Every season, television networks parade out a line-up of new shows. The series that get high enough ratings can become huge hits and cement their place in television history, and those that don’t quickly dwindle into obscurity. While plots may vary greatly, shows follow the same basic storytelling formula. They are centered around one or two main characters, and they are surrounded by supporting roles to help move the story along. The main characters get the most screen time, the best story arcs, the funniest jokes. But there are times when one of those supporting characters stands out.
When this happens, a role that might never have been meant to be permanent will suddenly get new life, and it can drastically change the dynamic of the series. Focus of the show may shift due to the character being a fan favorite. It can result in awards, merchandise, cameos on other programs, and even fan fiction. Be they troubled souls, lovable jerks, or awkward nerds, when it comes time to shine brighter than the star, the type of character doesn’t seem to matter.
Here are 15 Beloved TV Characters Who Were Never Meant To Be The Star.
15 Carlton Banks - The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The name of the show, the theme song, everything about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air points to the show being about Will Smith. And for the most part, that’s what it is. His character, a working class kid from Philadelphia, tries to adjust to life with his rich relatives. But the relationship between Will and his preppy, conservative cousin, Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro) becomes the most central and complex of the series.
Carlton is the subject of most of Will’s jokes, especially concerning his height. But they also form a close bond. In season five, when Will gets shot, the focus of the episode is not on Will, but on Carlton and the emotional toll the shooting takes on him. It’s one of the series’ most poignant episodes and shows the depth of caring between the two cousins.
One of the things people remember most from the show though is Carlton’s dancing to “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones. It quickly became known as The Carlton, and it's a jive that's stuck in people's hearts for decades now. And let’s be honest, is there anyone who hasn't done this dance at some point? Will Smith did it on The Graham Norton Show, and after a lot of anticipation by fans, Ribeiro himself even busted out his signature dance in week four of his winning season of Dancing with the Stars.
14 Cosmo Kramer - Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld’s whacky neighbor, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) is an icon in television history. His dramatic sliding entrances into Jerry’s apartment, lack of tact, and nonsensical outbursts provide much of the humor for the show. He has a habit of talking his friends into doing things that usually end badly. Like when he convinces George (Jason Alexander) to park in a handicap parking spot, only to return later to a mob destroying the car.
One of the most common questions amongst fans, however, remains unanswered: what is Kramer’s job? It’s never made clear in the show, but Kramer always seems to have money. He comes up with many money making schemes throughout the series which often result in failure. Beach-scented cologne, the Bro/Manssiere (a bra for men), and a coffee table book about coffee tables, to name a few.
Richards won three Emmys for his portrayal of Kramer, but he hasn’t had much luck since then. His show, The Michael Richards Show, only lasted seven episodes. And after his racist verbal attack on a heckler during a 2006 comedy show, he's only appeared in a handful of productions.
13 Charlie Pace - Lost
This single, unspoken line is a pivotal moment in the third season finale of Lost. Written on the hand of Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan), the message saves the lives of those on the island (kind of) and immediately precedes Charlie’s death. A death that is very difficult for fans to stomach to this day.
Charlie is a heroin addict at the beginning of the series, but eventually kicks the habit. He forms a strong bond with Claire (Emily de Ravin) and becomes a surrogate father to her baby, Aaron. When Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) reveals in season three that Charlie is destined to die, internet message boards lit up with cries to save Charlie. "Save the junkie, save the world" became a common theme. It wasn’t enough to save him, but did anyone ever truly die on Lost? Thanks to those nutty flash sideways, Charlie is seen in several episodes after his death, so who knows at this point.
It can be difficult to say who the true main character of Lost is because the show centered on so many of them. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) is usually named because the series opens and ends with him. Others may argue it’s the island itself. Charlie is billed as one of the main characters, and while he may not exactly steal the show, his death most certainly does, and that’s why he makes this list.
12 Janitor - Scrubs
Over the course of eight seasons, Janitor (Neil Flynn) torments J.D. (Zach Braff) much to the amusement of fans. His personal vendetta against J.D. knows no limits. He wrecks his bike, traps him in a water tower, and even tricks him into robbing someone’s house. And that’s only in season five. The lies he tells are so outrageous and contradictory it’s hard to know his true story. We're not even sure what his real name is (though we're confident it isn't Jan Itor), as that mystery is one that becomes a long running joke over the course of the show. He finally reveals it to J.D. in what was to be the series finale, but fans even call that into question. It was debated so much that producer, Bill Lawrence, took to Twitter to settle the matter.
The character was supposed to be a figment of J.D.’s imagination and only appear in one episode, but by season two, he was a regular cast member. Flynn had auditioned for the part of Dr. Cox (a career-making role for John C. McGinley), and we're grateful he said yes when he was asked if he would instead play the role of the Janitor.
11 Bender - Futurama
In Futurama, Phillip J. Fry accidentally gets frozen in the year 1999 and thawed out in 2999, but it’s his robot best friend, Bender, who ends up getting most of the attention, with many of the show’s plots focusing on him.
Bender is a sociopathic narcissist who lies and steals on a regular basis, often from his friends. He views most people with a great amount of disdain. But despite his abuse of Fry, like stealing his blood and kidney, he does love him “the way a human loves a dog.” There are moments where he shows some level of morality, of course. When he is lost in space and becomes host to a tiny alien civilization, he feels regret when his God-like actions cause the civilization’s extinction.
Unlike Fry, Bender has several cameos on The Simpsons and Family Guy. And after Futurama was cancelled for the final time, he travels back in time to Springfield in the Simpsons/Futurama cross-over episode.
10 Castiel - Supernatural
Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) have been fighting all things evil on Supernatural for eleven seasons and will come back for more on October 13, 2016. Way back in season four, Dean is pulled from hell by angel, Castiel (Misha Collins). Only meant for a six-episode story arc, Castiel was such a great character and fan favorite that his storyline continued through his initial season, and in season five, he became a series regular. He becomes so integrated in the lives of the Winchester brothers that he's often featured on promotional posters along with series leads Sam and Dean. Fans love the dynamic between Castiel and Dean, and many a fan fiction have been written shipping the two into Destiel.
Collins’s portrayal of Castiel is incredible, the perfect combination of drama and humor. Can we take a moment to appreciate the drug-addicted, hippie, sex-fiend Castiel from episode The End in season five? The actor has since stated that had he known he’d be playing the character so long, he wouldn’t have had Castiel have such a deep voice. "There are definitely times when I have to go home and drink hot lemon water and have a sore throat."
9 Spike - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spike was only intended to be a brief villain at the start, set to be killed off in the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But James Marsters absolutely owned the role, becoming such a fan-favorite that Joss Whedon decided to only injure Spike instead of killing him midway through the season. Through a shaky alliance, he plays an integral role in helping the Scooby Gang restore Angel’s soul and saving Sunnydale from Acathla.
By season four, Spike begins appearing in every episode and over the course of five years on the series, he becomes one of the best and most complex characters of the Buffyverse.
Despite his undying loyalty to Drusilla (Juliet Landau), Spike eventually falls in love with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). He performs some of his darkest acts during a time when he isn’t supposed to be able to harm humans; a truly tortured soul, but without the soul. Well, until he gets it back at the end of season six. He proved to be the true hero of the show in the finale when he, not Buffy, sacrifices himself to save Sunnydale. Much to the fans’ delight, Spike is resurrected in Angel and lives on in the Expanded Universe of Buffy comic books and tie-in novels.
8 Ron Swanson - Parks and Rec
He's a man who loves breakfast food, meat, hunting, woodworking, and a good scotch. He has a secret identity (for a time) as a jazz musician named Duke Silver. On his desk, he has a shotgun on a swivel and a claymore (both facing toward the guest chair) because he hates talking to people. (And really, who doesn’t wish they could have the same?). Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is easily one of the best sitcom characters of all time. His deadpan personality is the perfect contrast to Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) cheery disposition.
The critically acclaimed Swanson quickly developed a cult following amongst the series' rabid fanbase. In one episode, Ron mistakes a turkey burger as being a fried turkey leg in a grilled hamburger. Within a week of the episode’s airing, Eater.com created a recipe for the Ron Swanson turkey burger. There is even a site dedicated to cats that look like him. Really.
It's hard to believe that among the incredible cast of Parks and Rec, one character would be able to stand out, but Ron Swanson does just that. What’s even harder to believe is that Offerman was never nominated for an Emmy for his brilliant portrayal of Swanson. Feel free to stay angry about that one.
7 Barney Stinson - How I Met Your Mother
Played brilliantly by Neil Patrick Harris, Barney Stinson is the true star of How I Met Your Mother. The suit-wearing, womanizing, amateur magician “likes to create crazy situations and then sit back and watch it all go down,” but Barney does have a sensitive side. He plays an integral role in getting Lilly (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) back together in season 2.
Similar to Cosmo Kramer, it’s unclear what Barney’s actual job is throughout the series. He works for a company called AltruCell, which is later taken over by Goliath National Bank. But whenever he is asked what he does, his signature response is a dismissive “Please.” It isn’t until season nine, when he reveals his response as an acronym for “Provide Legal Exculpation And Sign Everything” -- he's basically the legal scapegoat for his company.
Providing some of the show’s funniest moments, he lives his life by the Bro Code. He’s even penned four books about his sacred code which fans can actually buy: The Bro Code, The Playbook, Bro on the Go, and The Bro Code for Parents: What to Expect When You’re Awesome.
He truly is legen – wait for it – dary.
6 Jesse Pinkman - Breaking Bad
Critically acclaimed and the proud receipient of countless awards, Breaking Bad is one of the best television dramas of all time. Going out on top, its series finale was watched by 10.3 million viewers, a huge increase from the 1.9 million for the season four finale just two years before.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is, without a doubt, the star of the show. And while Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) -- who was never expected to make it past the ninth episode of season one -- may not quite overshadow his partner in crime, he deserves to make the list. He is the perfect counterpart to White. It’s difficult to imagine the show without the volatile and dysfunctional relationship of these two characters. They are its heart and soul, even if that soul is toxic as hell.
Paul played the character with such devotion and fierceness that he was able to secure Jesse’s future on the series, and he went on to win three Emmys for his work.
5 Alex P. Keaton - Family Ties
Premiering in 1982 and running for seven seasons, Family Ties is a great example of how the focus of a show can shift due to the popularity of a character. The sitcom’s starting focus was on two former hippies, Steven (Michael Gross) and Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter) raising their children in Ohio. Their liberal attitudes clash with the conservative views of their oldest son, Alex (Michael J. Fox). A staunch Republican who idolizes Richard Nixon, Alex’s love of power and money and rejection of his liberal parents has become a symbol of the ideals that defined the 1980s.
Due to the character’s popularity, the focus of the show moved from the parents to the kids -- and primarily to Alex. The shift was so prominent that it sparked rumors of Baxter wanting to leave the show because of tensions between her and Fox. The latter won three consecutive Emmys for his performance as Alex, and has gone on to have a wildly successful career.
4 Arthur Fonzarelli - Happy Days
Originally set to be a story about teenager Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his family, Happy Days very quickly became a show about Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). Set in 1950s and '60s Milwaukee, the Fonz is the epitome of cool for the era. Sporting a black leather jacket and slicked back hair, he fixes the jukebox at Arnie’s with just a thump of his fist, and girls coming running with a snap of his fingers. The motorcycle-driving rebel with a heart of gold became a fan-favorite in no time. The once secondary character became an integral part of the show, and Winkler soon got top billing next to Howard as Fonzie Fever swept across America.
The Fonz is such an iconic character that he still permeates our culture today. His leather jacket hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He has a statue, dubbed The Bronze Fonz, in Milwaukee. In season four of Family Guy, Peter Griffin forms the Church of the Fonz. And when TV shows “jump the shark” and use some silly gimmick to try to keep viewers? Yep, that came from an episode toward the end of Happy Days when the Fonz literally jumped over a shark while on water skis and wearing his leather jacket.
3 Steve Urkel - Family Matters
Family Matters was a spinoff of the 1980s show Perfect Strangers, and it centered around the Winslow family and aired for nine seasons. Midway through the first season, Steve Urkel is introduced. He’s the Winslow’s genius, nerdy neighbor who is completely infatuated with their daughter, Laura. He was originally only supposed to appear in one episode, but despite his hyper-nerd look and his annoying, nasally-delivered catchphrase “Did I do that?”, Urkel became a favorite of viewers. Soon, the stories began to focus on him and him alone as he became the undeniable star of the show.
Jaleel White portrays two characters that stemmed from Urkel, his alter-ego Stefan Urquelle and his female cousin Myrtle Urkel. Steve even managed to cross over to other TV series such as Full House and Step By Step. Fans were able to show the world their love of all things Urkel with a talking doll, lunch box, T-shirts, posters, and even a limited edition cereal.
The series ended with little fanfare due to poor ratings, but it cemented Urkel's place in TV character history. He became such the focal point that when people reference the show today, they often call it The Steve Urkel Show.
2 Felicity Smoak - Arrow
Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) was only supposed to appear in one episode during the first season of Arrow, but Rickards and Stephen Amell, who plays the lead, Oliver Queen, displayed such great chemistry that the character was expanded. To the delight of many fans, she became a series regular in season 2.
She's an intelligent, socially awkward nerd who has a habit of babbling without censoring herself, which usually results in sexual innuendos and other comedic moments. Is there really any reason to dislike Felicity? That depends on whether you’re a pro or anti-Olicity fan. The Felicity/Oliver relationship (Olicity) is a hotly contested issue amongst supporters of the show. Pro-Olicity fans love the two characters together, obviously. The Anti-Olicity camp argues Oliver should've been with Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) as the comic intended, and that his relationship with Felicity has become too much of a focal point and ruined the show. Regardless of which camp a fan sits in, there's no denying Felicity's presence draws a lot of attention.
It will be interesting to see how fans on both sides deal with Felicity’s new love interest in season five.
1 Daryl Dixon - The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead introduces us to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a sheriff’s deputy who, after being shot, awakens from a coma into a world of zombies. As he navigates this new apocalyptic world, he starts to meet other survivors and eventually reunites with his wife and son. He also meets the hot-tempered Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), and the rest, as they say, is history.
Daryl is a character that did not originate from the graphic novel. Reedus originally auditioned for the role of Merle Dixon, but that part was already slotted to go to Michael Rooker. He made such an impact with his audition, however, original showrunner Frank Darabont created a character specifically for Reedus. Daryl quickly captured the hearts of viewers in season two as his temperament mellowed and he began to integrate into the group.
Now in season 6, Daryl has secured his place as Rick’s right hand man as well as his place in the fandom. Reedus portrays Daryl with such depth that fans go absolutely gaga over him. “If Daryl dies, we riot” quickly became the mantra of Dixon’s fans.
Will they have to riot when The Walking Dead returns for its seventh season? We'll find out on October 9, 2016.
Did we forget your favorite show-stealing supporting character? Let us know in the comments!
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