Chuck Cunningham syndrome
Chuck Cunningham syndrome is a jargon used by TV critics; it refers to a TV series in which a main character or a character otherwise important to the show's plot is dropped with little or no explanation.
The term comes from the character Chuck Cunningham in the American television series, Happy Days. Chuck, the oldest of the three children in the Cunningham family, initialy appeared in the Love, American Style episode "Love and the Happy Days", which subsequently inspired the series Happy Days. When Happy Days was turned into a series, Chuck appeared during the first season of the show (usually as a superfluous character who said he was on his way to basketball practice). Chuck was written out of the series at the beginning of the second season with the explanation that he was going to college. After the second season, he was never mentioned again. Subsequent episodes referred to the Cunninghams as having two, rather than three, children.
On the Happy Days reunion special that aired February 3, 2005, a series of clips was introduced that not only pointed out that Chuck disappeared, but that he was played by two different actors over the course of the series; both of them were then brought out, a surprise to Marion Ross and the rest of the cast.
Examples of Chuck Cunningham syndrome
- All in the Family: At the start of the 1976-77 season the Bunkers took in a Puerto Rican boarder named Teresa Betancourt. She was featured in several episodes, but did not return the following season. No explanation was ever given regarding her departure.
- All My Children: One of the earliest examples of the Chuck Cunningham syndrome, Joe Martin's son Bobby Martin went up to wax his skis one day in 1970 and was never seen again. The show has been known to poke fun at the incident, such as one episode in which a character ventured into the Martins' attic and found a skeleton with a shirt bearing the word "Bobby" next to a pair of skis.
- Are You Being Served?: Several characters disappeared without explanation during the run of this series, including Mr. Mash, Mr. Grainger, Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Grossman, Mr. Klein, and Old Mr. Grace.
- Brady Bunch: The family's respective pets, Tiger the dog and Fluffy the cat, appeared as regular characters only in the first episode. By the second episode, Fluffy had vanished (and none of the girls seemed to notice), although Tiger lasted a little while longer. Barry Williams, who authored the book "Growing Up Brady" about his experiences on the show, recalls in the book that the dog who played Tiger was killed in an accident the night before the shooting of a critical scene in the episode Katchoo . Tiger continued to appear sporadically until midway through the second season (the episode "What Goes Up"), but was eventually written out when various replacement dogs didn't work out. While neither Fluffy or Tiger were heard from again, they make joke cameos in a later Brady movie, in which they appear long enough for Bobby and Cindy to acknowledge their presence before abruptly running off camera, after which the children hear the screeching of car tires, shrug the occurrence off, and return to the party.
- Boy Meets World:
- Corey's sister Morgan disappears after the second season. During her absence she is never mentioned. When she reappears two seasons later as a new actress, she comes down the stairs saying "That was the longest time out I've ever had."
- The character of Stewart Minkus, a classmate of Cory and Shawn's in elementary school, disappears after the first season, and is never mentioned again until the episode in which they graduate from High School. When he reappears, Cory and Shawn ask where he's been. Minkus responds by pointing towards the camera, and saying "Over there, on the other end of the school." The boys respond that they don't go to that end, as people have been known to never return. Minkus then calls out in that direction to Mr. Turner, a teacher who was likewise dropped from the show after being a regular.
- In a first-season episode, Topanga has an older sister named Nebula Stop-the-War Lawrence. She never appears or is even mentioned again.
- Corey's best friend, Shawn Hunter, also has two vanishing siblings: a sister who receives a brief mention in an early episode but is never spoken of again and a half-brother named Eddie who lives in the trailer park too.
- Danger Man: For the first half of this spy series' second season, secret agent John Drake takes his orders from a somewhat similar figure named Hobbs. Midway through the season, Hobbs disappears and Drake begins taking orders from a succession of guest star performers.
- At the beginning of the series, the Hortons only had four children. A fifth child, Tom Jr., was added in 1967 with the explanation that he "died" in the Korean War. He returned to Salem and was a key character on the show until 1972, when he went upstairs to take a nap and didn't come back. He finally returned in 1975; the actor found himself walking down the Horton staircase in his first scene back, announcing "What's for dinner? I'm famished!"
- In 1985, Don Craig (Jed Allan, who had played the role since 1971) went out to mail a letter and never came back, and was never referred to again.
- In 1991, Neil Curtis (Joseph Gallison, who had played the role since 1974) announced to colleagues that he had to see to some of his patients, and also disappeared without an explanation.
- Doctor Who: During the course of this series, the Doctor traveled with many companions. One of these, Dorothea "Dodo" Chaplet, disappears from the programme during the serial The War Machines. Though Dodo does send a farewell message to the Doctor at the end of The War Machines, she herself does not appear for a farewell scene. The recurring character of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart of UNIT also disappeared in the mid 1970s without a farewell scene. The actor who portrayed Lethbridge-Stewart, Nicholas Courtney, was unavailable for the final UNIT story, which features a new commander played by Patrick Newell . Lethbridge-Stewart returned six years later for a guest appearance, and then reappeared in a few later serials.
- The Dukes of Hazzard: "Replacement cousins" Coy and Vance, who were the main characters during the series' 1982-1983 season. Series stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat, who played Bo and Luke, had left in 1982 due to a contract dispute, forcing the producers to hire replacement actors Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer . Coy and Vance were never popular with fans, and the ratings immediately sank. When Schneider and Wopat returned in early 1983 after their grievances were resolved, Coy and Vance were immediately written out and never referred to again. Interestingly, Coy and Vance were never mentioned before their introduction in the 1982 season premiere (sort of a reverse-Chuck Cunningham syndrome).
- ER: Very prone to disappearing characters. A prominent example is Dr. Anna Del Amico, who vanished some time between seasons four and five; many other supporting characters have simply been dropped without explanation, a fate known within the ER fan community as "being Bobbed", after a supporting character who vanished early in the second season.
- Everybody Loves Raymond: The character of Amy's brother was originally introduced as "Russell" (played by Paul Reubens). The character made only one appearance as the owner of a comic book store. Later, Amy's brother was shown as "Peter" (played by Chris Elliott) who was also obsessed with comic books, but had no visible means of employment and lived with his parents. Also, Debra's older sister, who was planning to become a nun, was also dealt with in only one episode, and never referred to before or since.
- The Facts of Life: Originally the show centered around Mrs. Garrett and seven young girls. After the first season, most of the girls, including Nancy, Cindy, Sue Ann and Molly, were dropped from the show. They appeared in a few subsequent Season 2 episodes, but were not seen or mentioned again until Season 8.
- Gimme a Break!: Uncle Ed, the Chief's older brother, mysteriously disappeared.
- Family Matters: Judy Winslow and Aunt Rachael disappeared from the series without explanation, with Aunt Rachael even abandoning her son (the real reason was that Telma Hopkins was given her own sitcom at the time). Aunt Rachael, however, returned for a few subsequent episodes. In Judy Winslow's last episode, she simply goes up to her room and never comes back down; actress Jaimee Foxworth's character was never popular, and after reducing her role steadily, she was written out of the series during the series' fourth season.
- Law & Order: Captain Donald Cragan (Dann Florek) and ADA Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks) mysteriously vanished after the show's third season. -- The show was initially an "all-male" cast for the first three years, but NBC wanted to add women on the show. So the "boys' club" had to be broken up, otherwise, as then-NBC head Warren Littlefield told series creator Dick Wolf, the show would be canceled.
- However, Cragen's disappearance was not explained until the fifth season episode, "Bad Faith," in which we learn that he heads the Anti-Corruption Task Force. He would later reprise that role for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
- The reason for Robinette's disappearance was never mentioned on air, although NBC press releases at the time of the character's departure mentioned that Robinette had moved to a Park Avenue law firm, and the character returned in a later episode as a rights advocate.
- Life With Bonnie : The Molloys's oldest child, Samantha, disappeared from the show after the first season. According to series star Bonnie Hunt, this was due to "creative differences."
- Mama's Family:
- During the first two seasons (in which the show was owned exclusively by NBC), the characters of Buzz and Sonja were regulars. After the second season, however the show left NBC and went into first-run syndication. During this time, drastic cast changes were made. Vinton's children, Buzz and Sonja, never very popular with fans, were dropped at once. A subsequent episode established they had went away to college. However, they were never referred to again after that.
- Thelma's two daughters, Ellen (Betty White) and Eunice (Carol Burnett) and Eunice's husband, Ed (Harvey Korman), were regular guest stars who were featured prominently during the first two seasons of the show. After the show went into first run syndication, Ellen was only seen once more. Her absence was explained as not being forgiven for missing Aunt Fran's funeral. However, after her final appearance in the third season, she is never mentioned again. Eunice and Ed are never seen again after the second season, although it was explained that they moved to Florida, leaving their son Bubba behind and forcing Thelma to take him in.
- Neighbor Iola Boyland, however, is an example of reverse-Chuck Cunningham syndrome, in that the show said she had lived next door to the Harpers her entire life -- even flashbacks showed her as a tiny girl playing in their kitchen -- but it provided no explanation as to where she had been for the past two years (especially since during the next four seasons she would spend every waking minute at the Harpers').
- Married... With Children: Seven runs away to live with the D'Arcys and is never seen again (The producers of the show realized they had made a mistake in introducing his character; his face was later seen on a milk carton).
- M*A*S*H: Spearchucker Jones appeared during the first season as a doctor at the 4077th and the fourth tent mate in the Swamp. He quietly disappeared during the first season when the producers were made aware that in fact, there were no Black surgeons in United States Army M*A*S*H units during the Korean War.
- New York Undercover : The lieutenant, played by Patti D'Arbanville , was dropped from the show without any explanation after a third-season finale that killed off two other characters.
- Sealab 2021: At the end of season three, Captain Murphy was removed from the show. The in-character reason was that Murphy went to fight in the Great Spice Wars. The real reason was that Harry Goz (the voice of Captain Murphy) had died of cancer.
- The Simpsons: The therapist Dr. Marvin Monroe was dropped from the series with no explanation because the cast all hated the sound of his voice (Harry Shearer has also said it was hurting his throat). The first reference to the character's departure was the appearance of "Marvin Monroe Memorial Hospital" in one episode. In an episode about the show's anniversary, it claimed that Marvin Monroe was one of two characters that died at the time (the other character was Bleeding Gums Murphy). However, he reappeared in a later episode claiming he was "ill" during the time he was missing.
- Space: 1999: Between the first and second seasons, Paul Morrow and Ben Kano disappeared from Moonbase Alpha without any explanation, a particularly glaring omission since there was nowhere they could have gone (both were let go by new producer Fred Freiberger in favor of new characters Tony Verdeschi and Maya in an effort to make the show's appeal a little broader). The introduction of Tony is an example of Chuck Cunningham syndrome in reverse - a character added to the cast with no explanation; he is never seen nor mentioned in the first season yet is chief of security as season 2 begins. By contrast, an entire episode was devoted to the introduction of Maya. Victor Bergman (Barry Morse ) also vanished between the first and second seasons. A throwaway line about a spacesuit malfunction was written, but not aired. Morse left due to a contract dispute with Freiberger.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: During the first season, Kellie Waymire made several appearances as a young crewmember named Elizabeth Cutler. Despite her brief appearance, the character became extremely popular with fans. After Waymire became involved in a TV series project and other productions, she was no longer available to play the role, although the character continued to be mentioned from time to time up until the start of the third season. Waymire died in 2003, but to date the series has yet to establish what happened to the character. Similarly, another popular recurring character, an Engineering assistant named Rostov, appeared early in the series and was "name-dropped" numerous times thereafter, but vanished without trace after the start of the fourth season.
- Star Trek: During the first season, Janice Rand was a regular, serving in the capacity as the captain's yeoman and potential love interest for Captain Kirk. She mysteriously disappeared halfway through the season and, although she has appeared in four of the Star Trek movies and an episode of Star Trek: Voyager since, no explanation has ever been given for her departure (William Shatner claims that Grace Lee Whitney was let go because of serious drug and alcohol problems; while that was true, the producers have said that they just didn't think it was a good idea for Kirk to have a love interest on the ship).
- Step By Step:
- The youngest Lambert boy on the show, Brendan, saw his role reduced during the last few years of the show until he was completely dropped from the show during the last season without explanation.
- In the first season, Carol owns a beauty salon attached to the Lamberts' house. The beauty salon employs two women, Carol's mother and sister, who are also main characters. After the first season, the two women are completely dropped.
- That '70s Show: Donna's younger sister, Tina, is shown once and never mentioned again. Donna also apparently had an older sister, Valerie, who was mentioned once but never seen or mentioned again.
- Three's Company: Chuck Cunningham syndrome appeared three times in Three's Company:
- Lana Shields (Ann Wedgeworth) was added to the show at the beginning of the fourth season but soon disappeared several episodes later when the show's writers realized they had run out of ideas for her.
- Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers) was the original blonde girl on the show. She moved temporarily during the fifth season with the apparent intention of coming back, but was never heard from again afterwards (she was forced out of the show during a failed attempt to hold out for more money).
- Cindy Snow (Jenilee Harrison ), Chrissy's cousin, was Chrissy's first replacement on the show. She disappeared during the sixth season after an argument with Janet and was never heard from again.
- The Torkelsons : During their move from Oklahoma to Seattle, the family mysteriously loses two children, Steven Floyd and Ruth Ann.
- 227: Rose's daughter Tiffany (Kia Goodwin ) disappears halfway through the series' third season, never to be mentioned again.
- UFO: At the mid-point of this cult science fiction series' first and only season, several major cast members drop out without explanation, most notably the character of Col. Alec Freeman (George Sewell) who is replaced as the first officer of the secret organization SHADO by Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham ). (The dropping of several characters was sparked by a five-month break in production while the series changed studios, during which time several lead actors obtained roles in other series.)
- The West Wing: The West Wing has an especially severe case of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. Due to the show's large pool of secondary and tertiary characters, characters tend to disappear for no apparent reason.
- The character of Mandy Hampton was dropped after the first season without explanation, though the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, has said that she was dropped because the character had run her course and Moira Kelly's departure was amicable. West Wing characters who have disappeared are said to have gone to "Mandyville".
- Sam Seaborn is scarcely mentioned after he quits the White House in Season 4 to run for Congress in California. Though the character's on-screen disappearance is sudden and vague, the departure of actor Rob Lowe from the show was well-documented.
- Also during Season 4, Toby Ziegler, the White House Communications Director played by Richard Schiff, fathered twins out of wedlock with his ex-wife, Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt (Kathleen York). In the episode "Commencement," Wyatt gave birth to Huck, named for her grandfather, and Molly, for the Secret Service agent killed while protecting First Daughter Zoey Bartlet. Once Aaron Sorkin left the show after the fourth season finale, "Twenty-Five," producer John Wells ignored the twins, using them only briefly in season 5 ("Jefferson Lives") and seemingly forgetting them altogether in Season 6.