40 years ago today, the final episode of Dark Shadows aired on ABC-TV, bringing to a close 1,225 instalments and nearly five years of stories for the residents of Collinwood. The writers had just two weeks' notice that the show was being cancelled, leaving little time for reflection. With their current storyline stuck in a parallel strand of 1841, featuring none of the regular characters, Dark Shadows' swan song ended up being a rather low-key affair, drawing the story to a close with a minimum amount of fuss.
For the last moments of the script, writer Sam Hall devised a little wink to the audience, as the audience saw Melanie Collins struck down with two mysterious wounds on her neck. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear there was a vampire at Collinwood..." said Bramwell Collins, a little knowingly. Too knowingly for Jonathan Frid, apparently, who refused to do the scene, feeling that it mocked the character of Barnabas. So, at the last minute Thayer David was drafted in, having not been scheduled to appear, to say the lines as Ben Stokes. Also added for the recording was a closing voiceover, assuring viewers that the "Dark Shadows of Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past."
Even though it happened by fluke, somehow it seems right that Thayer David, the actor who played more characters on Dark Shadows than any other, performed its curtain call. To much of the audience, the understated ending was a disappointment, but I really like that it's a small, dignified finale. There's no great drama, no major revelations, but instead a nice breathless end-of-term style send-off, wishing some friendly faces well as they fade away.
Of course, cancellation was by no means the end for Dark Shadows. That same month, the press began to report on ABC's plans to put the show's episodes into syndication, while some of the cast assembled upstate to begin work on a new Dark Shadows feature film. And, most importantly, that original generation of viewers clung onto those memories of running home from school to watch the show. Four decades on, and Dark Shadows is still generating daily headlines as a film remake from Tim Burton enters production to massive media interest. A top-flight new cast is waiting in the wings to bring the stories and the characters to life again on a grand scale. Not a bad legacy for a faddish little soap opera made in what creator Dan Curtis once called a "rinky-dink studio". Not bad at all.