Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by JozefK, Nov 26, 2019.

  1. JozefK

    JozefK Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dixie
    Mo Rocca's podcast:

    Sitcom Deaths and Disappearances - Mobituaries

    Characters on sitcoms aren't supposed to die. So when they do, it's never less than weird. Mo examines some of the most infamous sitcom deaths and disappearances with Henry Winkler, Sandy Duncan and Alan Sepinwall.

    The television universe is split into two neat categories: hour-long dramas and half-hour sitcoms. There are rules that govern each. On dramas, people can die. On sitcoms, deaths and disappearances aren’t supposed to happen. The rare instances when they do is the topic of this episode of Mobituaries.

    On a couple of classic sitcoms, a main character simply disappeared with no explanation. This phenomenon has a name: “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome,” named after the older brother on Happy Days. Chuck appeared in the show’s first and second seasons, mostly walking through scenes and bouncing a basketball. Then, suddenly and abruptly, he completely vanished at the start of the third. Breakout star Henry Winkler’s character Fonzie became the defacto older brother figure. No one mentioned the disappearance. They carried on as if he never existed. The parents on the show even referred to their two children, instead of three.

    A generation later, Judy Winslow, the youngest daughter on Family Matters, met the same fate. She appeared as a flower girl in a wedding-themed episode, then was never mentioned again. Actress Jamee Foxworth who played Judy recalls that she got fewer and fewer lines as the show focused on its now-classic character, Steve Urkle.

    Sometimes, in the sitcom universe, the character stays, but the actor playing him disappears. The most famous instance of this happened in the 60s sitcom Bewitched, a show about a wife with magical powers and her husband’s anxieties about them. The original husband in the show was played by Dick York in seasons one through five . Toward the end of the fifth season, York struggled with a back injury which led to his hospitalization and, ultimately, his retirement from the show. They replaced York with Dick Sargent, never acknowledging to the audience that the actor playing the series male lead had changed. The show continued for another three seasons, but the writers sensed a chemistry shift between the two leads afterwards, and focused more on secondary characters.

    Other sitcom characters that underwent a notable actor switcheroo include Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Becky on Rosanne.

    But in the rarest of sitcom instances, characters do die as part of the plot. One of the most bizarre sitcom deaths was the demise of Valerie in the late 80’s family sitcom called Valerie. After two seasons on the show, star Valerie Harper asked for a raise. Refusing to yield to the star’s salary demands, TV executives killed off her character. The third season opens six months after Valerie’s fictional automobile accident death. The show brought in actress Sandy Duncan to play the role of the father’s sister to act as a surrogate mom, effectively replacing Valerie on the show. The show even changed titles, first moving to Valerie’s Family: The Hogans and then to The Hogan Family, nixing Valerie altogether.

    While dramas like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones build story lines and fan bases, around high body counts, most of the dearly departed on these dramas quickly fade into the pop culture ether. If Tony Soprano had whacked Chuck Cunningham, the character would never have anchored an entire episode of Mobituaries. But somewhere out there in the sitcom universe, Chuck is still bouncing a basketball and we’re still talking about him.
    Have you seen this man? If so, please contact your nearest Bureau of Missing Persons.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. cboldman

    cboldman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hamilton, OH USA
    Darryl Hickman (brother of Deayne Hickman) played Davey Gillis, brother of Dobie on ‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.’ He showed up for three first-season episodes, then left to hang out with Chuck Cunningham and Tiger from The Brady Bunch.
     
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  3. cboldman

    cboldman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hamilton, OH USA
    Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake) disappeared from Batman during the third season. When she did turn up for an episode (out of two appearances for the season), Burt Ward marked the appearance with a comment to the effect of “Holy missing relatives!” The on-screen explanation was that she had been traveling, but the actress had cut back due to poor health.
     
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  4. JozefK

    JozefK Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dixie
    Did Davey live in the house? Or was he, say, a college student occasionally dropping by? That would be a guest star-type thing rather than a Chuck Cunningham.

    Without looking him up I know Darryl was a fairly busy actor at the time. He did a number of TV shows and even plays a young boxer in The Set Up.

    A long time ago I read Dwayne's memoir. He and Darryl eventually feuded about something or other. I don't know if they ever reconciled.
     
  5. vinnie

    vinnie Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey
    Roy on the Odd Couple.
     
  6. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Location:
    Central PA
    I have to wonder, of all the tribulations plaguing society these days, is there a hole in it large enough to fit discussions about people who never actually existed in the first place, aside from components of teleplays designed to frame soap commercials, who were never more than interchangeable parts to begin with. I mean, history shows we never really needed these people to begin with, aside from populating a stack of questions in trivia challenges.

    Leave Cousin Oliver alone!
    [​IMG]
     
  7. cboldman

    cboldman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hamilton, OH USA
    Good question, I wasn’t sure so I just checked it out. Davey was indeed Dobie’s brother who was away at college. He was introduced in episode 4, then returned for the Christmas episode, and came back for a story about their Dad’s will.

    How about Barney Fife? Didn’t he vanish from the Andy Griffith Show without explanation? He did, however, return for a couple of guest appearances.
     
  8. JozefK

    JozefK Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dixie
    He got a job with the Raleigh PD.
     
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  9. Instant Dharma

    Instant Dharma Hendon!!!!

    Location:
    East Bay, Ca
    “You just don't change Dicks midstream“- Taylor Negron
     
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  10. 2trackmind

    2trackmind Forum Resident

    Location:
    MA
    I am not sure if this one counts but how about the Lorenzos on All in the Family? They just disappeared. Never seen nor mentioned again.
     
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  11. JozefK

    JozefK Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dixie
    Just Frank. Irene became a fixture until Betty Garrett took the Laverne & Shirley gig.
     
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  12. Spaghettiows

    Spaghettiows Forum Resident

    Location:
    Silver Creek, NY
    Didn't something like this happen on My Three Sons?
     
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  13. Big Jimbo

    Big Jimbo Well-Known Member

    Location:
    NY
    Not with the people. In the first episode of season 5 Mike gets married and says he is leaving town for a new job. His grandfather Bub is said to move to Ireland to take care of a 104 year old aunt. Both never reappear and are virtually unmentioned. Steve does make reference to Mike as “the first of you” in the episode where Katie finds out she is pregnant (what happens when Don Grady insisted on a single bed instead of the two separate ones CBS wanted).
    In the last episode of season 11 Rob, Katie and the triplets move to San Francisco after Robbie is laid off (a backdoor pilot which didn’t get picked up to Don Grady’s relief as he wanted to leave and start his music career). In season 12 Katie and the triplets are back in Lis Angeles and Rob is now in Peru building bridges, although he is mentioned occasionally.
    Who does mysteriously disappear is Ernie’s dog Wilson who is in a few episodes when Steve adopts him.
     
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  14. AppleCorp3

    AppleCorp3 Forum Resident

    Well, they did something similar to Roseanne as they did to Valerie - even down to changing the name of the show.
     
  15. cboldman

    cboldman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hamilton, OH USA
    That’s right, Mike evaporated, so they had to rustle up another son. He got married and moved away, down the memory hole, where he was never referred to again.
     
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  16. Saintbert

    Saintbert Forum Resident

    Location:
    Helsinki
    Phil Hartman's character Bill McNeal died of a heart attack between seasons 4 and 5 on NewsRadio. The show was on the brink of being cancelled after pretty much every season, but it was picked up for one too many in the end, I'd say. The season opener "Bill Moves On" did however give the cast and crew the chance to pay their respects to Phil Hartman himself, who had died in such a tragic way, killed by his wife.

    Also, coincidentally Jon Lovitz had two guest appearances in the show before he became part of the regular cast on season 5, playing three different characters in all.
     
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  17. seed_drill

    seed_drill Forum Resident

    Location:
    Tryon, NC, USA
    In the comics, Jeremy's rarely seen brother Chad has been completely written out of Zits. Odie's original owner Lyman from Garfield has also disappeared, presumably because people were beginning to assume they were gay. Seahawk was written out of Overboard, possibly because he was drawn indistinguishably from Charlie. And, of course, Shermy disappeared from Peanuts. In some of the earliest strips, it even appeared that he, not Charlie Brown, was Snoopy's owner. Other frequent early characters like Patty and Violet were also reduced to once or twice a year appearances.
     
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  18. sloaches

    sloaches Forum Resident

    On "That 70's Show", Donna was shown to have a younger sister who appeared in a first season episode. She was never seen again.
     
  19. seed_drill

    seed_drill Forum Resident

    Location:
    Tryon, NC, USA

    They should have written an episode where one of the other characters magically changed his appearance and he decided he liked the new look.
     
  20. JozefK

    JozefK Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dixie
    When "Who shot JR?" became a sensation Larry Hagman held out for more money from Dallas. The producers supposedly planned to have JR badly injured in a car wreck and forced to undergo plastic surgery. When the bandages came off he would emerge as... Robert Culp.
     
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  21. EricBanks

    EricBanks Active Member

    Location:
    Midwest
    On "King of Queens," Doug had a sister, Stephanie Heffernan, played by Rikki Lake. Then he didn't.
     
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  22. Solitaire1

    Solitaire1 Carpenters Fan

    Another factor might have been budget cuts. I remember reading that you were limited in the number of characters you could have in an episode, with Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and their alter egos counting as six characters. Add in a villain and you were limited to a small number of henchmen.
     
  23. Solitaire1

    Solitaire1 Carpenters Fan

    I remember seeing in a program about Bewitched that to ease that transition from one Darren to another they ran Darren-less episodes during the summer in preparation for the introduction of Dick Sargent.
     
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  24. milankey

    milankey Forum Resident

    Location:
    Kent, Ohio, USA
    When Dan Blocker died, Hoss Cartwright died as well. Same with John Ritter and that show he was in. Or does that sort of thing not apply here.
     
  25. Solitaire1

    Solitaire1 Carpenters Fan

    I think it only applies to characters that disappear from a show without an explanation within the show, are never mentioned again, and are completely deleted from existence. As previously mentioned, not only did Chuck Cunningham disappear from the show but later his father only mentions his two children (Richie and Joanie).

    Another example of this is from the soap opera All My Children where Timmy Martin goes up into the attic to get a pair of skis and never comes back down. I'd heard that later, as a joke, they when into the attic and up there is a skeleton wearing the same clothes as Timmy and holding a pair of skis.
     

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