Rerun Junkie–Best Characters to Join a Show After the First Season

One day a question floated across my Twitter timeline: Who’s the best character to join a show after the first season?

And my immediate response was, “I can’t answer this with a tweet. I need a blog post!”

So here I am, months later, finally getting around to answering that highly subjective question. In order to keep from rambling, I only picked characters from shows I’ve written about here. And even then, I restrained myself to keep it down to a dull roar.

Let’s start off with a couple of the more subjective ones and work our way (okay, my way) closer to objective.

Ben Kokua (Al Harrington) and Duke Lukela (Herman Wedemeyer), Hawaii Five-OYeah, you’re going to have to fight me on this one. Ben replaced Kono (Zulu) at the beginning of the fifth season and stayed through the seventh season. I feel he made a nice addition to the team. Solid, native, not flashy, except when he was undercover and had to wear ugly shirts as part of the gig. Al Harrington had already been on the show a few times, playing other (and usually bad) guys, and has since had a recurring role on the new show (playing yet another character). Clearly, every version of this show needs Al Harrington in some form, though I maintain Ben was the best.

Duke is a legend in my mind. Though Herman Wedemeyer was there from the beginning, the character of Duke didn’t actually happen until the fourth season. Of the 155 episodes that Herman Wedemeyer is credited for, only seven were not as Duke Lukela. Better yet, we get to watch as Duke goes from uniformed officer bit role to a detective with a starring credit in the final season. How marvelous is that? And if you still doubt that Duke should be on this list, then let me point out that the current show also has a Duke Lukela and he’s played by Dennis Chun, the son of the original Chin Ho, Kam Fong. Now that’s legend.

Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak), Murder, She Wrote–When Tom Bosley left the show, Cabot Cove needed a new sheriff. With Amos Tupper retired, the new law in town came in the form of Mort Metzger, a city cop who didn’t understand why the murder rate of a small town was so high and why some old woman was so involved in solving them. It was the fish-out-of-water aspect of Ron Masak’s character that not only separated him from Amos, but from everyone else in town. He spent half of his time bewildered by the goings-on of the locals, his hard line approach not so effective in a town where everybody knows everybody. Considering Ron Masak was in episodes of both The Monkees and Land of the Lost, it’s no wonder he was able to bring a touch of brilliance to this character and even make his never-seen, often-referred to wife Adelle come to life.

Detective Arthur Dietrich (Steve Landesberg) and Officer Carl Levitt (Ron Carey), Barney Miller–Both Steve Landesberg and Ron Carey appeared on the show as different characters prior to becoming the two of the characters on this list. Steve Landesburg first appeared as Father Paul in the first episode of season 2. The 12th episode of that same season, he made his first appearance as Dietrich, a dry-humored, incredibly intelligent detective who came in as Fish was going out. Of course, the two would appear together for over a season until Abe Vigoda’s official departure at the beginning of season 4. Many of his first episodes involved him trying to find a place in the 12th precinct. By the time the show ended, it was hard to imagine what it was like without him.

Ron Carey’s first appearance was as a character called The Mole in the last episode of the second season. It was only the third episode of the third season when he made his first appearance as Carl Levitt, a short, overly-enthusiastic uniform keen on making detective some day and taking every available opportunity to get into plain clothes. Not just a punchline, Levitt got to be the hero by saving some kids, ratted out the squad room with petty grievances to both protect them and to express his displeasure from being put down all the time, and eventually made detective in the final episode. As well he should.

Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis), Gunsmoke–This twenty-year show was on the air nine years before Festus Haggen settled in Dodge City permanently. It’s hard to imagine Gunsmoke without Ken Curtis, especially since most of the syndication packages typically show the later episodes, but Dennis Weaver played Chester Good for 290 episodes (1955-1964). Festus’s first appearance actually came in 1962, but he became a regular in 1964 after Dennis Weaver left and ended up becoming such an iconic character that it’s hard to imagine Ken Curtis as anyone else (he was, though, playing a few different characters on the show before becoming Festus). Dodge City wouldn’t be the same without him.

This list is far from complete, of course. And it’s far from objective, as I warned. I might just answer this question again sometime in the future. New list, new shows, new characters. The answers are endless.

Who do you think the best characters are that joined a show after the first season?

Rerun Junkie–Murder, She Wrote

One of the few reruns that I had the pleasure of watching first run before it became a rerun junkie delight, to me, it was never just for old ladies.

I told my niece that's taking piano lessons if she didn't learn this theme song, her lessons were a waste.
I told my niece that’s taking piano lessons if she didn’t learn this theme song, her lessons were a waste.

Murder, She Wrote follows the exploits of widowed former-teacher Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) who now writes mysteries under the name of J.B. Fletcher and solves a few in her spare time. In her quaint hamlet of Cabot Cove, she’s assisted by first Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley) and then his successor Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak) and local doctor Seth Hazlitt (William Window). Most, if not all of the mysteries, were murders, so a lot of people died in Cabot Cove. The guy adjusting the population number on the welcome sign was always busy.

But, it wasn’t just Cabot Cove that was filled with people offing their neighbors left and right. Wherever Jessica Fletcher went, people died (sort of an important component of the series, but it made the woman look like the Angel of Death). At a circus? Murder. On an airplane? Murder. Trapped in a cafe during a storm? Murder. Trapped in a ski lodge during a storm? Murder. At the stockbroker’s office? Murder. In a prison? Murder. At an archaeological dig? Murder. At a wedding? Murder. At a crazy friend’s house? Murder. On a ranch? Murder. At a local inn? Murder. In Sleepy Hollow? Murder.

Here a murder, there a murder, everywhere a murder murder.

They mysteries were pretty straight-forward. They introduced the principal characters, someone died, an investigation ensued, and Jessica would solve it before the credits rolled. A simple formula that could be used to in so many ways, the stories didn’t really get old.

I admit that most of my favorite episodes take place in or near Cabot Cove, or at least with one of the sheriffs or doctor. The chemistry Dame Lansbury has with Mr. Tom Bosley and Mr. William Windom, and later Mr. Ron Masak (who is one of my favorites), is fabulous. You’d never get tired of having lunch with that group.

So, do want to investigate a murder before or after lunch?
So, do want to investigate a murder before or after lunch?

 

The show ran for twelve years with over 200 episodes, so I’m not exactly exaggerating when I say EVERYONE was on this show. It took me hours over days to sort through everyone before I realized that I could do a whole blog post on the guest stars alone, which I’ll probably end up doing at some point. In the meantime, I decided to do a very short list featuring the names I wanted to feature. Neener.

Other recurring characters on the show included:Michael Horton as Jessica’s often-in-trouble nephew Grady; private investigators Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw (who got his own, short-lived spin-off) and Wayne Rogers as Charlie Garrett; Keith Mitchell as jewel thief Dennis Stanton; Len Cariou as British agent Michael Hagarty; Herb Edleman as Lt. Artie Gelber and Ken Swafford as Lt. Catalano, the law enforcement Jessica often collaborated with when she was in New York (not my favorite episodes, sorry, guys); Cabot Cove folks Claude Akins as Captain Ethan Cragg, Julie Adams as Eve Simpson, Richard Paul as Mayor Samm Booth, John Astin as Harry Pierce, and Will Nye as Deputy Floyd and Louis Hearthom as Deputy Andy Broom.

Familiar faces from the reruns I’ve blogged about here include: Kevin Tighe, Randolph Mantooth, Robert Fuller, Marco Lopez, Vince Howard, James McEachin, Harry Morgan, Martin Milner, Kent McCord, Adam West, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Lee Meriweather, James MacArthur, Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, Dirk Benedict, Melinda Culea, Eddie Velez, Robert Vaughn, William Lucking, Lance LeGault, Rue McClanahan, George Grizzard, Monte Markham, Melissa Sue Anderson, Karen Grassle, Bonnie Bartlet, Dean Butler, Max Gail, Gregory Sierra, Ron Glass, Abe Vigoda, David Soul, Alan Hale, James Hampton, Forrest Tucker, Joe Santos Noah Beery Jr, Gretchen Corbett, William Conrad, and David Hedison (okay, I haven’t done Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea yet, but I’m going to!).

And just think…that’s the only the tip of the ice berg when it comes to familiar faces.

This is one of those shows that never fails to entertain me, no matter how many times I’ve seen an episode. I catch new things each time I watch it. And Jessica Fletcher is a delightful woman to spend an hour with.

Mostly because you know that you’re the one that won’t end up dead.

Whoops! Another body!
Whoops! Another body!