It’s the Case of the Missing Character. While it sounds like a Perry Mason episode, it’s not unusual for television shows to suddenly have a cast member simply disappear without a trace, and no one seems to notice. Let’s look at some of our favorite shows where a character simply vanished.
The Brady Bunch
When it comes to disappearing characters, Oliver is often mentioned on The Brady Bunch. Oliver is a cousin who came to live with the Bradys during the final season while his parents were in South America. While it was weird that Oliver was around for a few episodes and then he was gone, someone could easily assume he went back home. However, I thought a bigger vanishing act was their dog Tiger. Tiger was involved in many plots during the first two seasons. When the show returned for the third season, no Tiger. In real life, the dog who portrayed Tiger was hit by a car; it seems as though we could have gotten an explanation about why the family suddenly lost their beloved pet.
The Doris Day Show
I have talked about the plot variations in The Doris Day Show several times in my blogs. The original concept in 1968 was that widow Doris Martin and her two sons left the city to move back to her dad’s ranch. In the second season, Doris drives back and forth from San Francisco to the ranch after getting a job as a secretary at Today’s World magazine. Rose Marie plays Myrna Gibbons her friend at work. In season three, the family moves into an apartment in San Francisco that is rented from the Palluccis who own a restaurant on the ground floor. Billy de Wolfe played their neighbor, a cranky bachelor who doesn’t like noise, especially made by children. However, he has a soft spot and becomes close to the family. In the fourth and fifth seasons, there is no mention of the father, the kids, Myrna, or the Palluccis! Doris is now a single person and is a staff writer for Today’s World.
Family Matters featured the Winslows, a working-class family who lived next door to an annoying kid named Steve Urkel, and it aired for nine years. For the first four seasons, the Winslows have three children: two daughters and a son. During season five, Judy disappears. One source said that Judy asked for more money, and the network called her bluff and wrote her off the show. The Winslows talked about their two children; perhaps they had amnesia and just forgot they ever had a third child.
Ben was Ross’ son from his first marriage on Friends. He was very precocious and cute. During the first season, Ross talks about him all the time, and Ben spends time with both Ross and his ex-wife Carol, living close to Ross. By season two Ross rarely saw him, and did not really seem to spend much time worrying about that. Ben was so neglected on the show that when Ross and Rachel had a daughter, Ben never even met his own stepsister. His last appearance was in season 8. Apparently, Ross’s dad forgot about him too. He mentions Emma being his first grandchild. The character of Ben appears in only 18 of the 236 episodes.
I remember watching “Love and the Happy Days” (a/k/a Love and the Television Set) when it aired on Love American Style in 1972. That episode became the pilot for the television series which began airing in 1974. Several characters were played by different actors in the pilot. Harold Gould played Howard Cunningham and Susan Neher played Joanie. Tom Bosley would take over the role of Howard and Erin Moran would play Joanie in 1974. Marion Ross as Marion, Ron Howard as Richie, and Anson Williams as Richie’s friend Potsie carried over to the new show.
What people might not remember is that in the pilot, Joanie and Richie had an older brother Chuck played by Ric Carrott. When the show began airing in 1974, Chuck was still around until he wasn’t. Gavan O’Herlihy played Chuck originally and was replaced by Randolph Roberts. After 11 episodes he just never showed up again, and none of the Cunninghams ever talked about him. At least on My Three Sons when Mike got married and moved away, the other characters mentioned him from time to time. Like the Winslows, whenever Mr. and Mrs. C mentioned their kids, they only had two.
King of Queens
Although this show was about a married couple, Doug and Carrie Heffernan, Carrie’s sister Sara (Lisa Rieffel) lives with them when the show begins. She is an aspiring actress, but by the sixth episode, she was just not around. Did she get a role in an off-Broadway play? Decide to go to Hollywood? We don’t know, but her father later talked about Carrie being an only child. Apparently, the writers couldn’t decide how to develop her character, so they just didn’t.
We fondly recall many spats in the Swamp between Pierce and Winchester. We also remember both Hunnicutt and Trapper, but do you remember Oliver Harmon Jones? Timothy Brown played Spearchucker Jones, a neurosurgeon who lived with Trapper, Hawkeye and Frank Burns during the first season. But then he just disappears with no explanation after six episodes.
In discussing the sudden disappearance of Jones on an online posting, Larry Gelbart replied “There were no black surgeons attached to MASH units in Korea.” However, research has indicated that there were at least two black surgeons in MASH units during the Korean war. Other reasons given for his removal was that budgetary cuts mandated getting rid of characters, and one source mentioned that the network did not want to deal with his nickname which could be taken as a racial slur. Spearchucker Jones was in both the original novel MASH and the movie which the television series was based on.
Again, this is a show about war; surely, the writers could have found a creative solution for his being gone. Other characters who left the show were involved in crashes or just simply went home.
During the 1960s Mission Impossible was quite popular with its “your mission should you decide to accept it” plots. Dan Briggs played by Steven Hill led the team. Hill didn’t come back for the second season. He was an orthodox Jew and unable to work during the Jewish Sabbath which was making life difficult for the rest of the crew. Suddenly in season two, Jim Phelps is leading the team, but no one talks about what happened to Dan. Come on – this was a spy show; could we not have learned about a mission gone wrong which explained his disappearance. Actually, Briggs resurfaced on Law and Order thirty years later, so perhaps he was just hiding out for a few decades to protect his cover.
Night Court had a tough time finding a public defender who could hold their own against Dan Fielding, played by John Larroquette. Ellen Foley played Billie Young for season one and most of season two. When the third season aired, the public defender was suddenly played by Markie Post. Post had been the first choice for the role originally, but she had a conflict with her contract in The Fall Guy. When that show was cancelled and she became available, Foley was simply replaced with no explanation as to why.
If you watched the earliest Star Trek episodes, you’ll see Janice Rand, Captain Kirk’s secretary. Grace Lee Whitney was hired to play Janice. She was supposed to be a romantic interest for Kirk. She was a popular character during the first season, but in season two she just didn’t exist anymore.
There were a couple of reasons for her disappearance. First of all, the network didn’t want Kirk tied down; they wanted him to be free to get involved with a variety of characters the crew met from week to week. Also, the show was too expensive and was forced to make some budget cuts, so she was let go. I understand the reasons why they let her go, but of all shows, couldn’t Star Trek come up with some interesting plot twist to explain her disappearance. Maybe she asked Scotty to beam her up but he waited too long and she’s just floating around somewhere in outer space.
In its first incarnation (April to June 1982), the setting of this show was Millard Fillmore High School in Los Angeles. Diana Swanson played by Lynn Redgrave is an English teacher. Ben Cooper is the school principal, Michael Dreyfuss and Gwen Edwards are fellow teachers, Mr. Brody is the assistant principal, and Mr. Pafko is the janitor. Most of the scenes occurred in the faculty lunchroom and lounge from which students were excluded. When the show returned in February, the school was now Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles with a new cast. Samantha Keating and Michael Horne are teachers, Spud Le Boone is the gym teacher and Shari is the principal’s secretary. What was even weirder is that Diana is now a guidance counselor, but the principal is still Mr. Cooper played by Norman Fell. I would give the writers a big, red “D” because they forgot to include a transition paragraph in their work.
For whatever reasons, sometimes producers think they are perfectly justified in simply eliminating characters without any type of explanation. In never seems like it was a great idea and, in the age of syndication, it makes even less sense. Let me know if you can think of other characters who just disappeared from the airwaves.