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The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History 

Ranker TV
Originally by
Updated April 22, 2020 45.9k votes 3.6k voters 49.7k views 97 items

List Rules Vote up the best breakout TV characters of all time

 

When a television show first starts, the writers of the program already have the star in mind. They write for the characters they think the audience will relate to and like the most and design the show around those characters. However, once the show hits the airwaves, the viewers don’t always agree. Sometimes the true star of the show is the unlikeliest candidate. The breakout character is usually a character who was introduced as part of the supporting cast, but for one reason or another became a fan favorite. This list of the greatest breakout characters in TV history includes characters from both comedies and dramas and has been ranked by the community.

The breakout character on a TV show usually becomes the most discussed and most loved part of the show. He or she has the funniest lines, the best stories, and is portrayed by the favorite actor. After a positive audience reaction, these breakout characters suddenly start to get more screen time and story lines. Characters like Fonzie and Ben Linus were never meant to be huge parts of their shows, but after their introduction, it was inevitable that they’d become pivotal to the show’s success. Some breakout characters, like Frasier Crane, even go on to star in their own series.

 

Who are the greatest breakout characters on TV? Vote up the best breakout television characters below or add the best breakout star if he or she isn't already on the list.

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list ordered by
1
Ron Swanson is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
2
Daryl Dixon is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
3
Barney Stinson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
4
Spike is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Gandarla86 added Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Actor: James Marsters

More Spike 

#19 of 212 The Saddest Television Deaths Ever #40 of 73 The Best Fictional Characters You'd Leave Your Man For #21 of 314 The Best TV Villains Of All Time

5
Sheldon Cooper is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
6
Dwight Schrute is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
7
Spock is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Star Trek

Actor: Leonard Nimoy

Occupation: Scientist

More Spock 

#50 of 212 The Saddest Television Deaths Ever #25 of 3,523 The Best Movie Characters Of All Time #5 of 81 The Most Memorable Film Sidekicks Ever

8
Fonzie is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Happy Days, Joanie Loves Chachi

Actor: Henry Winkler

Occupation: Mechanic

More Fonzie 

#12 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #135 of 462 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time #65 of 204 The Best TV Characters Of The '80s

9
April Ludgate is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
penguinmayne added Parks and Recreation

Actor: Aubrey Plaza

More April Ludgate 

#55 of 1,007 The Greatest Female TV Characters of All Time #269 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #238 of 462 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time

10
Janitor is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
11
Castiel is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
12
Jesse Pinkman is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Mia W (SweetLilMzMia) added Breaking Bad

Actor: Aaron Paul

More Jesse Pinkman 

#723 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #10 of 201 The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes #29 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time

13
Cosmo Kramer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
14
Stewie Griffin is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
15
Steve Urkel is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Family Matters

Actor: Jaleel White

Occupation: Student, Inventor, Scientist

More Steve Urkel 

#220 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #131 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #38 of 472 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time

16
Frasier Crane is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Cheers

Actor: Kelsey Grammer

Occupation: Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist, Radio personality

More Frasier Crane 

#33 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #102 of 462 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time #82 of 84 The Best Dressed Male TV Characters

17
Barney Fife is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
The Andy Griffith Show

Actor: Don Knotts

Occupation: Police officer

18
Bobby Singer is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
wawwhite1 added Supernatural

Actor: Jim Beaver

19
Michael Kelso is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
That 70's Show

Actor: Ashton Kutcher

Occupation: Waiting staff, Student, Security guard, Police officer, Model, + more

More Michael Kelso 

#839 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #48 of 472 The Funniest TV Characters of All Time #19 of 152 The Greatest TV Character Losses of All Time

20
Karen Walker is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Will & Grace

Actor: Megan Mullally

Occupation: Businessperson, Socialite, Personal assistant

More Karen Walker 

#46 of 97 The Funniest Characters Currently on TV #575 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #29 of 1,007 The Greatest Female TV Characters of All Time

21
Alex P. Keaton is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Family Ties

Actor: Michael J. Fox

22
Bart Simpson is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
teddybear1029 added The Simpsons, The Tracey Ullman Show

Actor: Nancy Cartwright

Occupation: Student

More Bart Simpson 

#18 of 99 The Funniest Characters Currently on TV #564 of 787 The Most Annoying TV and Film Characters Ever #19 of 325 The Greatest Cartoon Characters in TV History

23
Mr. Gold is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
wawwhite1 added Once Upon a Time

Actor: Robert Carlyle

More Mr. Gold 

#35 of 201 The Most Likeable TV Anti-Heroes #164 of 1,428 The Greatest TV Characters of All Time #4 of 34 The Best Current TV Villains

24
Arya Stark is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
25
Crowley is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Breakout Characters in TV History
Lilahjk added Supernatural

Actor: Mark Sheppard