Dark Shadows and the Curious Case of Movies and Soap Operas

“Dark Shadows” belongs to a very small group of movies that have something to do with television soap operas. Those attending “Dark Shadows” may think they are just witnessing the latest in a string of bizarre tales directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. That much is true, but the real truth is that this horror film is based on an actual soap opera.

The worlds of daytime drama and the silver screen do not collide so explicitly too often, but it does occasionally happen. More likely is the occurrence of a dramatic motion picture that rises upon the crest to flood into the arena of melodrama only to spill forth as potboiler before becoming a rushing tide of soap opera. Douglas Sirk was the master. Mark Robson was not. If Douglas Sirk had directed the film version of the popular potboiler novel “Peyton Place” it would likely have become something of a glossy masterpiece.

Mark Robson’s direction of “Peyton Place” instead wound up with the legacy of spurring one of the few—perhaps the only—nighttime soap opera to air multiple episodes per week. “Peyton Place” originally began as a twice a week prime time soap opera but its immediate success soon expanded to three different episodes per week before its loss of an audience reeled things back to twice a week. Of course, the fact that “Peyton Place” was shot on film like a movie rather than on videotape like a soap opera further blurred the line between these two media. This connection between the movies and soap operas—kind of “Dark Shadows” in reverse—gave a big boost the careers of future movie stars that included Mia Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, Ruby Dee, Gena Rowlands and even, very briefly, Richard Dreyfuss.

“Soapdish” and “Tootsie” carry forth the curious connection between soap opera by locating their stories on New York City studio floors were all that videotaped melodrama spewed forth five days a week and fifty-two weeks a year take place. Those who denigrate daytime drama will more readily accept the over the top presentation of the stories told on these cinematic imaginings of soap operas than those who are more familiar. Yes, true, soap operas are among the most melodramatic of all American entertainment forms, but they actually contain a greater of verisimilitude than the almost campy way they are portrayed on film. In fact, that lapse in attention to detail is the only flaw to be found in “Tootsie.”

The star of “Tootsie” was Dustin Hoffman and so his well-known attention to realistic detail should have presided over a film about the making of a soap opera. After all, early in his career, Dustin Hoffman unobtrusively appeared on two different soap operas. Other famous movie stars had better luck on soap operas and also managed to get luckier than Johnny Depp in traversing from daytime drama to the movies rather than the reverse as he does in “Dark Shadows.”

“General Hospital” tried their darndest to convince fans that Demi Moore was not brought in to replace Genie Francis. They point to the fact that Moore hooked up with Robert Scorpio rather than Luke the rapist to support their argument. Don’t you believe it for one minute. Demi Moore was most definitely intended to replace the loss of distaff side of the all-time super-couple of soap operas.

I think she went on to a much bigger career than the blonde best known as Laura from “General Hospital” if I am not mistaken.