"Strange Paradise" was a daily gothic television serial that was broadcast throughout the U.S. and Canada. The show was the very first Canadian/American co-production of a daily serialized drama. Originally broadcast from the Fall of 1969 through the Summer of 1970, the series was aired across the United States on the many affiliates of Kaiser Broadcasting (with many stations airing the show in prime time) and in Canada via the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The show focused on the supernatural, witchcraft, and voodoo, and was often compared to ABC's "Dark Shadows", upon which at least some elements of the show were based. In fact, "Strange Paradise" is sometimes referred to as “the 'Dark Shadows' of the North” when speaking of its Canadian connection.
The series was the brainchild of Steve Krantz, head of Krantz Films in New York City, who had wanted to somehow capitalize on the success of "Dark Shadows" while at the same time benefit from the burgeoning syndication market. Utilizing the talents of writer Ian Martin and noted producer Jerry Layton, along with the assistance of veteran television director Herb Kenwith (Star Trek, I Love Lucy et al), a pilot for the series was shot in May of 1969 at CJOH television in Ottawa. Following the commission of a series, the production moved to the old Crawley Film Studios in Chelsea, Quebec, where it remained until March of 1970. For the final few months of production, "Strange Paradise" was filmed in the newly-opened Studio “D” at CJOH-TV, which was constructed specifically to house the large sets utilized by the program.
The first 13 weeks of "Strange Paradise" concerned events on the remote Caribbean island of Maljardin. Actor Colin Fox portrayed the series’ central character, Jean Paul Desmond, a multimillionaire who makes a pact with the spirit of his long dead ancestor Jacques Eloi DesMondes (also played by Fox) to bring his recently deceased wife Erica back from the dead. The supporting cast was drawn from a stable of Canadian actors, and included such notables as Cosette Lee as Jean Paul's faithful servant Raxl, Dan MacDonald as the Rev. Matt Dawson, Jon Granik as lawyer Dan Forrest, Dawn Greenhalgh as Jean Paul's sister-in-law Dr. Alison Carr, and Paisley Maxwell as Elizabeth Marshall. Additionally, the series featured upcoming young actress Sylvia Fiegel as heiress Holly Marshall.
Initially, the series enjoyed strong ratings and benefited from the cohesion of having all of its first 44 scripts being written by the same person – Ian Martin. However, due to issues arising from various factors, including the difficulties inherent in converting a disused film studio into a television studio, the pressures of an episode-a-day taping schedule, and the relative inexperience of the crew in handling a serialized drama, the quality of episodes slowly began to drop. Following Ian Martin's final script, a succession of new writers was quickly brought in to keep the series going, resulting in plot threads being started but never completed, or ignored entirely as the series struggled to find its feet again.
Although all of these issues were eventually worked out, they did cause concern within the CBC, which was currently investing both money and material in "Strange Paradise" as part of its co-production deal with Krantz Films. This, coupled with lower than expected prime time ratings in certain U.S. markets that caused some stations to move the show from prime time to daytime, resulted in Steve Krantz deciding to move the show in an entirely new direction. To this end, Krantz brought in writing and producing talent directly from the source of "Strange Paradise's" inspiration – "Dark Shadows" - in the form of writers Ron Sproat and (briefly), Joe Caldwell, and producer Bob Costello.
The new production team, over the course of the following 21 episodes, began to systematically eliminate characters and shift the action from the island of Maljardin to the Desmond ancestral home of Desmond Hall, located somewhere in the Eastern part of North America. The shift in location also brought with it a change in plotlines, moving away from voodoo and dealing more with witchcraft, coupled with a long-standing curse upon the Desmond family and Jean Paul's attempts to survive it. Along with Jean Paul, the characters of Raxl, Quito and Holly were retained, and new Desmond family members were introduced, including Jean Paul's brother Phillip Desmond, played by Neil Dainard, cousin Ada, played by veteran voice actress Peg Dixon and, later, by actress Jan Campbell, and his nephew Cort, played by David Wells.
Veteran stage actor Jack Creley played Laslo Thaxton, Ada's husband, Pat Moffatt played local socialite and witch Irene Hatter, and Lucy Warner played researcher Emily Blair. Actress Tudi Wiggins (Erica in the Maljardin episodes) returned as stage performer Helena Raleigh, and Vivian Reis portrayed Agatha Pruitt. The changes made by Steve Krantz allowed the show to expand its plotlines and continue in a more coherent fashion, and the subsequent improvement in the ratings convinced some U.S. broadcasters to stick with the program. The CBC also agreed to extend the initial 26 week contract for another 13 weeks, allowing for the development of additional storylines and new characters, including Robert Goodier as Desmond patriarch Julien Desmond, and Trudy Young as Susan, a mysterious girl who seemed to know a lot more than she should about the Desmond family.
Unfortunately for "Strange Paradise" the CBC's reluctance to extend the production contract for a full 26 weeks meant that contracts negotiated with U.S. distributors, based on a full 52-week run, were cut short. The subsequent shortfall in revenue meant that the show simply could not afford to remain in production. Krantz Films, the company that had spearheaded "Strange Paradise", was eventually absorbed into its parent company of Vikoa, and "Strange Paradise" ended production in May of 1970, ultimately encompassing 39 weeks and 195 episodes. The series was later sold into syndication in Central and South american markets, and was reintroduced into US syndication in 1976, often alongside its US counterpart, "Dark Shadows." Additionally, the series has been repeated numerous times on Canadian television, with the most recent run ending in late 2007.
Strange Paradise's relatively short lifespan belies the fact that, in actuality, it was a groundbreaking series in a number of ways, not least of which was its status as the very first Canadian daily serialized drama production. The production techniques first utilized on Strange Paradise were later translated for use on many other Canadian programs, including "High Hopes", the second Canadian attempt at daytime drama, and some of the problems encountered during the early filming eventually resulted in the strengthening of the Canadian Actors' Union (ACTRA) regarding its representation of its members. These things, coupled with the show's continued life in syndication, all speak to the lingering influence of this underrated program.