Major Facts About 13 Minor Sitcom Figures From Our Favorite Nostalgic Shows

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Vote up the facts about your favorite minor sitcom figures that deserve more attention.

During the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of sitcoms became weekly staples. ABC's TGIF and NBC's "Must See TV" lineups entertained audiences then, and through the joys of syndication and streaming, we still get to enjoy many of them now, including characters who feel like family or friends. 

When it comes to any television program, neighbors, sidekicks, extended family members, and love interests all make up minor sitcom characters who bring their own special flavor to a show. 

We got curious about some of the minor sitcom figures from the 1980s and 1990s. After all, we know their faces and might know their names - let's see what else there is to know. 

  • Richard Kline Got Struck By Lightning While Serving In Vietnam
    Photo: Three's Company / ABC

    Richard Kline played Larry Dallas on Three's Company, The Ropersand Three's a Crowd - all as a womanizing used car salesman who lived upstairs from Jack Tripper and his female roommates. Kline, who was raised in New York City, spent the years before he started acting attending college and serving in the military.

    Kline has talked about how his time in Vietnam informed his role as a veteran on St. Elsewhere in 1987. He also told podcast host Esther Ku about the time he got struck by lightning during his tour. Kline said he was on his way to Saigon when it happened:

    [T]here was this big boom. Me and the sergeant and... other people were... transported in a clump about 8 feet onto the tarmac and I couldn't feel my legs. I thought we were hit with a rocket... Somebody came over and said, "It's okay... you were struck by lightning." It hit the wing... the side of my body, and went down my legs and out through my boots... my boots had burn marks on the bottom... I had to go to the hospital because they had to cut out the burn marks in my feet.

    699 votes
  • Danica McKellar Has A Mathematical Theorem Named After Her
    Photo: The Wonder Years / ABC

    Best-known for playing Kevin Arnold's love interest Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years, Danica McKellar spent much of the late 1980s and 1990s as the object of affection for viewers of the show, too. During the 1990s, McKellar attended UCLA and distinguished herself in the academic community.

    As an undergraduate, McKellar majored in mathematics. The actress told NPR about a research project she spent months on with fellow student Brandy Winn and professor Lincoln Chayes:

    We took a two-dimensional mathematical model of magnetic material and proved a theorem about it. It's called the Ashkin-Teller Model. And it's a pretend two-dimensional lattice grid representation of this material, and it has properties based on temperature. One of them is called percolation, and another one is called whether it has multiple Gibbs States or not.

    And each of these two properties, percolation and Gibbs States multiplicity, they each have a crucial [temperature] above which they do not happen and below which they do happen. And we proved that for this model, for the Ashkin-Teller Model, those two temperatures are the same.

    Their work resulted in scholarly publication and a new mathematical proof that bears their names. According to mathematician Kevin Devlin, the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem "is a substantial piece of mathematics" and "any [undergraduate] who gets their name on a paper like this deserves, justifiably, to be very proud of what they have done."

    Despite Chayes's contention that McKellar "certainly had the capability and talent" to continue on to graduate school, she returned to acting. McKellar didn't give up on math entirely, however, and has published numerous books on the topic

    667 votes
  • Katherine Helmond Was Married For 57 Years
    Photo: Who's the Boss? / ABC

    On Who's the Boss?, Katherine Helmond played Mona Robinson, Angela Bower's flighty, man-focused mother who refused to act her age. Mona dated a lot on the show, but in real life, Helmond had one relationship that spanned nearly six decades.

    Helmond's career before Who's the Boss? included roles in numerous series like SoapBenson, and The Love Boat. While she was stage acting, Helmond met 19-year-old David Christian. Helmond was 29 years old at the time and married, but soon began a relationship with Christian. After eight years together, they got married and stayed together until her passing in 2019.

    Christian described what he considered the secret to their long, happy marriage:

    Katherine is calm and controlled, and has a calm approach. I have all the fire and fury of a fool. We are a perfect complement.

    After Helmond passed in 2019, her husband issued a statement calling his wife "the love of my life... I've been with Katherine since I was 19 years old. The night she died, I saw that the moon was exactly half-full, just as I am now."

    613 votes
  • Wayne Knight Was A Private Investigator For Five Years
    Photo: Seinfeld / NBC

    Before becoming an actor - and while he was developing his acting career - Seinfeld's Newman was a private investigator. Wayne Knight appeared as Jerry Seinfeld's mail-carrying nemesis during the third season of the show. Before that, Knight, who had developed a "bug" to become an actor when he was in kindergarten, played numerous television and movie roles.

    In college at the University of Georgia, Knight majored in theater before acting on Broadway. As subsequent roles ebbed and flowed, Knight waited tables until a friend who was a private investigator told Knight he should consider a similar job because "they like hiring actors... they're usually intelligent, conversant, they can play different parts, and they have no scruples." 

    Knight said he performed many roles as an investigator, from conducting background investigations on potential employees to following people accused of infidelity:

    I [did] some stuff in venture capital. The most interesting stuff was where I was talking to admirals and heads of industry... and they would go on and I'd write down what they were saying as if I knew what they were talking about.

    Knight also described following "people selling fake goods... back to their lairs" to "bring in the federal marshals and bust in on them." In the end, Knight's five-year stint as a private investigator came to an end because his acting career got in the way. As Knight put it, he "got fired from the detective agency for getting too much acting work." 

    598 votes
  • Ted McGinley Is The 'Patron Saint Of Jumping The Shark'
    Photo: Married... With Children / Fox

    The phrase "jumping the shark" originated with an episode of Happy Days when Arthur Fonzarelli, AKA the Fonz (played by Henry Winkler), literally jumped over a shark while on water skis. According to Jon Hein, the man who coined the phrase, "jumping the shark" is considered "a moment. A defining moment when you know from now on... it's all downhill... [a television show] will never be the same."

    Because actor Ted McGinley appeared on numerous television series around the time the shows began to decline (at least in the opinion of viewers), he was dubbed the "patron saint" of jumping the shark on in 2003. Although the website no longer exists, it was once a repository of comments about when good shows went bad. The website said of McGinley:

    Chances are that if Ted is anywhere near your cast, consider the show on the downward spiral. That's not to take away from Ted's fine acting skills. Consensus here enjoys Ted more on the big screen (Revenge of the Nerds) than on our sets. Then again, we wouldn't have a patron saint... thanks Ted!

    To be fair, McGinley didn't signal the end of every show he was on. He notably had a successful run on Married... with Children as Jefferson D'Arcy. McGinley said he tries to take the moniker in stride. He told AV Club in 2012:

    I used to have sort of a line that it wasn’t that big a deal. But look, this is the way I really feel. I’m ticked off that the guy who started it [Jon Hein, founder of JumpTheShark] - well, first of all, I feel like he got the idea from me. I mean, I’m the one who used to go around talking about how I’d been on all these shows.

    He expressed sadness about the negativity on the internet, a belief that it "definitely damaged my career a little bit," and set the record straight about his successes:

    I worked seven and a half seasons on Married... with Children, four on Happy Days, and probably three, three and a half on [TheLove Boat. I didn’t just show up... I like to think I helped extend the life of the shows, and that I actually helped add to the show. And I don’t really appreciate being the one you can blame for it, because it’s actually not the case. 

    538 votes
  • Estelle Parsons Adopted A Child When She Was 55 Years Old
    Photo: Roseanne / ABC
    382 VOTES

    Estelle Parsons Adopted A Child When She Was 55 Years Old

    Estelle Parsons played a mother, a grandmother, and even a great-grandmother on Roseanne and The Conners for more than 20 years. Her character, Beverly Harris, irritated nearly everyone in her vicinity while simultaneously providing love and support to her extended family. 

    The accomplished actress was a childhood friend of Jack Lemmon, took the stage alongside Ethel Merman early in her career, and won an Oscar for her role in Bonnie and Clyde. In her personal life, Parsons raised twin daughters on her own after her first divorce, and after marrying her second husband, Peter Zimroth, dove back into motherhood.

    In 1983, Parsons and Zimroth adopted an infant son named Abraham. Parsons explained:

    It was a hard decision... But Peter and I had been living together for 10 years and we felt we really wanted a family. I know that when Abraham graduates from Harvard or Yale I’m going to be in my 70s. We took all that into account... We have to keep in very good shape. We don’t drink or smoke.

    She also put the situation into perspective, commenting that "after going through twins this is a breeze."

    New York Times wedding announcement from 2009 revealed Abraham ended up going to NYU.

    382 votes