Jack and Karin: And Other TV Shows That Have Better Supporting Stars Than Stars

Let’s be honest…Will and Grace would never have been a hit without Jack and Karin and they are usually funnier than Will and Grace in every episode.

Roseanne was clever to get real actors, Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman…without the two of them, her show would have tanked in season one.

What other shows do you think relied heavily, if not entirely, on the supporting actor(s)?

Seinfeld us the first to spring to mind, and I’ll second Roseanne.

Bob Newhart surrounded himself with good supporting actors in “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart,” and “Bob.” Of course, his style required someone funny to react to. But he had Howard, Jerry, Mr. Peterson, Mr. Carlin, Carol, George Utley, Stephanie, Michael, Larry, Darryl, Darryl, Harlan, Abie, and Chad – a great gallery of funny supporting characters.

Going back earlier, Jack Benny had great support (and for the same reason).

Never thought that much of Frasier (Grammer) - but his brother Niles (Pierce) is great.

In Cybil Shepherd’s show, Baransky, the drunken friend, was far better, but that’s like being the tallest guy in the jockey’s locker room. Doesn’t say much.

Lurkernomore, yes! Baransky’s a perfect example of the second banana who was the only reason to watch the show. But if it had been her show, then we might be saying the same thing about Cybill. Do ya think? It’s the contrast, isn’t it?

John Laroquette made Night Court watchable.

MASH*: where would it have been w/o Frank Burns?

I’ll second Night Court.

“Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“Star Trek”: THe presense of Spock and McCoy help cover up the fact that William Shatner can’t act.

“Night Court”: Harry Anderson’s merely obnoxious, and John Larroquette creates a great character.

“Barney Miller”: They needed their supporting cast, and I’ll leave it at that.

I’m a big Law and Order fan, and the first names that popped into my mind when I saw this thread were Ice-T and Richard Belzer as Detectives Tutuola and Munch on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”.

Just because Shatner doesn’t bother to act today (or during T.J. Hooker) doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting his ass off in the '60s. That was some fantastic acting, and part of the reason for the show’s enduring popularity.

Beyond that, I’m sorry to say I have nothing to add to the thread.

I’ll third Baransky, but add in the daughter too. I love red heads.

Actually, I’d say the contrast was between a good comedic actor and a bad one, IMO…

Do you think Night Court was as star-driven? I always considered it more ensemble, you could add and subtract characters relatively freely. Anderson was OK, but you needed the Fieldings and Bulls. Same for Barney Miller. Maybe one slightly bigger name in the center, but not by much.

Shatner had a great role. Sometimes he was good at it. Sometimes he was best accompanied by Swiss cheese and mustard. And I LIKE Trek.

No, I don’t think of Night Court as star-driven, not at all. But I don’t see it as strictly ensemble either. When I think ensemble, it’s where any person can be replaced and the show would still work.

Night Court wouldn’t have been beans without Laroquette. The others were great too, of course, but he was irreplaceable.

Night Court fits the formula of show with a “star” or lead actor whose role or character is fairly normal (behavior-wise) with supporting people who are weird and zany and often dysfunctional, therefore much more entertaining than the lead. Foils, I guess.

Like the maintenance man on Scrubs. I start laughing as soon as I see him, but I probably wouldn’t watch a whole show built around him.

JAG. Harm is the most wooden, one-dimensional character ever. Mac is only marginally more interesting. But the Admiral, Bud, Harriet, and various other supporting characters make the show interesting.

At one point I was taping JAG so that I could FF Harm’s storylines.

I agree 100% about Frasier. It’s all about Niles – and Martin.

AuntiePam hit the nail on the head, IMO. It’s not so much that the supporting actors on a show are better as it is they have more-colorful roles.

Think “normal” Mary Richards vs. zany Ted Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens, or Alex vs. Louie and Latka.

William Shatner was just fine in the role of Kirk.

I think there’s some confusion here between the notion of sidekicks being zanier and funnier than the main characters - which is true of most shows - and sidekicks unintentionally being way better characters than the mains, which isn’t supposed to happen.

Many shows are SUPPOSED to have “funnier” supporting characters. Seinfeld’s supposed to be the way it is. Jerry is the straight man, and everyone else represents his observations of how weird manners are, just like his standup routine. “Everyone Loves Raymond” is the same way; Raymond is supposed to just be stupid. Everyone else is funny because they’re the crazy relatives the stupid guy can’t understand. This However, some shows place the font of wackiness in the main character; in “Home Improvement,” Tim is supposed to be the funniest guy on the show. “Frasier” stars a character who is supposed to be a pompous fool who’s always humiliated.

“Will and Grace” is, IMHO, a case of a show where the supporting characters are funnier than the main characters but aren’t supposed to be. The show is such that one of the characters (Grace) is so weak and boring that the show’s intended central source of laughs (the Will-Grace relationship) isn’t as funny as the zany sidekicks.

Look at it this way; if you got rid of Tim Allen, “Home Improvement” wouldn’t work. If you got rid of Kelsey Grammer, “Frasier” wouldn’t work. If you got rid of Matt LeBlanc, you’d be surprised how much that would hurt “Friends.” Topher Grace is a pure straight man on “That 70’s Show” but if you dumped him the show would be too zany, and wouldn’t work. But if you dumped Debra Messing, I don’t think “Will and Grace” would skip a beat. Hell, “Will” might be a better show. And that’s why Megan Mullaly and Sean Hayes get so much attention; without them it’d be mediocre.

RickJay: I think Will and Grace might, just might, fall under the rule of contrasts thing that has been mentioned previously in this thread. I mean, Will and Grace are basically written as straight (comedy-wise), except for Grace’s neurosis. Jack and Karen have so many foibles and outrageous behaviors written into their characters that I find it hard to believe that the creators didn’t realize this in the concept stage.

Of course, I may be entirely wrong, and they might have just been totally blind, or maybe Hayes and Mullally “created” their characters themselves. But it just seems pretty unlikely to me that such a thing went totally unnoticed.

Sometimes the beefing up of a character is a result of that character’s popularity – Mimi was originally supposed to be a one-shot on Drew Carey, IIRC. I think the extent to which the show is about Jack and Karen has been in response to the response to them. Of course, I don’t watch the show, so I could be wrong.

As an addition to the OP, I am sadly aware that the new, Big Fat Greek Life is now suffering from the same problem!

Andrea Martin, in only two aired episodes to date, is already the only really funny person on the show! I don’t know how much longer she will be able to carry it off by herself, but if anyone is destined to have her own show…