Obviously, the standard-bearer of the cliche is Vera, Norm's long-suffering, never-actually-depicted wife. While working at Melville's, the seafood restaurant above Cheers, Vera was glimpsed briefly from the waist-down. On this occasion, she was played by Bernadette Birkett, actor George Wendt's real-life wife.
In "Twin Peaks," FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper constantly records memos intended for an assistant/secretary named Diane, who is never seen. Over time, it becomes questionable whether or not these recordings are actually being transcribed by said secretary, or if they are instead intended as a concentration or problem-solving technique employed by Agent Cooper. Actor Kyle McLachlan later released a series of Cooper's monologues to Diane as "Diane: The Secret Tapes of Agent Dale Cooper," which went on to win a Grammy award.
The producers of "Frasier" hesitated to return to the classic "Cheers" joke about an invisible main character, but ended up doing it anyway by giving Niles Crane an unseen wife, Maris. So many jokes were written at pale, delicate Maris' expense, it soon enough became impossible to even try to cast a real woman in the role. Later, when both "Frasier" stars Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce appeared on "The Simpsons" (as brothers Sideshow Bob and Cecil), they included a sly reference to Maris.
One of THREE "Seinfeld" unseen characters to make the list, Bob Sacamano is a never-depicted friend of Cosmo Kramer with a lot of bad information, crazy stories and a horrible run of luck. Over the years, Bob suffered from both a failed hernia operation and a case of rabies. His father, Sacamano Sr., is even included at one point, and lives near Jerry's parents in Florida. Sacamano was named for a friend of "Seinfeld" director Larry Charles.
Brasky was the subject of a number of "Saturday Night Live" sketches in which a group of ribald, drunk men celebrate his greatness. "The best damn salesman in the office" or "the best trader in the floor," depending on who you ask, the Brasky sketches - at various times - included cast members such as Will Ferrell and Tim Meadows, as well as guests like John Goodman and Alec Baldwin. In most cases, a mannequin standing in for Brasky appears at the conclusion of the sketch to encourage more drinking and revelry.
On "Diff'rent Strokes," Arnold (the late Gary Coleman) was alternatingly befriended and bullied by the mysterious character "The Gooch." In the memorable episode "Return of The Gooch," bullying inspires Arnold to take up martial arts.
Jerry Seinfeld's Uncle Leo frequently boasts about his son, Jerry's Cousin Jeffrey, whom we never get to meet. Jeffrey's an important guy down at the Parks Department, we're told, and once used his connections to get Jerry tickets to Paul Simon's concert in Central Park. We also find out that his favorite animal is the leopard, because he likes the spots.
Peter Falk's Detective Columbo liked to set his suspects at ease by telling stories about his unseen wife, Mrs. Columbo. But did she really exist, or was she just a convenient ruse to allow the detective to get inside his suspect's heads?
NBC needlessly answered this question by creating the failed series "Mrs. Columbo," starring Kate Mulgrew as the titular lady detective. The show flopped and was later retitled "Kate Columbo," then "Kate the Detective," and finally just "Kate Loves a Mystery," possibly the stupidest title for any TV series ever.
Another off-screen friend of Kramer's (where does he find the time?), Lomez, of course, is the religious Orthodox Jew who sells Kramer a hot tub. So key was Lomez to Kramer's inner circle, his place of worship even ranked a stop on the "Peterman Reality Bus Tour."
On "Just Shoot Me," Nina van Horn (Wendie Malick) often talked of her best friend, socialite Binny. In the episode "Bye Bye Binny," the character is killed off (not on camera, of course), forcing Nina to face the world utterly alone and without a friend. In a future episode, Binny (still unseen) appeared to Nina as a ghost.
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