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Cousin Oliver

As I mentioned in my Jumping the Shark post, the introduction of a new character often heralds the decline of a series. A term that is often used to describe this phenomenon is a 'Cousin Oliver.' It tends to be a rather desperate move by the writers or producers of a show, attempting to breath new life into a programme that is on the verge of dying.

Cousin Oliver
Cousin Oliver*
term 'Cousin Oliver' is used as a metaphor to describe the addition of a cute child actor to improve the ratings of a show, or to replace young cast members who have aged as the show progressed. The concept is named after an early and famous example of a shark-jumping new character - Cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch, portrayed by Robbie Rist. He was introduced into the Brady household, appearing in the show's final 6 episodes, and proved extremely unpopular with fans.

Dawn Summers
Dawn Summers*

Some shows attempt to make this sudden introduction into a plot point, such as Dawn Summers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, played by Michelle Trachtenberg. Her arrival was foreshadowed in both Seasons 3 and 4 before her eventual arrival in Season 5. Despite this attempt to make her appearance organic, she was still mostly disliked by the fans for her annoying teenage angst. However, many feel that she redeemed herself somewhat in the show's final season.

However, the irritation at Dawn is nothing compared to the hatred directed at Scrappy-Doo.
Originally voiced by Lennie Weinrib and later replaced by Don Messick, the pup was the nephew of the mystery-solving Scooby-Doo. During his run he managed to illicit an immense level of vitriol, and was eventually scrapped (no pun intended) from the television franchise in 1988. The disdain for the character was so great that he even appeared as the villain of the piece in the 2002 live-action movie of Scooby-Doo.

So, can a Cousin Oliver ever really work? I'm inclined to think not - the Buffy writers came close, but failed due to the character's annoying traits. Can you think of any other examples of the phenomenon? Did they add to the series or detract from it?

*Image courtesy of WIkipedia, and used under Fair Dealing for identification and critical commentary
**Image courtesy of TVTropes, and used under Fair Dealing for identification and critical commentary
Information courtesy of Wikipedia and TVTropes
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10 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]
1. January 24th 2007 @ 02:40. JohnDoe Says:
The old "Cousin Oliver" syndrome.....Happy Days pulled in Fonzies cousin Chachi, marking the beginning of the end for the show.... Eight is Enough and Different Strokes also pulled the same thing in later a way didnt Friends do it with Bruce Willis, he was like an adult version......ofcourse nothing on that show ever worked.....
2. January 24th 2007 @ 09:18. Nina Says:
JohnDoe: It certainly is a very common device, but as you mentioned it often backfires. I wonder why shows insist on doing it when it mostly just irritates the audience?
3. January 24th 2007 @ 09:41. JohnDoe Says:
Like Anna Nicole Smith reaching for that next pain killer, its desperation that drives TV execs to flog a dead money horse.

Its been said a million times but its a shame all shows dont leave on a high note like (Seinfeld).....but most great shows now get cancelled just at their peak anyway (Arrested Development, Dead Like Me, Deadwood etc)
4. January 24th 2007 @ 10:08. Nina Says:
Many shows continue on way past their prime; sadly the really good ones seldom get the chance. The execs may do it out of desperation, but some part of them must feel that the gimmick might actually work. After all, the crap they've been peddling for years did the job....
5. January 26th 2007 @ 00:07. Francis Says:
Dawn's obsessoin with wandering off and getting into trouble was actually mentioned on the show, in one of their Halloween episodes: "Dawn's in trouble; it must be Tuesday."

On Babylon 5 they swapped out COs beginning with the second season; and in many fans opinion the show started really taking off then.

On Star Trek: Next Gen they added Michelle Forbes to tha cast with no ill effects; between her being easy on the eyes and the coresponding absense of Westley, the fans were too happy to complain.

Of course, maybe it's different when someone new comes in to replace someoen who leaves? Like the Wolfe character on CSI: Miami, who came in after Tim Speedle was written out?

Or how about a character who's brought in for a specific mini-arc, like Lorien on Babylon 5, who appeared at the beginning of Season 4 but after a few weeks he left, along with all the other First Ones?
6. January 26th 2007 @ 00:34. Nina Says:
Francis: I think it depends on the reason for the character's introduction. Something that feels organic, like filling a natural role due to the absence of another character, or to fulfil a plotlines, can definitely be successful. It's when it is done solely as a ratings grab or to try and recapture another demographic that it feels hollow and annoys the fans.
7. January 29th 2007 @ 20:14. postmoderncritic Says:
Hiya Nina, my sweet,

I didn't mind Dawn that much, though it might have been interesting to add another male character for balance instead. I thought Season 5 was pretty good, and Season 6 was even better, so for me she's part of the seasons that stood out the most. That said, I can see why people found her annoying.

It's funny, I sat down to watch Buffy very disdainfully for an English assignment and was prepared to pay more attention to the page on my lap than the screen itself. I was surprised to realise that I hadn't written anything down by the time 'Intervention' was over... a few episodes later I was hooked despite myself.

Hi Francis,

"Dawn's in trouble; it must be Tuesday."

I think that was in Once More, With Feeling... and it's so easy to miss because it's in between some incredibly inventive musical numbers!
It reminds me of "I mean, what kind of name is Buffy?" in the first episode, and Anya's "... is this like one of your little pop culture references I don't get?" to Buffy in Selfless.

8. January 29th 2007 @ 22:44. Nina Says:
postmoderncritic: I too enjoyed Seasons 5 and 6 - in fact, most of my favourite episodes are from them. While I did find Dawn irritating, in a lot of ways I think she was meant to be. After all, Buffy viewed her as an annoyance a lot of the time, so it made sense to have that annoyance justified. By Season 7 she'd reached the stage that Buffy and the gang were when the show started - she'd grown up a bit and become a very useful member of the group.
9. May 18th 2008 @ 23:07. Anonymous Says:
Most don't realize, Cousin Oliver had his own supernatural spin-off series:

Really Long Link
10. April 11th 2011 @ 18:59. Anonymous Says:
growing pains, family ties, cosby show, flintstones, scooby doo (and scrappy too), family matters.. the list goes on.

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