The 5 Most Iconic Animal Characters in US Sitcoms
“Never work with children or animals” is a running slogan within the TV industry – even Benedict Cumberbatch seems to know that these days. Apparently, they will almost inevitably steal the show. And you don’t have to be an animal enthusiast to truly appreciate the talented work that several animal sidekicks (or, in some cases, protagonists) put into the sitcoms they appear in. These are five of the most iconic animal characters in popular sitcoms that have each won over the audience’s hearts in their own unique way and are remembered fondly by die-hard fans worldwide.
- Buck Bundy
Buck was a faithful yet opinionated companion to the Bundy family throughout Married… With Children – which has consistently ranked as one of the best and most popular shows ever to air on Fox. Buck shared many of his family’s traits: he was best known for his sarcastic attitude towards the rest of the Bundy household, his often insulting comments and his stoic, albeit crass approach to life in general.
Only the audience was privy to Buck’s cunning inner thoughts – with the help of voiceover – which might account for the special bond that developed between the character and the viewers, while the rest of the family remained in the dark and regularly underestimated Buck’s intelligence. Buck was a briard sheep dog and an original cast member that stayed with the infamous family from the show’s premiere in 1987 until his retirement in 1995 due to old age – which was written in as the dog’s death; Buck was seen going to animal heaven, where he was judged and reincarnated as a cocker spaniel named Lucky, who was (re)adopted by the Bundy family and stayed with them until the series’ finale.
Blansky’s Beauties was a short-lived American sitcom that premiered in 1977 as a spin-off of Happy Days, hoping to catch on some of the parent show’s popularity – the legacy of which still lives on. The main character is Nancy Blansky, Howard Cunningham’s visiting cousin from Las Vegas on the February 4 1977, episode of Happy Days and den mother to a group of Las Vegas showgirls. She shared her chaotic apartment with two of the girls, her nephews, and a Great Dane named Blackjack after his ability to play cards and his apparent fondness for the game.
Blackjack is shown in the opening credits of the sitcom, along with main star Nancy Walker (also notable for The Mary Tyler Moore Show on CBS, a series of commercials for Bounty paper towels and a recurring role on the Golden Girls) and the rest of the cast. The Great Dane is seen demonstrating his ability to play blackjack – and perhaps even more impressively, if you take a closer look, he appears to be splitting cards, which, which is a more elaborate way of playing blackjack by splitting your initial hand into two separate hands and then drawing cards independently on both of them. Nobody can argue that Blackjack’s name was not fitting! Sadly, after just one season, the ABC network that aired the show decided to cancel it and cut Blackjack’s promising acting career short.
- Salem Saberhagen
Salem Saberhagen was the 500-year-old witty, loyal and at times mischievous companion to the title character of popular – more than 17 million viewers tuned in for its premiere – sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Salem is a Witch Familiar, a former witch who has committed a serious crime and has thus been turned into an animal (usually a cat) as punishment. Salem in particular was condemned by the Witches Council to spend 100 years as a cat for attempting to take over the world. He was sentenced to live with Hilda Spellman, Sabrina’s aunt, because of her connection to his crimes: she supported his regime from the prestigious post of Head of the Refreshments Committee.
Salem starts talking in the first episode and, as the series progresses, he frequently talks about life before his punishment and his attempts at world domination. He is the only character, except for Sabrina herself, to appear in every episode of the series. Portrayed as megalomaniac and constantly scheming in order to achieve his ambitious plans or simply cause trouble, he also has a big heart and a soft spot for Sabrina, who he secretly calls “Sabreeny”. However, in other versions of the franchise (for example, in the animated series Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch, where Sabrina is voiced by Ashley Tisdale, who portrayed Sharpay in the High School Musical film series), Salem’s backstory and his relationship with Sabrina differs significantly.
- Mister Ed
A horse is a horse, of course, of course – unless, of course, the horse is Mister Ed, in which case you can actually talk to him! From 1961 to 1966 the adventures of Mister Ed, voiced by Allan Lane, and his owner, Wilbur Post, who was the only one Mister Ed would talk to, quickly became an unlikely success and the American audience grew quite fond of the duo.
Bamboo Harvester was the real name of the horse that portrayed the talking Palomino and apparently he shared some of his character’s precociousness: reportedly, Bamboo Harvester would decide for himself when he was done shooting for the day by just walking off the set.
One of the most iconic animal actors was the female Rough Collie dog named Lassie that starred as the title character in one of the most popular and longest running US sitcoms of all time, aired from 1954 to 1973. The series follows Lassie and her human companions as she regularly saves the day – and them – from danger. Lassie has long been a fan favourite with a far-reaching legacy, having worked in charity and re-launched as a merchandising star only a couple of years ago.
Pal, the dog starring as the MGM film Lassie, portrayed the character in the two pilots and was then replaced by five of his male descendants. The work of animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax, who was a co-creator of the show, was instrumental in the smooth transition between the several animal actors.