TV Characters Who Stole the Show

One of the hardest working and most under-rated actors in the world is Jason Bateman.  He's been performing for television and film practically non-stop since he started out on Little House on the Prairie.  I've followed his career from his early roles in the short-lived but fun It's Your Move to his solid presence on Valerie's Family to his "comeback" on Arrested Development.  His movie roles have all been enjoyable -- Hancock, Horrible Bosses, The Change-Up, and yes, even Teen Wolf Too.  I remember when he appeared on Silver Spoons, stealing the show from the sitcom's star Ricky Schroeder.  His wisecracking supporting character, Derek Taylor, became the most interesting and entertaining part of the series.  It made me think of other characters who started out small and ended up earning the majority of the spotlight on themselves. 

A similarly themed article was posted on -- "10 TV Characters Who Saved Their Shows."  Check it out, it's a fun read. 

Here are my own picks for the characters who came along and stole their shows.

Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties - The comedy was supposed to focus on the parents, a couple of middle-aged former hippies, played by Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, as they raised their children in a world that seemed to have abandoned their free-spirited "let's change the world" ideals.  The audience and eventually the writers fell in love with the oldest son, Alex, a young Conservative during those yuppie glory days, making him the center of most of the storylines.  Played brilliantly be Michael J. Fox, the character overshadowed not just his parents, but his siblings as well -- the sexy but dimwitted Mallory (played by Justine Bateman) and the precocious kid sister Jennifer (played by Tina Yothers).

Fonzie in Happy Days - Arthur Fonzarelli was meant to be just a tiny character in this TV show inspired by George Lucas' American Graffiti.  Instead, the leather-jacket clad anti-hero became the epitomy of "cool" and a true pop culture superstar, more recognizable than anyone else on Happy Days.  Forget about Richie Cunningham and his family.  Forget about Potsy, Ralph Malph, Joannie and Chachi, and all the rest.  The star of the show quickly became the Fonz. 

J.J. Evans in Good Times - Here's another example of a small character who delivered the best lines and generated the biggest laughs.  Played by Jimmie Walker, he was truly "dyn-o-mite!"  The antics of the rest of the family became just filler as viewers waited for J.J. to arrive and do his schtick.

Kramer in Seinfeld - The classic comedy was a real ensemble endeavor, but Kosmo Kramer became the most outlandish, most hilarious piece of the pie.  Some might argue that any of the other castmates were better -- Jerry, Elaine, George, or even any of the supporting castmembers -- but Kramer steals practically ever scene he's in.

Steve Urkel in Family Matters - Some people don't even remember this show's name or any of the other characters on it, (or that it was a spinoff of Perfect Strangers), but nerdy Urkel, portrayed by Jaleel White was hard to forget.  Annoying yet endeering, he became the face of the series.

Let me know if you think of any others.


Andrew said…
Reading the article you linked to, it's funny how Urkel saved Family Matters, yet he's the reason the show's quality declined.
Thomas E. Reed said…
Probably way too old to comment on this, but have you ever considered what happened to those actors who took over their shows?

Jaleel White had one sitcom after Family Matters. Can you remember it without checking Neither could I. He ended up bumbling around, doing the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in cartoons, and appearing in unmemorable parts elsewhere.

Henry Winkler had to go behind the camera after Happy Days. Perhaps he was happier there, not having every idiot come up to him and say "Heeeeeeeey!" I remember his attempt to introduce Shakespere to kids, back when ABC still did its After School Specials, and although he was without leather jacket and greased hair, he couldn't shake the Arthur Fonzarelli voice.

Perhaps the dividing line is how cliched the take-over character is. White and Winkler both played stereotypes. Michael J. Fox took over his show, but he was a nuanced actor who made his Alex Keaton a sympathetic and sometimes tragic figure.