Modern day television shows are often defined by their cast, who can either make or break a show. Main characters are usually nothing without the support of their secondary counterparts — and sometimes these counterparts really pull the entire show together. Here are five supporting characters that spoke louder than the primary characters.
J.J. Evans (Jimmy Walker) â€“ Good Times
The early 70s were a time when America needed a laugh â€“ Watergate, the energy crisis â€“ We can look back now and say â€œWheh, glad thatâ€™s over.â€ But back then the country needed its funny bone tickled – hard.
The character “Florida Evans” had been TV Maudeâ€™s housekeeper. In early 1974, Florida (Esther Rolle) was given her own show. Florida, her husband James (John Amos) and their children J.J.,Â Michael and Thelma lived in the housing projects on the South Side of Chicago
Good Times followed their attempts to “get by” in the inner-city ghetto. When he wasn’t unemployed, Dad worked at least two menial jobs, as he struggled to provide for his family.Â In addition to the perseverance theme, the youngest son, Michael, was a social activist. He was often referred to by his father, as the â€œMilitant Midgetâ€ â€“ all hilarious stuff right?
Not laughing yet?
Rolle insisted from the beginning that the Evans be a two-parent family. The lead actors (Rolle and Amos) joined the show under the premise that ‘Good Times’ would provide positive role models for young people in similar surroundings.
However, almost from the first episode, J.J, the scheming, lying and lazy oldest son was the audience favorite and became the focus of the show.
As J.J.’s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior took over the story-lines, Rolle spoke about her displeasure in an interview with Ebony magazine.
“He’s eighteen and he doesn’t work. He can’t read or write. He doesn’t think. The show didn’t start out to be that…Little by littleâ€”with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn’t do that to meâ€”they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child.”
Amos also was also seriously unhappy and quit the show.Â His character was killed off, and Good Times continued without a father, even though the original pitch had been the strong black father leading his family.
Rolle said sheÂ stayed on hoping that J.J. would now become the man of the family. Not happening, – if anything, J.J.’s foolishness increased. Rolle later dropped out for a season, citing J.J.’s “jive demeanor and get-rich-quick gambits” made him a poor role model for young blacks.
Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) – Happy Days
Most people remember Happy Days as a show about a show about â€œFonzieâ€, a greaser stud (or at least 1970s TV version of one) proving his â€œcoolnessâ€ through his many sexual conquests and superhuman ridiculous abilities.Â When he wasnâ€™t jumping motorcycles or sharks, he could be found hanging out in his bathroom office dispensing advice, pounding jukeboxes and making girls appear by snapping his fingers.
But Happy Days wasnâ€™t meant to be like that. Originally it was written as a nostalgic look at the 1950s nuclear family starring Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham. The earliest episodes revolve around Richie, his family and friends. Local dropout Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (played by Henry Winkler) had only a tiny part. Fonzie’s growing popularity changed all that.
Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) – Family Matters
That Urkel Show, or as a few people know it, Family Matters started out as kind os a â€œblue collarâ€ Cosby show about a middle-class suburban Chicago black family, the Winslows.
We could go into the details about those characters but like the writers, you probably just forget about them. Midway through the first season,Â nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel made his first appearance. Urkel (named after a friend of one of the producers), was only written for that episode, but the response to his character was so overwhelmingly that producers decided to bring him back, then make him a regular character, then make him the star.Â The show went from Cosby-esque to ..goofball.
The original cast was pushed way, way to the wayside.Â How bad did it get?Â Daughter, Judy was let go at the end of the series’ fourth season due to a “budget consideration”, and her character’s absence was never even bothered to be explained.
Amanda Woodward (Heather Locklear) – Melrose Place
Believe it or not Melrose Place started off as a show about a group of goody-two-shoe 20-somethings, set in a small apartment complex in West Hollywood.Â The young tenants faced minor foibles that were easily resolved by the end of each episode, sort of like a Saved By The Bell for adults.
That Melrose Place suffered from horribly low ratings and was in danger of being canceled.Â Towards the end of the first season, Heather Locklear appeared for a four-episode stint. Her mega-bitch Amanda Woodward character cranked up the camp factor, and proved wildly popular.
Locklear was asked back and helped move the show from episodic to soap opera. She also paved the way for slutty office dressing, revenge sex and bed head, that most people nostalgic for the 90s will recall fondly.
Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) – Family Ties
Family Ties inspired a generation of Gorden Gekko’s, as it followed the life of teen Reaganite, Alex P. Keaton. Alex, played by Michael J. Fox was a model of the clean-cut, determined and yet approachable entrepreneur. President Ronald Reagan even declared it his favorite program, and offered to make an appearance
Originally Family Ties was supposed to be about the lives of Hippie parents (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross) and their struggle to raise children in a Reaganized world. Family Ties’ creator Gary David Goldberg (a self-proclaimed hippie), envisioned the show as an autobiographical comedy and sold it to the network using the pitch “hip parents, square kids.”
However, once the show aired, audiences were drawn to the accomplished physical comedy, charm and good looks of Michael J. Fox, over the supposedly â€œhipâ€ parents. Audience reaction and Fox’s considerable skill in front of the camera prompted Goldberg to shift emphasis of the show, a change so fundamental that Goldberg told Gross and Baxter-Birney that he would understand if they decided to quit.
Written by Diana Cook