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11 Famous TV Characters We Never Actually Saw

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Our reputations often precede us—but, in the case of these television characters, reputation is all they have. Here are 11 TV personalities that are often talked about, but rarely (if ever) shown on screen.

1. Heather Sinclair // Degrassi: The Next Generation

What they're saying: "Did you see Heather Sinclair's eyebrows? Tragically overplucked!"

The lowdown: For a time, the Queen Bee of Degrassi never appeared on camera—but was often the subject of gossip nonetheless. "It felt very high school to me to see someone's reputation created through bits and pieces of gossip, without ever meeting the legend herself," says Matt Huether, a Degrassi co-executive producer and writer. "If we'd seen her, it's hard to believe she could have lived up to that reputation." In the seventh season, the series introduced a new character, Holly J. Sinclair—Heather's younger sister—but her big sis still never made it on screen. "We thought this might give us the opportunity to one day meet Heather Sinclair, through Holly J., and we discussed many times over the course of several seasons doing some stunt-casting and bringing in a high-profile guest star to play Heather for a scene," Huether says. "Anyone who was blond and famous from 2007 through 2011 was mentioned. Ultimately, we never committed to it, perhaps because we didn't really want to see the real her."

2. The President of the United States — Veep

What they're saying: "Did the president call?"

The lowdown: It's hard to believe the fictional president of the Veep universe won an election, considering the low profile he's kept. He's never seen on screen, his party affiliation hasn't been mentioned, and he doesn't even have a name—the other characters just refer to him as POTUS. Then again, that absence is symbolic of the veep's place in the D.C. pecking order. "You'll never see the president," star Julia Louis-Dreyfus tells NPR. "We're depicting a situation in which that relationship is highly dysfunctional, and the president is very much trying to keep this vice president, Selina Meyer, an arm's length away." Meyer often asks if the president has called for her—and the answer is always no.

3. Tino — My So-Called Life

What they're saying: "We have to go! With Sharon, to the hospital. I'll get Tino to drive us, he loves hospitals."

The lowdown: It's possible My So-Called Life heartthrob Jordan Catalano never got anywhere with his band, the Frozen Embryos, because Tino, its front man, wasn't very present. Then again, maybe he didn't have to be: possibly the most-referenced unseen character on this list, Tino is mentioned in a majority of the series' episodes, by almost every major teenage character. He can get a fake ID. He can get into an exclusive club, loft, or empty, for-sale house. He is, like, Mr. Halloween. When he quits the band, Jordan laments that "There's gonna be, like, this big empty hole where Tino used to be," but, for the audience, that's all he ever was.

4. Maris Crane — Frasier

What they're saying: "She distrusts anything that loves her unconditionally."

The lowdown: "Everybody has their own vision of what Maris looks like," Frasier executive producer Peter Casey says in an extra feature included on the second-season DVD. "Frankly, with some of the things that have been written about her in the scripts, I don't know if we could ever find anybody that could match all those things." It would be hard to find an actress who fits the bill, considering Maris is described as extremely slight (her ideal weight is 45 pounds, 12 ounces), addicted to plastic surgery, and easy to mistake for a coat rack.

5. Bob Sacamano — Seinfeld

What they're saying: "My friend Bob Sacamano had shock treatments, but his synapses were so large—had no effect."

The lowdown: Seinfeld's Kramer is always going on about his friend Bob Sacamano, from lamenting his case of rabies to crediting him with inventing the idea of attaching a ball to a paddle with a rubber band. (Before him, "people would just hit the ball and it would fly away.") Does the name "Bob Sacamano" sound too perfect to be made up? That's because it is. Starpulse reports that the rat-fur-hat salesman is the creation of Seinfeld writer Larry Charles, who borrowed the name from a real-life friend. While some would be flattered to achieve immortality through Seinfeld infamy, apparently the real Bob Sacamano was not. According to Gunaxin Media, after "The Heart Attack," the first time the character is mentioned (when we learn about how a botched hernia operation left him with a high-pitched voice), the real Sacamano had a falling out with Charles over the use of his name. No word on whether or not Lomez felt the same way.

6. Diane — Twin Peaks

What they're saying: "Diane, if you ever get up this way, that cherry pie is worth a stop."

The lowdown: Twin Peaks' Diane is not really an unseen character who's talked about as much as she is an unseen character who's talked to. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper addresses her as he makes detailed recordings on microcassette—but it's never shown how his tapes are received. In fact, the shooting script of Fire Walk with Me had a scene that took place in FBI HQ, and even then the character of Diane was written so that she was never heard or seen. She must've been a good muse, though; Simon & Schuster released an audiobook dedicated to her, titled 'Diane . . .' The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper, which featured Kyle MacLachlan's narration from the show along with new recordings. It was nominated for a spoken-word Grammy in 1991, alongside John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s reading of his father's Profiles in Courage. (Both lost to Gracie: A Love Story, read by George Burns.)

7. Vera Peterson — Cheers 

What they're saying:
Woody: "Hey, Mr. Peterson, what do you say to a cold one?"
Norm: "See you later, Vera, I’ll be at Cheers."

The lowdown: Maris wasn't the first character in the Cheers universe to eschew the spotlight. And, as with Niles and Maris, barfly Norm Peterson often talks about his wife in less-than-flattering terms, implying that he frequents the bar to stay away from her. Although the audience never gets to see Vera's face, they do hear her voice a handful of times (and see her full body once, with her face obscured by a smashed pie). Both the voice and the body were provided by Bernadette Birkett, the real-life wife of George Wendt.

8. Lars Lindstrom — The Mary Tyler Moore Show

What they're saying: "Sooner or later, Lars is going to get tired of her. And he'll come back to me. And then I'm going to punish him for this."

The lowdown: Lars Lindstrom, the dermatologist husband of Mary Richards' landlady, Phyllis, didn't need to show up in person to make a big impact on the series. In a fourth-season episode—titled "The Lars Affair"—Phyllis discovers he's cheating on her with Sue Ann Nivens, star of The Happy Homemaker on Richards' WJM-TV. Not only does this have big consequences for the plot, it shapes the series in general: the introduction of Nivens was Betty White's debut on the show. Outside of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, when Phyllis gets her own spin-off, Lars is still a no-show—the series takes place after he's died.

9. and 10. Juanita Beasley (and Sarah) — The Andy Griffith Show

What they're saying: "There's nothing half so sweet/As Juanita, Juanita, Juanit."

The lowdown: Mayberry may be populated with lots of colorful characters, but two of them—both creations of producer Aaron Ruben—are never shown on screen: Sarah, the telephone operator, and Juanita Beasley, the waitress at the Bluebird Diner and sometime object of Barney Fife's affection. In the book The Andy Griffith Show, author Richard Michael Kelly writes: "They reminded Andy Griffith of the old radio show Vic and Sade: 'They originally had only three characters—later four—but they talked about their town and other towns nearby, and you never met any of those people. But their talk made you believe they were there.'"

11. Angela Valentine — Leave It to Beaver

What they're saying:
Wally Cleaver: "Hey Beav, isn't that Angela Valentine the one that's always showing the kids her extra toe?"
Beaver: "Yeah, but everybody's used to seeing that, so now she eats library paste."

The lowdown: It seems that Beaver often comes home with tales of his phantom classmate, whether he's reeling from her getting sick in the back of the school bus to reveling in triumph that ensues after she enlists the entire class to help find her lost bike plate. Though she's mentioned at least a dozen times in the series, she's not entirely unseen. In the third-season episode "Baby Picture," Beaver's teacher addresses the class about an upcoming beauty pageant—giving credit for the idea to Angela Valentine, whom she acknowledges with a head nod. Of course, the class is only shown from the back.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]