Francine and I were watching a re-run of Home Improvement the other night. One of the continuing bits from the show we remembered enjoying was Tim's neighbour Wilson, the wise eccentric man next door who always offered Tim advice over the fence in his back yard.
(Often, the advice was completely over the top of Tim's head -- one of the funny recurring bits from this was that while offering the advice, Wilson often quoted a line from some ancient philosopher, and later in the episode, while Tim was attempting to regurgitate it, he would get the quote completely wrong in some hilarious fashion)
Because Tim mostly saw Wilson over the backyard fence, you only ever saw the top of his head and his eyes -- you never saw his whole face.
They continued with that motif whenever Wilson appeared in the series even outside of the "back yard" setting -- where either his face would be hidden behind some sort of prop, or, as I remember, during a Halloween episode, was completely covered in face paint.
Thinking about Wilson made me remember other television characters that you perhaps never actually saw, but whom played some sort of role in the show.
The first I could think of was Charlie from the original television series Charlie's Angels. In this series, Charlie (whose voice was played by John Forsythe) was the mysterious boss who would offer assignments to the main characters over a two-way radio.
You never saw him. Okay, minor correction. There were a few episodes in which you saw Charlie, either his back or from a distance -- but you never did see his face. And it continued to perturb the angels because they never saw him either.
Of course, one of the longest running characters you never saw could likely be Norm's wife Vera from Cheers. Norm was one of the main characters, a perpetual barfly who spent most of his waking hours on the very same stool in the Boston bar. There were numerous references made to his wife Vera -- so much so that she became a recurring character in the show, included in actual plot situations.
But, masterfully, you never actually saw Vera.
Okay, let me correct myself -- there was actually an episode or two that I remember seeing Vera Peterson in. You see Vera's legs in one episode, and in a Thanksgiving episode, the only time you see her, her face is covered by pie.
There was at least one moment during the long running television series in which you heard her voice -- on an answering machine. And here's an interesting trivial fact -- the voice of Vera was played by Bernadette Berkett, actor George Wendt's real-life wife)
Of course, one of the most memorable and actual "real" characters you never see came in the sequel to Cheers, the similarly long-running Frasier.
Nile's wife Maris was, like Vera, often talked about, but pretty much never seen. Like Vera, she was the butt of many jokes -- but, unlike Vera, Maris was used much more in the plotline of episodes of Frasier, as Niles eventually divorced Maris and she ended up causing no end of troubles in his life and did feature prominently in many of the episodes.
There were a few times that her character appeared on screen, but, in classic "Vera" style, you never did see her. One time she was completely covered in bandages, and the other time she was hiding in a large crate.
Yet, despite her non-appearance, it was fascinating how much of an effect this off-screen character could have. There were messages from Maris to Niles (like a tossed glass of champagne in his face), there was the whole divorce and the continuing emotional rollercoaster nightmare following it, and of course the fact that she is wanted for murdering her boyfriend.
It's amazing how much these characters who never really appeared in a television show could stand up to the test of time.