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Wives & Mothers

CHEERS/NBC/1982-93 (Vera Peterson) - The often mentioned by never seen wife of Norm Peterson (George Wendt), a rotund, beer-drinking accountant who spent most of his leisure hours with his buddies at a local Boston pub named Cheers. On the episode "Thanksgiving Orphans" broadcast November 27, 1986, Norm decides to forgo the trials and tribulations of another one of Vera's relatives Thanksgiving get-togethers and instead chooses to be with his pals from Cheers who are spending the holiday at home of waitress Carla Tortelli's (Rhea Perlman). Later that evening Vera arrives to meet Norm's friends for the first time. Unfortunately, just at the point when we would have gotten to see Norm's often talked about wife, Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), another of the bar's waitresses tossed a pie at Cheers' bartender/owner, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) to get even for hitting her earlier that evening during a food fight. The pie hit Vera square in the face and thus prevented the viewing audience from getting a look at her. On a 2/28/91 episode Vera took a job as a hatcheck girl at Melville's, the seafood restaurant just above Cheers. When Norman heard her voice (Bernadette Birkett) and realized she was working so close to his hideaway from home, he ran screaming from the bar. Vera, later lost her job because she spent all her time on the floor staring through a knot hole at her husband in the bar below. Once again the audience was deprived of seeing Norm's wife. Another unseen recurring character was Rubin, the gay undocumented alien who worked at Melville's restaurant. Ruben, who thought Sam Malone was a hunk, once had his foot shot when a bullet went through the ceiling of Cheers and into the Melville's restaurant. Derrick, the brother of Sam Malone (never seen on camera), was the focus of a two-part episode. Derrick was Sam's older brother who was very successful and always someone whom Sam was measuring himself against, unsuccessfully. Whenever Derrick was in the area, he was surrounded by a crowd of onlookers who shielded him from the TV viewers.

COLUMBO/NBC/1971-77 (Mrs. Columbo) - Peter Falk starred as the loquacious Los Angeles homicide detective, Lieutenant Columbo whose proclivity for observing minute facts/clues made him an ideal candidate for investigating supposedly unsolvable crimes. Part of his interviewing strategy when questioning his murder suspect was to interject stories about his home life and his wife (referred to as "the Missus") which were meant to distract or confound the real killer into thinking they had nothing to worry about from such a seemingly homey, milksop investigator. However, despite Lt. Columbo's constant references about his wife, the audience never got to see her for the life of the series. To look at the disheveled appearance of Lt. Columbo (he had messy hair, wore a rumpled trench coat and was always holding a smelly cigar butt) one could only wonder what "the Missus" must look like. Hopefully their union was the result of opposites attracting. Once Lt. Columbo and his wife (referred to as Mildred) took an ocean pleasure cruise together only to find an onboard murder kept them apart for the length of their vacation. While Columbo was at the ship's bow, his wife was somewhere at the stern etc. and never the twain did meet, much to the disappointment of the viewing audience. However, when Peter Falk left the series, its producers hoping to continue the show's success created a spin-off series entitled MRS. COLUMBO/NBC/1979 starring Kate Mulgrew as the very attractive, and efficient Mrs. Kate Columbo. The show focused on the domestic side of the Columbo household while hubby (this time he was never seen) was at work. Kate Columbo split her time between their seven-year-old daughter, Jenny (Lili Haydyn) and her part-time job as a reporter for The Valley Advocate. The later often got her involved in murder investigations which she helped solve with the same aplomb as her detective spouse. Despite high hopes for the series, it just didn't blossom and so to save the concept the "Columbo connection" was dropped, and the series character was renamed Kate Callahan and the show's title was revised to KATE THE DETECTIVE and later KATE LOVES A MYSTERY. Unfortunately, with all the script surgery, the patient just up and died. In the revival of the COLUMBO series in the late 1980s, an episode entitled "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo" dealt with an obsessed woman, Vivian Dimitri (Helen Shaver) seeking revenge on Columbo for the death of her husband (he had died in prison). Her murder weapon was "poisoned" marmalade preserves which she gave Columbo as a gift for his wife. She wanted Columbo to suffer the pain of losing a loved one. The death of Mrs. Columbo was, of course, a scam to set up the murderess. Luckily, Mrs. Columbo never did eat the poisoned preserves, but sadly the audience didn't get to see what she looked like either. A still photograph used on the episode fooled the viewers into thinking it was the likeness of Mrs. Columbo, but at the end of the program we were informed the picture wasn't her, after all.

DECEMBER BRIDE/CBS/1954-61 (Gladys Porter) - Gladys Porter was the wife of Pete Porter (Harry Morgan), the henpecked next-door neighbor of senior citizen/widow, Lily Ruskin (Spring Byington) on the sitcom DECEMBER BRIDE/CBS/1954-61. Despite the fact that Pete constantly complained about his wife (chains, padlocks and a straightjacket were the symbols that represented Pete's marriage) during his many visits to the Ruskin household, Gladys was never seen on the program. In one episode she did make an appearance with her husband but she was dressed in a gorilla costume. However, Gladys was finally seen when she and her husband were given a spin-off series PETE AND GLADYS/CBS/1960-62. The zany redheaded comedienne Cara Williams was cast to play the part of Pete's sincere but scatterbrained wife. See M*AS*H

FRASIER/NBC/1993-2004 (Maris Crane) - The never-seen but always referred to wife of Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce). Although he deeply loved his wife, Niles' relationship was under constant stress. He once bemoaned Maris' low libido by saying "One night of passion can sustain her for months. She stores it up like some sex camel." He described her appearance as "Bleached, 100 percent fat free, and best if kept in an airtight container" and then added, "Maris is a wondrous distillation of many essences. It's as if you could take a great French cathedral, a painting by El Greco, and the upper third of Norway and magically transform them into one tiny woman with ferret eyes and disturbing hair." Her medical history consisted of "Hypoglycemia, allergy to roses, an inability to produce saliva and unusually rigid vertebrae and quadriceps so tight she can't straddle anything larger than a Border collie. See also PHONE..."Frasier"

M*A*S*H/CBS/1972-83 (Mrs. Potter) - Harry Morgan who played Colonel Sherman Potter, the commanding officer in charge of the M*A*S*H unit, always displayed a portrait of his wife Mildred on his office desk and often spoke of her. The portrait on the desk was that of actress Spring Byington whom Harry Morgan had worked with on the sitcom DECEMBER BRIDE/CBS/1954-61. It was only on the spin-off series AFTERMASH when Colonel Potter returned stateside to River Bend, Missouri did the audience see his wife Mildred played by Barbara Townsend and later by Ann Pitoniak.

MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN/FOX/1987-97 - (Peggy's Fat Mother) - On this dysfunctional comedy Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) is married to Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal) whose hillbilly mother from Wanker County occasionally visited the Bundy household. When this occurred Al ran for cover and prayed that he could afford to pay the grocery bills for his unwanted, overweight mother-in-law (a.k.a. "Free Willy") whose jaws reportedly unhinged like a anaconda.. The audience never saw Peggy's mother but rather only heard her voice coming from the upstairs bedroom. She's so big she hardly moved and when she did, chips of plaster flaked from the ceiling or the camera lens swayed with the tremors of her movements. Al once commented that his house was blessed "except for that big fat she-demon upstairs." On the 1995 season opener episode Peggy's mom threatened to move in forever when she left her husband (Tim Conway). The episode was advertised as "Something Humongous This Way Comes!"

MY MOTHER THE CAR/NBC/1965-66 (Talking Automobile) - Comedian Jerry Van Dyke starred in this occult comedy about a small town lawyer, Dave Crabtree who discovered that his mother had died and then returned as a 1928 Porter automobile. Veteran actress Ann Sothern supplied the voice of the reincarnated woman who spoke to her son via the car's radio speaker.

ROCKY KING, INSIDE DETECTIVE/DUM/1950-54 (Mabel King) - When N.Y.P.D. homicide detective, Rocky King (Roscoe Karns) came home after a tough day at the 24th precinct, his devoted wife, Mabel was there to comfort the big lug, performing all the typical duties of a 1950s housewife such as cooking, cleaning and listening to her hubby's woes. However, although Mabel's attentive efforts were quite visible to her husband, they were invisible to the television viewers for the simple fact that she was another of those faceless favorites who were never seen but only heard during each weekly episode. The show's producers knew it was cheaper to pay an actor to speak than to let them appear on television. And so, Grace Carney, the actress who supplied Mabel's voice was permanently kept hidden from her fans. Originally, Grace Carney performed off-camera because she was still in costume from another performance when she was asked to do the part of Rocky's wife. Anyway, she read her lines off camera during a live broadcast and the audience's favorable response to the mysterious unseen spouse, sealed her fate as one of television's first invisible actors. A typical episode might find Rocky King talking with his wife while she prepared his breakfast, followed later with a phone call from Rocky at work where he would inform her (and the audience) on the progress of his latest investigation. During the series five year run, numerous fans wrote letters to the show's producers demanding to see Mabel. Finally, the network commiserated but only slightly. The first time Mabel was to appear on the show, a cracked lens prevented her debut. When she finally was seen, it was through the blur of an out of focus lens. After all, the network wasn't about to spoil the mystery that made Mabel so popular. Still, despite the fact that she was never seen, the audience who was weaned on radio found it easy and even enjoyable to use a little imagination, in putting a face (and body) onto Rocky's better half.


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