By Thomas Sellers Jr.
A huge part of my after-school routine was doing my homework next to the TV.
Believe it or not, the noise helped me concentrate on my lessons and assisted me in keeping all my assignments in order. It was like going to class all over again as two hours of Saved by the Bell played on TBS.
Through elementary, middle and high schools, I shared some learning time with Zack, Lisa, Jesse, Slater, Kelly and Samuel “Screech” Powers. All three girls involved in the show made up my dream girl with Jessie’s brains, Kelly’s beauty and Lisa’s style.
I model my coolness after Zack and tried to be athletic like AC Slater. But the one character I could mostly relate too was Screech. I was a nerd, outcast at times and got attention by doing silly things. So when the news of the actor who portrayed Screech for more than a decade passing away, it hurt my heart.
A part of my childhood died with Dustin Diamond on Feb. 1. At the young age of 44, Diamond was gone after a battle with Stage 4 lung cancer. Life is short but those who graced our small screens will live forever.
Diamond is in a rare group of characters who stole the show, became cultural icons because of their character and will be a part of generations to come. Diamond’s dedication to Screech and amazing work inspired me to do this Best Sellers’ List.
This week I’m ranking the most iconic, non-lead TV sitcom characters of all time. I’m focusing on the actors who were not build as the star of these shows but over time the public tuned into the program just to see them. From catchphrases, to familiar troupes, let’s rank my favorite 10 scene-stealing, show-stealing characters of through the years.
- Ron Swanson (Parks and Recreation) — played by Nick Offerman
I have to be honest, I just learned about this dude. It took a 30 minute Youtube introduction and watching a couple of episodes of Parks and Recreation to officially give Mr. Ron Swanson a spot on this list.
I’m still amercing myself with in Swanologues. His dry, straight delivery contradicts the rest of the cast. But they go with the flow of Ron. Then out of nowhere Swanson brings the energy to get a laugh.
Who could keep a man off the list who loves bacon. That’s a bond right there for me and Mr. Swanson.
- Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld) – played by Michael Richards
People who have a crazy neighbor or friend still call them Kramer. From his hair to his style of dress, Cosmo Kramer left his mark on TV history. His goofy energy was a contrast to the rest of the Seinfeld cast. Michael Richards’ portrayal of Kramer was a masterclass in character acting. The real life guy is chill and relaxed. But Kramer was non-stop quirky with a lovable charm.
- Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties) — played by Michael J. Fox
Before Michael J. Fox became a household name in the 1980s with blockbuster movies, he was the emerging star of Family Ties. Many laughs were provided through the relationship between Young Republican Alex P Keaton and his hippie parents, Steven and Elyse Keaton.
Too mature for his high school years, Alex P. Keaton was the odd ball of his family. But often in his shirt and tie, many scenes were stolen by Fox through Alex P.
- Mike Seaver (Growing Pains) — played by Kirk Cameron
One of my favorite sitcom families of all time are the Seavers. Toward the end of the show’s run, younger son Ben was hilarious. But he learned from the best, big brother Mike Seaver. When Growing Pains started, Mike was the teenage and oldest child of three. By the time his baby sister Chrissy was born, Mike was matured and making his way through life.
The younger Mike was there for pure comedy gold. Mike created trouble for his parents mainly through lacking grades and chasing girls. But what made Mike so memorable was his genuine love for his family and friends.
- Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother) – played by Neil Patrick Harris
My next selection is legendary! After his appearance in the movie Harold & Kumar, I discovered how funny Neil Patrick Harris could be. He was no longer little Doogie Howser, M.D. Harris was frequent laughs as Barney Stinson. To sum up Stinson, he’s a delusional, narcissistic womanizer. But his catchphrases and ineffaceable punchlines made you tune in every week.
Barney steal the energy in every room he enters, is must-listen-to when he tells a story and is the go-to guy to do wild and crazy stuff. Barney Stinson is one of the best persona in TV history.
- Samuel “Screech” Powers (Saved by the Bell) – played by Dustin Diamond
He literally grew up right in front of our eyes. Dustin Diamond was only 11 years old when he took on the role of Screech. His amazing job of playing the nerd of the group has earned Diamond a spot in pop culture for years to come.
Samuel Powers is not the name that comes to heart. It’s Screech. And that name ranks up there with Zack Morris. While we all grew up wanting to be Zack Morris, we realized later in life we were more like Screech.
We could be smart but goofy. We had good intentions but messed things up. We tried to be cool but we ended up creating our own style. We chased love but love always got away. Screech taught us about loyalty to friends and giving your all to the greater cause.
Thanks Diamond for making the Saved by the Bell franchise iconic overall by appearing in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, Saved by the Bell, Saved by the Bell: The College Years and Saved by the Bell: The New Class.
- James Evans Jr. “J.J.” (Good Times) — played by Jimmy Walker
Before there was a “What you talkin’ about Willis” or “Did I do that?” There was, “Dynomite!” The first mega catchphrase from a black actor to sweep the country came from J.J. Evans.
James Evans Jr. was brought to life by the natural talents and charm of Jimmy Walker. Quickly he stole the focus of the show — some say worse. But J.J. Gave the show Good Times staying power. Walker played the part of J.J. Evans on Good Times from 1974-1979.
A raw talent, producers gave him a show as the oldest child of the Evans family because Walker was a actor, humorist and stand-up comedian. J.J. gave Walker a platform to be a cultural icon through his mannerisms, style and of course catchphrases.
- Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, Fonzie/The Fonz (Happy Days) — played by Henry Winkler
The Fonz is the prototype for his countdown. Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli is better known as “Fonzie” or “The Fonz.” On the show Happy Days, he would just pop up and steal a scene in the early days. Now Happy Days ran for 10 years and toward the end, The Fonz was the main reason folks tuned in. He was originally a secondary character, but was soon positioned as a lead character when he began surpassing the other characters in popularity.
The Fonz was super cool from the hair and leather jacket to his “Heyyyyyy.” You can’t but help give Fonzie a thumbs up. From the 1950s to the 2020s, Arthur Fonzarelli is still the definition of cool.
- Steve Quincy Urkel (Family Matters) — played Jaleel White
The black version of Full House, “Family Matters” was struggling along in the beginning. It need a boost, a shot of energy. Then a guest spot by a young actor Jaleel White gave birth to a world-wide phenomenon. An awkward nerd with a crush on Laura Winslow generated huge ratings.
Writers brought him back and started to find reasons to write this young kid into the show more. Eventually Family Matters transformed into “The Steve Urkel Show.”
Urkel went from a one-time appearance to the main protagonist. You hear the name Steve Urkel you think large, thick eyeglasses, flood pants held up by suspenders, multi-colored cardigan sweaters, saddle shoes and a high-pitched voice. He is the epitome of a geek or nerd.
Urkel made a lasting impression on the show by destroying things and hurting people. “Did he do that?” And his other impact was on merchandise, TV history and pop culture.
- Sophia Petrillo (The Golden Girls) — played by Estelle Getty
Picture it… Memphis, Tenn., 2021. A nearly 40-year-old black man is writing about one of the funniest, coolest and inspirational sitcom characters of all time. My No. 1 scene-stealing, catchphrase-having, cultural icon is Sophia Petrillo.
Sophia Petrillo is a character from the sitcom television series The Golden Girls and its many spin-offs. From The Golden Palace and to the Empty Nest, Estelle Getty made viewers follower her charm and wit across the dial. She even popped up on Blossom and Nurses. NBC milked Sophia for as long as it could. Getty portrayed Sophia for 10 years and 258 episodes in total.
I am not ashamed to say I love Sophia Petrillo. I’m so glad she escaped that retirement home fire and gave me years of laughter.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to email@example.com.