As viewers, we come back each week to see what Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine will do; or what repartee will fly between Tony and Janice Soprano, Lou Grant and Mary Richards, or The Fonz and Richie Cunningham. We enjoy these characters as much as we do, in part, because they have become so familiar to us.
As soon as Kramer or Norton crashes through Jerry or Ralph's apartment door (without knocking) we know something about what might occur and what foibles mark each character. Kramer and Norton are so familiar to their neighbors that they can enter unannounced. And just as they are familiar to Jerry and Ralph, so too are they familiar to us. Jerry and Ralph respond to their antics much as we do, and for an instant, they are also members of the audience. We are in our living room, they in theirs. We experience much of this unconsciously but it helps us identify further with the characters.
Cheers used a similar device, with the other characters calling out “Norm” each time he entered the bar. And the show's theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name, ” reinforced the concept. The audience likes such programs not only because the characters are familiar, but also because the characters are so familiar to each other. We feel like we're part of Cheers—the bar and the show. In television, there is often an especially intimate merging of audience and character.
There are stock characters in Italian commedia dell'arte, in Japanese Kabuki, and in vaudeville and the American melodrama and minstrel shows; they are not a new invention by any means. However, the same person inhabiting the same character each week to the extent seen in the early years of American film, radio, and television is noteworthy and a critical factor in television's commercial success around the world.
Viewers like knowing the characters in their favorite programs (Kubey, 2000, 2002). Indeed, it is instructive to watch very early episodes of a longrunning situation comedy to see how much the characters and performances