The death of Ed McMahon
has prompted declarations that he was the greatest of all sidekicks, the best-ever second banana.
But was he?
Only bracketology can truly tell you. The Final Four of Everything did not have a sidekicks bracket but our earlier brackets book, The Enlightened Bracketologist, did. I did not agree with our expert, my New York Times colleague Steve Reddicliffe, in McMahon's ouster in the first round by the character he inspired, Hank Kingsley, on Garry Shandling's The Larry Sanders Show. Looking back on his field of 32 makes me reflect on the Great American Sidekicks. Hank was a simpering, weak, narcissistic exaggeration of Ed who said "Hey now!" instead of Ed's "Hi-ooooooooooooooooooo!"
Let's take a broad view of sidekicks; let's look beyond those, like McMahon, who sat beside the talk show host.
Barney Fife (Reddicliffe's winner) was surely a great one. So were Ed Norton (to Ralph Kramden), Boo Boo (to Yogi Bear), Robin (to Batman), Mr. Spock (to Capt. Kirk), Jimmy Olsen (to Clark Kent/Superman) and Scottie Pippen (to Michael Jordan).
Steve made the case that Jelly was a great sidekick to Peanut Butter (which always comes first, doesn't it?), that Ron Weasley was a worthy second banana to Harry Potter, and Andy Richter was (and is, once again) valuable riding shotgun for Conan O'Brien.
And we should not forget this foursome — George Costanza, Piglet, Dr. Watson, and Tinker Bell — or this septet — the Seven Dwarfs.
There are, of course, great female sidekicks, like Nicole Richie and Rhoda Morgenstern (who faltered on her own as a top banana, in New York City, without Mary Richards).
You might even suggest that Nehru was a phenomenal sidekick to Gandhi!
I'd have to put Ed McMahon in a final matchup against Barney Fife.
Fife, as played by Don Knotts, who had been one of Steve Allen's Tonight Show sidekicks, was the comic center of The Andy Griffith Show, even as a secondary character. Knotts won a bunch of Emmys for the indelible portrayal. McMahon's role beside Johnny Carson was not necessarily more subtle — anyone who bellowed, "Hi-ooooooooooo!" and "Heeeeeerreee's Johnny!" and had that har-di-har guffaw cannot be declared subtle — but it was a lesser one than Fife's. Still, what Ed did for Johnny was crucial, providing the comfort of a friend who was guaranteed to laugh and of being a congenial target for his boss's barbs.
If you want to do your own sidekicks bracket, go to our web site, www.bracketsmackdown.com.