Herbie J Pilato: The Legacy of DARK SHADOWS

Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, left, and David Selby, who plays Quentin Collins, in the Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows", April 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)

Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, left, and David Selby, who plays Quentin Collins, in the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows”, April 16, 1969. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)

Part 2
by Herbie J Pilato

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t miss Part 1, conveniently located HERE


1969:  20,000,000 viewers are now obsessed with Quentin, Barnabas and DS in general. The show’s popularity reaches mammoth proportions. Followers from every nook and cranny come out of the woodwork…even the woodwork from the White House. For on October 31st, Halloween 1969, Tricia Nixon gives a Halloween Party for 250 underprivileged children, and Jonathan Frid is invited.

Other invitations are accepted. DS cast members help to raise more than $300,000 for Muscular Dystrophy; 680,000 screaming fans show up at a Founder’s Day parade.

Grayson Hall (who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, and later with utter genius as the gypsy Magda – and who’s married to DS writer Sam Hall), Frid), and a young DS ingénue fear for their lives when rabid vampire fans attack the vehicle in which they are riding. This is it. Frid has had it. He needs a vacation. He demands time off. The writers comply…to deathly consequences.

Edward Collins (as played by the late, great Louis Edmunds) discovers Barnabas’ secret…that he is indeed a knight of the living dead. For the first time in the show’s history, an all-out vampire hunt is underway.

Barnabas is then cornered and staked, which causes a riotous upheaval from fans.

As appeasement, the show introduces a storyline with the powerful Leviathans who rescue Barnabas. The time-line shifts once more, and Barnabas returns to 1969 – the present. But he’s cold and unfeeling – very unlike the Barnabas viewers first fell in love with. He’s free from vampirism, but seemingly more diabolical. It doesn’t register with the viewer. So he’s cursed again to suck blood, so the watchers can once again feel his pain. But the show turns too violent, and becomes a blood bath. He’s sucking people dry left and right. The fans are not happy.

Their dissent worsens, especially since David Selby has by now left the show (when Quentin exits Collinwood to search for a lost love). ARookie-actress and future Charlie’s Angel joins the cast as a ghost hoping to fill the void. But not even a later-day Goodbye Girl in the guise of Marsha Mason can capture the magic of Shadows gone-bye. The situation grows darker, when the “Parallel Time” episode arc begins. The show is different. The fans accept the time-traveling, the actors playing ancestors of the descendants they also portray. But the viewers aren’t buying the parallel universe bit, in which the actors play doppelgangers of the same-time characters.

The plots become confusing, even to the players. To top it all off, there’s a movie afoot.

House of Dark Shadows, the first of two feature films based on the TV series, goes into production. The cast films the movie and the television show at the same time. Everyone’s exhausted. Tempers fly during the scant five weeks all are given to complete the motion picture. Actors are shuttled from Manhattan, where the series is filmed, to Tarrytown, New York – 25 miles away – where the movie is being shot.

The schedule is hectic, and the strain is showing up on both the small and large screens. What’s more, tests audiences object to the hanging scene with little David Collins (played by David Hennesy). So it’s clipped from the movie. But then, MGM thinks the film is too long. The suits request some editing, to size it down to 90 minutes, instead of 2-hours. Dan Curtis protests. But he has no choice. He succumbs, and the movie suffers, creatively. Yet the fans still line-up to see it – by the groves.

However, all is not like it used to be, certainly not the TV show. For the like the new movie, it wreaks with violence. The charm and innocence at the core of Dark’s original appeal has been lost. As Jonathan Frid once put it, the film lacked the “naivete of the soap opera. Every once in a while, the show coalesced into a Brigadoonish never-never-land. It wasn’t necessary to bring the rest of the world into Dark Shadows, which is what the film did.”

Still, House of DS saves MGM from bankruptcy, and a second movie is ordered. This one, titled, Night of Dark Shadows, is worse. It’s not even scary. Again, the blame is pinned on editing. Apparently, the film’s consistent storyline ends up on the editing room floor.

Back on the small screen, things aren’t much better. The “Parallel Time” story arc is killing the show. A time-travel trip to 1995 fails to rev up viewer engines. One last dabble into the occult serving as a possible saving grace. Once more, Dan Curtis borrows from another familiar tale. A curse storyline based on the controversial Shirley Jackson story called The Lottery. But there’s no winning numbers. Soon, the lights are out, and the Shadows are no more.

The series ends with wink-eyed words to the viewer spoken by Thayer David’s marbled-mouthed Ben Stokes: “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…and for as long as they lived, the dark shadows of Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past.”

And despite thousands of fan letters that form a “Bring Back Dark Shadows” campaign, the lights go out, and newly-made Shadows fade to black.

That is, until some twenty years later.


1990:  Five years before the fantasy 1995 time-line on Dark Shadowsis to actually end the original series, a new DS shows up in prime-time in reality, once a week on NBC – not even its original ABC network. The characters are the same, but the actors are different. As with the two DS feature films and the last season of the first series, missing is the campy charm, replaced with too serious a take and rendering on the Collins family portrait. This new Dark is filmed with a big-budget, and not videotaped on a shoestring. The new DS is just plain no fun to watch, even with the respected Jean Simmons (of classic movie-lore, as well as sci-fi fandom via the Planet of the Apes).

None of it matters. The backlash begins.

It’s the “Old Shadows Fans” v. “New Shadows Fans” scenario.  It’s like “Original Trek” v. “Next Generation.”  Fans of the first Shadows are aghast with what they see – and don’t see – in the new Dark. Where’s Jonathan Frid? Who the hell is Ben Cross?

But then, something characteristically eerie transpires. The DS fans combine and begin to realize that any Dark, is better than no Dark. And a subtle cult following soon begins to take form for the new series.

But it’s too late. NBC cancels the series after six episodes, and Dan Curtis is left wondering if he should have instead taken this new Shadows into syndication.


Cast reprise. So many are gone. The veteran grand Grayson Hall and  Thayer David.  The charming young Joel Crothers (who succumbs to AIDS).

Others are snarled in controversy (Alexandra Moltke finds herself testifying in court over a scandalous marriage).

Still others flourish in many an enterprise. David Selby finds a comfortable regular role on Falcon Crest. John Karlen plays a drunken dad on the Emmy-winning Cagney & Lacey. Kate Jackson goes on to be one of Charlie’s Angels, while we learn her former co-star Jaclyn Smith was once married to Shadows cast member Roger Davis (who at one point replaces the late Peter Deuel on ABC’s prime-time western Alias Smith & Jones).

Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans, Josette Du Pres) discovers further fame as a frequent TV guest star (on shows like the original Police Squad TV series and the aforementioned Star Trek: The Next Generation), and becomes the official DS literary chronicler. Her former Shadows costar Lara Parker now writes Dark novels, while she also continues to act. They all try to make it to as many DS Festivals as they can.

But the one fans still most eagerly stand in line to see is none other than Jonathan Frid. The man who could not see himself in the mirror…the man who brought unanimous joy to countless DS fans throughout the world, throughout the ages.

Until the day he died in real life in 2012…tellingly, right before the premiere of the new Dark Shadows feature film starring Johnny Depp (and directed by Tim Burton), Jonathan Frid – the talented, theatrically-trained thespian traveled with his one-man show variously titled, “Jonathan Frid’s Shakespearean Odyssey” and “Jonathan Frid’s Fools & Fiends,” each hearkening in some subliminal – and maybe direct – way, to the fact that Dark Shadows was indeed a hit show due to this…one and only original iconic man…surrounded by an original cast of legends that can never be fully duplicated – in any time period, parallel or otherwise.

In addition to his work as an author, and TV producer, Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between popular culture and education.  For more information, log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com.


Is it really impossible to make a living writing for the theater?

From the lips of playwright-TV writer Tanya Barfield to our ears, via magazine writer Christopher Henley:

by Christopher Henley

tanya-barfieldThe Call by Tanya Barfield is one of those rare plays that puts the most intimate of situations into a compelling global context. It’s the story of a white couple in the U.S. who decide to adopt a child from Africa. The intersection of the couple’s personal struggles and the international implications of the transaction makes for a play that engages its audience on several different and provocative levels. Theater J’s production of Barfield’s play runs through May 31st and is being presented not at the troupe’s home base at 16th Street’s DCJCC, but at Atlas Performing Arts Center in Northeast.

John Stoltenberg wrote about the production on DCMetroTheatreArts.com: “Tanya Barfield’s play The Call…tackles a topic with vast global consequence and humanizes it on stage such that we in our western comfort zone may take a hard look at it and not avert our eyes. In Theater J’s handsome new production…Barfield’s worthy ambition is well served. The Call comes through clearly with both gravitas and grace.” In The Washington Post, Nelson Pressley praised “Barfield’s hard-nosed realism” and ”tough-minded insights,” continuing, “The playwright plainly knows what she is talking about…you hear some honest and deeply unsettling things…There is heat on Barfield’s fastball.”

D.C. audiences will remember Pecan Tan, an earlier Barfield play, from its 2005 ACTCo production. TV viewers will see her work on the FX series The Americans. During an email interview, Barfield talked about The Call and a range of other topics:

I’d like to begin by asking you to talk about your choice of title. It sounds as if you intended to have the word “call” operate on more than one level.

Tanya Barfield: Every adoptive parent waits anxiously for the call letting them know that they have been matched with a child. So, on the most basic level, that is what “the call” refers to. The other call in the play is the “deeper calling” or the “call to courage.”

Was there any specific experience that was a catalyst for the play?

Barfield: A friend of mine went through severe postpartum depression. I wondered if the whole thing was entirely hormonal – or was there a psychological component too? And, if so, you don’t have to have given birth to experience it.

You’ve said that you didn’t want to write this play and that it is very personal and close to you. When writing a play whose situations overlap your own experiences to some degree, do you worry about the play being perceived as autobiographical?

Barfield: Most of my plays deal with issues or topics that I either (a) think will make a terrible play or (b) am afraid to write because they feel too personal. Usually, both. In all cases, I never end up writing autobiography because fiction is so much more dramatically compelling than my real life – and after living my life once, I don’t feel the need to re-live it in story. But, there is often a seed of personal experience in what I write about. I wrote The Call after adopting two children. People almost always think my plays are MUCH more autobiographical than they are. This used to frustrate me because I couldn’t actually get credit for the storytelling. But, now, I just take it as a compliment.

Things have and are changing very rapidly, as regards some of the subjects that your play engages. Do you feel as if it will retain its power and relevance in five or ten years?

Read it all at DC Theatre Scene

Do You Want to be a Video Game Writer?

If the answer is “Yes!” or “Maybe,” or even, “Huh? They use writers for games?” then read on, Mario, and learn about the journey that can make you the ultimate game god…its creator:


by Luke Kelly

“I enjoyed it, but there isn’t much career progression for writers in the cruise ship market.”

From sailing sketches to Sherlock: David Varela has come a long way. Last year saw him sharing scripts with Sherlock co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, whilst also receiving tips on how to get the best out of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. David had been hired to write Sherlock: The Network, a companion app to the TV show which made a great deal of its bespoke cutscenes featuring the series’ stars – not bad for someone who started out writing light entertainment for cruise liners.

Last year I interviewed David as part of a study looking at how the worlds of writing and gaming are beginning to overlap. In an era when the median salary for professional writers in the UK has collapsed to £11,000 (according to a survey by the ALCS), the games industry seems at first glance to be bucking the trend.

Develop’s own salary survey revealed an industry median of £29,000 last year – and for writers the figure increases to £33,000. Are games then a viable career path for a generation of writers struggling to make a living?

This was the question we tried to answer in Connecting Stories, a report which provides a glimpse behind the scenes of five games which all somehow rely on writers to stand out from the crowd. Whilst admittedly restricted in its scope, what we found was that each of the writers involved had fallen into the industry almost by accident; none had received any formal training, and each admitted to have learned several costly lessons via a painful process of trial and error.

“I’ve often been brought in as a writer, but ended up doing as much Project Management as actual writing,” explained David Varela.

“It’s not necessarily that I even had experience of this: in a small team, when it’s all hands on deck, everyone has to just do what they can to make the project work.”

The sentiment is probably familiar to anyone with experience at an indie crunching their way towards release – as indeed are David’s experiences of story often being treated as no more than an afterthought.

Read it all at Develop


Last Tango in Halifax

Anglo Files 15
by Cara Winter

Last Tango in Halifax  is a drama written by Sally Wainwright (writer/creator of the remarkably good Happy Valley) starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as widowed Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who haven’t clapped eyes on each other for 60 years. Thanks to the ubiquitous (now even for octogenarians) Facebook, they find each other again, meet for coffee, and instantly remember exactly how they felt as kids.

The first few episodes were delightful, and kept the focus on Alan and Celia.  I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi since I was a young’n, and watching him in this role is a treat. He is at once an older gentleman, and a child, able to express 60 years worth of longing in a single look.  Jacobi is a genius at his craft, and if you haven’t seen him as anything other than the Archbishop in The King’s Speech… please see him in this.  Anne Reid’s performance is also solid; you don’t feel as though she’s ever forcing a single moment, everything is nuanced, organic, and rich.  And it’s not every day you get to see actors of-a-certain-age in a straight-up love story, either (so kudos to BBC and Wainwright for making Last Tango in the first place!)

From the point they decide they want to be together, Real Life begins to thwart Alan and Celia’s union.  For example, Alan finds out Celia voted for Thatcher, while he’s Labor and reads the Guardian.  They also begin to realize they’re from completely different worlds (Celia’s is posh; Alan’s is salt-of-the-earth).  Yet, more or less right away, they realize how little things like this matter.   Even when their daughters turn on one another, and the whole family seems at odds… as far as their being together, it does not matter.  In it’s best moments, this show reminds us that life is short, and love transcends all.

I was less interested in the plot-lines of Alan and Celia’s extended family;  Sarah Lancashire plays Celia’s uptight, perfect-home-havin’ daughter Caroline, who is a closeted lesbian, and going through a nasty divorce; Nicola Walker plays Alan’s hard-working, sexually indiscriminate daughter, Gillian.  While I tend to be a fan of using over-40 women in any fashion on the telly, I did ultimately feel like their stories were forced.  The performances were not to blame; the actors are wonderful.  It just all felt a bit manufactured; drama for drama’s sake, things constantly thrown at Alan and Celia, presumably to see if their love for one another could be thrown off course. But… how many teen pregnancies, lesbian lovers, and alcohol-infused sexual escapades can one family have?  To me, this exposes the weakness of the premise; once Alan and Celia have fallen in love, the “story” really is over.  Or, should have been.

Last Tango was widely viewed in the U.K. and here in the U.S., and won some awards.  I think mostly this is due to the strong performances by the cast (especially Jacobi and Reid), and the strength of the dialogue (albeit hampered by the plot), and smart direction.  It’s worth watching, for sure, just to see Derek Jacobi in the role of a lifetime.

Last Tango in Halifax was a BBC One production, re-broadcast on PBS, with Seasons 1 and 2 now on NETFLIX.  Season 3 exists (try PBS?), and a 4th is in the works.

Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Diana Vaccarelli Sees OUTLANDER


OUTLANDER Returns with a Smash
by Diana Vaccarelli

At the end of last season, this excellent show left viewers with a cliffhanger that made us want more, more more. Because there would be no more, at least for awhile, I decided I had to pick up the first book in the series because I was dying to know what happens. I finished just in time for this season’s premier episode.

OUTLANDER takes a dark turn as our heroine Claire Fraser is held captive by the sadistic Black Jack Randall. To our relief Claire is saved by her husband Jamie. YAY! Just love when things end happy.  Well you’re wrong things take even a more dramatic turn. In a controversial scene when Jamie beats Claire with a belt to her bum for disobeying him.  Afterwards their marriage isn’t in a very good place. Throughout, Jamie makes it up to Claire and they reunite in what I have to say is the hottest scene ever.

I have been in love with this show from the beginning, and it still doesn’t disappoint.  From the costumes, locations, writing, cinematography, directing, and the acting. Everything just flows into place from Diana Gabaldon’s novels. It comes vividly to life. Kudos to Executive Producer Ronald Moore who said from the beginning it’s Diana’s world (wink at the same name) “and we’re just bringing it to life.”

Speaking of bringing the novel to life let’s just talk about Caitriona Balfe who portrays Claire.  She loses herself totally in this badass female, with the result that you simply have to view her as a person and not a character. Beneficiary of a wonderful gift from the acting gods, Balfe brings strength and sensitivity to a woman who is out of her own time yet manages to rise to the occasion and get through the turmoil.

And watch out, Leonardo DiCaprio! I have a new celebrity crush, and his name is Sam Heughan. Heughan portrays our hero Jamie. Jamie is a man of deep faith and trust, which Heughan brings out with sheer perfection. Watching his eyes, you can see the struggle Jamie is having in his new marriage and new responsibilities in life. An Emmy, or at the very least a Golden Globe nomination, is in order.

Let’s not forget about my favorite character in the entire show: Black Jack Randall, the villain of the piece. He is played brilliantly by Tobias Menzies. The darkness of this character would make any other actor run in terror. But Tobias doesn’t shy away from anything. He gets down deep into Black Jack’s heart, and watching him work is a gift.

The writing of the show is utterly brilliant. Moore and his staff have great source material to draw from, and they more than do it justice. I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear the discussions on what they’re going to keep, change, and not add. Yes, I’m very glad the writers have stuck so closely to Gabaldon’s work. Let’s all give them a major high five.

Do I sound a little overboard with my enthusiasm? I told you I love this show. So much, in fact, that I’m urging everyone reading this to tune in for the rest of the series. Watch on demand. Buy and watch the DVDs when they come out. Binge watch.


How to Ruin a TV Series AKA “Oh no, what’s happened to ORPHAN BLACK?!”

Carumba! Our masters in the executive suites are at it again, fixing things that aren’t anywhere near broken. Why, you morons? Why…?”

What’s that? You think we’re being too harsh? Well, let’s look at another way:

obby Ken Levine

As many of you loyal readers of this blog (who pay attention) know,I’ve praised ORPHAN BLACK to the heavens. This little underground thriller/sci-fi on BBC-America (and now on AMC as well) introduced us all to the wondrous Tatiana Maslany – a luminous actress who plays multiple clones, each one distinctive and memorable.

In the pilot, Tatiana, as character Sarah, has a chance encounter with an identical clone… who commits suicide. That gets your attention. If we started BIG WAVE DAVE’S that way we might still be on the air.

Anyway, from there the series is off and running… and chasing and hiding. Sarah discovers other clones and a delicious mystery unfolds. Who is behind all of this, why is someone is trying to kill her, who, and why aren’t they targeting the Kardashian girls instead? The plotting swept you along and you enjoyed the twists, turns, and occasional flashes of humor. And just watching Tatiana was a treat.

Season two wasn’t as good. The conspiracy started becoming unwieldy. There were sinister research labs, a weird cult (Scientology in a barn), and fragments of backstory that go back to England or perhaps Middle Earth. Lots of characters from season one who you wondered – were they good guys or bad guys – this year they started flip flopping so much you stopped caring. Like I said in a past review, just assume everyone is a bad guy and enjoy the ride.

Fanboy geek that I am, I was really looking forward to season three.

But alas, four weeks into it I have concluded the show is now a fucking mess. The plotting is so confusing you need to build another Enigma machine to decipher it.  And even then there’s no guarantees.

This year there are also maleclones. They have their own conspiracy, one of Tatiana’s clones is held captive in a trunk by some other evil organization that may or may not be affiliated with the evil research lab, or the cult, or Enron. Meanwhile, one of Tatiana’s clones has nothing to do with the central plot. She’s a housewife selling drugs to other housewives so can she win an election to get on the school board. I know – HUH??? And for good measure, she has a dead body in her garage that doesn’t smell and no one is looking for the guy.

Read it all at Ken Levine’s sensational blog