"Let us contemplate the mystery of Richie's older brother Chuck, who ascended the stairs with his basketball in season one, and never came down again."
— Peter Griffin, Family Guy,
"The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz"
Generally, if writers want to remove a character from their ensemble, they will either kill that character off
or put him on a bus
) to explain their absence. Sufferers of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, on the other hand, simply disappear into limbo. They will often be retconned
right out of the story's history, while, of course, everyone still left on-screen will simply carry on
as if Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia
and Greedo had always shot first
. This is sometimes caused by the writers gradually losing interest in the character and, without making a conscious decision to remove them, eventually forget about them entirely. More often, complications behind the scenes drive the decision to remove a character.
The Trope Namer
is Chuck, who was actually Richie Cunningham's older brother for two seasons on Happy Days
. Remember him? No?
In recent years, though, as media has become more meta, playful references to the ignominiously departed have become common, either as lampshades
within the series itself or in parodies or satires of it.
A subtrope of Un-Person
. Similar in spirit to The Other Darrin
. Also see Out of Focus
, when a character is gone but not quite
forgotten; and Shoo Out the New Guy
, who gets at least an excuse in the show for disappearing. Contrast with Remember the New Guy
. For characters who are written out of the main story but are still hanging around in view, see Demoted to Extra
. For characters who are specifically brought in for a one-shot purpose, see Long-Lost Uncle Aesop
. For characters that are given a reason for their departure and
an on-screen send-off, see Put on a Bus
. Compare Forgotten Fallen Friend
and What Happened to the Mouse?
. If a character appears in the pilot or very early episode of a show and then vanishes
it may be a case of Early Installment Weirdness
. See also Absentee Actor
. Present Absence
is when this is averted.
This trope is only applicable to genuine members of the ensemble who would otherwise seem to be a little more permanent, not characters who appear out of nowhere for one or two episodes and vanish just as swiftly.