Submitted for Approval: Are You Afraid of the Dark?'s 18 Spookiest Secrets

Ryan Gosling was almost a member of the Midnight Society and what the campfire's magical dust was really made of are just two of the facts we're revealing about the favorite Nickelodeon series.

By Tierney Bricker Apr 19, 2021 5:36 PMTags
Watch: Former Nickelodeon Stars Reminisce About Their Shows

Consider this meeting of the Midnight Society officially in session.

If you were a kid in the '90s then the chances are pretty high that you definitely spent at least one night with the lights on in your bedroom after tuning into an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Canadian horror anthology series debuted on Nickelodeon in the early '90s as The Twilight Zone for kids and launched the careers of Happy Endings' Elisha Cuthbert and Sweet Magnolia's JoAnna Garcia Swisher

The show aired seven seasons before putting out its campfire for good in 2000—until a whole new generation of Nickelodeon viewers were inducted into the Midnight Society when the network brought the cult classic back from the dead in 2019. Dark? was an immediate hit and earned a second season renewal. 

But did you know the original Are You the Dark? was this close to never seeing the light of day? Or that one of Hollywood's top leading men was almost the show's star?

Nickelodeon Stars Then and Now

Submitted for approval: The tale of the 18 spookiest secrets about Are You Afraid of the Dark?...

1. Nickelodeon initially turned down the show, telling co-creators D.J. MacHale and Ned Kandel that they "couldn't scare little kids," according to MacHale. But after a new head of development took over a year later and looked at the Are You Afraid of the Dark? pitch, they called the duo "and asked why we weren't doing the show," MacHale told The Globe and Mail. "The idea of doing 'horror lite,' which is what Dark? is, people can't get their minds around it."

2. In an attempt to get ahead of any backlash from concerned parents, the network asked the creative team to base the tales off of classic literature. 

"Nickelodeon could claim it's based on classic lit: Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe," MacHale explained. "But never did we have any complaints along those lines. We knew what the limit was. You're not going to show blood, violence or depravity. You're going to show, 'Oh my God! What's behind that door?!' We were doing Hitchcock 101."

3. The original title of the show was Scary Tales, a play on fairy tales. "Nickelodeon actually said, 'We like the show, but we don't like the title. We need something that's more unique, more Nickelodeon-like,'" MacHale told Vulture.

4. Some of the members of the Midnight Society who would go on to find success in Hollywood include Elisha Cuthbert and Joanna Garcia Swisher. Cuthbert initially made a small appearance in a 1995 episode before becoming a member, playing a completely different character named Megan, in 1999. 

5. Ross Hull, who played Gary, the original leader of the Midnight Society, ultimately left the acting world behind and became multi-market meteorologist for Global News in Canada. "People were really shocked the first time they saw me do the weather in Canada," he told the Daily Dot. "I always had a passion for broadcasting; I'd bug my family doing fake newscasts as a kid. It became this second career for me."

6. Hull also hosts his own YouTube channel called The Tale of the Guy From That Show where he shares stories from his acting career and interviews some of his former co-stars.

7. While they appeared in every episode, the actors who were part of the main cast didn't see each other all that much. "It was interesting for me and everyone in the Midnight Society because we would shoot all of our scenes back to back in two weeks, and then we wouldn't do it again until the following year," Cuthbert told The Globe and Mail. "It was like an actors' camp for kids."

8. Hey girl, before Ryan Gosling was, you know, Ryan Gosling, he appeared in a season five episode, playing a young boy trying to save his brother from getting dragged to hell. But he was actually offered a full-time role as a member of the Midnight Society years before his 1995 appearance. "We originally wanted Ryan Gosling to be in the Midnight Society," MacHale revealed to Vulture, "but he went onto The [All New] Mickey Mouse Club instead."

9. Revenge star Emily VanCamp made her acting debut in the final season's premiere "The Tale of the Silver Slight."

10. Other stars who made appearances include Neve Campbell, Hayden Christensen and Jay Baruchel

11. Sorry to shatter the illusion of the campfire but Daniel DeSanto, who played Tucker, Gary's younger brother, revealed what created the signature magical dust. "It's just a bag of CoffeeMate and glitter," he spilled to The Globe and Mail. "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."

12. Speaking of the campfire, only one episode actually featured an actor striking a match to light it. 

"[Nickelodeon] didn't want to teach kids how to strike matches," MacHale told Splitsider. "They were afraid someone would burn their house down or something like that. So the campfire was always already lit when [the Midnight Society] showed up. There was one episode where someone did light a match when it slipped by Standards and Practices in an episode I directed."

13. One young star had his first alcoholic drink during his time on the show.  "Daniel lost his drinking virginity at a bar in Montreal while JoAnna Garcia and I looked on," Hull revealed in a YouTube video with DeSanto. With a laugh, DeSanto added, "I had my first beer in Montreal, mom and dad, with the guy you were so happy was there watching me!"

14. Many of the episodes were filmed in an arboretum, which was infested with mosquitoes. "The entire crew had to wear protective suits with netting over their faces to keep away the hungry bugs," MacHale told Buzzfeed. "Many, many takes had to be dumped because a mosquito would land on an actor's cheek or nose and get swatted."

15. In the original pilot, Hull played Frank. But when Dark? was picked up to series, the network wanted to recast everyone except for Hull, who was given the lead role of Gary. Jason Alisharan was then cast as Frank.

16. There's only one episode in which the fire wasn't put out at the end: Season five's "The Tale of the Night Shift," which was originally intended to be the final episode. "The last shot of the tale was a hospital room door closing with the number 65 on it, because it was the 65th episode," MacHale explained to Buzzfeed. "In that same shot if you listen closely you can hear the Dark? theme coming from the hospital room."

17. Each season, MacHale would travel to different cities looking for new actors to join the Midnight Society. And one casting trip to Vancouver resulted in the showrunner getting Chickenpox after seeing thousands of kids, forcing him to quarantine for ten days while preparing to direct an episode. 

18. "We paid homage to Twilight Zone in every episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?" MacHale confirmed to Vulture. "Rod Serling [in Twilight Zone] would always say, 'Submitted for your approval…' So, I had the Midnight Society, when they would reach into that bag of midnight dust, say, ‘Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…'"

This story was originally published on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 3 a.m. PT.