Character Archetypes in Television (Part III)

(Continuing from yesterday…)

Sexual Player

This archetype also comes in two varieties, the Chaser and the Quarry. He can be male or female and it’s not big thing to figure out which one he is. At his best, he pursues romance and at his worst, sexual conquest.

Sexual Players almost always come in matched pairs, a Chaser matched with a Quarry, although the Quarry may be the Chaser in a second Sexual Player duet.


This sub-archetype, as implied by the label, does the chasing and is perhaps the most variable of all the archetypes. At one extreme, he’s a belt-notching masher who never considers consequences and earns audience contempt. At the other extreme, he’s a Wallflower barely capable of working up the nerve needed to join the game.

In early seasons of The Big Bang Theory, Howard Wolowitz is an example of the first extreme, a masher. He’d love to do some belt-notching, but no woman wants him… until Bernadette comes along.

Then there’s Herb Tarlek from WKRP. He’s not as ridiculous as Howard because he’s married which actually lends him some credibility in the love arena. But what makes him a Chaser is that he’d cheat on his wife at the drop of a hat if ever Jennifer would say ‘yes.’

In Castle, Rick is a more sympathetic Chaser. Kate Beckett is his disinterested Quarry… although she admits to Laney that this is an act. And since other women see him as a good catch, we know he’s worth considering. This makes Rick Castle the Chaser-Quarry mentioned above.

The last variation—and he can alternate between sympathetic and pathetic—is the Wallflower. He’s the Chaser afraid of chasing, admiring from afar until he finally works up the nerve to make an approach. The most successful one on primetime today is Leonard Hofstadter.


This archetype is the antipode of the Chaser. He or she is the pursued, not the pursuer.

In WKRP, Herb’s Quarry is Jennifer Marlow. In The Big Bang Theory, Penny is Leonard’s Quarry and in Castle, when Rick isn’t involved with someone else, he wants Kate Beckett. Kate, when she’s not dating, wants Rick. This may be the most complex portrayal of Chaser-Quarry in television history.


Here we have the Privileged and the Go-getter sub-archetypes. The Privileged already has everything and the Go-getter wants it. Either one can become the brunt of jokes and often does because sensible people aren’t materialistic… right? But despite that, we envy the haves and hope along with the have-nots who want.

WKRP’s Arthur Carlson is the owner of the station and comes from a wealthy family. He’s Privileged. Herb Tarlek is a Go-getter who can’t win. The number of sales he makes during the entire run of the show can be counted on one hand. And there’s Venus Flytrap half-way up the Materialist ladder with his Italian suits, scarves and tight leather pants.

Raj is the Privileged one in The Big Bang Theory while Sheldon fills the role of Go-getter. He wants recognition for his intellect but rarely gets it.

Rick Castle is the Privileged in Castle and his mother, Martha Rogers, is the Go-getter with her constant pursuit of money-making ideas that don’t pan out.

Stacking from Greek to Geek

As I said in the first segment of this series, these archetypes are combined to accommodate small casts. But though it took until the 1980s for them to be embraced in the industry, they have a history far older.

As far as Western culture knows, character archetypes originated in Greek theater more than 2,000 years ago. And there, too, they were stacked. For instance, Titus Maximus Plautus combined Innocent and Fool and referred to him as The Idiot, someone who can be counted on to do or say the wrong thing no matter how well he’s coached.

But too much archetype stacking can work against a show. If each archetypal role were a stone, pile on too many and the character will be weighed down. He’ll become a confusing mishmash of traits. Not only that, but scorecards may have to be handed out to the audience.

Sheldon Cooper is probably the most overworked of all characters in television today, from an archetype point of view. He’s an Innocent-Go-getter-Outsider (Enigma)-Jerk-Researcher, a prime example of archetype stacking that stops just short of going too far.


So those are the character archetypes found in every TV show from drama to comedy. Here’s the list all in one place:

  • Viewpoint,
  • Jerk,
  • Informer,
    1. Researcher,
    2. Fool,
    3. Sage,
  • Outsider,
    1. Cool One,
    2. Enigma,
  • Ultimate Mediator,
  • Innocent,
  • Sexual Player,
    1. Chaser (with the Wallflower variant),
    2. Quarry,
  • Materialist,
    1. Privileged, and
    2. Go-getter.

They can be found in most successful television shows, but seem to crop up more in comedy than drama. They give a show mass appeal and remind us that television, like life, doesn’t have to be a big fat downer.

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