart!)  She passed away of lung cancer in January of 2010.

BARBARA BLACKBURN (Carolyn Stoddard) also had a soap opera background, featured on Ryan’s Hope prior to Dark Shadows.  A few small TV spots followed, including Law and Order and Close to Home, before she left the business in 1995.

ROY THINNES (Richard Collins) was a genre favorite, chased by aliens in the seminal ’60’s series The Invaders (also was re-booted into a miniseries years later, in which Thinnes made a cameo).  He was also featured on television in The Psychiatrist, From Here to Eternity, and Falcon Crest.  A guest spot on The X-Files became a return visit when his character was so well liked, he recreated the part in other episodes.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (David Collins) played a brat child on Dark Shadows, but played a wiser-than-his-years (alien) teen-ager in Third Rock From the Sun.  He’s become a feature film actor and leading man, in (500) Days of Summer, Inception, and next year’s Batman feature The Dark Knight Rises.

JIM FYFE (Willie Loomis) was part of Tanner ’88, a spoof of election campaigns, and sixteen years later reprised that role in Tanner on Tanner.  In between, he was seen in Team Knight Rider, Once and Again, and in both The X-Files and its spin-off, The Lone Gunmen.  He also hosted two HBO specials for kids, helping them make environmentally conscious choices.

REBECCA STAAB (Daphne Collins) started in the soaps Guiding Light and Loving, before making the jump to prime-time.  She’s guested on numerous series, including Cheers, The Wonder Years, and The Mentalist.  A former Miss Nebraska and finalist for Miss USA, she is an avid outdoor sportswoman, comparing her garage to miniature “sports chalet”.

MICHAEL T. WEISS (Joe Haskell) started on Days of Our Lives, logging over 500 episodes on the series.  He’s well-known for his lead role in the TV series The Pretender, and most recently has been a part of the current CBS series Blue Bloods.

BARBARA STEELE (Dr. Julia Hoffman) had a long career in British film, dating back to being an extra in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.  A part in Fellini’s masterpiece followed.   Many horror and thriller features later (including The Pit and the Pendulum with Vincent Price), she found she was becoming typecast and retired from acting for a decade.  Barbara became a producer, winning an Emmy award for the mini-series War and Remembrance.  She then joined Dark Shadows, delighting fans of her horror work.

LYSETTE ANTHONY (Angelique Bouchard)  has spent most of her career in her native Britain (Dark Shadows was her only American series).  A regular in Cluedo (the British term for the boardgame “Clue” in America), she played Miss Scarlet.  Other appearances included Night & Day, The Bill, Hollyoaks, Casuality, and Coronation Street.  She’s reprised her role as Angelique in the Big Finish audio dramas for Dark Shadows.

The revival series has received a DVD release, although it is sadly devoid of extras.  Those suffering from more immediate blood lust can find the episodes on Hulu.com.  The original soap opera has also been released (at least, the majority of episodes, as some simply no longer exist).  There are various fan sites out there dedicated to both incarnations, and featuring detailed storyline information allowing for the comparison of the two series.  Another “re-imagining” of Dark Shadows was done as a pilot for The WB in 2004, but never made it to television (although screenings have been held at various Dark Shadows fan events since).  Big Finish audio in Britain has started a set of audio adventures furthering the storylines once again and featuring the talents of many of the actors from both series.

Remakes and updates abound for all sorts of shows.  The revival of Hawaii Five-O is starting its second season this fall on CBS, ABC has a new version of Charlie’s Angels, and a pilot script has been ordered for another try at the comedy BewitchedDark Shadows is, by no means, alone in this respect, but it is unique for retaining much of its original storyline instead of just a concept and characters.  But that’s likely because the story of Collinwood and Barnabas Collins was part of a continuing narrative (due to its soap origins), and the presentation already contained many of the elements that make a story interesting.  It’s really no wonder people keep coming back to it.

Therefore, it’s no surprise there is work going on for an updated movie version of Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, and featuring Johnny Depp as Barnabas.  The new film is scheduled for a big May opening in 2012, and a full advertising and merchandising push.  Other stars involved include Helena Bohnam Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jackie Earle Haley.  Although it re-arranges the story so there is no longer a time-travel element (the action is seen in chronological order), both the 1790 storyline and the more modern plot are parts of the movie, and anticipation is growing….

…as well it should.  Dark Shadows is a great concept, one which almost defines gothic horror for multiple generations.  It is only fitting and appropriate for Barnabas Collins to return from his coffin once more to live among the residents of Collinwood Manor, to fill us with chills and forbidden romance, to give the world a good, comfortable fright.  Because that’s what a vampire is supposed to do, right?

Death is for the mortal… eternal life remains in the Dark Shadows.

Vital Stats

12 aired episodes (2-hour pilot and 11 hour episodes) — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  January 13, 1991
Final aired episode:  March 22, 1991
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Later in the evening (although still on Fridays), befitting it’s more scary and sexualized nature.  But then, NBC didn’t tell many people when they were going to pre-empt it for war coverage anyway, so some weeks it aired at 9pm; some at 10;  and sometimes just delayed and delayed again.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

If you lived forever (or close enough to it), you’d be able to keep trying until you got things absolutely right.  You could take advantage of a different world to make whatever you did more effective, more interesting, more like you wanted it to be. But would that be a blessing?  Or a curse?

Five quotes:

“…to a house high atop a stormy cliff at the edge of the sea…”

…but it certainly wasn’t the original 13 episodes of the earlier show.

“She is a force so evil, so powerful in nature that even now she reaches across the centuries to destroy me.”

…yet in the newer version it took only another six episodes to play out.

…the beginnings of the Gulf War shortly derailed any momentum built up by the show.

Art is never finished, it’s just set free for the masses to enjoy.  This week, a show that has influenced multiple generations, and soon will continue to do so again.  Come back for a look at one of its incarnations, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

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