How the paranormal and romance go hand-in-hand.
On June 27, 1966, a warning shot announced that both television and paranormal fiction would soon make a huge splash into mainstream pop culture, thanks to the premier of Dark Shadows. At first, audiences were underwhelmed by this Gothic soap opera based on a wealthy, eclectic family living in a (supposedly) haunted mansion. Although both the gloomy setting and the occasional implications of looming ghosts gave the show a tone different than that of the average soap opera, the storylines were still pretty run of the mill. It wasn’t until episode 70, when the ghost of Josette Collins walked out of her portrait, that the show’s supernatural theme became credible. And while the appearance of a ghost certainly helped the show both gain momentum and achieve a deeper level of uncommonness, in some ways Josette’s appearance was too little, too late. Audiences wanted more, but the subsequent storyline of Roger’s estranged ex-wife secretly being a Phoenix, did not pack enough punch to offset the long blocks of episodes where nothing out of the ordinary (i.e., supernatural) occurred. In fact, nearly one year later, the show seemed destined for cancelation. However, episode 211 changed not only the show’s trajectory, but it also helped America fall in love with vampires.
The timing chosen for vampire Barnabas Collins (portrayed by Jonathan Frid) to rise from his coffin was perfect—both in how it gave the show a critical ratings boost and also given the time of day the event occurred. Dark Shadows aired Monday through Friday at 4 p.m. on ABC, right after the highly successful Where the Action Is, a Dick Clark-produced music show aimed at teenagers. Teens who had little interest in soap operas, or who had been underwhelmed by the infrequent appearances of lack-luster supernatural characters on Dark Shadows, were wowed by Jonathan Frid’s inaugural appearance. In fact, their infatuation with Barnabas was so intense that Jonathan Frid became a staple in teen magazines.
Yes, teen magazines.
Did I mention Frid was over 40-years-old at the time?
By the summer of 1968, this 40-something man also received over 2000 pieces of mail each week from teenagers and housewives, many of whom openly expressed that they were willing to become his thralls. The sex appeal of a vampire was so strong, teenaged girls were drawn to someone of their father’s age.
To deepen the attraction, Josette (whose ghost I mentioned earlier) just happened to be Barnabas’s soul mate; thus, Dark Shadows not only gave us an alpha-male vampire who exercised control over others, he was also a hopeless romantic whose love had been lost to the ages. (Hmm… this sounds a lot like Vampire Diaries. Katherine and Damon anyone?) Now Dark Shadows packed the double punch of being a romantic Gothic soap opera, and the rating sky rocketed.
The show had no choice but to build on the momentum that the vampire/tortured soul/lost love storyline had given it. While the Josette/Barnabas storyline played out, in episode 646, David Selby came on the scene as werewolf Quentin Collins. Although his character did not garner as much attention as Frid’s, Selby’s first appearance did have a similar effect. The younger Selby (26) seemed a tad on the rugged side to be in teen magazines, yet teens managed to give him a place in their hearts among the baby-faced likes of Davy Jones, David Cassidy, and Donny Osmond. The writers and producers also employed a similar formula as they had with Frid. Much like how Barnabas had stepped out of 1795, Quentin’s storyline originated in to 1897. Not only did the romantic lure of the past deepen both Quentin’s and Barnabas’s mystiques, the then-current revival in Edwardian fashions made their period attire seem both timeless and modern.
Quentin also had a romantic past; however, the contrast between his and Barnabas’s was great, as Quentin’s involved an affair with his brother’s wife, which in turn drove Quentin’s own wife insane. Now Dark Shadows had both a bona fide romantic (albeit a dangerous one) in Barnabas and a playboy in Quentin. These two characters added both romantic and sexual aspects to the show, thus ensuring Dark Shadows appealed to those who wanted to swoon, those who wanted to be controlled, and those who wanted to tame the beast. Add in that these character’s supernatural backgrounds brought a sense of mystery, and Dark Shadows had a formula for sex appeal that could not miss.
While a fascination with supernatural beings was certainly nothing new, it is indisputable that Dark Shadows was at the forefront of bringing the sex appeal of these types of characters into our lives on a consistent basis. Additionally, before Dark Shadows, most supernatural beings were portrayed as either comical due to their poor effects (Teen Wolf) or downright scary (Dracula). However, Dark Shadows gave us a chance to actually get to know these supernatural beings more for the humans they were born as than the creatures they became, thus giving the opportunity to be endearing. In general terms, women love endearing characters. Many women also love one or more of the qualities Quentin and Barnabas possessed (control, mystery, the need to be tamed, the desire to be good despite a natural inclination to be evil, and most importantly of all, the tortured soul wanting to be loved). Fast forward fifty-some years, and these types of characters are more prevalent and loved than ever. When it comes to the supernatural, mystery always follows, and since mystery is a key component in romance, the two easily go hand in hand.