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Almost every great TV show has at least four major characters for viewers to invest their hopes, dreams, dread and anger in, and most have more, so it's a fool's task trying estimate the total number of notable small screen characters out there. But it's far easier to narrow down the number of memorable personalities that we only heard about and heard from, but never actually saw with our eyes.
Here are the 11 greatest examples of such characters. Some lived through the descriptions of others, while some were voices unattached to physical bodies. I largely kept it to people who didn't show up at all, as opposed to characters like Home Improvement's Wilson and Norm's wife Vera on Cheers, both of whom were seen full-body but had their faces obscured. To keep the mood upbeat, go ahead and sketch out what you think each character would really look like on a piece of paper, and then email me all those pictures.
Maris Crane - Frasier
Have you ever met a woman whose quadriceps were too tight to straddle anything bigger than a border collie? What about one whose innate fear of buffets kept her off of cruise ships? I've never met anyone like that, and I certainly wasn't ever married to that kind of person. But Niles Crane was for a while on Frasier, and it only takes a few minutes with the retentive therapist to know that it would take someone perfectly crafted to his quirks to keep him happy. And Maris most certainly wasn't that, becoming an impossibly constructed caricature as time went on. It became apparent to all involved that trying to bring her out at any point would destroy the magic, and so in the shadowy darkness she stayed.
Bob Sacamano - Seinfeld
Everybody's got a friend that hasn't been introduced to the usual gatherings for one reason or another, and though Cosmo Kramer had a few on Seinfeld, the one I always wanted to meet the most was Bob Sacamano, the guy who just seemed to make every story more ridiculously abstract. I mean, he had rabies at one time (allegedly), and had a botched hernia surgery (allegedly) and was in a mental institution (allegedly), so his life isn't all great or anything. But then he did create the rubber ball and paddle toy (allegedly), so there's his lasting achievement.
Mrs. Columbo - Columbo
Given the name of the show was Columbo, one would think that the drama could make room to fit both of the characters with that as a surname, but viewers only ever got to see Peter Falk's cigar-smoking detective. Mrs. Columbo was one of those wives that never seemed to be around whenever a social situation called for her, with the excuse that she has the flu or something along those lines. Even when she's the intended victim of a killer, we still don't get to see her, and that episode also pranked viewers by teasing her appearance and then revealing it to be that of her sister Rita. That was so cold, no rumpled coat could block the chills.
Diane - Twin Peaks
Being the secretary to an FBI agent must be pretty taxing work, and you'd think that would go double when it's Special Agent Dale Cooper we're talking about. But Twin Peaks viewers never saw Diane stressing over the situation, because we never got to see her at all. The only reason we even knew she existed was because Cooper would send her tapes onto which he'd dictate facts about the cases he worked on. But then maybe she doesn't exist, which is a well-traveled theory that makes a lot of sense in certain contexts. Perhaps we'll get a better answer when Twin Peaks returns for a star-studded third season on Showtime.
Stan Walker - Will & Grace
If you watched Karen Walker for all eight seasons of Will & Grace without thinking about Karen's home life at all, one wouldn't assume the obese, toupee-wearing Stan would be the one to win her heart. Their relationship took some dips and swells without him showing up, and he was eventually jailed, outed as a philanderer and then killed off. But he was definitely a part of why Karen was the way she was in those early seasons, and his departure allowed her to explore her romantic side in later seasons, so his existence was worth its weight in...a lack of weight. (Full disclosure: Stan's appendages showed up in one episode, but it wasn't enough to exclude him from this list.)
Robin Masters - Magnum P.I.
Okay, so this entry all depends on how you as a viewer chose to see things by Magnum P.I.'s end. Tom Selleck's Thomas Magnum made his home inside the banging guest house of the popular novelist Robin Masters, whose relationship with Magnum is never quite explained in full. Which is okay, I guess, since his face was also never seen, and he could only be heard, with Orson Welles providing the voice. But there are some fans out there who are convinced that John Hillerman's Johnathan Higgins was actually the real Robin Masters the whole time. But since it was never addressed or acknowledged by the show directly, we're still under the assumption we've never laid eyes on his eyes.
Ercole "Eckley" DiMeo - The Sopranos
While the unseen presence of the incarcerated Ercole (or Dominic or Old Man or whatever you want to call him) DiMeo slacked off as the seasons went by, the story told in The Sopranos wouldn't and couldn't exist without him. He was the first Big Boss of the family in the 1950s, after all, and he successfully headed things until 1995, when he was sent away for life in prison. It's hard to want something as blasphemous as a Sopranos prequel set during the eldest DiMeo's mid-century run, but I'll be damned if that doesn't sound gabbadoolah. (Translation: pretty okay.)
Danny - The X-Files
Lots of mysterious things happened to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully over the years on The X-Files, and while those situations introduced a ton of characters, viewers never got to meet the FBI agent Danny, whom Mulder and Scully would contact on occasion during cases from Season 1 through Season 8. But as much help as he might have been to his fellow agents, he didn't help out any viewers who would ever want to recognize him in a crowd. Perhaps we'll still get to meet Danny in a future X-Files episode, or perhaps he's more interesting as someone on the other end of a phone line. Depends on if he's funny or not.
Tino - My So-Called Life
Unfortunately, My So-Called Life only lasted a single season, thus severely limiting viewers' chances of meeting and dropping into emotional black holes with other Liberty High School students. One of those was Tino, the (literally, I suppose) too cool for school character who apparently knew how to throw a good party, and who served as the lead singer of Jordan's band 30 Seconds to...no, wait...The Frozen Embryos. But still, the series never actually brought him out to show off his social skills or his vocal chops. Like the Loch Ness Monster of high school hallways, if that monster kept up with the trends.
Dr. Lars Lindstrom - The Mary Tyler Moore Show
While Mary Richards remains mostly single throughout the entire span of the classic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the same can't be said for her neighbor and friend Phyllis Lindstrom, as played by the wonderful Cloris Leachman. Phyllis had a way of thinking about herself way too much, and that was perhaps exemplified best in how viewers experienced her husband Lars, which was entirely through Phyllis herself. Also amusing in this case is that Lars is a dermatologist, and we don't get to see a single inch of his skin. And if Phyllis was exactly the same was at home as she was in Mary's presence, I'm sure he kept his skin behind closed doors fairly often.
Dr. Kahn - Salute Your Shorts
We definitely hold Camp Anawanna in our hearts here at Cinema Blend, and we wish we had never parted with the classic Nickelodeon series Salute Your Shorts. In fact, I'd be okay if I just got to have daily announcements like those put out by camp director Dr. Kahn, whose presence on the show was only heard through loudspeakers. (On the flip side, I would not want to wake up to an awful waffle or a back massage by Budnick.) When the cast got together for the big reunion last year, Dr. Kahn actually was there, as he was voiced by show creator Steve Slavkin.