Boomers Watched the Original Dark Shadows

Recently Mister Boomer went to see Dark Shadows, the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp. He thought the movie was OK as a campy romp, but came away no more of a fan of Dark Shadows than when he entered.

Long before there were Twilight movies for tweens, boomers enjoyed the Dark Shadows TV show. Having been indoctrinated with the classic movie monsters of the 1930s and ’40s — namely, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf — boomer minds were ready for a TV show that tapped into the supernatural.

In April of 1966, ABC tossed Dark Shadows into the mix of daytime TV as a gothic soap opera. Created by Dan Curtis, the show originally was not pitched or intended to feature supernatural elements, but six months in, a ghost made its way into the script. Over the next five years werewolves, zombies, witches, warlocks, time travel and a parallel universe became part of the storylines. Yet contrary to some boomers’ memories, it wasn’t until episode 210 that Dark Shadows writers introduced the most famous character of its franchise, the vampire Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid).

Something about the character attracted boomers — especially teen girls. Perhaps they latched onto the romantic leanings of the character as much as the supernatural elements. Barnabas was hopelessly in love with Josette, but Angelique, a witch, had designs on the young man. When her love goes unrequited she casts a spell on Josette, causing her to leap to her death at Widow’s Hill. Unsatisfied that Barnabas still would not return her affection, she turns him into a vampire which forces him to stay away from everyone he loves. Throughout the series Barnabus remains a reluctant vampire, agonizing over his need for blood and the killing he had to do to maintain himself. Angelique then turns the townspeople against him and his family. Barnabas is arrested and, as a vampire, is sentenced to a locked-coffin prison.

After two hundred years, Barnabas is unknowingly freed by a would-be grave robber. He immediately sets out to seek his revenge on Angelique. Returning to the family estate, Collinwood, he disguises his true identity to the current Collins family and tells them he is a cousin from England, there to assist in restoring his family’s prominence in the town that bears his family’s name. While at the mansion, a young governess named Victoria Winters catches Barnabas’ eye for her uncanny resemblance to Josette. Thus was the basis for complex storylines involving the characters, monsters and ghosts of Dark Shadows from 1966 to 1971.

ABC placed the show at 4 p.m. Eastern time. Mister B’s sister was a big fan, and would hurry home from school in order to catch each episode. Mister B’s spouse recalls the same scenario at her house, where she and her sisters watched the show after school. The original black and white filming lent a scarier atmosphere to the drama, but the show switched to color broadcasts in 1967. Meanwhile, as soon as the spooky strains of the theremin signaled the show’s distinctive opening, Mister B was out of the living room and into his bedroom to study and do homework before dinner. Melodrama — with vampires or not — was not Mister B’s cup of tea.

At its peak, the show was the most-watched TV series for the age demographic of 18-35. As 1971 arrived advertisers backed out, not because of the waning ratings — which were still high for daytime TV — but because the audience for the show was too young to afford to buy their products. Dark Shadows was cancelled in April of 1971. There was a movie made, and an attempt at reviving the show in the 1990s, but neither caught the imagination of boomers like the original.

Were you or your siblings fans of Dark Shadows on TV, boomers?