5 Iconic Characters That Were Only Supposed to Be Bit Parts

#2. President Bartlet from The West Wing Wasn't Supposed to Be on the Show At All

NBC

We're currently in television's golden age of dramas starring white male protagonists, and leading the charge, at the turn of the millennium, was The West Wing, with Martin Sheen's President Josiah Bartlet. He wasn't a tragic antihero of the kind that premium cable dishes out -- he was a straight larger-than-life messiah.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Sorkin initially named him "Aaron of Nazareth," but he decided "Josiah" was more subtle.

The show won the Best Drama Emmy four years running (tied for the most ever), presumably due to its central lead. The character arguably had a good shot of winning the real-life 2008 elections, even though he was fictional and constitutionally barred from a third term.

Why We Almost Didn't Get Him:

The drama set in the White House and covering the presidency originally wasn't going to include the president at all.

The show was supposed to focus on the president's staff (and it largely ended up doing so), covering the public relations side of the presidency. Aaron Sorkin thought the presence of the executive himself would ruin the show's status as an ensemble drama. So policy and political machinations would be discussed and responded to by everyone relevant -- other than the president himself.

NBC
The White House Janitor, played by Charlie Sheen, was to be a regular sounding board for drug policy.

Of course, they couldn't ignore the president entirely, that would just be ridiculous. The initial plan was for the audience to catch occasional glimpses of the president, just a bent-over ass or the back of his head. But as this was the same gimmick they used on Home Improvement to hide Wilson's face, it wasn't too difficult to figure out how silly that was going to look.

So they grabbed Sheen. He was basically a stock presidential actor, thanks to his various White House acting gigs, so they just brought him in for the pilot and occasional appearances thereafter. You can watch the pilot and see that he plays a pretty minor part for such a major role. Soon after filming, everyone realized that the president popping in once every month wasn't much better than not appearing at all. They broke down and rewrote him as the lead.

NBC
Sparing us such arcs as "intern's daughter kidnapped" and "Deputy Communications Chief assassination attempt."

Sheen was keen to take on the role, because whether or not TV can really convince anyone of anything, it proved a great way for the social activist to at least get people talking about his favorite issues. After a couple years, NBC was actually afraid that his outside soapboxing would hurt the show, but what could they do? Try to make the show without him? That would be insane.

#1. Frasier Crane from Cheers and Frasier Was Kept Around to Annoy Shelley Long

NBC

You may be thinking, "How were they going to write Frasier out of a show called Frasier?" But people often forget that the star of that sitcom about rich people originally began as a character on Cheers, that sitcom about drunk people. Despite TV execs being generally starved for originality, spinoffs are rare in TV land, and popular spinoffs virtually unheard of (we're looking at you, Joey).

CBS
Only occasionally is a spinoff universally loved, like The Brady Brides.

But Frasier was so popular that he not only got his own show for 11 seasons, but also showed up on another sitcom called Wings, because why not?

Why We Almost Didn't Get Him:

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was never originally a core cast member of Cheers. In fact, he was only supposed to show up for a few episodes in the third season, long enough to have an affair with Diane (Shelley Long) and create a little dramatic tension. Essentially, he was a device to make Sam jealous.

Moviestore Collection/Rex Features
He began as a minor villain, yessiree bob. A sideshow.

Of course, Sam, Ted Danson's bartender character, was the guy we were really supposed to like. He was the down-to-earth, friendly, relatable lead. Frasier Crane was basically his opposite -- a stuffy, pompous rich guy who didn't care much for the working class functional alcoholics who hung around at Cheers. The plan was that he would stick around for a few days until the others told him to piss off and Diane could come to her senses.

And no one was more eager for this to happen than Long, who hated Grammer and was constantly demanding he be written out of the show as quickly as possible. But you know who hated Long in return? The writers, who Grammer says kept the character around purely out of spite. If Long had liked him, or even been less of a horrible person, maybe they'd have just let Frasier drop off the map. Of course, that might be Grammer not giving himself enough credit -- the producers say they just loved what Grammer did with the character, which is what they would say since it sounds better than "The entire show was just our experiment to see if we could cause Shelley Long to have a nervous breakdown."

NBC
When they gave her a guest spot on Frasier, the experiment ended in success.

Regardless, between Cheers and its spinoffs, the one-time character that nobody was supposed to like became the longest continuously running television character of all time. And we are counting X-Men 3 as a Cheers spinoff here, because the Beast was clearly Frasier Crane in a blue furry costume.


Follow Joe Oliveto on Twitter and your family gets to live. Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter and your enemies get to die.

Related Reading: Knowing more about your favorite characters isn't always a good thing. Mrs. Piggy's guest appearance as a cannibal sure wasn't heartwarming. And James Bond seems a little less awesome when you hear about Sean Connery's desire to murder him. That sort of behavior isn't limited to actors, plenty of musicians despised their most iconic songs.

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