CLOSE

10 Minor TV Characters Who Stole the Show

No matter how intriguing a show's premise, or how tight the script, there’s just no telling what might capture the audience’s attention. Here are 10 famous TV characters who weren't originally supposed to carry their shows.

1. Steve Urkel // Family Matters

Family Matters was officially a spin-off of Perfect Strangers (Harriette Winslow was the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle). The show was supposed to focus on the everyday trials and tribulations of a department store employee, her police officer husband, and their three children. Midway through season one, their nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (portrayed by Jaleel White) appeared, oversized glasses, suspenders, high-rise pants, squeaky voice and all. Urkel was originally intended as a one-episode character, but after White’s initial appearance, studio audiences started chanting “Urkel! Urkel!” during subsequent tapings. Several unfilmed first-season episodes were hastily re-written in order to feature the whiny-voiced, clumsy character. Interestingly enough, Jaleel White had been acting (mostly in commercials) since the age of three, and just prior to being cast as Urkel had told his mother that he wanted to quit the business in order to play JV basketball when he entered high school the next fall.

2. Alex P. Keaton // Family Ties


Gary David Goldberg envisioned Matthew Broderick for the role of Alex when he was casting Family Ties, a sitcom about liberal 60s-era parents raising 80s-era children. But Broderick didn’t want to leave New York for a long-term project, so Goldberg was left back at square one. At the urging of a casting director, he gave a young Canadian actor named Michael J. Fox a second screen test, and reluctantly hired him (NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff’s infamous observation at the time about Fox was “There’s a face you’ll never see on a lunch box.”) Much to everyone’s surprise, Michael J. Fox had an on-screen charisma that quickly made him an audience favorite; he could deliver the most absurd and extreme remarks about, say, women “knowing their place” and garner a laugh instead of a groan as long as he flashed that adorable smile. Meredith Baxter-Birney was just a bit miffed, because her understanding when she signed on for Family Ties was that the parents would be the focus of the series. But teen magazine profiles and posters have their own unique impact on a celebrity’s “Q-factor,” and soon many of the show’s plots revolved around Alex. During the taping of the episode where Alex lost his virginity, the audience’s laughter went on so long that the show ran 12 minutes overtime. Goldberg was standing backstage with Baxter-Birney at the time and said to her, “If you want to leave the show, I’ll understand.”

3. Daryl Dixon // The Walking Dead

Norman Reedus originally read for the role of Merle Dixon when AMC’s zombie show was being cast, but that part was given to Michael Rooker. Nevertheless, producers liked something about that Reedus fellow, so they had the writers give Merle a younger brother named Daryl. The redneck bow-hunter was intended to be just another member of the ensemble that rounded out the cast that supported lead characters Rick, Lori, Shane and Carl. But Norman took what could’ve been a one-note character and, with just a few lines of dialog per episode, made him intriguingly complex instead. He was gruff, anti-social, and tough-as-nails, yet it was also obvious that there was a sensitive, caring, damaged person underneath those many layers of grime. By season three, Daryl (a character that didn’t exist in the WD graphic novels the TV show is based on) had become Rick’s second-in-command and rabid fans were frequently spotted wearing T-shirts warning “If Daryl Dies, We Riot.”

4. Fonzie // Happy Days

The idea for a sitcom set in the 1950s was inspired by a vignette on the 1970s anthology series Love, American Style. One year after “Love and the Happy Days” aired, Ron Howard starred in the blockbuster film American Graffiti, which solidified his ability to play a retro-teenager. Howard had previously played “Opie” on The Andy Griffith Show, and with his recent film triumph under his belt, it was clear that he was the intended star of Happy Days. But the producers were caught by surprise when Fonzie (Henry Winkler), who was only an occasional character during the first season, started getting a substantial amount of press. Suddenly “Ayyyy” was on everyone’s lips and you couldn’t walk past a storefront without seeing some sort of Fonz replica giving the ol’ thumbs up. The ABC brass even suggested changing the name of the show to Fonzie’s Happy Days, but Winkler himself vehemently opposed such a change. In fact, Winkler has always staunchly credited the success of Happy Days to the work of the entire cast, particularly Ron Howard and Tom Bosley.

5. Ben Linus // Lost

Michael Emerson was invited to make a guest appearance on Lost based on the strength of his Emmy-winning portrayal of a serial killer on The Practice. That initial appearance in the episode “One of Them” led producers to invite him back for three more episodes, still billed as a “guest star.” His morally ambiguous Benjamin Linus (originally known as Henry Gale) struck a chord with viewers, who loved to hate him, and as of season three, Emerson was offered a contract and became a series regular as well as the leader of the Others.

6. Chrissy // Three’s Company

When Three’s Company was being cast, John Ritter was the only actor hired who had any sort of name recognition, having played the Reverend Fordwick on The Waltons. Luckily, he also had a knack for slapstick comedy, and managed to make the most out of what was basically a one-joke role (a closet heterosexual man living platonically with two beautiful young women). But even though Ritter was the acknowledged star of the show (and won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Jack Tripper), it was Suzanne Somers who got her picture on all the magazine covers and had her own mega-selling poster. Actually, as soon as Somers landed the role of Chrissy, she contacted powerhouse manager Jay Bernstein and begged him to take her on as a client. She wanted to be “bigger than Farrah,” and although (according to Somers) Bernstein questioned her looks and her talent, he was impressed by her passion, and agreed to manage her. Of course, it probably helped that Somers also pledged to give him every penny of her salary from the first six episodes of Three’s Company. Nevertheless, thanks to Bernstein’s savvy promotion, soon every episode of Three’s Company, no matter what the plot, focused heavily on Chrissy prancing around in tight T-shirts and short-shorts.

7. Vinnie Barbarino // Welcome Back, Kotter

Veteran comic writer Alan Sacks had seen stand-up comic Gabe Kaplan’s act a few times and thought that there might be a viable sitcom to be mined out of Kaplan’s tales of his days in remedial high school classes. When previewing Welcome Back, Kotter in front of test audiences, network brass noted that John Travolta (whose character was then known as “Eddie Barbarina”) elicited unsolicited random squeals from the crowd and decided, on the strength of a possible teen heartthrob as a side bonus to Kaplan’s schtick, to greenlight the series. Travolta, for his part, didn’t discourage the Tiger Beat aspect of his fame, but he also craved acceptance as a bona fide actor, and he spent much of his Kotter salary on a high-priced agent, who landed him progressively larger film roles, from The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, to Carrie, to Saturday Night Fever. By the fourth (and ultimately final) season of Welcome Back, Kotter, John Travolta was billed as a “special guest star” and appeared in less than half of that season’s episodes.

8. Sandra Clark // 227


Marla Gibbs, star of the NBC sitcom 227, had once played something of a breakout character in her own right; her portrayal of the maid on The Jeffersons garnered her a huge fan following and many Florence-centric episodes. So perhaps she wasn’t completely surprised when Jackée Harry’s over-the-top characterization of sassy and saucy Sandra Clark suddenly took front and center on what was supposed to be Gibbs’ show. On the other hand, Gibbs wasn’t entirely enchanted by Jackée’s popularity, either; when Jackée won an Emmy Award in 1987 (against formidable competition that included Rhea Perlman of Cheers and The Golden Girls’ Estelle Getty) she not only didn’t receive any sort of congratulations from the series’ star, she also found her character’s participation in upcoming plotlines significantly reduced.

9. J.J. Evans // Good Times

The NAACP was full of praise for Good Times when it debuted in 1974; here was a poor but close-knit African-American family with two hard-working parents at the helm. The younger two kids were intelligent and determined to do well in school and make their parents proud. It was the oldest Evans sibling who eventually became the “problem child” and changed the civil rights organization’s collective mind. Jimmie Walker’s eye-popping, jive-talking J.J. also offended and irritated the actors who played his parents. “The writers can save time by having J.J. clap his hands and say ‘dy-no-mite’ in a scene; they don’t have to bother to come up with any meaningful dialog,” John Amos complained. Esther Rolle was likewise upset that the plots began to focus on the chronically unemployed, barely literate James Junior while minimizing the role of the more serious and cerebral younger son Michael. Both Amos and Rolle ended up leaving the series, and despite some hasty re-tooling of J.J.’s character, the show was cancelled in 1979.

10. Mimi Bobeck // The Drew Carey Show

Mimi Bobeck was only supposed to appear in the pilot episode of The Drew Carey Show, but when the show’s producers discovered that test audiences laughed the hardest at scenes that featured Mimi and Drew, Kathy Kinney was hired as a regular cast member. Having a workplace nemesis with a pre-existing grudge against Carey gave the writers a whole new avenue of plot lines to draw from, since Mimi and Drew were forever playing evil practical jokes on one another. But every scene focusing on the muu-muued woman with the Earl Scheib make-up job meant less screen time for the other supporting players, which didn’t necessarily go down well behind the scenes.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
entertainment
Netflix's Most-Binged Shows of 2017, Ranked
iStock
iStock

Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.

They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.

In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.

There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:

Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.

Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.

Netflix infographic "The Year in Bingeing"
Netflix
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
arrow
job secrets
9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Body Doubles
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

When you see the back of an actor’s head in a movie, it may not be the actor you think it is. In addition to stunt performers, most movies employ body doubles (or photo doubles) with a passing resemblance to the principal actors. While some body doubles are brought on set for specific skills—like helping an actor pass as a professional athlete—the job can often involve just being a body, whether that means being nude on camera, having photogenic hands, or appearing in place of actors who can’t be on set for some reason. Here are nine secrets of the job:

1. THEY MIGHT ONLY BE MODELING ONE BODY PART.

Body double Danielle Sepulveres has played the hands of other actors in plenty of roles in her career, on TV and in beauty commercials featuring close-up shots of her holding moisturizer or makeup. She’s drizzled dressing on salad in place of Brooke Shields. She regularly slides files across tables, makes lists, and pours wine in the place of actresses on The Good Wife. (She has also played Jill Flint's butt on the show.) “I knew only glimpses of my hands might make it into a shot, or part of my shoulder along with a wisp of hair,” she wrote of one of her jobs in Good Housekeeping in 2016. But she overheard the director complaining that her wrists looked “vastly different” than those of the principal actress in the movie, 2015’s Mania Days. “Luckily, I didn't get fired in spite of my wrists, but I wouldn't have been surprised had it happened.”

2. THEY’RE NOT JUST THERE TO SHOW THEIR BUTTS.

Yes, body doubles are often brought in if an actor doesn’t want to bare it all on camera. But they are hired for other reasons, too. For one thing, union rules mandate the actors get 12 hours off between when they leave set for the day and their next call time, so if the shoots are running long, the crew might employ someone else to stand in. Other times, it's a matter of particular talents. Most actors may be able to sing, dance, and cry on camera, but few also have the athletic skills to allow them to pass as a sports legend. In Battle of the Sexes (2017), Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King, one of the best tennis players of all time. To realistically represent King’s skills on the court, the movie makers brought in tennis doubles to play in place of Stone and her co-star, Steve Carell. Stone’s double was chosen for her playing style, which resembled King’s, and worked with King on-set to perfect her imitation. The effort was, according to The Wall Street Journal, a huge success. “Not only is the tennis believable, it’s a meticulous representation of the type of tennis played in that era: serve and volley, chipping and charging to the net, touch volleys and soft hands.”

3. ACTORS CAN GET TOUCHY ABOUT WHO PLAYS THEM.

When you are tasked with choosing a celebrity doppelgänger, you’ve got to keep egos in mind. “The choice reflects on the principal actor,” DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director for Titanic, told Vanity Fair in 2016. “We have to take into consideration that they can’t be too thin, or more beautiful, or too heavy, or too old, or else the principal actor will think, That’s how they see me?” Actors often get to give input on who will be their double, and sometimes have final approval rights written into their contracts. When she was being considered for the job of Janet Leigh's body double in Psycho's iconic shower scene, model and Playboy covergirl Marli Renfro had to strip down for both Alfred Hitchcock and Leigh herself so that they could make sure her body looked enough like Leigh's, as Renfro recently revealed at a Brooklyn screening of the documentary 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene. In the case of nude scenes, actors might even have final approval on what physical moves their doubles are allowed to make.

4. THEY MIGHT NEVER MEET THEIR DOUBLE ...

If you’re working as an actor’s double, by definition, you’re not going to have scenes with them, and so some body doubles never meet the stars they’re pretending to be. Danish actor Elvira Friis, who worked as a body double for Charlotte Gainsbourg (and her character’s younger self, played by Stacy Martin) during the racier scenes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013), never met the actor. “The closest I got to Charlotte Gainsbourg was that I was wearing her dress,” Friis told The Wall Street Journal.

5. OR THEY MIGHT SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH THE PEOPLE THEY'RE PORTRAYING.

But how much time an actor spends with their doppelgänger really depends on the role. Some actors spend plenty of time with their doubles on set helping them get into the role. In What Happened to Monday (2017), Noomi Rapace plays the roles of seven identical sisters, making body doubles a necessity on set. Rapace helped direct her doubles during filming, “as they needed to know how the star would play the scene for each character so that it would sync up when she performed the part herself,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Game of Thrones star Lena Headey (who plays Cersei) worked closely with her double Rebecca Van Cleave for a nude scene in the show’s fifth season finale. Headey walked Van Cleave through her character’s thinking and movements for each shot. Then, Headey did the same performance herself, wearing a beige dress that could later be edited out. In the final product, Headey’s facial expressions were merged with Van Cleave’s nude body.

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THEIR COUNTERPARTS.

Because body doubles are often only seen from the back or side, they may not look quite as much like their acting counterpart as you’d think. Brett Baker, who worked as Leonardo DiCaprio’s body double for Titanic, is several inches shorter than DiCaprio and seven years older. From the front, you wouldn’t peg him as a Jack Dawson lookalike. But with the same clothes and haircut, shot from above and behind, he passed easily as DiCaprio. Once Leo’s closeups were done, according to Vanity Fair, Baker was often brought in to stand opposite Kate Winslet as she played through her half of the scene. In some cases, he didn’t make it into the final shot at all, but still had to be on set for those 14-hour days.

7. THESE DAYS, THEY GET A BOOST FROM CGI.

With the help of technology, filmmakers can put their leading actor’s face on a body double’s torso, so they don’t have to limit their body doubles to just back-of-the-head or partial shots. This allows them to seamlessly meld both the main actor and the body double’s performances in post-production. That can allow directors to get exactly the scene they want in shows like Orphan Black, which features Tatiana Maslany playing multiple roles, or in cases where actors don't want to get totally naked on-camera. In rare cases, it can also be used to bring actors back from the dead. When Paul Walker died in a car crash midway through filming Furious 7 (2015), the filmmakers used his brothers and another actor as body doubles, superimposing computer-generated images of Walker’s face on their performances. Around 260 shots featuring Walker’s doubles appeared in the final cut.

8. IF AN ACTOR CAN’T ALTER THEIR WEIGHT FOR A ROLE, A BODY DOUBLE CAN FILL IN.

When Matt Damon was filming The Martian (2015), he wanted to lose 30 to 40 pounds to portray astronaut Mark Watney after he had been surviving on meager rations for years. But the filming schedule made that impossible, so a body double had to be brought in for some shots. “I was going to lose a bunch of weight in the third act of the movie, then put the weight back on,” Damon told Maclean’s. However, as the schedule shook out, they filmed the NASA interiors in Hungary, then immediately went to Jordan, which doubled as the Red Planet for the film’s purposes, and shot all the exterior shots from the beginning, middle, and end of the movie, with no time for Damon to lose a significant amount of weight. The skinny body double isn’t on screen for long. “It was, like, two shots,” Damon describes. (Still, fans noticed.)

9. SOMETIMES THEY NEVER MAKE IT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AT ALL.

When it comes to nude scenes, sometimes body doubles are hired but never used. Veteran body double Laura Grady was cast as Robin Wright’s lookalike for State of Play (2009), but didn’t shoot a single scene. “I just sat in my trailer, ready to go, and then at the end, [Wright] decided to do her own scenes,” Grady told Vulture in 2014. “That happens sometimes. Sometimes they just get a body double because they think they might need one, and then all of a sudden the actress is comfortable and she’s like, ‘No, I’ll just do it.’ Or they change a scene and they don’t make it as risqué.” Don’t worry, though—the double still gets paid.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios