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In television, things don’t always turn out the way you expect. When you dream up a series, you have no way of knowing if certain characters will really take off with the audience, or crash like a lead balloon. Sometimes, you’ll come up with a minor character, maybe even someone who was only supposed to be a one-off, and they’ll really strike a chord with viewers. They want to see more and more of this person. And so, your entire programme is changed.

Over time, your original leads are sharing the spotlight with this presumptuous upstart. It might almost be irritating, that this character threw aside all of your carefully crafted plans. At least, it would be if that character wasn’t pretty much the main reason that new viewers continue tuning in week after week. You can never predict what will resonate with audiences, so the lesson here is to always be flexible and willing to go with the flow. You never know when you might have a pop culture icon on your hands. Every once in a while, seemingly insignificant characters manage to become the star of the show, and production has to adapt quickly or risk losing a potentially massive hit.

10. Barnabas Collins – Dark Shadows

Jonathan Frid

Barnabas Collins was the long-dead (or so they thought) head of the Collinsworth family, who was actually a vampire imprisoned in chains in the secret room of the family mausoleum. Looking at the recent remake of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp, it would be easy to assume that he was the main character of the show. But actually, he was only ever intended to show up for a brief 13-week run, and then promptly be staked. In fact, although he’s the character that most people remember, the show was originally envisioned to revolve around Victoria Winters, a mysterious orphan girl searching for answers about her past.

But the show had a rocky start, and didn’t really take off until Barnabas was introduced a year into the run of the show. There was an immediate spike in ratings once he showed up, and all thoughts of getting rid of the character were forgotten. Although originally just a minor character, his role quickly increased and he stayed with the show until it ended in 1971. The rest is history — Dark Shadows has a tremendously devoted cult following, and the character of Barnabas Collins is cemented in the public imagination as one of the most popular vampires in popular culture.

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This article was first posted on November 30, 2013