Category: 60’s

The Dark Shadows Television Series

Dark Shadows

Vampires, ghosts, and werewolves, oh my. Those were just some of the beasties on that spooky sixties soap Dark Shadows. And here were some of the show’s fans: teenagers, housewives, and hippies—who purportedly appreciated the trippy, otherworldly subject matter and play with time dimensions (oh, my).

The show had a huge following in its heyday, but an equally impressive cult following these days. It holds a place in history as the first Gothic daytime drama, as ABC’s first color soap opera, and, though this is a watershed tougher to measure, it was the first series with a broad Goth appeal. Even if spooky theatrics didn’t make for a kid’s regular TV viewing, they found themselves racing home from school, and moms found themselves racing out of the kitchen, postponing the preparation of that eve’s scrumptious family dinner for a half-hour of thrills and chills.

Dark Shadows was created by Dan Curtis, who would later compel viewers to whisk away tears in mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The idea of a young lady governess who came to a seaside village to care for a rich little boy purportedly came to Mr. Curtis in a dream. Which makes good sense, because creepy Collinsport, Maine, and the even creepier Collinwood mansion (home of the Collins family) were certainly dream-ish places—dreams of the “bad” variety, that is.

After several months on the air, unfortunately, the show’s ratings were also of the “bad” variety. In a stroke of desperate revamping (awful pun intended), Curtis added a character named Barnabas Collins—an almost two-hundred-year-old vampire. This particular gentleman of the night was played by former Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, who seduced legions of viewers with his blend of ghoulishness and humanity. After Barnabas proved a success, other supernatural characters were also unearthed—ghosts, werewolves and a witch named Angelique.

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The Twilight Zone

Twilight Zone

“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind, a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.  That’s the signpost up ahead. Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.”

There was a new surprise waiting every week in The Twilight Zone, and most of them were head-turners. Rod Serling’s famed sci-fi anthology series prided itself on twist endings, most either poetically just or shockingly cruel. But whatever surprises the end of a Twilight Zone episode might bring, the journey itself was always compelling.

Serling, a playwright, had made a strong name for himself in the TV biz through his anthology series writing (Playhouse 90’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight” had won him one of two Emmys), and he parlayed that success into his own show in 1959, The Twilight Zone. The new series was another anthology, but the stories were of a more bizarre nature, dabbling in sci-fi and supernatural themes. Serling wrote more than half of the episodes himself (with Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson writing many of the rest), and most wrapped up their odd stories with an even stranger twist of irony.

Of the more than 150 episodes produced during The Twilight Zone’s original run, many have gone on to become TV classics. Among the favorites:

“The Hitch-Hiker” – A cross-country trip turns to panic when a woman sees the same hitcher several times.

“The After Hours” – A woman tries to return a department store item she’s just bought, only to discover that the floor she’s looking for doesn’t exist, and the mannequins look awfully familiar.

Eye of the Beholder

“The Eye of the Beholder” – Plastic surgeons work frantically to try to restore a woman’s hideous face to the standard of beauty.

“The Howling Man” – A weary traveler stops for the night in a European monastery, but he foolishly ignores the monks’ warnings not to release a caged prisoner.

“To Serve Man” – A race of nine-foot-tall aliens bring peace and prosperity to Earth, but at what cost?

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” – A rehabilitated mental patient thinks he sees a creature wreaking havoc on the plane’s wing.

“Living Doll” – A father strongly dislikes his daughter’s new Talky Tina doll, and the feeling is mutual.

“Time Enough at Last” – Bookworm bank teller Henry Bemis finds himself the sole survivor of a nuclear blast, with nothing but time to read – if the Twilight Zone allows (hint: it won’t).

Time Enough at Last

There were several other memorable episodes, of course, as the show gained a very loyal cult following in its early seasons. Famous faces – from Burgess Meredith to Vera Miles to William Shatner to Robert Redford – appeared on the show, but the most familiar of all was that of the host, Rod Serling himself, who gave an eerie intro and wrap-up to every episode.

At the start of the 1963, The Twilight Zone expanded to a full-hour format, but the original half-hour length proved to be more popular. Half-hour episodes returned in the fall, filling out the show’s final season of originals. Reruns aired in the summer of 1965, and the show continued to win new fans in a very successful syndicated run.

In 1983, big-name directors John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller each contributed a segment to an all-new Twilight Zone: The Movie (actually, mostly new – three of the segments came from TV episode scripts), which helped rekindle interest in the original series. A new Twilight Zone TV series debuted in 1985, with a handful of remakes joining a slate of original episodes, all in color (the original show was strictly a black and white affair). CBS ran the new series off and on through 1987, and more new episodes were added when the show went into syndication that year.

Today, the series has become such a part of pop culture that “Twilight Zone” has become a catchall phrase for any unusual turn of events. The show’s episodes are still turning the heads of those lucky enough not to have learned all the surprises yet, and eerie good times still await every traveler who sets foot in that dimension of mind and imagination.

You can also check out Rod Serling’s other, other-worldly offering, The Night Gallery, here on Retro Ramblings.
And for you hardcore Twilight Zone fans, check out The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia