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GUEST BLOG #42: Tom Brinkmoeller Laments the Later Resumes of All-Star TV Casts
August 17, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
[Bianculli here: The best TV comedy and drama series benefit from synergy, when their casts feature actors who are strong individually and superb collectively. Contributing critic Tom Brinkmoeller wonders why some of those actors never get lightning to strike twice...]


Will the M*A*S*H Syndrome Claim More Victims This Fall?

I have always thought of the problem as the M*A*S*H Syndrome: The collection of some of the best imaginable characters in one program, and the in-effect disappearance of the actors who played them once the series ends. Loretta Swit, Jamie Farr, Gary Burghoff, William Christopher and others, to varying degrees, ended up leaving our lives when they left their M*A*S*H characters.

No good character exists without good writing. Just as true, the best writing is flat and useless in the hands of a bad actor. I’'e always regretted these fine M*A*S*H actors never got teamed up with the high-talent behind-the-camera part of that mix again.


A new season looms in which a number of actors who won fans and awards in previously successful series (Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and Courteney Cox are some of the more stellar members of this pack) are going to try for it again. Not all good actors get this opportunity to shine anew. It made me think of characters viewers loved, who were brought to life by good actors, who we rarely got to see again, once the series they populated went away.

This has happened to the stars of other mega-hit series: The Cosby Show's special cast members didn't break out again; the six Friends stars may be set for life financially, but they're pretty much out of the lives of the people who helped them grow (Ms. Cox's new Cougar Town looks like a short-termer); all but one of Seinfeld's principals also are affluently out of sight.


The tally sheets for Cheers and spinoff Frasier are mixed (Grammer's new Hank shows up lame at the starting gate). While a few actors have built off their hit series, others whose characters were key parts of the magic (George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Jane Leeves, Peri Gilpin) didn't fare as well.

Sad that no one created similar chemistry after those series folded.

But really good actors who helped create memorable characters, only to evaporate, existed in lesser-rated series, too.

Ellen DeGeneres' mid-'90s sitcom owes a lot of its magic to supporting cast David Anthony Higgins (Joe), Joely Fisher (Paige) and Clea Lewis (Audrey).

Joe Regalbuto (Frank) and Charles Kimbrough (Jim Dial) were key players in the Murphy Brown success.

Same can be said for Night Court's Richard Moll (Bull), Charles Robinson (Mac) and Marsha Warfield (Roz).


Go back farther and you can ask why Julia Duffy, who added an essential layer of wonderful goofiness to Newhart as Stephanie, never got the same comedy spotlight. Why didn't someone cast Bill Daily in a role as fun as his Howard Borden character in the earlier Bob Newhart Show?

Obscurity isn't always involuntary (a recent What Not to Wear revealed that Blossom star Mayim Bialik left show business to earn her Ph.D). Nor is it permanent. Jon Cryer, who was funny but overlooked in '89's The Famous Teddy Z, was "rediscovered" and now is an integral part of Two and a Half Men's success as Alan.


Also, David McCallum, who all but disappeared after creating the too-cool Illya Kuryakin character in The Man from UNCLE, is equally cool, though an older cool, in NCIS's medical examiner, Ducky. But they escaped the M*A*S*H Syndrome. And I wonder how many other actors would be doing good, high-profile work again, if they'd been given a spot in a high-quality production.

Any interest in adding to this list of unforgettable actors who, despite making TV watching worthwhile, fell off TV's schedule? Name a favorite -- or more.



Tom Brinkmoeller always thought super-cool newspaper editors like Lou Grant's Art Donovan existed only in dreams. That had to be the serious career impediment, he thinks, for Jack Bannon, the actor who played him.



Joe said:

Wow, great subject, Tom. And with sixty years of television history, there are many hits and misses.

It's sad to see George Wendt play only cameos of Norm (Cheers) now. But John Ratzenberger did (does?) have a good show on Cable, "Made in America". Is it acting? No. But with only 1% of actors employed at any one time, it's a job, and he does well.

More famously, Andy Griffith had "Matlock". A good show that let his talents shine. And James Garner had "The Rockford Files," my vote as one of the best detective / cop shows ever.

And it's also good to see folks like Ed O'Neill from "Married ... With Children" exercising his able acting chops.

But, sadly, I am beginning to doubt we'll see the talents of the great ensemble cast of "The Wonder Years" again. (That said, the woman who played Winnie has a wonderful set of books she's published about math for girls. A good second act for her young life!)

Comment posted on August 17, 2009 10:02 AM

Eileen said:

Where is the adorable Annie Potts of Designing Women and Any Day Now? And speaking of Designing Women, where is Meshach Taylor who was hilarious on both DW and Dave's World? Harry Anderson's been off the radar for some time also.

Haven't seen Leah Remini since King of Queens ended. We know Kevin James has been busy, but someone give Leah a good comedy role.

Delta Burke's been absent for a while, as has Georgia Engel, always two you could depend on to make the show better.

And where is everyone's favorite bad guy Neuman, aka Wayne Knight. Terrific on Seinfeld and equally hilarious on Third Rock.

Comment posted on August 17, 2009 11:10 AM

kenneth kahn said:

Another actor that I believe escaped the "M*A*S*H Syndrome" is Ted Danson. After Cheers he starred in Becker for six years (1998-2004) and is still showing up in other shows like Damages.

Comment posted on August 17, 2009 11:49 AM

kenneth kahn said:

Also remember that "The Bob Newhart Show" was Bill Daily's second big show. He was on "I Dream of Jeannie" for a number of years also.

Comment posted on August 17, 2009 11:52 AM

Ken Rehfield said:

Larry Hagman was a hit as well in "I Dream of Jeannie" then went on to a bigger hit in "Dallas"

Comment posted on August 17, 2009 1:57 PM

Patti Abbott said:

The cast of Thirty-Something is largely behind the camera if evident at all.

Comment posted on August 18, 2009 7:28 AM

Mac said:

John Ratzenberger may pick his work as he wants,but his voice-over appearances have made him Pixar's lucky rabbit's foot. He has appeared in every Pixar feature and those films collectively have grossed a gazillion dollars and have all been critically well received.

Comment posted on August 18, 2009 8:51 AM

Robert said:

Disclaimer.. I know nothing about how TV is financed, this is a guess about basic supply/demand.)

The quantity of good TV is so low right now, unknown actors probably start a show for little cash. They may get paid more if the show becomes a hit, but initial costs are low. Most shows are so bad, they don't hang around.

One big star (or costar) probably starts with a much higher price tag.

Comment posted on August 24, 2009 4:13 PM
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