15 Spooky 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark' Facts For Approval Of The Midnight Society
From original names and titles to “Wait, can we actually show a kid drowning … in a kids' show?” — here are some behind-the-scenes tales about the making of the Nickelodeon show that was basically ‘90s kids’ The Twilight Zone.
Nickelodeon Initially Rejected The Show
When creators D. J. MacHale and Ned Kandel originally pitched the show (called Scary Tales back then) to Nickelodeon, it was rejected because scaring kids wasn’t trendy at the time. A year later, the creators pitched a different show to the network — which had a new executive named Jay Mulvaney, who read the treatment for Are You Afraid of the Dark? and wanted to do that instead.
The Show’s Episodes Were Based On Classic Stories To Anticipate Complaining Parents
Creator D. J. MacHale explained: “One thing that we were asked to do early on by Nickelodeon was … Again, nobody had ever done a show like this for kids, so the Nickelodeon people were afraid that the parents would revolt and start picketing Nickelodeon for scaring the crap out of their kids. What they asked me to do was, with some of the stories, try to find literary and classic antecedents. They wanted us to find classic supernatural tales, so that would be their fallback position. If somebody complained, they could say, ‘What are you talking about? That’s classic fiction! This is Daphne Du Maurier. This is Edgar Allan Poe.’”
There Were Some Strange Censorship Practices, Though
While it may have seemed fine back then for the network to have a not-so-happy ending where a kid maybe died, one onscreen activity was a total taboo. “There was one thing, and this was great — we did 91 episodes of that show, and there are 91 campfires, and we never saw anyone lighting the campfire. You couldn’t show kids striking a match because they didn’t want to teach kids how to do that and risk some kids accidentally burning down their homes, I guess. We put the fires out plenty of times but never lit any.”
Ryan Gosling Was Almost Part Of The Midnight Society
If the young Gosling didn’t get the Mickey Mouse Club gig, chances are he’d have been part of the core storytelling group of the show. Of course, he did get to play a character in one of the show’s later episodes.
Jay Baruchel Was Cast In The Most Episodes
Of all the actors (other than the Midnight Society group), Baruchel guest starred in the most episodes. “He’s probably been, kid wise, in more episodes than any other kid. He was first in an episode called ‘The Dead Man’s Float,’ and we killed him in the first scene. We drowned him in a pool. I thought, ‘Oh, my god—this is a kids show and we’re drowning this kid!’ I directed that episode, so I got in the pool with him, and we tied a filament to his ankle that ran down to a weight at the bottom of the pool and someone holding it at the bottom. I remember his mother was on the set, and said to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re killing my kid!’”
The Show’s Title Was Inspired By Dr. Seuss
The show was originally going to be called Scary Tales (a riff on fairy tales), but MacHale said that Nickelodeon didn’t like the title. “There was a scary story written by Dr. Seuss… called What Was I Scared Of?, and I always loved that story. So, I took that title and thought, ‘Well, I was afraid of clowns and I was afraid of the dark…’ And that’s where the title came from: Kind of an answer to that Dr. Seuss title.”
The Hitchcock Effect
MacHale said it was tricky to decide whether the show was more horror than thriller. “It’s a mix between Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.The Twilight Zone wasn’t necessarily scary, per se. It was always some ironic story or morality tale of the supernatural/impossible happening. Then we added the Hitchcock touch, which was tension in there, as well. Which always led to some climactic moment of escaping danger. It was really more of a thriller, I guess you’d call it.”
Creator D.J. MacHale Got Chickenpox During The Search For One Season’s Cast
Because it’s an anthology series, the cast had to be recast every season. Said MacHale: “There was one year, when I hit Montreal, I started feeling sick; I had a fever. I came out of the shower in the hotel the next day, I saw a red dot on my chest and thought, ‘Oh no.’ So I called the production doctor and I said, ‘I think I have Chickenpox. I never had Chickenpox.’ We traced it back — I would see thousands of kids — to some audition in Vancouver. That’s how I got Chickenpox. I was quarantined for ten days in Montreal while prepping for the show.”
Bob Goldthwait May Have Had The Hardest Character Of All
According to MacHale, Bob Goldthwait had to drink lots of honey and lemon to deal with his shredded voice while playing the Sandman in ‘The Tale of the Final Wish.’ “With the Sandman, most of the lines had no relation to anything the actor was saying opposite him … There were dozens of silly limericks that meant absolutely nothing. So poor Bobcat had the hardest time trying to remember all the nonsense because he had no cues to jog his memory. We had to do take after take… as he slowly lost his voice because he put on this raspy voice as part of his comic persona, and it was shredding his throat.”
The Creator Couldn’t Remember Elisha Cuthbert Guest Starring During The First Series
Before Cuthbert became part of the Midnight Society crew in the show’s first revival, she had a guest role in an episode of the original series. Only, MacHale couldn’t remember her at all, and when he asked her who directed her specific episode, she said that he did.
Every Episode Had Its Own Individual Score
Unheard of at the time — and for a kids show, even — there wasn’t a library of music created for the show where the editors could just take pieces of music to rearrange and reuse them at will. No, every single episode was treated like a short film, and had its own unique score.
The Show Shot In Real Cemeteries
Where actual tombstones were shown, foamy fakes were made with fictional names on them because there are laws preventing the broadcasting of real people’s names.
Neve Campbell’s Audition For Scream … ?
Guest starring in the episode “The Tale of the Dangerous Soup,” the scene in which Campbell’s character tries to flee fear itself shows why the actress went on to become one of the modern and OG Scream Queens.
The Theme Of The Show Was Composed At An Airport
Composer Jeff Zahn said that he was waiting at the Montreal airport when the song came to him in his head. “I didn’t have music paper, so I scribbled out the notes on a napkin. I really liked it and kept singing it. Then when I played it on piano the important countermelody came to me, which I used as an introduction and for linking material. It came together very quickly and easily, unlike a lot of other themes I’ve done.”
The Secret Of The Magic Dust
While there’s been much speculation as to what the kids threw into that fire at the beginning of every episode, actor Daniel DeSanto has said that it’s just CoffeeMate and glitter. "The fire was a pyrotechnic trick. But then my disappointment turned into horror when I saw the props manager who flipped the switch for the fire. He was so creepy and he would talk to himself."