Tuesday, May 08, 2007

TV: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

In the beginning of any TV sitcom, the writers are laying the groundwork for the series. Sometimes they start with large casts to ensure they'll have something to write about. Unfortunately, if this later proves to be unwieldy, characters can end up getting axed. Later on in a sitcom, as original stories become harder and harder to come up with, a new character can provide a useful spark for the writers...but again, only if one of the existing characters is booted off.

This can happen in many ways, but sometimes the writers find it's easiest to not have to explain it within the continuity of the show. Instead of some elaborate farewell episode for a minor character, characters can simply just drop out of the show - out of sight, out of mind. The perennial example is "Chuck Cunningham," the oldest son of the family in "Happy Days" who mysteriously disappeared for no reason.

"Family Matters" and "Step by Step," two Miller-Boyett productions, both suffer from this malady.

"Step by Step," a cloyingly self-conscious Brady Bunch ripoff, was a notable case. The original premise was heavily weighted on having all the children (six of them) play an equal part in the mayhem. So when things got hairy and the ratings dropped, it made sense for the series to take drastic measures when it switched to CBS. The youngest brother, Brendan Lambert, disappeared from the show for no reason and all focus was moved to cute child star Emily Mae Young (the Welch's juice girl).

"Family Matters" was an even more stunning case. Judy Winslow, played by Jaimee Foxworth, was essentially written out of the show after the second season. She disappeared from the credits and eventually was never spoken of again. Strangely enough, Jaimee Foxworth herself seems to have gone on to do some porno - including "My Baby Got Back 29" (can't say I've ever seen it). Other major characters, like Aunt Rachel and Grandma, were also shoved aside to make room for more Urkel.


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