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TV Characters You Never See On Screen

As the famous saying goes: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." It means the more you're separated from a specific person or thing, the more likely what you find endearing about them will outshine their flaws. For example, you might have a sibling who gets on your nerves, but after being apart for a few years, a reunion brings you both joy (at least, at first).

Perhaps this explains our fascination with TV characters we never see. Many of the best shows of all time have featured characters who weren't invisible because of any sort of super power, but because we only heard about them, actors were never cast and so our imaginations could run wild. Like Harry Lime in The Third Man, we know them only through stories and the responses to them (fear, love, suspicion, trust) from other fictional characters, giving them vivid life while making them crucial to the plot.

Often, such hidden people are the subjects of stories other characters tell on barstools. In some cases, the stars regularly interact with these covert figures over the phone or through recordings, so we never need a face or a body. In some cases, the storyteller eventually puts a face to a name, but only after a long tease. Below are just a few such memorable characters we love, even if we never met them. 

Magnum P.I.'s benefactor never shows up

For eight years, Tom Selleck starred as the eponymous investigator of one of the signature shows of the '80s — the popular crime drama Magnum, P.I. While Thomas Magnum might technically have been a part of the same profession as famous fictional private eyes like Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe, he enjoyed a lot more luxury than such fictional hardboiled investigators struggling to make ends meet. Magnum made his home in the expansive Robin's Nest beachfront estate in Oahu, Hawaii, and as far as we could tell, never paid so much as a dollar in rent. 

That's because Magnum operated as a guest of the celebrated author Robin Masters. It was never made clear exactly why Masters wanted Magnum on his property, but it was implied the P.I. had been considered a benefit to the estate's security. It's tough to say for sure, because we never actually saw the guy. 

For the entire run of Magnum, P.I., we only ever heard Masters' voice five times. Perhaps as a tribute to Orson Welles' work in The Third Man, in most of these episodes the legendary actor/writer/filmmaker/magician lent his voice to Magnum's much-discussed benefactor. The only exception was the Season 6 premiere entitled "Deja Vu," which aired a few weeks before Welles' 1985 passing and featured Red Crandell as the voice.

Towards the end of the series, Magnum began to suspect that Higgins (John Hillerman) — the caretaker of Robin's Nest — was the real Robin Masters, and Higgins confirmed this in the series finale...until he didn't. During Rick's (Larry Manetti) wedding, Higgins changed his story. If we ever want to learn the truth, it seems like we might have to hire a P.I. of our own.

Pawnee's Mayor Gunderson doesn't show up until after he's dead

We heard about Pawnee, Indiana Mayor Walter Gunderson quite a bit during Parks & Recreation's seven hilarious seasons. For example, he was supposed to have been at a photo op with the visiting dignitaries from Venezuela in the Season 2 episode "Sister City." Later that season in "The Possum," it was an assault by the legendary opossum Fairway Frank on Mayor Gunderson's dog Rufus that got Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) involved in tracking down the beast. 

But we never saw the Pawnee mayor until after he passed away. In "Two Funerals" — the penultimate episode of the series — Bill Murray appeared as Gunderson, both while lying in a casket and in a pre-recorded message played during his funeral. In the message, Gunderson admitted: "My time in office has come to an end. A lot has been done, but I wasn't really doing very much. I wasn't paying attention most of the time."

As it turns out, Poehler had been campaigning to get Murray to play Mayor Gunderson for years. In a 2011 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (via EW), she talked about wanting to cast the comedy legend as the mayor. Poehler tried to tempt Murray with a massive payday, saying, "Bill Murray, if you're listening, I will pay you $250 to do one episode of my show." It took until 2015, but apparently Murray got hungry enough to show up, collecting that "big" paycheck.

On Cheers we never see Vera's face, but we still hear about her all the time

Throughout all twelve seasons of the sitcom Cheers, Vera Peterson managed to serve as a steady recurring joke, even while physically almost never showing up. 

Existing chiefly via quips from Cheers regular Norm (George Wendt), who was famously always dodging his haranguing wife so he could sit on his favorite barstool and partake of a brew, the specter of Vera (and her phone calls to the bar) became a dependable punchline. In Season 6's "Little Carla, Happy at Last, Part 2," for example, when bartender Woody (Woody Harrelson) asked Norm, "Hey Mr. Peterson, what do you say to a cold one?", Norm responded dryly: "See you later Vera, I'll be at Cheers." One of the reasons Cheers became a classic show, however, is that it had its heart in the right place — so every now and then, despite all the Vera jokes, Norm would occasionally have a heartfelt moment showing they truly cared for each other. 

As these shows sometimes do (like with Wilson on Home Improvement), it eventually became a peekaboo game with the audience, as the show's creators acknowledged and played with their desire to finally see the character. So, Cheers fans heard Vera's voice a handful of times, and the show's creators chose to cast Bernadette Birkett — George Wendt's real life wife — as the voice actor for the Season 4 episode "Love Thy Neighbor" and "No Rest for the Woody" in Season 10.

We only kind of saw Vera once. In the much-discussed Season 5 episode "Thanksgiving Orphans," Diane (Shelley Long) ended a messy food fight by hurling a pie which, instead of her intended target, hit Vera right in the face. As audiences leaned in for a closer peek, the laugh was in realizing that her face had been completely concealed. The episode ended with Vera saying: "Charming friends, dear. Get your coat." 

Vera had been once again voiced by Birkett in the scene, but it was Robin Soladay physically standing in for Wendt's wife. Not that any of us got a look at her face, however.

On Star Trek: Enterprise, the man who feeds the ship has no face

In some Star Trek series, if a character wants food, all they have to do is walk up to a food replicator, say the name of the food and it appears out of thin air. You want chocolate cake? Go up to the replicator and say "chocolate cake" and presto, there's chocolate cake. 

But in the retrospective series Star Trek: Enterprise — set a century before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series — things weren't quite as luxurious for Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his crew. If you wanted chocolate cake aboard the Enterprise NX-01, someone had to actually make it, and that someone was Chef. Chef who? We have no idea. All we know is that Archer pulled some springs to get an acclaimed cook assigned to Enterprise, and everyone was keen on keeping him happy.

The only time we ever came close to meeting Chef was in the series finale, "These Are the Voyages...," though it wasn't really Chef. The story was told from the point of view of TNG's Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who used the holodeck to simulate the Enterprise NX-01's adventure. Riker took on the role of Chef in the illusion, and he spent a lot more time in the kitchen than he did aboard his own Enterprise. For a guy who lived in a time when you could tell machines to magically summon food, he sure did like to cook.

Kramer talks about his buddy all the time on Seinfeld but we never meet him

He was never seen, but Kramer's (Michael Richards) good friend Bob Sacamano nevertheless left an indelible mark on the hit sitcom Seinfeld. No matter what the situation, it seemed, Kramer had a relevant Bob Sacamano story waiting — and if Seinfeld's eccentric neighbor was to be believed, Sacamano lived an almost impossibly interesting life.

In the Season 2 episode "The Heart Attack," Kramer tried to scare George (Jason Alexander) with a story about Sacamano entering the hospital for a hernia operation and then winding up spending the rest of his days staring out a window and saying "My name is Bob!" In spite of this dark fate, Bob kept busy. In "The Fix-Up" from Season 3, Sacamano got a job at a condom factory; in "The Chicken Roaster" from Season 8, we were told he had a gig selling fur hats in Battery Park; by Season 9, the episode "Puerto Rican Day" had Kramer claiming that Bob came up with the idea of adding rubber bands to toy paddles.

According to Kramer's tales, Sacamano was a good guy who had just caught his share of bad luck. He contracted rabies, he was subjected to electroshock therapy unsuccessfully because his synapses are too large, and — perhaps most traumatically — he lived with Kramer for a year and a half.

Barney Fife's girlfriend never shows her face

Apparently the trope of TV characters you never see is nothing new, as there's a perfect example in the black and white comedy classic The Andy Griffith Show. While you may not think of Don Knotts as a ladies' man, at least one waitress working at Mayberry's Bluebird Diner would disagree. 

Throughout the series, Sheriff's deputy Barney Fife (Knotts) regularly made romantic phone calls to Juanita Beasley. Usually waiting for a rare moment when he had privacy, Barney pretty much always wound up embarrassed by the end of the calls, usually because the titular sheriff had snuck in to listen and make fun of him. 

For example, in the Season 1 episode "Andy Forecloses," Barney was caught singing to Juanita over the phone. The sheriff creeped up behind Barney, eventually joining in on the song. A couple of seasons later in "The Great Filling Station Robbery," Andy made a repeat performance — except this time rather than singing to Juanita, Barney had been reciting a horrible original poem to his girlfriend (which was mostly comprised of the word "Juanita" and bad attempts to rhyme it). 

Barney almost always would respond by yelling, hanging up the phone, and mussing up his hair in rage. Honestly, Juanita must have really been smitten with Barney to keep going out with him, even after getting hung up on so many times.

BoJack Horseman's Erica is always just off-screen

In Netflix's recently-concluded animated "sadcom" BoJack Horseman, one of its longest running gags revolved around a character who was always just off-screen. If you've seen the series, then you've no doubt guessed we're talking about Mr. Peanutbutter's (Paul F. Tompkins) friend Erica. Erica always appeared randomly, causing Mr. Peanutbutter to notice and leave the scene to talk to her. 

What little we know about Erica mostly came from Mr. Peanutbutter's hilarious exclamations. For example, a number of his quips made it clear that she'd had some legal trouble. In the Season 2 episode "Yesterdayland," Mr. Peanutbutter could be heard calling out, "Erica! You can't be here! This place is filled with children!" In "The BoJack Horseman Show" from the following season, he reminded her: "Erica! You know you're not allowed to vote in national elections!" 

It was also suggested that Erica had suffered a number of physical disfigurements, like in "Horse Majeure" from Season 1 when Mr. Peanutbutter said, "Long story short, Erica did have to lose the foot, but she gained a friend." Then came the Season 4 episode "Underground," when he yelled "Erica! Look at you with the right number of ears!" Other comments throughout the series referred to Erica spending time in a burn ward, undergoing a "split brain procedure," and occasionally carrying around child-size coffins.

On Parks & Recreation, Chris is always doling out wisdom from a therapist we never meet

On Parks & Recreation, when the usually sickeningly positive Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) surprised everyone by feeling too much negativity, he started seeing therapist Dr. Richard Nygard. He came to depend so fully on the therapist that in the Season 5 episode "Halloween Surprise" he said Nygard held his life "in his hands like a fragile little bird." In that same episode, Chris revealed that he'd been seeing the therapist five times a week — and four episodes later in "Ron and Diane," the frequency increased to fifteen times a week. 

Dr. Nygard's impact on Chris' life was so intense it helped lead to a fan theory that Nygard was secretly a cult leader. It was one of the more solid fan theories, supported by Chris' claim that the therapist's patients referred to themselves as "Nygardians," as well as most of the patients (at least, the ones we knew about) failing to ever get any better. 

Whether he was a cult leader or not, the unseen Dr. Nygard certainly cultivated a heavy sense of dependence in Chris. Some of Chris' more disturbing quotes about his therapist included when he likened his relationship to Nygard with Leslie and Ben's (Adam Scott) romantic relationship in "Ron and Diane," and his farewell episode "Ann and Chris" when he said to Leslie, "I just want to say that getting to know you and watching you work has been one of the greatest experiences of my life — that, and working with Dr. Richard Nygard."

It took close to three decades for us to meet Diane from Twin Peaks

It was one of the most fiercely original television series ever to hit the airwaves, yet a key character never showed her face. 

In the original run of David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) regularly recorded his thoughts on tape, always beginning the messages with the same name: Diane. It was implied that these messages were sent to his secretary by that name, and sometimes he recorded perfectly mundane things like letting Diane know how much he spent at a diner so she could get him reimbursed, but other times he'd relay insights on the murder case of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) — and every now and then, he'd even throw in something completely out of left field, like wondering about who "really" killed JFK.

Diane remained faceless until Showtime's 2017 revival series Twin Peaks: The Returnand the revelation of her face was met with roaring fan approval as it came in the person of Laura Dern, a Lynch muse dating back to films like Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet

In true Twin Peaks fashion, it was a very twisty reveal. Fans of the classic two seasons of Peaks had come to picture Diane as a cheery, supportive secretary — a no-brainer considering Coop's upbeat disposition — but those illusions were dispelled immediately by Dern's chain-smoking, world-weary Diane, who seemed unable to speak a sentence that wasn't punctuated with a venomous F-word. And if you think that's weird, well, don't even ask us to get into the tulpa thing.

Many Columbo fans don't even believe his wife exists

For three decades, the late Peter Falk made an art out of feigning simple-mindedness as Lieutenant Frank Columbo in the TV series Columbo and numerous subsequent TV movies. The brilliant detective loved to catch his suspects off guard by seeming inept, all the while drawing as much information from them as possible. 

One of Columbo's tactics was telling stories about his wife, who we never saw or met. In fact, the absence of Columbo's wife  led to the popular theory that she didn't actually exist. Notice that we don't call this a "fan" theory, however, because it isn't just fans who think it's valid. 

In a 2019 interview with the Archive of American Television (via MeTV), Columbo co-creator William Link said the theory was valid. While Link didn't say whether or not he felt it was true that Columbo's wife was just a fantasy, he admitted that he likes the theory and thinks it's absolutely possible. 

Link went on to explain exactly why you never saw Columbo's family in any of his stories, saying that he and co-creator Richard Levinson wanted Columbo to be even more of a mystery than the crimes he solved. "We wanted to keep him almost mythological," Link recalled. "He comes from nowhere and goes back into nowhere." 

On Diff'rent Strokes, Gary Coleman had trouble with an invisible bully

Some unseen TV characters are romantic partners, some are friends, and some cook meals on spaceships. But in the case of the '80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, the series' most infamous faceless character is the schoolyard nemesis of Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman). 

First mentioned in the Season 1 episode "The Fight," the bully known only as "The Gooch" terrorized Arnold throughout the series. In the Season 2 episode "Return of the Gooch," Arnold took karate lessons to defend himself, then in the Season 7 episode "Carmella Meets the Gooch" he tried to get an Italian exchange student to protect him with the promise of a date with Willis (Todd Bridges). Season 4 brought "The Big Heist," where Arnold got caught stealing an expensive copy of the 1964 comic book Amazing Spider-Man #14 in order to join The Gooch's gang, and in the Season 5 episode "The Cricket," Arnold believed that a lucky cricket would keep The Gooch from messing with him — a theory that ultimately did not work.

Conventional wisdom tells us that once you confront a bully, they'll stop bullying you. Diff'rent Strokes, on the other hand, taught us that once you confront a bully they'll stop bullying you...until the next time the writers need a bully for a storyline.