Classic TV Features

Classic Lost TV Characters


Not everyone sips champagne at the final wrap party. The chronicles of your favorite shows are littered with the departed — those souls who walked or faded away, got written out, died or just plain blew up.

All too often characters major and minor disappeared with but a brief mention in a subsequent episode to mark their passing… or with nothing at all. But we remember, and we won’t let them go into that vast maze of TV history without a trail of bread crumbs to mark their way back to us. We are markers. We are crumbs.

Character: John Burns, Sunshine Cab Company driver
Played by: Randall Carver

RIP: None. Last we saw, Burns, a sweetly dense regular in the show’s first season, was hanging with the other hack drivers and adding his dry, strange take on things to the show’s unique wit. Just as suddenly, he was gone and the writers never bothered to explain his absence. He apparently drove off into the Sunshine, er… sunset.

Background: Carver said in interviews that his character went the way of the dodo because the show’s producers felt he was too much like fellow naive-but-funny cabbie Tony Banta (Tony Danza). Their lines were often interchangable, so why pay two salaries?

Happy Days
Character: Chuck Cunningham, older brother
Played by: Gavan O’Herlihy and Randolph Roberts

RIP: A mystery. In fact, the basketball-bouncing Chuck appeared doomed from the beginning. He never figured heavily into any stories plus his role was recast without explanation — and none was really needed since he didn’t affect things much one way or the other. By series end, father Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) refers to Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran) as “both” his kids, thus excising poor Chuck from the Happy Days record entirely.

Background: Series creator Garry Marshall has said O’Herlihy opted out of the part before producers decided Richie didn’t need a biological older brother anyway since he already had one in Fonzie (Henry Winkler). The hapless Chuck was benched — permanently — and viewers plumb forgot him, just as Marshall and Co. intended.

Character: Charlene Matlock, daughter
Played by: Linda Purl

RIP: The firm headed by sly, crotchety Ben Matlock (Andy Griffith) was originally called Matlock and Matlock, but morphed into a Ben-centric operation when daughter Charlene packed up and headed to Philadelphia to hang out a shingle of her own. Alas, in the never-take-a-vacation vein of lessons, Charlene’s departure was a life sentence. The next time a daughter was called for, actress Brynn Thayer showed up as long-lost offspring Lee Ann McIntyre — and stayed on when the series jumped from NBC to ABC.

Background: None that we know of. (Must it always be a scandal with you?) Purl moved on and probably remains best known to TV viewers for her earlier work on Happy Days. There she first appeared as Richie’s girlfriend, Gloria, before shedding that personality and becoming Ashley, who tugged at the Fonz’s heartstrings.

The Brady Bunch
Character: Tiger, beloved family pet and early-episode plot catalyst
Played by: Tiger

RIP: Though he helped propel the plot for the pilot episode by teaming with Fluffy the cat to wreak havoc on Mike and Carol’s wedding, Tiger’s departure from the show went without mention — strange, since earlier in the series an entire episode revolved around his running away and Bobby’s (Mike Lookinland) belief that he’d been run over. (Fluffy fared even worse, disappearing from the show altogether after her maiden performance.)

Background: Fatefully enough, young Bobby proved prescient. Though Tiger’s disappearance and feared death in that episode proved to be nothing more than an extended dalliance with a lady dog, the real Tiger did indeed perish in the road. Producers attempted to replace him, but the second Tiger was not as well behaved so the pooch was phased out. (Tiger 2 did go on, however, to the big screen, winning a coveted Patsy Award for his work with Don Johnson in the sci-fi cult hit A Boy and His Dog). Tiger’s house survived him, appearing in the show for some time afterward.

My Three Sons
Character: Mike Douglas, eldest son of three
Played by: Tim Considine

RIP: The departure of eldest son Mike is but the tip of the iceberg for this granddaddy of all lost-character shows (Bub, Robbie, etc.). But let the accumulated loss be embodied in young Mike, who was said to have relocated east to accept a psychology teaching position after marrying sweetheart Sally. Creepily, papa Steve (Fred MacMurray), faced with the prospect of having to pare his show title down by one, simply adopted young Ernie Thompson (Barry Livingston) and carried on unruffled.

Background: Considine, who earlier had appeared with MacMurray in Disney’s The Shaggy Dog, grew out of the role and wished to bid adieu. Producers let him.

Miami Vice
Character: Sonny Crockett’s car, stylish drug-busting vehicle
Played by: A fake Ferrari Daytona Spyder built upon a Corvette chassis

RIP: Undercover vice cop Crockett (Don Johnson) couldn’t keep a woman around long — affection resulted in violent death for most… men, too, for that matter — and his mode of transportation received equal treatment. So it went with his first loyal rod, blown to bits by a gun runner’s Stinger missile.

Background: Ferrari discontinued production of the real Spyder in 1978; the car in which Crockett and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) sped around town was actually a patchwork of auto components made to look like the genuine article. Reportedly, Ferrari grew weary of a car it no longer sold getting so much attention, so it offered producers two brand-new Testarossas to use instead. “Hey, free wheels!” Boom.

The Waltons
Character: The Reverend Matthew Fordwick, friend and moral center
Played by: John Ritter

RIP: The good reverend received an honorable send-off in the beginning of the family classic’s sixth season — he left the mountain to set sail in the Navy. That’s certainly better than could be said for lusty Hank Buchanan (Peter Fox), who took his place. Why, he blew into town and immediately began making time with young Erin (Mary Elizabeth McDonogh)!

Background: TV’s most successful combination of ratings and wholesomeness couldn’t compete with money and a better credit. Ritter departed to star in Three’s Company and left whatever good-boy points he’d built up on Walton’s Mountain far behind. Goodbye, clean living. Hello, goggle-eyed double takes and limp-wristed double entendres.

Designing Women
Character: Allison Sugarbaker, not-Delta-but-just-like-her Delta Burke replacement
Played by: Julia Duffy

RIP: Allison, the cousin brought in to replace former series star Burke’s Suzanne Sugarbaker, left after one season and pulled her money out of the show’s Atlanta decorating business to buy a Victoria’s Secret franchise.

Background: Bringing Duffy in must have seemed like a no-brainer to producers faced with the loss of Burke, who departed following a drawn-out and very public battle over her weight. Duffy’s Allison was a carbon-copy of the spoiled brat she played so successfully on Newhart and thus should have been the perfect fill-in for Burke’s pushy, selfish Suzanne. Unfortunately for all involved, the audience didn’t think so. Exit Duffy.

Melrose Place
Character: Sandy Harling, man-magnet waitress/struggling actress
Played by: Amy Locane

RIP: Well, RIP is really too harsh a description for Sandy’s fate. After all, her stint on the show included jealousy, rejection, fear of commitment and a stultifyingly boring date who took to stalking her. Her exit, on the other hand, meant an acting paycheck for a gig as an amnesia victim on a New York-based soap opera. Who says parting is such sweet sorrow?

Background: After 13 episodes of Sandy, Melrose’s producers decided the character had gone about as far as she could. Locane said in a subsequent interview that it was the right decision for both sides. “The writers didn’t know what they were doing with Sandy,” she explained. “I wanted some direction. I think they’re happy that I’m gone and I’m happy with my life.”

Law & Order
Character: Detective Phil Cerreta, no-nonsense cop replacement for no-nonsense cop Max Greevey
Played by: Paul Sorvino

RIP: Brought in after Greevey (George Dzundza) was killed in the line of duty, the unfortunate Cerreta proved no more bulletproof to partner Mike Logan (Chris Noth). He caught two in the belly and the resulting physical complications relegated him to an unseen desk job.

Background: Cerreta may have been vulnerable, but his show sure isn’t. Law & Order producers, who lost the talented Sorvino to a burgeoning opera career, signed up the equally effective Jerry Orbach as no-nonsense detective Lennie Briscoe. They never looked back and the show hasn’t either, weathering cast change after cast change to remain a stalwart member of NBC’s schedule and spawn the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit spin-off.