What do “Stan” in “Will And Grace”, “Carlton, Your Doorman” in “Rhoda” and the wives of “Norm”, “Niles” and “Capt Mainwaring” in “Cheers”, “Frasier” and “Dad’s Army”, respectively – have in common?
Of course, they were all sitcom characters who were oft’ referred to – but never SEEN.
Oh, you occasionally saw a body part – Stan’s hand as he copped a feel of his wife’s boob (quickly brushed aside) – Norm’s wife’s whole body (but her face was immediately covered by a cherry pie) – the back of Carlton’s head, in a taxi (it was shaped like that of “The Geek Of Chelmsford” – see elsewhere in these columns) – and Mrs Mainwaring’s “impression” in an upper bunk-bed (she was obviously of ample proportions). But that was all.
The character who is oft’ referred to but never seen is a GIFT for writers. They start with a blank canvas in the viewers’ minds – then slowly paint it in. Naturally the end picture will vary a little, according to each individual viewer’s imagination and experiences – but the basic image will be the same.
And the top prize MUST go to the writers of Frasier. Despite the previous success of “Cheers”, they had no way of knowing it would last another ELEVEN YEARS, thus with Maris being CONSTANTLY referenced – building a picture of a brittle, emaciated harridan – the writers ended up pushing the envelope SO far, no-one could ever have been found to FILL the role!