Okay, this I know is a departure from my usual writing- and book-related posts, but I needed to have some fun today. Plus, I’ve been studying up on the craft (yes, you cynics out there, it is a craft) of writing for television. What especially amused me was the device of leaving a much-referenced character off-screen. Here are a few of my favorites. I’m sure you can come up with more. Aren’t you glad I do this so you won’t have to?
All in the Family:
• Norm’s wife, Vera “appears” but once in the whole run of Cheers…just to get a pie in the face before we can catch a glimpse of it. (Although at various times, we see her legs or a hand waving.)
• Niles Crane’s anorexic wife is the butt of many jokes in Frasier, yet we never see or hear her. My favorite line: “Maris, Lycra is supposed to blouse.”
• Mary Tyler Moore’s landlady, Phyllis Lindstrom, had a Scandinavian dermatologist husband, Lars, who lived (and died) completely off camera. Upon his death, Phyllis and daughter Bess moved out of Minneapolis and got their own spinoff.
• Megan Mullally’s bitchy, substance-abusing Karen in Will and Grace had a long-suffering husband who never appeared.
• Howard Wolowitz’s foghorn-voiced mother is just that: a voice screaming at her son from offstage in The Big Bang Theory. Contrary to popular rumor, the voice is not that of the actress who plays Howard’s girlfriend, Bernadette. Good impression, though.
• Remember Peter Falk’s Columbo? He’d often refer to “Mrs. Columbo,” who was never seen.
Who’s the Boss:
• John Forsythe, who died in 2010, played Charlie, the voice on the speakerphone that summoned the Angels to do his bidding.
• “Mork, calling Orson. Come in, Orson…” We never meet the disembodied voice to which Robin Williams’ Mork (in Mork and Mindy) reported at the end of each episode.
• Remember Third Rock from the Sun? John Lithgow and company reported to Big Giant Head, a disembodied entity who transmitted messages through French Stewart’s character, Harry. BGH eventually came to Earth in human form played by an over-the-top William Shatner. (This technically does not count as a completely invisible character, but it’s fun.)
Friends and Neighbors:
• Ugly Naked Guy was a frequent object of fascination on Friends. Until Ross moved into his apartment, Monica and company could watch UNG light candles, make Thanksgiving, and generally enjoy his naked self from her window. But, we never saw him. Or his Ugly Naked Girlfriend, who made a cameo “appearance.”
• Technically, neighbor Wilson did appear in Home Improvement. The gag was that no matter what he was doing, we never got to see his entire face.
• Bob Sacamano, Kramer’s oddball friend, was a frequently referenced character on Seinfeld who never appeared. On one episode, when Jerry and Kramer switch apartments, Jerry begins taking on Kramer-like attributes and even begins telling Bob Sacamano stories.
Did I miss anyone?