When I heard that longtime TV producer Dan Curtis
died this week at 78, I kind of felt like a part of my childhood died as well. This showman no doubt was most proud of his epic World War II miniseries of the '80s, Winds of War
, and its colossal 30-hour sequel, War and Remembrance
. Yet I can't help but think fondly of the supernatural '60s soap opera he created (also for ABC), Dark Shadows
, which introduced the world to that fang-tastically brooding vampire hero, Barnabas Collins.
Many was the afternoon I would hurry home from school (or, in the summer, the public pool) to catch the latest creepy installment of this Gothic soap. I had the books; I had the board game; I even sported plastic fangs and could produce a replica of Barnabas' gaudy ring upon demand. I wasn't yet a teenager, but I already knew what it meant to be a passionate cult-TV fan — a vibe I would be able to analyze professionally many years later when shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer came along.
When Dark Shadows was briefly revived for NBC in prime time in 1991 (scheduled poorly by the network and doomed by preemptions from coverage of the first Gulf War), I was thrilled to be able to visit the new Collinwood set (a mansion in the Hollywood hills) while it was in production. (They were filming a vampire attack with a bat flying in the window. What ghoulish fun!)
I later interviewed Curtis at his MGM digs, which was then just an office building, no longer a studio backlot. He bristled with energy and bravado at the thought of reviving his landmark cult series, and he never lost his belief that TV was a canvas for grand-scale storytelling. His War and Remembrance, which cost in the range of $110 million, was widely regarded as one of the last gasps of the sprawling miniseries, beating Lonesome Dove for the Emmy that year, but because the ratings didn't quite live up to its ambition, it marked the beginning of the end of this epic style of TV.
They don't make them like Dan Curtis used to make them. That's worth some remembrance, reflection and appreciation.