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9 minor TV characters that ended up taking over the show

For better or worse, these small roles changed television.

Image: The Everett Collection

The difference between the premiere of a TV show and its finale is striking. Actors leave, new characters arrive. Sometimes, babies are born, or people die during production. 

Many times, minor characters win over audiences and gain a larger part on the show. The Fonz was originally supposed to be a recurring character on Happy Days, and Steve Urkel never appeared in the first few episodes of Family Matters. 

These nine characters started small, but ultimately became focal points of their respective TV shows.

What do you think of them?

1

The Fonz - 'Happy Days'

Henry Winkler was originally brought onto the series as a recurring character, but the Fonz's explosive popularity allowed him to become a major part of the series. When Happy Days changed formats in season three, the Fonz was undeniably the star of the show. Ron Howard even claimed TV executives wanted to change the name of the show to Fonzie's Happy Days.

2

Frasier Crane - 'Cheers'

Frasier was only supposed to be on Cheers for a multi-episode arc as Diane's rebound from Sam. The romance didn't last, but the rest is TV history. Frasier stuck around and even received his own massively successful spinoff. 

3

Jim Ignatowski - 'Taxi'

The reverend was only meant to be a one-time character, officiating Latka's wedding during Taxi's first season. The next season, however, Reverend Jim was reintroduced and eventually added to the main cast.

4

Maynard G. Krebs - 'The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis'

Bob Denver's character was originally supposed to support the show's titular character. But after The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis' first season, and the popularity of Maynard, Denver moved up to become a co-lead alongside Dwane Hickman.

5

Sophia Petrillo - 'The Golden Girls'

Dorothy's mother was only supposed to be in the pilot episode of The Golden Girls, and the move made sense given the character's age difference from the other women. However, audiences loved the matriarch's blunt nature and wisecracks, and Sophia was written into the show.

Image: Buena Vista Television

6

Barney Fife - 'The Andy Griffith Show'

It's hard to imagine The Andy Griffith Show without the iconic duo of Andy and Barney, but the latter might not have made it onto the show if not for a phone call by Don Knotts. Before production started, Knotts told Griffith the main character needed a sidekick. Luckily, Griffith agreed, and Knotts eventually won the role. 

7

Steve Urkel - 'Family Matters'

Urkel is perhaps the textbook example of a minor character that took over an entire show. Family Matters was originally about the Winslow family. But when the adorably nerdy (and fan favorite) Urkel showed up during the show's first season, producers took note and centered the show around him. Did he do that? Oh yes he did!

Image: Warner Bros. Television

8

Elmo - 'Sesame Street'

The sweet and caring Elmo ruthlessly took over the children's television staple in the 1990s. That sentence may have been a little harsh, but Elmo's presence has irked fans who grew up with the program in the 1970s and 1980s. First appearing on Sesame Street as "Baby Monster" in 1972, Elmo slowly built a following until 1998, when the character got his own fifteen-minute segment titled "Elmo's World."

Image: Sesame Workshop

9

J.J. Evans - 'Good Times'

To audiences, the eldest Evans kid might have been DY-NO-MITE. But to the rest of the cast, the character's popularity was anything but. Esther Rolle and John Amos left the show due to the character's dominance, with Rolle claiming J.J. was a negative portrayal of the black community. 

Image: Sony Pictures Television

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