Not at all a total success from the very beginning, Dark Shadows originally aired for just 5 years – but because it had one episode on each weekday, it had managed to amass 1,225 episodes, which makes it one of the longest television shows (it has even more episodes than the entire Doctor Who series). But this success arrived relatively late to the party, since the show started to gather greater numbers only after a year from its first episode.
And this happened only after the supernatural was introduced in the series, through the character Barnabas Collins. Of course, it wasn’t an abrupt introduction, but one that was announced and hinted at in the previous episodes. So it was an organic transition from a gothic setting to a supernatural one.
In the 211th episode the character Barnabas Collins was introduced and the audience exploded: in just one month, after presenting a story-line set in the 19th century, Dark Shadows reached 20 million viewers – all these due to one single character.
And Barnabas wasn’t even supposed to be a recurring character, but rather a simple apparition, so to speak. But the producers realized that they had something special in their hands, so they never let it go.
This also opened another door, which permitted other supernatural characters to be introduced (warlocks, werewolves, zombies, a parallel universe, monsters resembling the one of Frankenstein, and more). In a way, all these creatures were the perfect ingredient that would transform Dark Shadows into something else.
But of course it wasn’t just the introduction of such characters that made the show become a cult favorite. However, Barnabas Collins allowed the writers to come up with new and original story-lines and story-arcs, which spanned over many episodes.
Such is the relationship between Barnabas and Victoria Winters (considered by many a main character in the series), which introduced the idea of different timelines (or, as said, parallel universes), spreading the story across time and space.
Of course, the way in which the narrative is presented may appear a bit clunky. But this is of little importance (since this is, after all, a soap-opera) when it is compared to the actual stories presented by Dark Shadows.
Ultimately, this comes to say again that even a soap-opera can genuinely capture the attention of the audiences by introducing a gimmick in the plot (as said, the supernatural is just a door which opens to new possibilities).