This is one of those subjects I have to keep revisiting because there are still people out there sharing false information. Case in point: there’s this letter, shown in the new documentary MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS. We can assume that it is genuine. It is a letter informing Jonathan Frid that DARK SHADOWS was being cancelled. This past week, I saw someone on social media who had shared a photo of the letter and had pronounced it the smoking gun proving that ABC made the decision to cancel the beloved series and that neither producer Dan Curtis nor the cast knew about it ahead of time. That’s bullshit.
The letter is a technicality. Likely a form letter, wherein the name at the top was changed for each person—“Dear Kathryn…” “Dear Lara…” “Dear Jonathan…”. I expect the guy who restocked the vending machine at the studio received one, too. Folks, all ABC did was make it official. The decision to end DARK SHADOWS had already been made. And it wasn’t made by the network.
Here’s the simple truth:
After seeing AVENGERS: ENDGAME (SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading if you haven’t seen it!), did you wonder why the movie ended the way it did? As beautiful and poetic as it was, as symmetrical, despite the way it brought everything full circle, there was a purely practical reason behind it. Chris Evans’s contract and Robert Downey Jr.’s contract were up and neither of them had any desire to resign. And just like with the AVENGERS movies, Jonathan Frid’s contract was up, and he did not want to resign. Period. THAT is the primary reason they cancelled the show.
It remains to be seen if the Avengers franchise will survive without Iron Man and Captain America. I’m certain it will, but I think we’ve seen the nadir of the superhero movie, at least insofar as Marvel is concerned. When it comes around to that inevitable Secret Wars storyline, or Avengers vs. the X-Men, I don’t think the audience en masse will accept *different* Avengers in those iconic roles in those iconic stories. Not as large a percentage of the audience. The Avengers, though, is a team. There are a *lot* of central characters. DARK SHADOWS was Barnabas Collins’s show. Barnabas was the tentpole holding the whole thing up, the glue binding it together. The show could not have survived without him. And there was no Barnabas Collins without Jonathan Frid. Recasting the role wasn’t even a possibility.
They could have tried it. Or they could have tried to keep the show going without him. But taking all the other factors into consideration, Dan Curtis chose not to bother. I think it was the wise move. I don’ think the show would have made it six months without Barnabas Collins before ABC *did* forcibly pull the plug.
That’s it then, people. DARK SHADOWS ended because Jonathan Frid’s contract had expired and he didn’t want to continue playing Barnabas Collins. He knew that letter was coming long before Dan Curtis’s secretary ever typed it, because it had been his decision that necessitated it. *There* is your smoking gun.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced, and directed (and occasionally acted in) over two dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and True Crime genres. He obtained a doctorate in Occult Studies from Miskatonic University and is an active paranormal investigator. Is frequently told he resembles Anton Lavey. And Ming the Merciless.
Denn die totden reiten schnell!