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Who are LI's most memorable TV characters?

Our critic's 12 choices, both real and fictional, come from all points of the LI compass, from the North Shore to the South, from mid-Island to Montauk.

Erinn Hayes and Kevin James in a scene

Erinn Hayes and Kevin James in a scene from the first season of CBS' "Kevin Can Wait." Photo Credit: CBS/Richard Boeth

They're Long Island loud and Long Island proud. They say where they're from and they don't pretend they're from somewhere else (like New Jersey). As TV characters — both real and fictional — they come from all points of the LI compass, from the North Shore to the South, from mid-Island to Montauk. There are not a lot of them, but you know them when you see them, or in a couple of instances, hear them. They are Long Island TV characters.

 Those on this list insist on home field advantage. They find strength and character — pun almost intended — in the place their character is from. They don't look down on Long Island, but look to Long Island as a critical part of their identity, perhaps even a reason for the show they are doing. 

You may quibble with these choices, and please do. You may disregard their importance in the grander scheme of TV things (go ahead). Nevertheless, these are the most memorable characters in TV history who are from Long Island:
 

12. Dani Santino, "Necessary Roughness"

Commack native Dr. Donna Dannenfelser was once a sports psychotherapist for the Jets and other NFL teams. That led to books, speaking engagements, further renown and (of course) the TV series. To keep that Dannenfelser style firmly in place, USA set "Necessary Roughness" on LI while Callie Thorne, who played her fictional counterpart, kept the LI accent, too. As Dannenfelser explained in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, LI was critical to the series, which ended five years ago this month: "In sports, you have to really move quickly to find out what’s at the root of their [the athletes'] problem and address it. So I think that maybe the New York and Long Island attitude makes it quicker [and] keeps it real."

11. Kevin Covais, "American Idol"

From the second Kevin Covais stepped on to TV's most famous stage to the second he finally stepped off, this Levittown native and Island Trees High junior had already won, or at least had won plenty of hearts. Covais — "Chicken Little," self-described "American Idol" sex symbol — had charm and the requisite voice. But Covais was unlike any performer before or since, plus he appeared during the 2006 fifth season — the high-water mark for "Idol" (31.2 million viewers on average for the performance edition). Covais contributed big time to the success.

10. Hank and Evan Lawson, "Royal Pains"

Roslyn native and "Pains" creator Andrew Lenchewski may have set this series about concierge doctor Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) and his brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) on the East End, but Long Island proper was in its bones, and consequently, theirs, too. "Pains" shot scenes all over the Island and Lenchewski later said he would have preferred to shoot everything in the Hamptons "if we could afford to spend half our time and budget sitting in traffic on the L.I.E. and Route 27."  Congenial, sweet-natured Hank and Evan put a happy face on the Hamptons, maybe because as characters, they never once had to sit in traffic.

9. Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Ross Geller, "Friends"  

While not particularly well known to half of the world's population, the other half that still watches "Friends" on Netflix does in fact know that Rachel, Monica and Ross are LIers, originally from Massapequa. (Monica and Rachel, of course, were friends from childhood.) The LI ties were largely hidden over most of the series' run, but were specifically revealed in a pair of late-season episodes ("The One in Massapequa," Season 8; and "The One Where Joey Speaks French," Season 10). Better LI late than never.   

8. Tom Westman, "Survivor"

Winner of Season 10 set in Palau, this Sayville native went back to the FDNY, whence he came after the show, then later joined the Hartford Financial Services Group in Manhattan. But Sayville was never far behind. As he once told Newsday, "When your 15 minutes is up for the rest of the world, your hometown still cares." Fireman Tom brought great heart to the game, while precisely conveying the sense that this was how "Survivor" was supposed to be played.

7. Cole Lockhart, Alison Bailey, "The Affair"

Viewers first met Alison (Ruth Wilson) at the Lobster Roll, the real one at 1980 Montauk Hwy., Amagansett (where she worked as a waitress), and soon they'd learn much more about her, notably her marriage to Cole (Joshua Jackson), scion of a prominent South Fork family. Cole and Alison had suffered great tragedy, the loss of a child, and the marriage collapsed. But they'd circle one another for the rest of the series (Wilson left last season, and there's one to go). Cole was troubled — a depressive and an alcoholic, since recovered. Alison was a lost soul. Montauk — with its shifting seasons and windswept beaches and empty, winter-gray vistas — served as a reflection of these two as much as a setting for the series. The fifth, by the way, will wrap in Montauk (parts will also be set in LA). So full circle.

6. Sal Valentinetti, "America's Got Talent"

The “Voice” of Bethpage and possibly the world's leading pizza deliveryman who could also sing Sinatra standards effortlessly won over Long Island during his 2016 run on "AGT." But then, how could he not? “I’m Sal Valentinetti and I’m from Lawn Guyland, New York,” he proclaimed during his spring 2016 audition. “I deliver pizzas for my cousin’s place.” (Da Angelo’s, in Albertson.) He was the real deal and also an old soul — Simon Cowell’s initial observation — in a world of music competition shows stuffed to overflowing with new souls. At his audition, he gave shout-outs to his mother, extended family — cousin Tommie, also memorable — and a cherished and recently deceased grandmother who drew him to the standards. “I’m gonna entertain you like you’ve never been entertained before” he promised the judges. Mission nearly accomplished: He came in fourth place.

5. Jason Seaver, Maggie Malone Seaver (and all the little Seavers), "Growing Pains"

Think "15 Robin Hood Lane" and you may still reflexively think Huntington, or you may think of the characters who lived there. Over seven seasons and 166 episodes, you could not think otherwise. Creator Neal Marlens — his dad, Al, was a Newsday managing editor — grew up in the Audubon Woods section of Huntington, and imbued "Pains" with a leafy LI nostalgia full of tree-lined streets and a "Father Knows Best" spirit. Jason, a therapist, and Maggie (Joanna Kerns), a reporter, presided over a boisterous household. Care of the kids fell to Dad while Mom worked. As lead characters, they certainly weren't as LI-centric as (say) Caputo, but Marlens wanted true regional flavor. (Along with the Seavers, he named their next-door neighbors the Koosmans. Regional enough?)

4. Marie and Frank Barone, "Everybody Loves Raymond"

Frank (Peter Boyle) and Marie (Doris Roberts) lived across the street from Ray and Debra, but (really) they mostly lived with Ray and Debra. As parents and in-laws, both frequently helicoptered in, offering advice, wisdom, interference and lots of second guess-work.  Roberts (who died in 2016) and Boyle (who died in 2006) were deadpan perfect on this series, and one reason why "Raymond" would earn a Screen Actors Guild Awards nod for best cast during most of its run, and a bigger reason why it lasted all those seasons.

3. Kevin Gable, "Kevin Can Wait"

To Stony Brook native Kevin James'  credit, he insisted on filming this at Bethpage's Gold Coast Studios because he wanted a local flavor, rightfully figuring that the Island would be as much a character as the human ones. The standout human one, however, was the character he played, a retired Nassau County cop, stay-at-home-dad, and guy with way too much time on his hands. Gable was straight out of the James playbook: schlub who can't get out of his own way. He goofed off with the kids and annoyed the Long Suffering Wife, Donna (Erinn Hayes), at least during Season 1, before she was unfortunately written out of the series. There were even a few real world LI touches, like name-checking Massapequa's All American Burger. 

2. Theresa Caputo, "Long Island Medium"

That hair! That voice! (Those nails!) Was there ever anyone who so perfectly declaimed their home turf (Hicksville) as Caputo? When she speaks, it's as if a whole world from the great beyond opens up — say, beyond the corner of South Oyster Bay and Old Country roads. She is pure, distilled 80-proof LI. Caputo and LI are of a package, and take one from the other, and something goes. Then there is, or was, Larry, her husband of 28 years (divorced recently) with his heavily inked arms and T-shirts about three sizes too small. "LI Medium" is a family show, much as "Raymond" was. Along with Theresa, LI is the materfamilias.

1. Ray Barone, "Everybody Loves Raymond"

''Hi, I'm Ray. I live here in Long Island.'' And with those opening words on every show, Ray Barone (Ray Romano — a Queens guy, by the way) announced to the world that he was from this part of the world, and worked at "New York Newsday," no less. In fact, it should be "on" Long Island, not "in," but Ray and Ray could be forgiven that small regional rhetorical quirk. Week after week, season after season (nine of 'em), Ray and Debra Barone (Patricia Heaton) of Lynbrook became the most prominent Long Island characters in TV history. What Long Island gave the Barones beyond a sense of place was a sense that they were real people in the real world, and one just off the beaten, or heavily trafficked, track. The world rushed by — and it does tend to rush by faster on the Island — while the Barones frantically tried to keep up. "Raymond" would simply not have been as funny had it been set in Des Moines.

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