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10 Ways Audience Popularity Gave TV Characters Greater Roles

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Plans often go awry when it comes to television shows. Pilots aren’t picked up by networks. Shows are preemptively canceled before their stories conclude. Actors have real-life engagements, drama, and emergencies that preclude their returns. But unplanned events aren’t always negative in the television industry.


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Sometimes, audiences grow attached to a minor or side character whose popularity showrunners didn’t foresee. Maybe viewers glimpse potential or chemistry the writers didn’t, or perhaps the intended message or plot isn’t as effective as once thought. Either way, the writers listen to audience’s opinion and expand the desired characters beyond their original purpose.

10/10 Sophia Replaced The Live-In Cook

The Golden Girls

The Golden Girls - Estelle Getty as Sophia

Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls is known as Dorothy Zbornak’s irascible, sharp-tongued mother. While Sophia is an irreplaceable aspect of the show, she wasn’t originally a permanent fixture. In the pilot episode, only Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche are roommates.

Instead of Sophia, the fourth character is a live-in cook named Coco who provides many of the savage zingers Sophia becomes known for. Sophia herself is a drop-in character in the pilot episode who arrives after the Shady Pines retirement home burns down. Test audiences reacted so well to Dorothy’s witty and irreverent mother that she became a main character for the rest of the show, and Coco was written out.

Heroes

NBC Heroes Claire Bennet Cheerleader Hurt

Claire Bennet is considered one of the most iconic characters from Heroes. Her regenerative powers, vulnerability, and cheerleader identity combined to create a compelling personality that audiences found memorable. But Claire’s likability wasn’t predicted by the showrunners. The show’s seasonal promotional materials actually track Claire’s skyrocketing popularity as the show ran.

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For Season 1 advertising, Niki actually was given more upfront attention — but Niki eventually accrued a split reception among viewers for her extended, multiple personalities subplot and for causing D.L.’s death. Audience opinion on Claire was more positive, and she got to finish out the show’s original run with her memorable final scene that demonstrates her powers to the world.

Doctor Who

The Weeping Angels were a one-off villain in the Doctor Who episode “Blink.” The story is neatly self-enclosed as Sally Sparrow, played by Carey Mulligan, assists the Doctor through time by sending the TARDIS to him and overcoming the power-hungry Weeping Angels.

But the episode was so well-written and the Weeping Angels so hauntingly effective and creepy that viewers wanted more. Audience love garnered the Weeping Angels more appearances during the Eleventh Doctor’s run. They were even responsible for the demises of beloved companions Rory Williams and Amy Pond.

7/10 Spock’s Popularity Led To The Iconic Triad

Star Trek

Spock with hand in traditional Vulcan salute in Star Trek

Spock, with his half-Vulcan ancestry and his commitment to logic above all else, make him one of Star Trek‘s most interesting characters. Many subplots of the original series depict his struggle with his human side’s emotions and his debates with Kirk and McCoy over the best approach to diplomatic conflicts.

Audiences liked Spock so much that his popularity threatened to overtake Kirk, who was intended to be the main character. To counteract, the showrunners emphasized the series’ triad of Spock-Kirk-McCoy, with Spock providing the cold reason to McCoy’s emotional compassion, and Kirk’s leadership. This way, Spock was given the attention audiences craved while Kirk’s importance remained.

6/10 Cat Got Her Own Spin-Off Show

Victorious / Sam & Cat

Ariana Grande as Cat Valentine, Victorious

Tori Vega is the main character of Victorious. Her name even makes up part of the show’s title. But as the story continued, viewers wished that more attention was paid to the colorful and fascinating side characters. The most adored character in this category is Cat Valentine, the lovably kooky, sweet, and ditzy redhead with a big voice.

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Much of Cat’s charm is provided by her actress Ariana Grande whose own successful singing career added to Cat’s acclaim. After Nickelodeon canceled Victorious, Cat was given her own spin-off show Sam & Cat where she starred alongside Jennette McCurdy’s Sam Puckett from iCarly.

5/10 Castiel Wasn’t The Original Planned Angel Guide

Supernatural

Castiel Supernatural

Castiel from Supernatural doesn’t appear until Season 4. But he comprises the show’s iconic trio alongside Dean and Sam Winchester as their loyal angel friend and ally. Castiel is regarded to be as much a part of the show as the brothers, but Castiel’s fans were responsible for his indelible niche.

While the Winchesters were scripted to have an angel guide, Dean’s love interest Anna was supposed to fill that role. Indeed, her introduction, preference for human nature, and her romance with Dean imply long-term involvement was planned. But audiences preferred Castiel so Anna, unfortunately, vanished, turned evil, and was eventually killed off.

4/10 Where Would Sesame Street Be Without Elmo?

Sesame Street

Elmo in window - Sesame Street

This iconic red critter on Sesame Street has taught countless children their ABC’s, numbers, and healthy habits. Elmo is so ubiquitous that he is arguably the show’s most iconic character, and he is instantly recognizable. But early in the show’s run, Elmo was merely an unnamed and brightly colored background Muppet that debuted as part of the bigger group in 1979-80.

He wouldn’t even be named until a few episodes later. Elmo also ran through different puppeteers and personalities until his iconic characterization under Kevin Clash took off. Since then, Elmo’s cheery falsetto and child-friendly demeanor have been beloved by viewers.

3/10 Kramer Rounds Out The Main Cast

Seinfeld

Seinfeld — Kramer at the Ross' cabin

Kramer from Seinfeld was the last of the four main characters to be added. The initial plan for the show was that George and Jerry would be the two protagonists. But after the pilot, the show introduced Elaine when requests arrived for a female character to be part of the cast.

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Kramer himself was only the weird recurring next-door neighbor who appeared sporadically for laughs. But viewers enjoyed Kramer so much that the show increased his screentime. When he finally graduated to main cast, it was thanks to Kramer’s popularity with the fans.

2/10 Frasier Was Just Diane’s Short-Term Love Interest

Cheers

Frasier and Diane think about their future in episode of Cheers

For five seasons, the show Cheers runs on the relationship potential between Sam Malone and Diane Chambers. As is common with the will-they-won’t-they plotline, which shows like The Office and Friends also do, temporary love interests are introduced to intensify drama and jealousy between the main couple.

Dr. Frasier Crane was never meant to wind up with Diane. Though they are engaged at one point, she leaves him at the altar. But Frasier became so liked by viewers that he stayed on the show and gained his own love interest Lilith. When Cheers concluded, Frasier got his own self-titled spin-off show which equaled and even surpassed Cheers in critical acclaim.

1/10 Ward’s Villainy Was Intentional, But Audience Approval Ensured His Return

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Brett Dalton as Grant Ward in Agents of SHIELD

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Grant Ward is introduced as a loyal fellow agent in the main cast who romances Skye. The reveal of his villainy and true allegiance to HYDRA was always on the agenda, driving home how cruel and deep the criminal organization ran in its infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D.

But his first defeat was where that plan ended. Ward’s dynamic and arc went down so well with viewers that he kept getting brought back in following seasons. Even after Ward died in Season 3, the show found a new way to facilitate his return.

NEXT: 10 TV Shows That Lied To Their Audience

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