TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

This trope is the opposite of Remember the New Guy.  Chuck Cunningham Syndrome is when a character is written out of a given series, but after that, there is no mention of him or her, even though the character was important to the show, nor is there any explanation for his or her sudden absence.  It would seem as though the character never existed in the first place.

The name of this trope came from the character Chuck Cunningham, the older brother of Richie Cunningham in Happy Days.  In Chuck’s final appearance he went up stairs holding a basketball, and was never seen nor mentioned again.

Now, why would this happen?  Often a character may start as important, but the writer or writers may gradually lose interest in them until they are forgotten about altogether.  Sometimes, conflict and drama behind the scenes leads to a character being written out, the actor being dismissed, and possibly as a result of the drama, the character being “forgotten” about due to a desire to put out of mind the conflict that lead to the actor being dismissed in the first place.

An example of that least reason is the character of Judy Winslow from Family Matters.  What many people don’t know about that show is that is is a spinoff of a show called Perfect Strangers, which had Hariette Winslow as an original character of that show.  Family Matters was supposed to focus on Hariette’s life with her family, but midway through season one, Jaleel White as Steve Urkel was introduced.  He was supposed to be a one-time only character, but his performance was so very enthusiastically received that he became a permanent part of the show; the show became centered around the Winslow’s family relationship with Steve.  This lead to Judy Winslow, played by Jaimee Foxworth to eventually get the shaft.  Her role in the show became smaller and smaller eventually having no lines and appearing in episodes just to fulfill her contractual obligations; after a demand was made (presumably by her parents on her behalf) for more money and more screen time, Foxworth was let go from the show at the end of the fourth season.  Her final scene consisted of Judy going upstairs to her bedroom to play on her NES.  After this, Judy was written out of the show, and treated as though she never existed.  Foxworth’s life was never the same, and she suffered through drug and alcohol addiction, became a porn star,  and lost her earnings from the show when a judge allowed her family to use her trust fund to settle their bankruptcy; despite this she managed to turn things around and live a fairly normal life.

Degrassi is one of my favorite shows, but one major issue with the show is that several characters were written out with no explanation.  The most noteworthy is Kendra Mason.  She is the adopted sister of Spinner Mason and first appeared in season 2.  After season 3, she was never seen nor mentioned again; supposedly, the actress’s parents pulled her off the show because they objected to planned storyline where Kendra would lose her virginity.  What made this example especially jarring was that Spinner had some dramatic experiences in the following seasons, and yet, she was not there to react to them or help support him through it.

Another example is from Edgemont, a Canadian teen drama set outside Vancouver.  Mile Ferguson, one of the principal actors, died in a car accident before the show’s first season even premiered.  After the second season, his character Scott Linton was written out and never seen nor mentioned  again.  When an actor dies, it can be difficult to know what to do with the character; depending on circumstances, never mentioning the character again, killing them off, or having them move elsewhere could all be accused of being insensitive.

Honestly, writers should avoid this trope.  It is lazy and insulting to audiences and readers.  If there is a need for a show to remove a character, they should come up with some explanation for his or her absence.  Also, one should make the effort to avoid