You can’t keep a good vampire down.
Nearly half a century after its debut, the original Dark Shadows TV series is returning to television on DECADES, an over-the-air digital TV network co-owned by CBS and Weigel Broadcasting (the folks behind MeTV). DECADES will “binge” the undyingly popular 1960s supernatural soap opera for a 68-hour marathon beginning Wednesday, May 13 at 6 p.m. and concluding Saturday, May 16 at 2 p.m. (ET).
DECADES’ marathon will include 130 episodes, or roughly six months worth of daily, thirty-minute programs. The binge will begin the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins (actually just his hand coming out of a coffin) in episode 210 and conclude with episode 340, wherein a bat visits mettlesome Dr. Dave Woodward and confirms his suspicions about the mysterious new vampire in town.
Dark Shadows is part of a unique, five-month programming stunt called (appropriately) The Binge, leading to DECADES’ official launch on May 25 as a digital sub-channel on CBS-owned TV stations. The network soft-launched on January 16 on 16 CBS affiliates, including stations in 8 of the top 10 TV markets. Like other nostalgic digital multicast networks (MeTV, NBC’s COZI TV, Tribune’s Antenna TV), DECADES is available for free with a digital antenna (just like TV used to be), with carriage on local cable systems varying from market to market. Weigel, which also owns the MOVIES! and Heroes & Icons digi-nets and created This TV, is also expected to offer DECADES! directly to local cable systems in markets without a broadcast affiliate. No word yet on satellite availability, but COZI TV is carried part-time on DISH and AT&T U-Verse, so there’s hope for DECADES. (For more on digital sub-channels and how they came to be, click here.)
Between June of 1966 and April of 1971, Dark Shadows aired an astounding 1,225 episodes, nearly all of which are still extant. America’s first – and still only – supernatural daytime drama starred Canadian actor Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, the “reluctant vampire” who became an unlikely teen heartthrob. The ABC series spawned toys, comic books, trading cards, a Billboard-charting soundtrack album, and two MGM feature films, both directed by series creator Dan Curtis: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) with Frid reprising his TV role and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971) with David Selby as Quentin Collins. Dark Shadows was revived by NBC in 1991 for a 12-episode primetime series with Ben Cross as Barnabas, and again by Warner Bros. in 2012 as a feature film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. (A pilot for a proposed 2004 reboot was not picked up by The WB.)
The DECADES broadcast will mark Dark Shadows’ return to free, over-the-air TV for the first time in more than 20 years. The series aired in syndicated reruns on broadcast stations and PBS affiliates nationwide from April of 1982 until the early 1990s, then moved to cable for an 11-year run on the Sci-Fi channel that concluded in December of 2003. Since then, the only access to Dark Shadows has been home video and V.O.D. (240 episodes stream on Hulu Plus and 280 are available on Amazon for $1.99 each, or $39.99 per 40-episode set.)
Update 2/3/15 – Shadowgram, the official Dark Shadows newsletter, is reporting that DECADES will air “upgraded copies of various episodes from previous rerun broadcasts.” Because of the series’ origins on analog videotape, high definition remastering is not possible. Although DECADES broadcasts in widescreen (16:9), Dark Shadows will air in its original, 4:3 aspect ratio.
DECADES will initially be available in more than 33 percent of the U.S., including CBS-owned stations in New York City (WCBS, where it airs on channel 2.2 as of Jan 16), Los Angeles (KCBS, 2.2, as of Feb 3), Chicago (WBBM, 2.2, Jan 29), Philadelphia (KYW, 3.3, Jan 16), Dallas (KTVT, 11.2, Feb 3), San Francisco (KPIX, 5.2, Feb 3), Boston (WBZ, 4.2, Feb 26), Detroit (WWJ, 62.2, Feb 10), Minneapolis-St. Paul (WCCO, 4.2 and its satellite stations KCCO and KCCW, Mar 10), Miami (WFOR, 4.2, Mar 7), Denver (KCNC, 4.2, Jan 23), Sacramento (KOVR, 13.2, Feb 3), Pittsburgh (KDKA, 2.2, Mar 16), and Baltimore (WJZ, 13.2), with non-CBS affiliates in Nashville (WJDE, 31.3, Jan 8) and Green Bay (WBAY, 2.3, launch date TBD). Weigel-owned Milwaukee CBS station WDJT (58.4, Jan 16) also carries the station, with more affiliates expected to be announced as launch approaches.
Update 5/12/15 – Recently added DECADES affiliates include CBS-owned stations in Atlanta (WUPA, 69.2, May 8) and Tacoma-Seattle (KSTW, 11.2, May 9). Non-CBS affiliates in Roanoke, Virginia (WDBJ, 11.3, Apr 27), Bristol, Tennessee/Tr-Cities (WCYB, 5.3, launched sometime before May 12), Fargo/Grand Forks, North Dakota (KRDK, 4.2, launched sometime before May 12), and New Bern, North Carolina (WCTI, 12.2, Feb 3) will also carry the network. A complete affiliate list can also be accessed here.
DECADES will be programmed with a library of more than 100 classic television series owned, controlled, or licensed by CBS. Despite its initial broadcast on ABC, Dark Shadows falls into this category because its longtime syndication distributor Worldvision Enterprises was absorbed into CBS in a dizzying flurry of mergers, acquisitions and corporate spin-offs.
In addition to Dark Shadows, the DECADES soft launch will include binges of The Twilight Zone, I Love Lucy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Mission Impossible (which airs non-stop for a full week). The full schedule is here.
Sadly, DECADES has no immediate plans to add Dark Shadows to its daily lineup at launch. But you never know. Because once Barnabas has risen, he won’t go back in his coffin without a fight.
Update 5/13/15 – The “Dark Shadows” binge begins tonight, and series star Lara Parker (Angelique) has taken to her Facebook page suggesting that fans email DECADES “saying how much you love the show and want to see all the episodes.” It’s an excellent idea, considering that DS has a loyal (and vocal) fanbase, and any start-up network has to be mindful of building an audience. The DECADES email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Or you can send a letter via snail mail (always more impactful) to:
26 N. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60661
Update 5/14/15 – The Collinsport Historical Society points out today that “Dark Shadows” fans are already flooding the DECADES Facebook page with comments and requests to retain the show. If you’d like to do the same, here’s the link.
Update 5/16/15 – DECADES has announced on Facebook that their binge programming will continue after the channel launches officially on May 25. So, while “Dark Shadows” will not be part of the daily broadcast schedule, there’s a very good chance it will return for one or more weekend binges in the future.
Updated 5/25/15 – DECADES officially launched today, with an unusual programming strategy: a different schedule every weekday, programmed in 6-hour blocks that repeat four times per day. As reported above, they’re continuing with the weekend binges, starting with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on May 30-31, “The Beverly Hillbillies” on June 6-7, and “That Girl” on June 13-14. No weekend schedule info is available past that point, as yet.