Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Return to Collinwood


Well, now that I’m a broke homeowner, I have to get creative when it comes to frivolous purchases. The days of reckless surfing at Amazon.com are long gone.

Makes me glad I discovered Netflix a few years ago. For a nominal monthly fee, one gets to pick from a wide catalog of DVDs for rental, which can be kept as long as it takes to watch them. They come straight to your door and the best part is you don’t have to deal with clueless clerks.

Recently I’ve caught back up with an old favorite, the campy late ’60s TV sudster "Dark Shadows." I rented a few episodes of the cult classic a couple of years ago, but the DVDs kept arriving at my house in pieces. I tried again this month. So far, so good.

For the uninitiated, "Dark Shadows" was a popular daytime drama on ABC from 1966-71. Unlike the traditional soap opera, though, "Shadows" focused on the supernatural, specifically the saga of guilt-ridden vampire Barnabas Collins.

In its day, the show garnered nearly 20 million viewers a day -- mostly teenagers running home from school to catch the show at 4 p.m. -- and became a rare hit for ABC’s then-struggling daytime programming. It’s definitely silly, somewhat campy, but always entertaining.

A couple of weekends ago, I lit a fire on a bitterly cold Saturday night and returned to Collinwood for a couple of hours. What a hoot it was.

I first became aware of the show in the early 1990s, when NBC briefly revived "Shadows" as a primetime drama. Soon after, the fledgling Sci-Fi Channel began airing two episodes weekdays. I was hooked.

The show (sadly) took up a big part of my early teenage years. I collected memorabilia, joined the fan club, even contemplated traveling to New York for one of the fan conventions. As it was, though, I remained content to spend an hour with the Collins clan each weekday morning at 11, or taped them on my dad’s VCR to watch after school.

What’s enduring about it now is the bloopers that are inevitably part of most episodes. Back in the mid-60s, daytime television was a low budget affair. The show was videotaped, but for all practical purposes was taped live, in that the entire 30 minute show was recorded in one take. So you get to see actors flub lines, boom mics (and even cameras!) pop into the shot and sets fall to pieces right before your eyes.

But for its day, "Dark Shadows" boasted a talented cast, good writing and innovative special effects. There’s never been anything like it on TV before or since.

If this East Tennessee rain keeps up tonight, I may have to curl up with Barnabas and friends for a few hours tonight after work.

Cue the dramatic music and turn on the fog machine. We’re going back to Collinwood!

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