I have spoken about Tales From The Darkside many times in this column, so lets actually look at the series. This is going to get a little complicated as Tales From The Darkside includes multiple titles and television series, so buckle in.
In 1982 Stephen King and George Romero made the anthology film Creepshow for Romero’s production company Laurel Entertainment. The film was a major hit, not just with audiences but with critics as well, so very quickly someone at Laurel Entertainment got the idea of maybe turning the movie in a Creepshow television series, bypassing the television networks completely with this new syndication model that was gaining prominence. There are differing stories as to why Creepshow was not made into a series as “Creepshow”, but Tales From The Darkside was really Creepshow the series. As I will get into later, names really matter in this case.
Unsure of the syndication market in 1982 (a market still finding it’s legs) only a pilot was made. Written by Romero himself and directed by Bob Balaban, the episode “Trick Or Treat” landed on October 29th 1983, just in time for Halloween. This pilot is not considered part of the show’s first season as it has a production code of “Episode 0”.
The pilot exceeded all expectations to the point that Tales From The Darkside is credited with igniting the First Run Syndication boom of the 1980’s. With only 30% coverage of the United States, that pilot episode beat out two of the three networks over Halloween weekend with such success, that some stations ran it again on Halloween a few days later.
Seeing how Tales From The Darkside hit bigger than anyone could have predicted, a full series was quickly put into production and began airing the following fall of 1984.
In a rather brilliant and cost effective move Laurel Entertainment came up with a novel approach to making quality product fast and cheap. Since this was an anthology series with no recurring characters they set up two studios, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. This allowed them to film episodes on each coast simultaneously and cut production time in half. This also allowed for a greater access to actors as some people based in New York did not like to come out to LA and vice versa. One crew was shooting half the season in New York and another crew was shooting half the season in LA at the same time.
Laurel Entertainment also laid down other cost and time saving methodology. Each episode had the same set of dictates. Minimal effects, two sets with no outdoor scenes, two main actors and two supporting actors. Very few episodes varied from this formula. This allowed for episodes to be churned out efficiently at a low cost.
Season one of Darkside had many horror stories in it, but also branched out into fantasy and even science fiction at times. This made the show incredibly uneven in tone but it was not until season four that this became a real problem. Between seasons three and four, George Romero stepped down as executive producer to concentrate on making a legitimate sequel to Creepshow, appropriately titled, Creepshow 2.
Season four of Darkside was easily the worst season with episodes that were all over the place in terms of tone and quality. Strangely, this did not hurt the ratings much.
Tales From The Darkside as a series was a hit right out of the gate and remained so for it’s entire run so much so that even though there are only four seasons the show ran for seven years as stations kept running episodes long after new ones stopped being produced as they were still getting great ratings… even with Laurel creating it’s own competition.
So here is where things get confusing. So while Laurel Entertainment was reeling from the disastrous box office of Creepshow 2, they were also finding that TV stations were less inclined to purchase a fifth season of Tales From The Darkside as they were the first season of a new show.
The stations wanted something new rather than something “old”. Advertisers liked new shows and the fifth season of an aging series (even one with good ratings) was a harder sell. So Laurel came up with a novel approach again. Since Darkside was essentially the television version of Creepshow and all they did was change the name… lets do that again.
So instead of selling stations Tales From The Darkside, they sold them Monsters season one.
The exact same producers, the same crews, the same studios and even the same format… just now the show was Monsters season one and not Tales From The Darkside season five. The stations loved Monsters and gobbled up the series.
This move actually made Laurel compete against itself for ratings though as Tales From The Darkside was still running and now some stations were pitting Darkside against Monsters.
Monsters would run for three seasons and other than a more focused theme (that each episode had some kind of monster in it), it was the same show as Tales From The Darkside. Shot the same and with all of the same crews and even many of the same actors again, Monsters was literally the same show with a new title.
Things get even MORE complicated as Monsters was winding down though as Laurel wanted a third shot at a Creepshow movie. Unfortunately it was determined that the Creepshow “brand” was not viable any longer… but hey… Tales From The Darkside is still doing great. So Tales From The Darkside: The Movie was made… which is really Creepshow 3 to the point that George Romero stated that Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is the real Creepshow 3 and two of the segments in the movie were leftovers from the original Creepshow 2 script. The bulk of the cast of the movie are all actors who had previously done Darkside or Monsters episodes.
So yeah… Creepshow became Tales From The Darkside which became Monsters which became Tales From The Darkside again. There is a film actually called Creepshow 3, but no one from Laurel had anything to do with it and Tom Savini and George Romero have both denounced it (rightfully so as it is one of the most borderline insulting and incompetent films ever made).
The legacy of Creepshow / Tales From The Darkside / Monsters is some really scary episodes and some innovative ideas. Also Tales From The Darkside had a great mix of talent behind and in front of the camera. Laurel used both established and up and coming talent to create some very unique product.
Besides George Romero there are stories by Stephen King, Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, David Gerrold, Robert Bloch and Michael McDowell. Jodie Foster even directed an episode.
Actors such as Keenan Wynn, Fritz Weaver, Christian Slater, Brent Spiner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Adolph Caesar, Darren McGavin, Seth Green, William Hickey, Jerry Orbach, Debbie Harry, Patricia Tallman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Meatloaf, Laraine Newman, Ashley Laurence, Tori Spelling, Billy Drago, Adrienne Barbeau, Soupy Sales, Richard Moll, Barbara Billingsley, Leif Garrett, Matt LeBlanc, Wil Wheaton, John Saxon, Tony Shalhoub, Morton Downey, Jr., Richard Belzer, Pam Grier, Tom Noonan and many more would appear between Darkside and Monsters.