Archive for July 16th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

It all began as a harmless curiosity.  A few of my seventh-grade friends clued me in on an afternoon soap opera they had been watching daily.  Mind you, they didn’t initially volunteer the information, almost as if to keep this new discovery a private matter that might be compromised if it became too popular.  But when I got frustrated that our after school stickball games had lost the majority of the players, I pressed harder for the cause.  I was told the half hour show, known as Dark Shadows, which ran between 4:00 and 4:30 from Monday through Friday on ABC, had recently introduced a vampire among its characters.  His named was Barnabus Collins, and it seemed that his first appearances on the show brought what was initially a rather tepid affair a new prominence, one that turned into quite a sensation – certainly the equivalent of a present day online viral.  After I got over the shock that some of my teenage jock friends had actually been seduced by a soap opera, I decided I must investigate before damning the practice.  I was after all a big horror fan from the day I can first remember availing myself of the likes Chiller Theater and the re-runs of 1950’s science fiction/horror B flick re-runs.  Like so many of my friends I adored the Universal horror films, and had just at that very time developed an appreciation for the atmospheric productions from Hammer Studios.  In early 1966 I vividly recall walking down to the Embassy Theater about twenty-seven blocks from my home to see Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.  It was love at first site, or more aptly, love at first bite, since the vampire and werewolf tales were at center stage.  Still, I had a problem believing it was hip for a thirteen year-old boy to be watching a soap opera.  These shows were for my mother and those weeping middle-aged women, who enjoyed getting a good cry out of their daytime programming.  After all Dark Shadows was running side-by-side on the schedule with As the World Turns and One Life to Live.  Vampire or not, the target audience couldn’t be little old me, especially during prime outdoor athletic immersion.  No, I was certain this irksome proposition would end up a certain bust.  But, alas, the proof would be in the pudding.

What I could have never foreseen is that afternoon stick ball was in some serious danger.  A few weeks with this quietly enveloping Gothic soap permanently relegated our post-school day games to the weekends, or to be more specific to any free time when Dark Shadows wasn’t enthralling us.  Like the best television, this was a show we not only were entertained by, but one where we became intimate with the characters, and were so entwined with the drama, that we were infuriated every Friday afternoon when we were left hanging, in the manner of soap opera formula.  Of course this narrative design was aimed at keeping people aboard, but we were probably a bit too young to fully understand the nature of ratings and network scheming.  We needed to know immediately what would happen to Dr. Julia Hoffman after she got bitten by Barnabus or what would happen after Barnabus hires Sam to age the portrait of the witch Angelique.  When Julia embarks to hypnotize Willy, what will he reveal?  After Julia locks Barnabus in the basement, we need to know then and there if Barnabus will find a way to escape.  And it went on and on.  Almost every day the show ran they left you in the lurch, causing us to accuse the creators of dragging out a plot line for the full duration of the episode so they could hold back a major revelation for the next day.  That of course is the very business of soap opera, but we thought this show – the show we grew to love- would not be playing by those rules. (more…)

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