Since Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot," the characters we don't see have been far more powerful than the ones we do. We've never seen "Waiting For Godot" and never go to the theater, so we looked at Wilson, Nanny, and ten other TV personalities everyone knows, but nobody recognizes.
George Steinbrenner, "Seinfeld"
Many of TV's never-seen characters serve as omnipotent gurus whose baritone voices provide much-needed wisdom, like explaining to Tim why his wife's mental health is more important than the Detroit Auto Show. But nobody in Seinfeld's twisted New York was this rational -- not Jerry's neurotic best friends, not the fascist soup proprietor down the street, and certainly not the show's resident unseen force: New York Yankees owner (and boss of George Costanza) George Steinbrenner, whose nasally, scratchy voice (provided by series co-creator Larry David) offered George less advice, and more endless diatribes on the best place to sit in a hot tub and the many virtues of the calzone.
Vera Peterson, "Cheers" Maris Crane, "Frasier"
Cheers and its spin-off Frasier were different shows with different sensibilities, but sometimes they told the same joke. Norm and Niles both had unseen wives whose beastly appearance were the butt of many jokes, and the descriptions became so epic and beastly that casting someone became impossible. Perhaps both shows had writers who were unsatisfied with their wives and they needed a punching bag to take it out on.
Charlie Brown's Teacher, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," etc.
Authority figures are often kept at a distance from a story's main characters. And, like a Big Brother with less brainwashing, Charlie Brown's teacher (referred to by Brown only as "Ma'am") exists forever off-screen, standing at the head of the classroom, barking questions and reprimands at her large-headed students. Additionally, the teacher's dialog was replaced with jarring wails from a muted trombone. Not only did this reinforce the divide between the world of children and adults at the core of the cartoons, it also introduced actual elementary school students to a new and simple impression for tormenting substitutes.
(List continues at CollegeHumor.com)
Monday, August 3, 2009