Out of Sight; Out of Mind: The Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

thFor those who enjoy watching episodic television, one of the most interesting phenomena to affect a show is the unexplained disappearance of a regular or reoccurring character. Characters who are there one episode and then are gone, never to reappear with no explanation offered.

One of the first notable examples of this phenomena was the disappearance of youngest son, Eugene Barkley, from the “Big Valley” television series in the 1960’s. The youngest Barkley, fourth born son of the late Tom Barkley. A student at Berkeley, he’s only present for seven episodes of the 1st season, after which he’s never heard from again.

This phenomena occurred a number of times over the history of television and was finally given a name around 1997: The Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. Its name derives from the disappearance of the oldest Cunningham child, Chuck, at the beginning of the second season of the hit series, “Happy Days”. At first, he is merely eliminated as a recurring character by shipping him off to college. Within a few years, his very existence is disavowed.

It is interesting that these disappearances are so easily glossed over and accepted by the viewing public without comment for the most part. It is certainly very much an ‘out of sight; out of mind’ phenomenon. While not a major issue, it is very telling of the psychology of the average television and motion picture viewer that it occurs so often but raises such little notice. It does make one pause and wonder to what other areas of our life that a similar lack of attention to detail exists in our culture.


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