The Sitcom Explained Part V: 10 Sitcom Characters That Improved the Show

Adding and removing characters from an ensemble is a gamble, as some shows benefit from a consistent roster.  However, these shows improved with additions who altered the dynamics, dating back to 1974 when Henry Winkler ignited Happy Days to iconic status.  Take a stroll through the TV landscape and examine these 10 shows benefiting from cast changes:

1. Family Matters -- Steve Urkel

Before the entrance of Jaleel White, Family Matters was a homespun Friday performer profiling a middle-class black Chicago Family.  Enter nerdy Steve Urkel, purposed a guest star in episode 4.  White's performance and catchphrase "Did I do that?" accelerated the freshman series' ratings from 33rd to 15th place in the span of one season after his addition as a contract player.  Urkel's eccentric presence led the series straying from realistic to outlandish, it helped the show gain recognition and score three seasons in the top 30.  The show would enjoy nine seasons from 1989-98 between ABC and CBS.

2. Mom -- The AA Gals

During its first season in 2013-14, Mom struggled in balancing its cast, profiling a disjointed mess featuring the chaotic leads' family, an ex-husband, a granddaughter's teenage boyfriend and Faris' coworkers.  Pacing and appearances continue to plague the cast, yet it has wisely chose to expand the ladies' AA support system.  Season 1 featured recurring appearances by Mimi Kennedy and Octavia Spencer as Marjorie and Regina, and CBS wisely upgraded Kennedy the following season.  That season opened the opportunity for Beth Hall and scene-stealing Jaime Pressly as fellow addicts Wendy and Jill, and CBS moved them into contract spaces of exiting characters.  The premise drifted away from Anna Faris' children and ex-husband, as well as leaving the restaurant a distant memory.  The five vice-addled ladies have solidified the show's justification and keep the addiction element close to the show's purpose at inception.

3. Happy Days -- Fonzie

Richie Cunningham's antics were the initial vision for this mid-1974 addition to the ABC roster.  Guest star Henry Winkler ignited the show's popularity as Fonzie and overtook Richie's place as the lead of the series, driving the show into 1st place by the 4th season from 1976-77.  Happy Days remained a top-3 player the next three seasons and remained in the top 20 until 1982.  A succession of cast and timeslot changes caused the show's erosion as it entered its 10th season, yet Fonzie has become the show's icon fans vividly remember when reminiscing about the landmark nostalgia jewel. 

4. Cheers -- Woody, Frazier, and Rebecca

Debuting an ensemble of five characters, the sleeper sitcom went through a succession of cast changes, enlarging its cast to eight characters by season 10 in 1991.  Following the untimely death of actor Nicolas Colasanto as Coach in 1985, NBC opted to fill his void with Hoosier-based bartender Woody Boyd in Season 4.  His naivety placated fans mourning Coach's loss.  The cast expanded the following year when Kelsey Grammer was upgraded to a contract player as neurotic, sophisticated Dr. Frasier Crane.  Shelley Long's exit in 1987 left the show's fate in the air, leaving Kirstie Alley to seamlessly energize the series, leaving no ratings loss.  The series would remain a top-5 player through 1992, becoming the TV landscape's 1st place show in the 1990-91 season.

5. The Big Bang Theory -- Bernadette and Amy

CBS's groundbreaking sitcom sported a lone-female lead in Kaley Cuoco's Penny for its first three seasons, save for Sara Gilbert brief contract status in season 2.  Enter microbiologist Bernadette and neurobiologist Amy, and Big Bang gradually climbed the ranks after being added in season 4.  The show has remained a ratings juggernaut, claiming 2nd place since the 2013-14 season.  The ladies' addition to the cast cannot be cited as the soul factor for the show's surge into prominence.  They can be heralded for giving the previously male-dominated cast a woman's touch expanded the story potential as our beloved nerds explored love at various paces. 

6. Mike and Molly -- Peggy

Already sporting a diverse, well displayed ensemble, the plus-sized sitcom struck a crude well when Rondi Reed guest-starred as Mike's crass and cantankerous mother, Peggy.  Her blunt, rude and brash tone melded with the colorful characters, adding a direct sourness to accent the seemingly happy ensemble of misfits.  Sour, biting and aged, Peggy seldom strayed from these defining characteristics down to her last insult in the series finale.  An energetic terrier complimented her abrasive presence and made the pair an icon for this durable take on plus-sized love and chaos.

7. Married With Children -- Jefferson

David Garrison's exit as Steve Rhodes in season 4 left a hole in this Crass-Com's ensemble.  Only episodes later, MWC introduced his antithesis in Jefferson D'Arcy (Ted McGinley).  Jefferson's unemployed, freeloading presence contrasted Steve's successful and condescending nature of antagonizing Al Bundy.  The result?  Jefferson became the male equivalent to leaching Peg, forming an unlikely friendship with Al.  More poetically, he deepened the mutual abhorrence displayed between Al and Marcy.  These dynamics drove the remaining six seasons and kept these unlikable characters on our screens.  And thankfully they never entered our homes beyond our TV screens.

8. The Goldbergs -- Lainey

Someone idolizes Beverly Goldberg?  Snuggies for AJ Michalka's natural presence contrast against the show's scenery chewing principles. Adding a character to The Goldberg's well-crafted ensemble of six family members proved a well-defined challenge.  Enter Barry's girlfriend and Erica's best friend, who flawlessly fits into plots without overtaking the overbearing nature of her scene-mates.  The remaining family members exhaust of Beverly's smothering antics, while Lainey embraces the effusion of love.  Let's hope the Goldbergs manages to save some space for Lainey as a regular, as Beverly surely deserves some praise lacking from her less than appreciative family.

9. blackish -- Ruby

Audiences saw the writing on the wall when Jenifer Lewis was typecast as monster-in-law Ruby Johnson on blackish.  Her needling, overbearing presence proved to be the catalyst to explore deeper into Dre's psyche, Earl's lechery and antagonizing the ever-perfect Rainbow.  Ruby's presence instills moral demands in her grandchildren, as well as painting a tumultuous childhood not solely faulted on Earl's hard-living.

10. 2 Broke Girls -- Sophie

Before Kat Dennings' Max famously insulted Polish immigrant neighbor Sophie Kachinsky on 2 Broke Girls in 2012, the ensemble centered on the women with the three supporting cast members having the dimension of a movie poster.  Enter Jennifer Coolidge, injecting her sex appeal known through the American Pie series melded with a quirky take on Eastern European culture.  A thriving businesswoman who encourages the women to follow alternative avenues to success, Sophie also helped the show succeed in tying the additional characters into prominence, thanks to a romance foiling greasy cook Oleg.  Sophie's presence is over the top and steals the show, even painting Poland in a bleak tone.  However, she proved to be the missing puzzle piece to flesh out the cast's purpose.

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