When the ratings fall low enough to cause concern, but not low enough to pull the plug – yet – producers love to wheel out their second line of attack: new characters that appeal to a previously untapped demographic. Will it be the adorable kid/dinosaur/robot/thing, the woman with big tits or the cute guy to finally reel in the missing female viewers…?
Mr. Chekov – Star Trek (The original Series, seasons 2/3)Star Trek never seemed to have the full confidence of NBC. It took two pilot episodes to get the Enterprise off the ground and the series was always gradually shifting away from the cerebral to the action-oriented, as the mini-skirts got shorter and the wolf-whistles got louder. Part of this drive for commercial appeal – which culminated in the monster-loaded third season under trouble-shooter/series-killer Fred Freiberger – was the introduction of Pavel Chekov with his Beatles/Monkees haircut and swoon-appeal (I really am stretching my imagination to accommodate this). Series originator Gene Roddenberry propagated the story for many years that the ‘V’-challenged Russian navigator – played by Walter Koenig – was inspired by a Pravda article lamenting the lack of a Ruskie on the bridge of the Enterprise. No such article was ever found in the Pravda archives.
Maya – Space 1999, series 2Having killed Star Trek with rock-monsters and derring-do, Fred Freiberger was called in to murder the rather esoteric Brit sci-fi Space:1999 in the mid-1970s. He introduced…well, rock monsters and derring-do. New costumes. Smaller sets. Freeze-frame on a laugh before the closing credits. And ‘Maya’, the metamorph from the planet Psychon who could transform herself into the shape of any creature from a million worlds. This she did – as Manimal was later to do – via elliptical editing techniques, usually to unintentionally comic effect. Maya became the K9 of Space:1999 (besides in the sense of being able to transform into a dog), since her powers provided the already inferior writing of the second season with an instant escape-clause. Catherine Schell played the part well and deserved something better than her beer-making boyfriend Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt), another Freiberger newbie. Verdeschi was second-in-command at Moonbase Alpha under Freiberger, despite never having been seen at all in the first season.
‘Seven’ – Married With Children, season 7Watching a series as genuinely hilarious and anti-schmaltz as Married With Children lose its way was a painful process for adherents. Gradually the Happy Days syndrome kicked in, as the entrance of each regular character seemed to eat up 5 minutes runtime in studio applause – cheaper than writing any lines, I guess. Worse, the misanthropic life-hating, wife-hating Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) gradually softened. Then they put a cute kid in it. The execrable ‘seven’, played by Shane Sweet, was a token child brought in for the kid-appeal missing now that little Bundys Christina Applegate and David Faustino were too old to provide it. Rumour has it that the unimaginatively-named little wretch was provided as a stand-in for the baby that was to feature in season seven until Peggy Bundy actress Katey Sagal miscarried, and that the writers needed an easy substitution to avoid a total re-write of the series.
Seven Of Nine – Star Trek: Voyager, season four After three seasons of good intentions with a bold and Hepburn-like female captain at the helm of a lost Federation Starship, a slump in ratings dictated an injection of…tits. Wildly endomorphic Jeri Ryan was wheeled on board Voyager as one ninth of a Borg sub-collective, gradually being inducted into the crew. Superficially the character got in on the Spock/Data ticket, as a cybernetic creature that had once been called Annika Hansen, but now had been dehumanised by her assimilation to the Borg. Her journey back towards humanity would be slow and fascinating, and she would at the same time demonstrate noble qualities that her new human friends might do well to learn.
Just in case that character dynamic didn’t work, the producers dressed the very attractive Ms. Ryan in (thinly) sprayed spandex. Ratings shot up. You decide why.
Officer Shawn McCormick – Knight Rider 2000 (1991)As far as I know, Katee Sackhoff’s curve-blowing Starbuck in new Battlestar Galactica is the only time the old ‘gender switcheroo’ has ever worked in TV. It certainly didn’t in this reboot of the Hasselhoff franchise. In KR2K, Susan Norman is not actually playing a female version of the Hoff’s Michael Knight character – and indeed she only gets handed the keys to Kitt at the very end of this rambling and meandering mess – but is instead a ‘fresh new female take’ on the curmudgeonly old sexist show. Anyway, she was too late to recapture Knight Rider’s 80s popularity and too early to join the hard-hitting nineties women kick-started by La Femme Nikita (1990), its US remake and interminable Australian TV series. Ultimately Officer McCormick was Fox Force Six – the chick with the out-of-date wheels.
Head to the comments box to add your favourite emergency TV character…