Wednesday, June 16, 2010

That's Not Uncle Arthur!

Above: Sherilyn Fenn. Yes, she could NEVER be mistaken for Uncle Arthur. More about her in a moment.

There is a little known tradition in TV series. The tradition has no name, so I just call it the "That's NOT Uncle Arthur!" effect.

If you watch TV, you know what I mean. You're watching a show and suddenly, a familiar character is acting a strange way.

Let me explain.

OK, here's Uncle Arthur:

Here's a description. There is an episode of BEWITCHED with Paul Lynde NOT playing Uncle Arthur -- he's this nervous driving instructor. Here's a (colorized) clip from the first time Lynde appeared on the show. It's from the very first season.

This 1965 episode is titled "Driving is the Only Way to Fly," and you can watch the whole thing on Hulu here (or there's a MySpace cut up Minisode, which runs under 5 minutes and really has all the best bits).

Paul Lynde would return the following fall, in his new role as the recurring Uncle Arthur character.

This is the Uncle Arthur Effect.

OK, here's another example. Harry Morgan appeared on M*A*S*H as 2 characters. The first: a one-time appearance as Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele. Here he is in his 1974 episode:

And the next season, he returned in a different role: that of Commanding Officer Colonel Sherman T. Potter. He would stay with the series until its demise in 1983 -- and would reprise his role in the short-lived spin-off series After M*A*S*H.

So, how many times have actors wandered in, played a guest part -- and then are asked to return for a regular role in a series?

Above is Vincent Gardinia, who played Frank Lorenzo in ALL IN THE FAMILY. But before he played Frank, he played two other characters in 2 earlier episodes of the sitcom.

And the same thing with veteran character actor (and ubiquitous cartoon voice talent) Allan Melvin. Melvin was, like, in a zillion shows like PHIL SILVERS, DICK VAN DYKE, ANDY GRIFFITH and GOMER PYLE USMC. With both VAN DYKE and GRIFFITH, he played different characters before being brought in as a semi-regular character.

Alex Borstein, maybe best known for her long running gig as a great comedic character actress in Mad TV, played "Drella," a sarcastic harp player in the first few episodes of the Gilmore Girls series. It was the producer's hope that she play the second banana role of Sookie, but her Fox TV contract prevented that commitment. She returned a 3 years later to GG as "Miss Celine."

Sherilyn Fenn played 2 characters in Gilmore Girls: she was first cast in a pilot-within-the-series as Jess' mother figure and then, later on, a semi regular role as an ex-lover of series regular Luke

And then there's Dennis Franz. Back before NYPD Blue, he was on Hill Street Blues for a short multi-episode arc. He played Detective Sal Benedetto, a drug-hooked, crooked cop for 5 episodes. He returned two years later, portraying Detective Norman Buntz for the remaining two years of Hill Street's network run, and starred in the 12 episode spin-off series Beverly Hill Buntz.

Freema Agyeman played Adeola Oshodi, a "red shirt" who had to die in "Army of Ghosts" to emphasis the danger of the invading Cybermen in Doctor Who. (To quote Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest: "I'm just "Crewman Number Six." I'm expendable. I'm the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I've gotta get outta here.") In less than a year, Freema was back, this time in her new continuing role as series regular Martha Jones.

And on it goes.

That's all I can think of. But there must be more. Please let me know.


JM said...

If you consider all of the Star Trek series existing in one universe, it happens a lot in Star Trek. The actor who played Tuvok in Voyager, appeared as a non-Vulcan villain in an episode of The Next Generation. And the actor who played Tom Paris appeared in an episode of TNG as one of Wesley's cadet mates.

And Mrs. Roddenberry herself was Nurse Chapel before she was Troi's mother.

richardcthompson said...

Any post that quotes Guy Fleegman is brilliant by definition.

Andrew said...

John Mahoney played a jingle writer on Cheers, then came back as Martin Crane in the Frasier spin-off. (And on Cheers, Frasier's mother was alive but his father was dead, a situation that was reversed in the spin-off.)

Mike Lynch said...

Johnny M, we could add Mark Lenard, who played Sarek in the TV, movie and TNG series -- but he also played the very first Romulan in the original show and the Klingon Commander in TMP. I suppose you can also cite Diana Muldaur, with 2 guest starring roles in TOS and then a season-long stint as Dr. Pulaski on TNG.

Richard, Guy Fleegman is my hero, natch! Heck, sometimes he's my role model. "I'm just jazzed to be on the show, man!"

Andrew, thanks for the Cheers info.

Like I said, I think we're just scratching the surface ....

Mark Anderson said...

Oh man, I'm so glad to finally see this post. This is crazy fascinating and has had me thinking all day for new examples.

Curse you and your great ideas, Lynch!

Andrew said...

Jon Lovitz played a one-off character (and I think he was in a mental hospital) on NewsRadio, and was added to the cast as an entirely different character after Phil Hartman's death.