Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Dark Shadows Passing

It was on this date, 48 years ago, that my youthful world fell apart. As far as I was concerned, I faced a dismal future, bereft of hope and steeped in misery. I'm referring, of course, to the day the final episode of Dark Shadows aired, on Friday, April 2, 1971. For several years, Dark Shadows had been my holy grail, for in those days, in order to pick up the channel that broadcast the show — WLVA, Channel 13 out of Lynchburg, VA — you had to have cable. And we didn't get cable at home until 1969, more than halfway into the show's run. Prior to that, I would catch Dark Shadows as often as possible at certain friends' houses, or at my grandparents' place in Georgia when we went to visit them two or three times a year. I had seen the very first episode, and the couple that followed, on one of our visits south, and even though the show had yet to take on its overtly supernatural character, it had hooked me, as much as anything by composer Robert Cobert's most memorable score. The day we arrived back in Martinsville after our visit, I was all pumped to settle in with Dark Shadows permanently, only to discover that the ABC affiliate station we picked up — WGHP, Channel 8 out of High Point, NC — didn't carry the show. That was an error of omission for which I've never really forgiven them.

It was these sporadic viewings, though, that made the show such a magical mystery. When I could occasionally tune in, I had nary a clue what was going on in the story, but I became enthralled nonetheless. In late 1969, Dad saw fit to get cable for our house, and suddenly, Dark Shadows was mine, all mine. It was right at the beginning of the Leviathans storyline, which, sadly, many fans consider the beginning of the end. Not me, though. I found it scary as hell and, to this day, I have a soft spot for that particular subplot. I revisited it, as a matter of fact, in Curse of the Pharaoh, my second script for Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio series.

I think it was no more than a few days before the series' finale when I heard the news the great estate of Collinwood was being shuttered. I couldn't believe it. I was devastated. It's safe to say I was immersed in a love affair with the show that was unprecedented in my eleven somewhat less-than-worldly years. (We can discuss juvenile psychological health some other time, thank you very much.) On that day, as I watched the episode, my heart pounded, my palms awash in sweat. As the story neared its final moments — what's this? — they're setting up a whole new set of complications. This couldn't possibly be the end! There was a new vampire on the estate! But then, as the eerie theme rose, the familiar voice of actor Thayer David came on to say, "There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood, the marks on the neck were, indeed, those of an animal." After a recap of the current crop of characters' fates, he says, in reference to Bramwell (Jonathan Frid) and Catherine (Lara Parker), "Their love became a living legend. And for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past."

I'm pretty sure I bawled long and hard at the end of all that. And, like millions of youngsters around the country, on the following Monday, I turned on the TV at 4:00 p.m., praying it was all a mistake, a terrible April Fools joke. Something. Anything but the end of Dark Shadows.

Password, starring Alan Ludden, had taken over that sacred time slot.

Needless to say, time marched on, people grew up, Dark Shadows resurfaced in syndication, and then on home video. At this point, I've seen the entire 1,225-episode run at least twice, and considerable portions of the series many times more. I've co-written with Elizabeth Massie an authorized Dark Shadows novel for HarperCollins Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark — and scripted three of Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio dramas — Path of Fate, starring David Selby and Lara Parker; the aforementioned Curse of the Pharaoh, starring Nancy Barrett and Marie Wallace; and Blood Dance, starring David Selby and Lisa Richards. Plus, I wrote a follow-up to Dreams of the Dark titled The Labyrinth of Souls that never made it into print due to HarperCollins shutting down its tie-in division HarperPrism. However, I have made the novel available strictly as fan fiction on my website. You can check it out here.

So, for me, Dark Shadows, thankfully, never truly died on April 2, 1971. Who knows, if it had continued, history might have gone very differently for me. Impossible to speculate. But for all the pain my poor little weenie heart suffered in those days, I can't complain much about the outcome.

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