What would the Stratford Inn in Vermont have been like without Larry, Darryl, and Darryl dropping in from time to time? What if they hadn’t had George Utley as a handyman or spoiled Stephanie as a maid?
On “Home Improvements”, what if Tim had not had Wilson to talk things over with? Where would Mary have been without Rhoda or Phyllis? “Three’s Company” would have been boring without the constant fear of Mr. Roper or Mr. Furley finding out that Jack was not really gay.
Supporting characters are very much a part of the show. As you have heard before, no man or woman is an island. Monologues and one person shows are great on Broadway, but a sitcom is usually a weekly television series. Remember, even Johnny Carson had Ed McMahon.
A supporting character does not always have to be seen. Remember Carlton the Doorman on “Rhoda”? Even Wilson, the neighbor on Home Improvements, was half hidden behind the fence. On “Cheers”, Norm finally got his wife Vera to show up at Thanksgiving, but her face was hidden behind a thrown pie. Even though "Charlie's Angels" was not a sitcom, we all knew the disembodied voice of Charlie was John Forsythe.
Some supporting characters have even gone on to get their own shows. Think about George and Louise Jefferson that were first seen on “All in the Family”. “Maude” and even the short-lived “Gloria” were from the same show. “Good Times” came from “Maude” when her maid, Florida got her own series. Come to think of it, Florida Evans never mentioned being a maid in a previous life on “Good Times”.
Robin Williams as Mork from Ork made a guest appearance on “Happy Days”. He then went on to get his own show. “Happy Days” also spun off “Laverne and Shirley”. The characters of Laverne and Shirley, played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams originally came to be a dates for the Fonz and Richie Cunningham.
If Julio had not been friends with Lamont, who besides Esther would have rubbed Fred Sanford the wrong way? LaWanda Page’s portrayal of Esther will not soon be forgotten. The sister-in-law from another place was a loved walking nightmare for many.
Now it is your turn to try maing a few supporting characters to help aid your main characters in laughter. Where are they from? What are their features and unique personality traits? Do they have pet peeves that may be a little quirky?
When writing a sitcom, make both the main and supporting characters memorable. Write not only for the present, but the possible future. Put life into your characters and really get to know them. If they are around for a long time, you will be also.