- Main characters
- Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond)—The sister of Mary Campbell and one of the two main characters of the show. She is married to Chester Tate but divorces him in the later episodes. Sweet natured and extremely naive, she is in denial of her husband's infidelities throughout the first season. Extremely sheltered, she has no concept of the seriousness of her murder trial.
- Chester Tate (Robert Mandan)—A wealthy stock broker and Jessica's philandering husband. Chester and Jessica separate in season three and divorce in season four, although Chester still loves Jessica enough to duel for her honor.
- Billy Tate (Jimmy Baio)—The youngest child and only son of Jessica and Chester (according to Benson, "the only one in this family worth a damn."). He gets caught up in a cult (from which Benson has to rescue him), and later has an affair with his very young teacher. After he breaks off the affair, she makes multiple failed (and laughable) attempts to kill him and/or his family.
- Corinne Tate Flotsky (Diana Canova)—Jessica and Chester's daughter, who acknowledges she slept with most of the male population of Dunn's River. It is later revealed that she is adopted and is really the daughter of Jessica's long lost brother Randolph Gatling and family maid Ingrid Svenson. Corinne gives birth to a baby named Timmy who turns out to be demon-possessed, and leaves home to raise her child after Dutch chooses Eunice.
- Father Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso)—A former Catholic priest who leaves the priesthood to marry Corinne Tate, then later leaves her.
- Eunice Tate-Leitner (Jennifer Salt)—Jessica and Chester's daughter. A spoiled social climber, Eunice dated a married Congressman in season one and then falls in love with convicted murderer Dutch Leitner and ultimately marries him.
- Dutch Leitner (Donnelly Rhodes)—an escaped convict who hides out at the Tates' after helping Chester break out of prison. He eventually marries Chester's daughter Eunice.
- The Major (Arthur Peterson, Jr.)—The father of Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell. The Major suffers from dementia and believes he is in the midst of fighting World War II.
- Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon)—The sister of Jessica Tate and one of the two main characters of the show. At the start of the series she is married to her second husband Burt Campbell. Her first husband, Johnny Dallas, was a mobster who was killed by Burt in self-defense. Eventually, she has a baby with "alien" Burt, and by the series' end has slowly become an alcoholic, as no one else sees the baby manifesting alien-esque qualities, such as being able to fly.
- Burt Campbell (Richard Mulligan)—Burt is the second husband of Mary Campbell. Burt is a high-strung building contractor who later becomes sheriff and is under consideration for a run as lieutenant governor. In Season one Burt suffers from mental illness due to the stress of accidentally killing Mary's first husband, and the murder death of his son Peter, and believes he can make himself invisible by snapping his fingers. He is also at one point abducted by aliens and replaced with X-23, an alien Burt lookalike (also played by Mulligan). At the end of season three, Burt becomes sheriff and gets involved in politics, leading him to ignore his family.
- Chuck and Bob Campbell (Jay Johnson)—Chuck is Burt Campbell's son by his first marriage. A ventriloquist, he is always accompanied by Bob, his dummy and alter ego, and the pair are always referred to as "Chuck and Bob". While Chuck is mild mannered, introverted, and polite, Bob is rude and abrasive. All of the main characters with the exception of Benson and Saunders find themselves conversing with Bob as a real person multiple times, even in the face of fierce determination not to.
- Danny Dallas (Ted Wass)—Mary Campbell's eldest son. A low-level gangster, he is given the task of killing his stepfather Burt, but can't bring himself to, and as a result spends most of Season One on the run. It is widely assumed that he is the son of Mary's first husband Johnny Dallas but in later episodes it is revealed that his real father is Chester Tate. He is very protective of his younger half-brother Jodie, but is initially in denial about Jodie's homosexuality. Danny is forced to marry Elaine, a mob boss's daughter who would later be kidnapped and murdered. Danny later gets involved in a series of failed relationships, including a girlfriend of one of Elaine's kidnappers, an African-American woman, a prostitute, and Chester's new wife. He later becomes Burt's deputy sheriff.
- Jodie Dallas (Billy Crystal)—The son of Mary Campbell and her first husband Johnny Dallas. An openly gay man, he later fathers a daughter (Wendy) with Carol, an attorney at Aunt Jessica's murder trial, who seduces him. After Carol runs off to join the rodeo, Wendy is left with Jodie, triggering a custody battle and a kidnapping. The series ends with Jodie believing himself to be an old Jewish man named Julius Kassendorf due to a failed hypnotherapy session.
- Peter Campbell (Robert Urich)—Burt Campbell's tennis pro son by his first marriage, he is carrying on affairs with both Jessica and Corinne, as well as numerous other women around town. His murder in season one leads to the first season cliffhanger: the question of who killed Peter Campbell.
- Benson (Robert Guillaume)—The Tates' wisecracking butler in the early seasons, who showed utter contempt for Chester, but had a soft spot for Jessica, Corinne, and Billy, and completely ignores Eunice. In 1979, Benson leaves to be the head of household affairs for Jessica's cousin, Governor Eugene Gatling, in the spin-off, Benson.
- Saunders (Roscoe Lee Browne)—Benson's replacement as the Tates' butler, with an attitude similar to Benson's, although with a more cultured and polished personality.
- Rod Roddy (originally Casey Kasem)
- Recurring characters
- Barney Gerber (Harold Gould)—elderly hospital patient who shares a room with Jodie in season one, and whose story gives Jodie the inspiration to continue living after a suicide attempt.
- Detective Donahue (John Byner)—hired by Jessica to find the missing amnesiac Chester in season two, he falls for Jessica, forcing her to choose between the two when Chester returns home.
- Dennis Phillips (Bob Seagren)—A quarterback who is secretly dating Jodie in season one and presumably more openly dating Jodie in early season two.
- Ingrid Svenson (Inga Swenson)—Corinne's biological mother, who attempts to carry out revenge upon the Tate/Campbell family by sleeping with the judge in Jessica's trial and blackmailing Sally into trying to break up Burt and Mary.
- E. Ronald Mallu, Esq. (Eugene Roche)—High priced attorney who defends Jessica in her murder trial. Mallu returns in season three to represent Jodie in his custody case, and attempts to date the newly separated Jessica as well.
- The Godfather (Richard Libertini)—orders Danny to kill Burt (the killer of Danny's father) in season one.
- Chief of Police Tinkler (Gordon Jump)—Responsible for the investigation of the murder of Peter Campbell, Tinkler always seems to arrive at the Tate house in time to share their dinner. Apparently also serves as the court bailiff in Dunn's River. (Routinely misidentifies himself as "Piece of Cholief" Tinkler)
- Congressman Walter McCallum (Edward Winter)—secretly sees Eunice until his wife blackmails him into ending the relationship.
- Judge Anthony Petrillo (Charles Lane)—the judge presiding over Jessica's murder trial. Lost $40,000 in a bad investment deal because of Chester.
- Claire (Kathryn Reynolds)—Chester's secretary and mistress in season one. Chester dumps and fires her to support Jessica during the trial.
- Sally (Caroline McWilliams)—Burt's secretary who attempts to seduce Burt, then lies to Mary about sleeping with him, all of which was due to blackmail pressure from Ingrid Svenson.
- Polly Dawson (Lynne Moody)—An African-American woman who is in a relationship with Danny in season three.
- Leslie Walker (Marla Pennington)—a school teacher who falls for Billy, but becomes suicidal and then homicidal after he breaks it off.
- Millie (Candice Azzara)—girlfriend of one of Elaine's kidnappers, she rescues Danny, and comes home with him, but cannot deal with the Campbell family and thus leaves.
- Gwen (Jesse Welles)—a prostitute who falls for Danny in season four, but leaves him to protect them both from a death threat.
- Elaine Lefkowitz (Dinah Manoff)—daughter of a mob-boss, her annoying, pushy personality makes a coerced marriage painful for Danny at first. After they genuinely fall in love, Elaine is kidnapped and killed, which fuels Danny's quest for revenge.
- Charles Lefkowitz (Sorrell Booke)—Elaine's mob-boss father who calls off the contract on Danny in exchange for marrying Elaine, then cuts her off and refuses to pay the ransom.
- Dr. Alan Posner (Allan Miller)—Jessica's psychiatrist in season three, he briefly dates her once she is separated from Chester.
- El Puerco (Gregory Sierra)—an anti-communist revolutionary who initially kidnaps Jessica, but later falls in love with her. (Character name translation is "The Pig")
- Mr. Franklin (Howard Hesseman)—the smarmy prosecuting attorney in Jessica's murder trial.
- Mrs. Lurleen David (Peggy Pope)—Carol's mother, who takes care of Jodie and Carol's baby when Carol runs away to join the rodeo. She leaves the baby with Jodie, but then becomes part of the custody battle, initially lying for her daughter on the witness stand, but eventually telling the truth.
- F. Peter Haversham (Michael Durrell)—ruthless attorney who represents Carol in the custody battle
- Alice (Randee Heller)—a lesbian who lives with Jodie in Season two, but leaves after finding out Mrs. David's reluctance to leave Jodie's child with a lesbian as well as a gay man.
- Juan One (Joe Mantegna)—The second in command to El Puerco.
- Carol David (Rebecca Balding)—attorney & mother of Jodie's child, who leaves Jodie at the altar, then leaves their baby with her mother. Carol fights for custody in season three, then is responsible for kidnapping the baby when she loses the custody case.
- Annie Selig Tate (Nancy Dolman)—a former friend of Eunice, Annie becomes Chester's second wife, and soon has an affair with Danny.
- Maggie Chandler (Barbara Rhoades)—A private investigator who helps Jodie search for his daughter and then has a relationship with him.
- Judge Betty Small (Rae Allen)—presides over the Carol David/Jodie Dallas custody case.
- Marilyn McCallum (Judith-Marie Bergan)—Walter's wife, who blackmails Walter into ending the relationship with Eunice.
- Dr. Hill (Granville Van Dusen)—the doctor who diagnoses Jessica with a fatal disease at the end of season three; he falls in love with her.
- Saul (Jack Gilford)—a four-thousand-plus-year-old man who helps Burt escape from the aliens in season three.
- Flo Flotsky (Doris Roberts)—Tim's mother, who curses her son for leaving the priesthood to marry Corinne, then dies on their wedding night.
- Mrs. Fine (Nita Talbot)—housewife who has an affair with Peter Campbell and provides crucial testimony against Jessica in the season one murder trial.
- Dr. Medlow (Byron Webster)—psychiatrist for Burt Campbell in season one, he attempts to assist Burt with his impotence and then his perceived invisibility.
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Famous quotes containing the word characters:
“The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions.”
—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831)
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