6 Memorable Secondary Characters in TV History

Were you aware that in BBC’s Doctor Who, the Doctor wasn’t meant to be the main character of the series?

As a TV enthusiast, I appreciate a good secondary character. These characters were not meant to be the lead, but eventually became integral to the show’s plot.

Often, secondary characters start out as supporting players or are introduced later in the series.

But it happens more often than you think, and you may not even realize it until you revisit a show.

Here are six memorable secondary characters from popular TV shows:

Erica Kane – All My Children

Susan Lucci, or the “First Lady of daytime television” in the US, played Erica Kane on ABC’s All My Children.

Kane was introduced in the first episode of the show and remained until its cancellation 41 years later. She and her family became a significant part of the series, with various scandals, affairs, divorces, and marriages.

In 1973, Kane’s character had the first legal abortion on American television, drawing attention to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Roe v. Wade.

Lucci continued to play Kane until the show’s cancellation in 2011.

By the end of the series, Kane had become one of the most iconic characters in soap opera history.

Zack Morris – Good Morning, Miss Bliss/Saved by the Bell

Originally developed for NBC, Good Morning, Miss Bliss was a show about a school teacher and her class, with minor roles for the students.

After one season on the Disney Channel, the show was cancelled due to poor ratings. However, it was retooled and became Saved by the Bell.

The focus shifted to the students, and the show became a teen classic on NBC. Zack Morris, played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar, became the show’s centerpiece and the reason for its success.

After noticing the positive reaction to the student scenes, the format and network changed, making Zack and his classmates the focus of the show.

Barnabas Collins – Dark Shadows

The TV show Dark Shadows was originally a daytime soap opera that aired in the US from 1966-1971. Although it was cancelled, it gained popularity due to supernatural occurrences, such as time travel and doppelgangers, and the character of Barnabas Collins, played by Johnathan Frid. Collins became the main focus of the show and franchise, with various adaptations featuring him. In the 1991 reboot, he was played by Ben Cross and in the Tim Burton film, Johnny Depp fulfilled his lifelong dream of playing the role. The breakout character of the show, Collins was only intended to appear for 13 weeks and was introduced over 200 episodes in.

Family Matters is a spinoff of Perfect Strangers and focused on the Winslow family. Steve Urkel, played by Jaleel White, was introduced as Laura’s date and gradually became the centerpiece of the show. Despite being a stereotypical nerd, Urkel became a best friend to Eddie, a love interest for Laura, and a comedic foil for Carl. He brought huge ratings success and became one of the most well-known characters of the 1990s, epitomizing nerdom and the concept of a breakout character.

In the quintessential American series Happy Days, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli is one of the best-known examples of a breakout character. He appeared in all 225 episodes of the show and surpassed the original stars and concept. Fonzie was known for his leather jacket, thumbs-up motion, and catchphrases.

Several major series were spun off from Happy Days with Fonzie introducing characters that led to various spinoffs.

Fonzie became incredibly popular, and the show shifted its focus towards him, causing original star Ron Howard who played Richie Cunningham, to leave the show briefly as his character was overshadowed by The Fonz.

Fonzie moved in with the Cunningham family and was seen as another son to Mr. and Mrs. C (as he called them). Both he and Mr. Cunningham are the only characters that appeared in every single episode of the series.

Winkler’s Fonzie is one of the most memorable and prolific breakout characters in television history.

The Doctor – Dr. Who

Doctor Who, the longest-running sci-fi series in television history, features the titular doctor and various companions across all of time and space.

However, the Doctor wasn’t initially intended to be the main focus of the series. Writers and executives at the BBC developed Doctor Who as an educational and informational television series for children and families.

In the early episodes of the series in 1963, the original Doctor (played by William Hartnell) was joined by his granddaughter, Susan Foreman, a strange child who was followed home one day by her two schoolteachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton. They came upon the now-infamous police box, the TARDIS, the vehicle through which The Doctor, a Time Lord, and companions travel time and space.

The Doctor was supposed to act more as a guide and hold the characters together, but Hartnell’s portrayal of what became known as the First Doctor was loved by critics and fans, and he slowly became the centerpiece of the show.

Hartnell could be both heroic and a teacher, making Wright and Chesterton no longer necessary. The three companions left at various points, and other companions joined the Doctor on his adventures. Eventually, even Hartnell left the series due to health complications.

With fans of multiple generations worldwide, it’s no surprise that the franchise has lasted as long as it has. However, many don’t know that their beloved franchise featuring the TARDIS living, time and space traveling, companion-having, Gallifreyan Time Lord is probably the perfect example of a breakout character in television history.

So, there you have it, some fantastic actors who once had minor roles but then became far more prominent. Who are your favorite breakout characters, and why?


1. Who is the most iconic breakout character in television history?

The most iconic breakout character in television history is undoubtedly Fonzie from the show Happy Days. Originally intended as a minor character, Fonzie quickly became the most popular character on the show and even spawned the catchphrase “Ayyy!” He was a cultural phenomenon and one of the earliest examples of a character becoming bigger than the show itself.

2. What makes a breakout character so memorable?

A breakout character is memorable because they are unique and stand out from the rest of the cast. They often have a distinctive personality or style that captures the audience’s attention and resonates with them. Breakout characters are also usually unexpected, coming out of nowhere and stealing the show.

3. What are some other notable breakout characters?

Other notable breakout characters include Steve Urkel from Family Matters, who became the show’s main focus despite being initially introduced as a one-time guest star. Another is Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, who wasn’t even in the show’s source material but became a fan favorite due to his tough, no-nonsense attitude and crossbow skills.

4. Can a breakout character hurt a show’s overall quality?

It’s possible for a breakout character to hurt a show’s overall quality if they become too dominant and overshadow the rest of the cast. This can lead to the show feeling unbalanced and losing its focus. However, if done correctly, a breakout character can actually enhance a show and bring new life to it.

5. Is it possible for a breakout character to become too popular?

Yes, it is possible for a breakout character to become too popular and overshadow the rest of the cast. This can create problems for the show’s writers, who may be forced to give the character more screen time than they originally intended. It can also lead to fans becoming bored with the character and losing interest in the show as a whole.

6. What lessons can be learned from breakout characters?

The main lesson that can be learned from breakout characters is to always be open to unexpected surprises. Sometimes the most minor character can become the most popular and beloved by audiences. It’s also important to give characters room to grow and evolve, as this can lead to them becoming breakout stars. Finally, it’s important to remember that a strong and memorable character can make a show stand out and become a cultural phenomenon.

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