It is with sadness that we learned of the passing of television pioneer Robert Costello, the first producer of Dark Shadows. Robert died of heart attack on May 30 at his Hampton summer home, aged 93. His health has been in decline in recent years.
Costello began his career in illustration and theatre design, before graduating to early live television on The Armstrong Circle Theatre. The show gave early breaks to a number of top-flight talents, including James Dean and Jack Lemmon. After working as producer on The Patty Duke Show, he was offered the chance to set up a new gothic-styled soap at ABC for Dan Curtis Productions, which would eventually reach the airwaves as Dark Shadows.
During his three years on Dark Shadows, Robert Costello's expertise were crucial in establishing the show's unique tone and production methods. He recruited the show's production team, while ushering in innovation through location filming and special effects – concepts practically unheard of in 1960s daytime television. He also served as an important mentor to Dan Curtis, the show's novice creator, as Curtis cut his teeth to become an accomplished producer and director in his own right.
Following Dark Shadows, in 1969 Costello was recruited to oversee copycat supernatural soap Strange Paradise, which taped in Canada. During the 1970s, he produced the acclaimed PBS miniseries The Adams Chronicles, which won him a Peabody award. Latterly, he helmed daytime shows Ryan's Hope (produced at the Dark Shadows studio on West 53rd Street), winning two Emmys, before taking the reins of Another World. When he retired from the industry in the early 1980s, Costello lectured on television production at New York University, and continued to enjoy life in Manhattan with his wife Sybil Weinberger, Dark Shadows' music supervisor.
Speaking in an interview for the Dark Shadows DVD range, Costello remembered his time on the show with affection: "We were not what you'd call a big-budget show because ABC was not a big budget network," he joked. "The thing we had going for us was mood... Most soaps were lit like they'd torn the roof off the house – we were lit like there were practically no windows. We could get away with a lot... you could imagine things off in the gloom. It worked just fine."
Robert is survived by both his wives, along with his children and extended family. To read a full obituary published in the East Hampton Star, click here. Below is a 1998 video interview conducted by Emmy TV Legends, discussing Dark Shadows; the segment about the show begins at 13:20.