Offbeat Supernatural Serial or DARK SHADOWS’ Clone?
by Curt Ladnier
STRANGE PARADISE would not have existed without DARK SHADOWS. There’s no way around the fact. The January 1970 issue of AFTER NOON TV magazine called Krantz Films’ new syndicated serial an “answer to DARK SHADOWS,” and most of the other press touting the series’ 1969 debut also cited it as an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Dan Curtis and his phenomenal success on ABC Television. Certainly, the unbridled popularity of DARK SHADOWS was the primary inspiration for Krantz Films’ gamble on a second daily supernatural drama. Unfortunately, this status as the second serialized drama to experiment heavily with horror themes has led many to dismiss STRANGE PARADISE as a blatant rip-off of its more successful predecessor. However, it is short-sighted to condemn STRANGE PARADISE without examining it on its own merits, and to call it nothing but an imitation is a grave misjudgment.
On the other hand, it would be equally foolish to dismiss the shows’ similarities without comment, particularly as there are a number of superficial comparisons to be drawn between the two. In order to appreciate the shows’ differences, viewers must consider the productions’ common ground. Of course STRANGE PARADISE’s story and setting were radically re-tooled in 1970, so any comparison to DARK SHADOWS must include a distinction between STRANGE PARADISE’s Maljardin sequence and its later Desmond Hall cycle.
The Maljardin episodes hit the airwaves at a time when DARK SHADOWS was at the height of its popularity, and they lured prospective viewers with some rather familiar elements. From STRANGE PARADISE’s earliest installments, the two serials shared a variety of aspects, such as:
Both feature a major plot point regarding a portrait of a relative from the distant past who returns to the family home as a supernatural entity. (SP has Jacques Eloi des Mondes, and DS has Barnabas Collins.)
Both feature occasional flashbacks to an earlier era in history.
(SP contains interludes from the 1600s, while DS visits several periods including the 1700s and 1800s).
Both are set at an historic estate owned for centuries by a powerful family.
(SP has the Great Chateau on Maljardin, and DS has Collinwood.)
Both feature storylines about strong-willed men longing to bring back their lost loves.
(SP chronicles Jean Paul’s attempts to resurrect Erica, and DS tells of Barnabas’ misguided attempts to regain Josette.)
Both feature female servants who are practitioners of voodoo.
(SP has Raxl, and DS has Angelique.)
Both have a local bar to which various characters occasionally retreat.
(SP has the French Leave Café, and DS has the Blue Whale.)
Both have female supporting characters who are involved in the food services industry.
(SP’s Vangie Abbott is employed at the French Leave, and DS’s Maggie Evans is a waitress in Collinsport’s diner.)
Both have resident artists.
(SP has Tim Stanton, and DS has Sam Evans.)
Both feature female doctors who harbor a degree of romantic attachment to the protagonist.
(SP’s Alison Carr has conflicted feelings for her bereaved brother-in-law Jean Paul, and DS’s Julia Hoffman develops a near-obsession with Barnabas Collins.)
Both feature a brunette widow named Elizabeth who has a tempestuous relationship with her blonde, young adult daughter.
(SP’s Elizabeth Marshall is constantly at odds with her runaway daughter Holly, and DS’s Elizabeth Stoddard has problems with her rebellious daughter Carolyn.)
Both stories begin with the reclusive head of a family keeping the world at bay.
(SP opens with Jean Paul having retreated to Maljardin with Erica despite his business contacts’ repeated efforts to meet with him, and in DS Elizabeth Stoddard has refused to leave Collinwood in over a decade.)
On the surface, this is an impressive list of similarities between two competing programs. But viewers should not forget that both of these shows belong to a common genre, and cannot help but tread common ground for that reason alone. A great family estate is one of the most traditional settings for a gothic tale of suspense, and is scarcely original to either DARK SHADOWS or STRANGE PARADISE. Likewise, obsession with a lost love is a long-standing theme for this type of story, almost a requirement of the genre. A great many of these series’ common elements are more reasonably attributable to these genre standards than to intentional mimicry or plagiarism.
Of course, some of these similarities are too specific to be written off as simple coincidence or storytelling convention. But even in these instances, the elements generally start off in similar places, but quickly branch off in vastly different directions. DARK SHADOWS’ historical flashback sequences are tales of actual time travel, usually told over a span of weeks or months, and were used frequently throughout the run of the series. STRANGE PARADISE’s flashbacks are mere visions or dreams, never last more than a single scene, and occur extremely infrequently (in fewer than 10 episodes during the entire run of the series). Dr. Julia Hoffman’s feelings for Barnabas on DARK SHADOWS lead her down a path of unhealthy obsession that almost ends her friendship with him. Dr. Alison Carr’s feelings for Jean Paul on STRANGE PARADISE are never fully realized, and their relationship becomes one of surviving family members who have lost a loved one. The markedly different stories being told by each of the two series make it difficult to credit that one was trying to actively copy the other in anything but the most superficial of details.
Around the beginning of 1970, STRANGE PARADISE saw a radical overhaul in both its staff and its story, and many fans cite this revised incarnation (the Desmond Hall storyline), as the series’ most blatant emulation of DARK SHADOWS. Without question, some of the changes did bring the two productions closer together, sharing new similarities such as:
Both are set at an ancestral estate situated near a town named for the family upon whom the series centers.
(SP’s Desmond Hall is near Desmondton, and DS’s Collinwood adjoins Collinsport.)
The primary family in both series is heavily involved with local industry.
(The Collins family on DS owns a cannery and a fishing fleet, and the Desmond family on SP owns a lumber mill.)
Both feature stories about distant cousins who come to live at the ancestral estate.
(SP sees the arrival of Cousin Philip soon after the death of the first Philip Desmond, and on DS Quentin comes to Collinwood calling himself a distant cousin.)
Both have storylines involving a father who returns after the family thought him dead for many years.
(On SP Ada’s father Julien Desmond returns four decades after the family had recorded his death, and on DS Paul Stoddard returns to Collinwood years after the incident in which Elizabeth thought she had killed him.)
Both feature storylines detailing strange happenings connected to a child’s toy carousel.
(SP had such a toy during its “ghost of Philip” storyline, and DS featured a carousel in the early days of its storyline about the ghost of Gerard Stiles.)
Producer Bob Costello worked prominently on both series.
Both series featured scripts by Ronald Sproat and Joseph Caldwell.
Again, while these similarities may appear substantial at first glance, most of them are superficial and stem back to genre conventions. Sagas of powerful families are standard for both gothic romances and television dramas alike, and the return of a long-lost relative is a recurring theme far older than television itself.
The fact that members of the production staff from DARK SHADOWS were brought in to work on STRANGE PARADISE certainly does suggest there was some conscious intent to heighten the similarity between the two series. But critics who say that STRANGE PARADISE was conceived as a second-rate copy of DARK SHADOWS should remember that these former DS staffers weren’t brought onboard until SP had already completed nearly one-third of its original broadcast run. Krantz Films may have been guilty of trying to steal a bit of their competitor’s thunder by poaching from their stable of talent, but they actually created and established STRANGE PARADISE as a distinct series without the involvement of any of DARK SHADOWS’ talent.
The single element common to both shows which seems far too specific to be purely coincidental is a fairly minor one, but deserving of attention nonetheless. The inclusion of a haunting connected to a child’s toy carousel on both shows within an eight month period is hard to credit without concluding that the writers of one were scavenging ideas from the other. However, the carousel showed up on STRANGE PARADISE around late December 1969 to early January 1970, while its counterpart on DARK SHADOWS didn’t make an appearance until August 1970. So, if this rather specific plot element isn’t just coincidence, it was a case of DARK SHADOWS copying STRANGE PARADISE. Ultimately it’s a relatively minor point, however, as the stories which each series told surrounding these carousels were radically different from each other.
And that should be the real litmus test as to whether one show was a copy of the other - the stories they told.
Without question, STRANGE PARADISE had some of the same window dressing as DARK SHADOWS (particularly during the Desmond Hall cycle). Both dealt heavily in the supernatural, rooted their stories around the estate of a wealthy family, delved into the ancestry of their major characters, and so forth. But how similar were their actual narratives? Did STRANGE PARADISE tell a story very similar to DARK SHADOWS’, or did it relate a tale uniquely its own?
It’s difficult to envision a story any more unique than STRANGE PARADISE’s original Maljardin sequence. A grieving billionaire on a an isolated Caribbean island resorts to a combination of voodoo and cutting edge science to resurrect his frozen wife, while battling with the spirit of his 300 year old ancestor for possession of his own body. Critics would be hard-pressed to find a precedent for this unusual tale. And the Desmond Hall cycle – while not necessarily groundbreaking – was far from imitative, with its serpent gods, Marks of Death, and evil stars in the night sky.
Unquestionably, STRANGE PARADISE paralleled DARK SHADOWS with stories about ghosts and family curses but, again, these are basic elements drawn from their common genre rather than from direct emulation. It would be difficult (if not impossible) to tell a continuing supernatural story without touching on traditional supernatural themes and motifs. However, ghosts aside, the fantastic creatures on DARK SHADOWS were generally drawn from far more mainstream source material than those on STRANGE PARADISE. Dan Curtis’ staff drew heavily from horror standbys such as vampires, werewolves, man-made monsters (and their brides) and the like. By comparison, Steve Krantz’s team presented viewers with the Great Serpent, astral projection, a benevolent zombie, and other things much farther off the beaten path.
Related to the subject of narrative is the question of source material. Having used such traditional monsters as vampires and werewolves in their storylines, it is no secret that DARK SHADOWS frequently directly “borrowed” from classic horror films and gothic fiction for their ideas. Not only did they use familiar creatures, but they frequently told their own DARK SHADOWS versions of such classic tales as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, JANE EYRE, even drawing recognizable elements from shorter works like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
In contrast, none of STRANGE PARADISE’s storylines are discernibly taken from any existing source from literature or cinema. Early promotional material described Jean Paul Desmond as “a Jekyll and Hyde type character,” but in execution the series’ presentation of Jean Paul’s story is nothing like Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. STRANGE PARADISE’s tale is one of spiritual possession, whereas the Stevenson book is a classic of scientific experimentation and the release of inner demons. One is hardly a direct re-telling of the other. The closest the series came to basing one of its plotlines on a classic work of literature was its passing use of elements from Shakespeare’s HAMLET during sections of the Desmond Hall cycle. But the Krantz crew never presented a STRANGE PARADISE version of an established story from the classics.
So, in the final accounting it is hard to credit accusations that STRANGE PARADISE is nothing but a cheap imitation of DARK SHADOWS. With wildly variant sources for their fundamental story ideas and different approaches in storytelling, the two shows’ similarities are primarily in the trappings requisite to any entry in the supernatural genre. While STRANGE PARADISE was undeniably influenced by its more successful predecessor, it was not a copy of DARK SHADOWS. To say that PARADISE was a rip-off simply because it was a daily horror serial like SHADOWS is to imply that no other production in the same vein should ever be mounted, simply because SHADOWS “got there first.” If a production tells a story uniquely its own, presenting it in a previously established format does not make it an imitation.
is Strange Paradise?