Friday, November 20, 2009

Darkroom On DVD?

To tie in with their remake of The Wolf Man, Universal will be releasing their short-lived 1990-1991 series She-Wolf of London next year on DVD (arriving February 2nd on a four-disc set). While I have no grudge against this minor series making it onto disc, this news only serves to remind me of another short-lived series in Universal's care that they haven't seen fit to release to DVD yet - the blink-and-you-missed-it 1981 anthology Darkroom.

Airing on ABC from November 27, 1981 to January 15, 1982, Darkroom didn't even enjoy a full season. Lasting only seven episodes, the series followed the Night Gallery format of containing multiple stories of varying length within an hour-long program. James Coburn made for an adequate master of ceremonies, conducting his on-camera host segments from within a darkroom (natch!). Although it had an abbreviated on-air lifespan and enjoyed no critical acclaim, for young Gen-Xers in their pre-or-early teens who were home during its brief stint on ABC's Friday night schedule, Darkroom has proved to be memorable. Its limited run may have made a successful afterlife in syndication impossible (although the Sci-Fi Channel did air the series a few times during the mid-'90s in day-long marathons) but Darkroom's handful of episodes were enough to earn the show a devoted set of fans.

Most notable among its stories were "Closed Circuit," in which a veteran news anchor (Robert Webber) is in danger of being replaced by his own ageless video image; "The Bogeyman Will Get You," in which a young girl (Helen Hunt) suspects her new boyfriend is a vampire; "The Siege of 31 August," in which a Vietnam vet (Ronny Cox) is tormented by his young son's toy soldiers (a story many fans believe to be an adaptation of the Stephen King short story "Battleground," but isn't); "The Partnership," in which a wily old man and his unseen 'partner' outplay a cocky drifter (David Carradine); and "Catnip," a story of a war between a violent thug and an elderly witch that builds to a punchline that'd make the Cryptkeeper chuckle. The remaining stories were a grab-bag of ok-to-poor tales (including a retelling of "Guillotine," a Cornell Woolrich story that was originally adapted in 1961 for the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series Thriller) but none overstayed their welcome (many stories clocked in at less than ten minutes).

Even though Darkroom can't boast anything on the quality level of the best of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, it's generally on par with Night Gallery and I believe its run deserves to be seen and (hopefully) appreciated by more than just a handful of fans. Besides the aforementioned names, Darkroom was also host to appearances by R.G. Armstrong, Whit Bissell, Claude Atkins, Billy Crystal, Brian Dennehy, Samantha Eggar, June Lockhart, Rue McClanahan, and Esther Rolle - not bad for a mere seven episodes! - and its behind the scenes talent included directors Curtis Harrington (Night Tide, How Awful About Allan), Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II), Paul Lynch (Prom Night), Jeffrey Bloom (Blood Beach, Flowers in the Attic) and writer Robert Bloch (who penned three episodes - "The Bogeyman Will Get You," "A Quiet Funeral" - on which Avengers' writer Brian Clemens also contributed - and "Catnip").

While I realize that with much bigger shows in their catalog vying for their attention, Universal likely doesn't feel the need to invest in a DVD release of Darkroom, I don't believe that the show's modest accomplishments should be left to fade away like an old photograph.


senski said...

Holy cow, Jeff, ya gotta watch those posting titles - I saw Darkroom and DVD in the same line and damn near had a coronary! :-)
I think I saw every one of these when the series first aired.

It's a shame that Universal is the studio. They dragged their heels on the Night Gallery release, and only after the fans complained long and loud did they present a better package for the second season collection. Still, stranger things have happened.

I just think that the hour-long multiple story format is perfect, allowing stories to be as long as they need to be. In my dream job as the producer for an anthology series (for HBO, natch), this is the framework.

I was hosting an Oscar party in '99, and when Coburn got the Supporting trophy for Affliction, I announced to the room, "Ladies and gentlemen, the host of ABC's 'Darkroom' has just won an Academy Award."

kindertrauma said...

Darkroom WILL be put out on DVD!

I know because I spent a lot of money on a crappy looking bootleg and every time I do that, what ever it is, it gets an official release soon after!

No need to thank me folks!

Jeff Allard said...

Sorry to get your hopes up with that title, Senski! I did worry that I'd be setting people up for disappointment but hey, at least I added a question mark!

Sadly, I never really expect Darkroom to make onto DVD - or whatever other formats may come along - but as you say, stranger things have happened. I think one reason why I really loved the show and still have so much affection for it was that it was the first anthology show that I was able to watch first-run. Every other anthology program that I loved were shows that I saw in syndication. With Darkroom, there was something exciting about watching it for the first time alone with everyone else, rather than being a second or third generation fan of TZ or Outer Limits. It may not have been nearly as great as those shows, but it was fun while it lasted.

Jeff Allard said...

Unk - thanks for the great news! I really need it to show up on DVD soon as I've misplaced my VHS tape from its airings on the Sci-Fi Channel!

Matt-suzaka said...

What an opening! I don't remember that show, but Coburn does seem kind of familiar for some reason. Maybe I caught it briefly when it ran on Sci Fi, but I can't recall for sure.

Either way, with an opening like that and the pearly whites of Coburn, I would love to check out Darkroom if it were to ever make it out on DVD!

Jeff Allard said...

Matt, I feel safe in saying I don't think you'd be disappointed!

senski said...

Jeff - Was your first exposure to Night Gallery those hideously butchered syndication eps, bundled with the 50% shorter eps of The Sixth Sense?

Unk - Would you accept lists of overpriced bootlegs to buy? We could float you a buck or two...Start with these -

Way to take one for the team!

Jeff Allard said...

Yes Senski, that was my first exposure to NG. One of the local stations used to run it at 10 o'clock on Saturday nights in the same hour as either TZ or Hitchcock reruns. Not an ideal way to first encounter that show but I still loved it. The opening titles alone were enough to sell me on it.

knobgobbler said...

Somehow this series wasn't on my radar... but it sounds cool and I'd like to see it.
The DVD set I've got a LOT of anticipation for is for the William Castle/Richard Matheson show Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (name changed between season 1&2).

It was on in the 70s and later reruns... the few I've seen have haunted me since I was a kid.

Apparently a few episodes made it onto the recent William Castle box set and fans of the show are expecting that might signal someone is remastering them for an upcoming set of their own.

Jeff Allard said...

I've never seen any eps of the Castle/Matheson show but it sounds cool! I guess the next big TV on DVD news is that the entire run of Thriller is going to be released - sometime next year, I'm guessing. I saw a few episodes of Thriller in syndication as a kid and while at the time it didn't click with me, given its reputation I'm really looking forward to giving it a fresh look.

senski said...

Knob, thanks for the inspiration for my latest post at the Jar!

Will Errickson said...

Thanks for posting this. I was one of those "Gen-Xers" who caught Darkroom during its short run & have never forgotten it. I just don't think I've ever heard it referred to by anyone before!

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks Will! I guess Darkroom must've had something to it to still be remembered by people who only saw it so many years ago!

L. Rob Hubb said...

It's possible that it could pop on legit DVD at some point - if Universal decides to go the DVD-R route like Warners (and apparently MGM), that may be where it'll show up.

Though it would be nice if they did a release with extras, and with the NIGHTMARES movie, which had segments that were originally made to air on DARKROOM

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, tying it in with Nightmares would be a cool move. We'll see - in time it may happen!