The results are in! We asked readers to name their favorite TV characters of all time and thousands responded. This year, for the first time, we weren’t just asking about favorite gay TV characters. Folks could vote for characters of either gender – and all persuasions. Of course, this being AfterElton we expected gay characters to figure prominently on this list – and they do – but it is interesting to see what female and straight TV roles also resonated with the AfterElton readership.
Before we get to the actual rankings, here are a few statistics.
First, the top fifty came from a broad range of TV shows. Thirty programs were represented, and the two that made the best showing (Glee and Modern Family) placed only four characters each in the rankings.
Second, female characters nabbed 15 of the top 50 spots, or 30%.
Third, obviously a poll like this favors characters from current shows – but our readers did a very good job of reaching back and giving recognition to enduring characters of the past. In fact, exactly half (25) are from shows that are no longer in production.
Finally, while gay characters were well represented here with 20 or 40% of the Top 50, characters of color made a disappointing showing. Only four ranked: two African American men and two Latina women.
Without further ado, here are the results!
50. Phil Dunphy, Modern Family (Ty Burrell)
[On Air: 2009 – Present] The antidote to the typical TV dad? Not exactly, but there’s something just off-kilter enough about suburban father Phil Dunphy to make him far more endearing than the typical “dumb dad” who has taken over TV sitcoms in recent years. He’s like the Kramer of Modern Family: bumbling, lovable, and a great sport. Who can forget Phil trying to become the star of a viral video with son Luke, who repeatedly hit him with a basketball? Ouch!
A supportive brother-in-law to couple Mitchell and Cam and an eager, approval-seeking son-in-law to Jay Pritchett, he can be overly sentimental and emotional too. But he always has good intentions; even his occasionally exasperated wife Claire realizes this. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s also kind of cute!
49. Jack MacFarland, Will & Grace (Sean Hayes)
[On Air: 1998-2006] The title characters, Will and Grace might have been impressive comic creations, but the show could just as easily have been called Jack & Karen. The yin to Karen Walker’s admittedly wacky yang, Jack was much more than Karen’s “monkey.” He was her co-conspirator, her confidant and her alibi … and our endlessly entertaining court jester.
Tapping into his inner teenage girl, Sean Hayes once said, helped him develop the sometimes flamboyant and always outrageous Jack. This Cher-loving, man-chasing, occupation-challenged best friend to Will Truman (Eric McCormack) remains one of the funniest TV characters ever — even almost 6 years after Will & Grace left the airwaves. Think Lucille Ball’s Lucy Ricardo mixed with Three’s Company’s Jack Tripper plus some Paul Lynde and you’ve got the idea. But to those who love him, he’ll always be an original … “Just Jack.” And that’s more than enough.
48. Patsy Stone, Absolutely Fabulous (Joanna Lumley)
[On Air: 1992 – 1995, various years since] “You little bitch troll from hell!”
If that statement gives you a special thrill, you’re no doubt a fan of Eurydice Colette Clytemnestra Dido Bathsheba Rabelais Patricia Cocteau Stone. She’s a wretched person, full of spite, bile, drugs, and jealousy and, as played by Joanna Lumley, one of the most brilliant creations ever.
Her co-dependent friendship with Edina always leads to trouble, and her hatred for Edina’s daughter Saffron is what moves the venom through her ancient veins. We’re so glad to have her back this year in a series of specials co-produced by the BBC and Logo. Guess what? She hasn’t changed a bit!
47. Mary Richards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (Mary Tyler Moore)
[On Air: 1970-1977] Before Mary Richards, the coolest female characters on TV were either zany comics (Lucy Ricardo) or subversive feminists (Samantha Stevens). Mary Richards cohered those extremes and managed to be one thoroughly empathetic protagonist. As WJM-TV’s most harried employee, Mary helped usher in a new era of hilarious actresses who stood up for themselves while always sticking their punchlines – and throwing terrible parties on occasion.
46. Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Patrick Stewart)
[On Air: 1986-1993] Who knows if Patrick Stewart knew what he was getting himself into when he accepted the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, but he would soon learn that Star Trek fans are unlike any other fans.
Skepticism abounded when it was announced that this “middle-aged bald English Shakespearean actor” (as Stewart himself put it) would head the iconic Starship Enterprise and try to compete with the memory of the baked ham that preceded him.
Fortunately, the fears would soon be forgotten, as Capt. Picard took command of the series, and proved to be one of the most important factors in the revitalization of the franchise.
Strong, smart, sophisticated, with a penchant for Earl Grey tea, Jean-Luc would explore the galaxy with a respect for the prime directive and the greatest Star Trek catchphrase ever, “Make it so!”
45. Lafayette Reynolds, True Blood (Nelsan Ellis)
[On Air: 2008-Present] Whether or not you think the show completely messed up his character this past season, from the start Lafayette was a gay character unlike any we had ever seen on television before: smart, proud, flamboyant, and very dangerous. He’s the kind of queen who would cut you deep for skipping out on your bar tab … and then bring you pecan pie and street Valium in the ER. Our kind of guy!
In recent years we saw Lafayette’s vulnerable side through his love affair with good witch Jesus (Kevin Alejandro), which ended – as most True Blood romances do – in tragedy. We’ve also watched him slyly manipulate a gay bloodsucker for cash (Eddie, played by Stephen Root), deliver some tough love to his wayward cousin Tara (Rutina Wesley) and discover his own considerable powers as a witch. And he did it all without smudging his eyeshadow.
He’s already outlived his character in the books, and here’s to hoping that we haven’t seen the best, baddest, or ballsiest from Laffy yet.
44. Rose Nylund, Golden Girls (Betty White)
[On Air: 1985-1993] Sure, we all loved the dottiest Golden Girl’s awesomely lame stories about St. Olaf and her proven inability to take a hint, pick up a dropped clue, or realize when the entire room was glaring at her. But it was Rose’s rarely-hinted-at dark streak and sexy secret life that made us really fall for her. Plus, it takes a very special kind of lady to repeatedly run afoul of someone known as “The Cheese Man”.
Rose also boasts some of the best one-liners on a show filled with legendary quips. Here’s one: “Like the old saying, you can lead a herring to water but you have to walk really fast or it will die.”
You can take the milkmaid out of Minnesota, but you’ll never banish Ms. Nylund’s numbskull charms from our hearts.
43. Gloria Pritchett, Modern Family (Sofia Vergara)
[On Air: 2009-Present] She’s the beautiful trophy wife of a rich older man, and at first she might be mistaken for a gold-digger. But her fierce protectiveness towards son Manny, willingness to stroke husband Jay’s ego when he needs it, and eagerness to win over all members of her new American family make her hard not to love.
True, she’s a collection of stereotypes, a Colombian who is all too handy with a gun and knows her way around a crime scene. A terrible driver, a loud and legendary garbler of the English language, but somehow actress Sofia Vergara makes the creation something more than a stock character. It’s rare for a woman this beautiful to be popular with men and women alike, but somehow Gloria attracts everybody. In fact, if there’s any female character on current American television who could seduce a gay man – it would be Gloria!
42. Dana Sculley, The X-Files (Gillian Anderson)
[On Air: 1993-2002] Her partner Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was a believer in all things paranormal, but FBI special agent Dana Sculley got stuck with the less flashy role of skeptic. And the character maintained that skepticism even in the face of some pretty weird ass sh*t on The X-Files.
Sculley was deadpan, no-nonsense and buttoned-down, but somehow as played by Gillian Anderson she was also incredibly hot. Sci Fi geeks (at least the straight male and lesbian ones) pined for her, making Anderson and the character she played unlikely sex symbols.
41. Dexter Morgan, Dexter (Michael C. Hall)
[On Air: 2006-Present] As pulled from the pages of the Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay and brought to intense, Hawaiian-shirted life by Michael C. Hall, Dexter is the antihero that everyone hates to love. Deftly balancing work, family, and serial butchery, Dexter Morgan is the ultimate poster boy for a culture multitasking itself into madness.
Traumatized as a toddler by the image of his own mother being cut into pieces with a chainsaw, Dexter lost the ability to discern right from wrong or to feel human emotion. But thanks to the guidance of his well-meaning policeman father, Dex found a way to balance his lust for life with his hunger for carnage. As a serial killer who only preys on predators (usually), Dexter tends our grayest moral ground – is there such a thing as killing for the right reason?
Whether a monster or a dark knight, Dexter’s perseverance, dry wit, and snug hunting outfits keep us coming back week after week. After all, there’s only so long he can get away with murder … right?
40. Omar Little, The Wire (Michael K. Williams)
[On Air: 2002-2008] He’s the Robin Hood of inner city Baltimore. Robbing from the drug dealers to give to – well to give to himself, but still he’s a nice guy. He takes his grandma to church once a month, and he’s remarkably tender to his ill-fated male lovers. (All of whom meet very brutal ends.)
President Obama was once asked who his favorite TV character was. His answer was Omar Little.
39. Julia Sugerbaker, Designing Women (Dixie Carter)
[On Air: 1986-1993] Filled with righteous indignation, Julia Sugarbaker was the greatest liberal firebrand in TV history, able to slice through the B.S. and expose injustice and stupidity with equal measure.
She also had two of the most memorable moments on the show, and both can be quoted verbatim by fans to this day.
In the milestone episode “Killing All The Right People,” a customer overhears a young friend of the ladies discuss having AIDS, and takes it upon herself to tell him he’s getting what he deserves. This prompts the classic Julia-ism:
“If God was giving out sexually-transmitted diseases to people as a punishment for sinning, then you would be at the fee clinic all the time! And so would the rest of us.”
And the one thing you don’t want to do is insult her sister. Only she’s allowed to do that! When the current Miss Georgia World talks trash about Suzanne, and Julia overhears, she cuts the beauty queen down to size:
“Yes, and I gather from your comments there are a couple of other things you don’t know, Marjorie. For example, you probably didn’t know that Suzanne was the only contestant in Georgia pageant history to sweep every category except congeniality, and that is not something the women in my family aspire to anyway. Or that when she walked down the runway in her swimsuit, five contestants quit on the spot. Or that when she emerged from the isolation booth to answer the question, “What would you do to prevent war?” she spoke so eloquently of patriotism, battlefields and diamond tiaras, grown men wept. And you probably didn’t know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not just any Miss Georgia, she was the Miss Georgia. She didn’t twirl just a baton, that baton was on fire. And when she threw that baton into the air, it flew higher, further, faster than any baton has ever flown before, hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks! And when it finally did come down, Marjorie, my sister caught that baton, and 12,000 people jumped to their feet for sixteen and one-half minutes of uninterrupted thunderous ovation, as flames illuminated her tear-stained face! And that, Marjorie – just so you will know – and your children will someday know – is the night the lights went out in Georgia”
38. Burt Hummel, Glee (Mike O’Malley)
[On Air: 2009-Present] Burt Hummel is the supportive dad everyone wishes they had. A blue-collar champion and tireless defender of his son, Burt stands up for Kurt even though he may not always completely understand him. After all, Kurt was all he had after his wife died and before new wife Carol Hudson came along.
Some of the series’ most emotional moments revolve around Burt and Kurt Hummel’s relationship, from Kurt singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while keeping vigil at his father’s bedside after Burt suffered a heart attack to Burt admonishing Finn (Cory Monteith) to stand up for his stepbrother at school. No matter what, Burt is always in Kurt’s corner. And because of that, we’re always in Burt’s.
37. Dr. Gregory House, House (Hugh Laurie)
[On Air: 2004-2012] The Vicodin-addicted, misanthropic medical genius is a long way from the more conventional TV doctors we’re used to, from kindly Dr. Marcus Welby all the way to overworked crew on ER. It’s interesting that he would make a favorite TV character list when, if you met him in real life, you probably would run screaming.
Let’s face it, House is mean. He says awful, hurtful things and manipulates and abuses even his friends. But the genius of this character may just be that screwed up leg of his. In excruciating, constant, lifelong pain because of it – that’s the penance that the audience requires of this character. It allows us to look past his worst behavior because we feel sorry for him. It also helps that he’s witty and extraordinarily smart – and he often says what we only wish we could say to people.
36. Dorothy Zbornak, Golden Girls (Bea Arthur)
[On Air: 1985-1992] It’s not easy being “the smart one” on a show, and not be overshadowed by the more colorful characters, but Dorothy more than held her own against the sexy one, the dumb one, and the old one on The Golden Girls.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t have her share of classic moments, whether it was the series-long clashes with ex-husband Stan, her love/hate relationship with mother Sophia, or constant irritation with Rose and her St. Olaf stories.
Always the voice of reason, Dorothy still managed to bring the laughs, and while her co-stars were flashier, she was truly the heart and soul of the show.
35. Chandler Bing, Friends (Matthew Perry)
[On Air: 1994-2004] Could he be any funnier? Friends’ Chandler Bing is like the patron saint of awkward situations, whether it’s not knowing how to react when his boss repeatedly gives him a friendly hit on the bottom, struggling to break up with his annoying on-again, off-again girlfriend Janice, or accidentally sitting on his naked future father-in-law in a foggy sauna.
Known for having a certain “quality,” as noted in one episode and frequently mistaken for being gay over the series’ 10-year run, even loyal lunkhead roommate Joey Tribiani (Matt LeBlanc) once said to Chandler “Look, I’m just going to ask you this one time and whatever you say, I’ll believe you … were you or were you not … on a gay cruise?”
Perhaps Chandler’s lovable awkwardness can be attributed to his unique family situation. His mother and father competed for male lovers, with his father eventually leaving his mother for a pool boy and becoming a successful Las Vegas female impersonator (played by Kathleen Turner in a stroke of casting genius). But maybe not. Maybe Chandler is just naturally — and endearingly — awkward. Whatever the reason, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
34. Neal Caffrey, White Collar (Matt Bomer)
[On Air: 2009-present] Fans were captivated by the roguish Neal Caffrey from the moment he debuted on White Collar in 2009. A gentleman thief in the mold of Simon Templar, Raffles and Lupin, Neal’s wit, charm and style, not to mention his dazzling smile and sparkling blue eyes, served him well in his life as a con man and forger. Now he uses those talents as a consultant for the FBI.
Initially possessed of a devil-may-care attitude even behind prison bars, Neal’s outlook began to change when an old enemy first kidnapped and then murdered his lady love, Kate. Always fiercely loyal to his friend Mozzie, Neal has come to trust and value the friendship of his FBI handler Peter and Peter’s wife Elizabeth.
And he paints and sculpts half-naked. Repeatedly.
Matt Bomer brings his own considerable charm and style to bear in full force in playing Neal, winning over male and female, gay and straight fans alike. With Bomer’s recent publicized acknowledgment of his entire family, including partner Simon Halls, Neal Caffrey may just be what lays to rest silly notions about whether gay actors can play straight leading roles.
33. Castiel, Supernatural (Misha Collins)
[On Air: 2005-Present] Being one half of TV’s Topmost Romantic Couple is no mean feat, particularly if you’re facing off against Glee’s Kurt and Blaine, but Castiel has managed to endear himself to us ever since his first appearance as the trench-coated “heavenly tax accountant” at the start of Supernatural’s fourth season.
Castiel is an angel with a God complex and a slightly skewed sense of heavenly duty. He can be extremely loyal to those he considers as friends… so long as they don’t interfere with his plans to rule Heaven and Earth. His quest for power makes him a dangerous and unpredictable foe. However, his obtuse sense of humor, total lack of “people skills” and his willingness to take on the world – literally and figuratively – for the sake of his loved ones make even the worst of his crimes seem trivial.
Castiel is played by extremely cute and incredibly funny (check out him out on Twitter!) Misha Collins.
32. Jamie Summers, The Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner)
On Air: 1976 -1978
[On Air: 1976-1978] When tennis star Jamie Sommers made her debut on The Six Million Dollar Man, it was supposed to be for one story arc, in which Jamie and Steve Austin would fall in love, she would be injured in a tragic parachute accident, and Steve would convince TPTB to implant her with bionics. Unfortunately, her body would eventually reject the bionics, and Jamie Sommers died on the operating table, as her boyfriend sang a horrible song in her honor.
But then something miraculous happened. Fans realized that Jamie Sommers was way cooler than her lunkhead boyfriend, and they demanded she be brought back.
Thus, The Bionic Woman was born, and for three seasons, Jamie Sommers was the epitome of the ass-kicking heroine, who was as at ease in the classroom (ripping apart phone books) as she was working for the OSI. Whether it was battling bigfoot, fembots, her own evil doppelganger, or competing in beauty pageants and the wrestling ring, Jamie Sommers was a true 70’s feminist icon. Especially for impressionable young gay boys.
31. Luke Dunphy, Modern Family (Nolan Gould)
[On Air: 2009-Present] The youngest Dunphy kid moves to the beat of his own drummer. His “Uncle” Manny might be the flashier role for a child actor, but of all the Modern Family kids, thirteen year-old Luke is the one you root for the most. Obviously, as he’s the only one to make this list!
Often underestimated and overlooked by his family, Luke is a master at entertaining himself, but sometimes that leads to sticky situations, whether it’s crashing through a screen door, getting his head caught in the bannister, or trapping himself in a doggie crate.
Luke Dunphy has the distinction of being the youngest character in this list.
30. Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries (Ian Somerhalder)
[On Air: 2009-present] Ian Somerhalder faced a big challenge in creating the character of Damon Salvatore. How to make his dark, brooding vampire different from all the other dark, brooding vampires? His solution: lots of shirtlessness, lots of snark and a healthy dose of pseudo-homoeroticism between him and pretty much every other male member of the The Vampire Diaries cast.
It would be difficult for any actor to make an audience feel empathy for Damon. He is, after all, a largely unrepentant mass murderer who spent the first season menacing and killing his way through entire swaths of townspeople. But as the series continued we began to learn something of Damon’s past, including that he was turned vampire against his will and that his first great love, Katherine, never loved him in return. He found himself falling in love with his brother’s girl, Elena, and set himself on a path of redemption for her sake despite believing that she could never be his.
Damon is still nasty and sarcastic but he’s done the near-impossible: changed how we see him from “murdering psychopath” to “not such a bad guy after all.”
29. Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch)
[On Air: 2010-Present] The character of Sherlock Holmes has been performed dozens of times by as many actors – so it was a particular thrill when the most modern take to date of the classic sleuthing stories blew the dust off of Holmes and dropped him smack into the 21st century.
As brought to complicated, ridiculously engaging life by the awesomely-named Benedict Cumberbatch, Baker Street’s most notorious tenant is more of a cypher than ever. His relationship with his roommate/Man Friday, Watson (Martin Freeman) is beyond awkward, his backstory with the authorities is murky at best, and his cat-and-mouse game with the flamboyant Moriarty (Andrew Scott) almost carries a whiff of romantic flirtation.
Exactly what makes Holmes tick remains to be seen … or not seen. Because considering the fun we’re having putting together Sherlock’s pieces, the man at the center of this unmissable series is one mystery that might be best left unsolved.
28. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler)
[On Air: 2009-Present] The detached mockumentary style of The Office gives way to a more unassuming, yet familial comedy in Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope leads Pawnee, Indiana’s parks and recreational department with an ambitious, didactic flair, and that’s why it’s so compelling when her efforts are unappreciated or simply fail.
Her strong desire to provide active, hands-on service to Pawnee is charming, but it’s most engaging to watch her interact with her unforgettable libertarian superior Ron Swanson.
27. Lucy Ricardo, I Love Lucy (Lucille Ball)
[On Air: 1951-1957] It’s been over fifty years since she went off the air (the oldest character on this list), and at this point it’s clear that Lucy Ricardo, like The Beatles or Monopoly, will be rediscovered and cherished for generations to come. Looking back, it’s almost unbelievable how much Lucille Ball’s efforts transcend time: Her character exuded ebullience whether she was deadpanning one-liners or exacting ridiculous schemes with partner in crime Ethel Mertz. I Love Lucy remains perhaps the single most fun show ever to hit the air. It’s a shame more alcoholics don’t call themselves “vitametavegetarians.”
26. Noah Mayer, As the World Turns (Jake Silbermann)
[On Air: 2007-2010] Noah was one half of “Nuke,” Daytime’s first gay supercouple. When he first arrived in Oakdale, he was a closeted intern afraid of disappointing his strict father. But after getting to know Luke, Noah was finally able to find the courage to be true to his feelings, and the two consummated their relationship with some mutual bed jumping.
Nuke went through many ups and downs, including Noah’s murderous father, a pair of annoying scam artists, Noah’s marriage to an Iraqi woman (don’t ask), Luke’s lecherous grandfather, evil mistletoe, and Noah’s temporary blindness.
Noah left the show before the end, but the door was left open for a Nuke reunion down the road.
25. Sam Winchester, Supernatural (Jared Padalecki)
[On Air: 2005-Present] Probably the hardiest of all heroes, Sam embodies the term Destiny’s Child with aplomb, squarely facing whatever life throws at him – be it his family’s tragic deaths, the revelation that he has demon’s blood in him or most recently, returning memories of his time in Hell.
He’s extremely loyal; going to any lengths to protect and, if that fails, avenge the people he loves, even it if means consorting with the Devil. Though he’s considered to be a perfect catch (I mean… just look at him), dating him would be ill advised and/or hazardous, especially if older brother Dean is around.
24. Eric Northman, True Blood (Alexander Skarsgård)
[On Air: 2008-Present] Our statuesque Viking vampire god, how we love you so. You arrived on the scene fangs-first, a long-haired badass with a naughty nightclub and a weakness for blonds who played the perfect foil (and boss) for the show’s brooding, long-suffering good guy. We love the way you take what you want without asking. We love how you banter with your sharp-tongued progeny, Pam. And we adore your tendency to get caught with your pants down.
As the years went by, we learned more about your family (slaughtered!), your summer home (Pam memorably called it a “windy sh*thole”), and your romantic side. But just when we thought we had you pegged, a storefront witch stole your memory and you were reborn as a babe lost in the woods.
Eric, consider this an open invite to enter our house any day – windy sh*thole or no.
23. Justin Taylor, Queer as Folk (US) (Randy Harrison)
[On Air: 2000-2005] The brash twink that turns the world of Pittsburgh’s most popular partyboy Brian Kinney (Gale Harold) upside down, Justin was TV’s first unapologetically sexual gay teenager. Sure, he had a dramatic arc over the American series’ five seasons, but a typical tortured teen he was not. Except when it came to Brian’s elusive affections.
Justin, also known as “Sunshine” by good-hearted waitress Debbie Novatny (Sharon Gless), heralded the era of the new gay teen, onscreen and off. Out and proud, he marched to his own drummer and sometimes even wrote his own tune altogether. Like Glee’s Kurt Hummel, he was the victim of a bully (and almost died after a savage beating in the season 1 finale). But ultimately he became a stronger, more confident character as a result — a survivor. Just like many real-life teens then and today.
22. Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell)
[On Air: 2004-2007] She’s alpha-tough, snappy, emotional, and has a world of pop-culture references at her fingertips. Veronica Mars’s O.C. sheen and Columbo pacing make for a strange dichotomy, the hard-bitten detective story that doubles as a teenage melodrama. Kristen Bell’s titular sleuth is a fascinating character of both genres. Her penchant for snooping is exhilarating while her inability to heal mangled friendships is believable and even heartbreaking. Personally, I’d do anything to get the dastardly Logan Echolls back on my side too.
21. Dr. Reid Oliver, As the World Turns (Eric Sheffer Stevens)
[On Air: 2010] Luke Snyder’s second love began on a strong note … of hatred. Feeling guilty for the blinding of his boyfriend Noah, Luke called on the services of brilliant neurosurgeon Reid Oliver, using blackmail to entice the arrogant doctor to save Noah’s eyesight.
After the successful surgery, Luke and Reid found themselves drawn together, and after “Nuke” decided to split, “LuRe” became the show’s gay supercouple, albeit briefly.
Reid instantly captured the attention of viewers, who loved his combination of sarcasm, wit, aloofness, and ginger hotness. As gruff as he seemed, Reid’s heart was always in the right place. Well, until it was transplanted into the body of of a shaved baboon.
20. Scotty Wandell, Brothers & Sisters (Luke Macfarlane)
[On Air: 2006-2011] The other half of TV’s greatest gay relationship, Scotty started out as a flaky and irresponsible cater-waiter with a penchant for bad hair and living in his car. His initial hook-up with Kevin led to a friendship that turned to love. Their relationship has survived Kevin’s family, infidelity, Kevin’s family, adoption drama, Kevin’s family, surrogacy problems. Kevin’s family. But through it all, Scotty remained good-hearted and sensitive, and was able to balance out his type A partner’s rigidity, creating the greatest gay relationship in TV history.
19. Cameron Tucker, Modern Family (Eric Stonestreet)
[On Air: 2009-Present] Currently one of TV’s most popular characters, Cam is the more, ahem, high-strung, emotionally demonstrative half of the Tucker-Pritchett partnership. Sensitive, sweet and affectionate, stay-at-home dad/occasional clown, Cam is one of the hearts of this funny, sometimes poignant show.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a “dark” side. You don’t want to make his Fizbo the clown angry, as some redneck found out when he tried to harass partner Mitchell at a gas station in an early episode of Modern Family.
Cam is part of what helps make them modern, but more importantly, he’s a big part of what makes them family, too.
18. Max Blum, Happy Endings (Adam Pally)
[On Air: 2011-Present] Happy Endings’ Max is a refreshingly different TV character than who we’ve been used to all these years: lazy, sloppy, sometimes antisocial and, oh yeah, gay.
Known as a slacker of epic proportions (with the flannel shirts to prove it), his day usually consists of spending time with best buds Penny, Dave, Alex, Brad and Jane at their local bar and … um, nothing else.
But Max recently started taking on some responsibility by establishing his own chauffeur service, albeit with one rundown limousine. He also recaptured the attention of his former flame, hottie Grant (played by James Wolk). So could Max be turning over a new leaf? It’s too early too tell, but maybe our favorite man-boy is growing up … a little bit at a time.
17. Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother (Neil Patrick Harris)
[On Air: 2005-Present] Though “Suit up!” has entered the annals of instantly recognizable TV catchphrases, it’s always the perfect two-word command for summoning Barney Stinson’s gusto and conviction. Barney is dapper, hilarious, gleefully hypocritical, a self-vaunted “bro,” and one of the few people whose love of magic tricks doesn’t make us sprint for the door. It helps that Neil Patrick Harris is perhaps the most charismatic sitcom actor of the past decade.
16. Kevin Walker, Brothers & Sisters (Matthew Rhys)
[On Air: 2006-2011] We’ll be forever thankful to creator Jon Robin Baitz for giving us the first fully formed and realistic gay male character on broadcast television. There had been gay characters prior to Kevin, sure, but on broadcast TV at least they were either sanitized one-note characters, surreal comic creations or sad and noble victims struggling with their sexual orientation. Kevin Walker on the other hand was nobody’s victim, and for the most part his orientation was a non-issue.
He had a few memorable relationships, including a closeted soap actor and a smoldering preacher, but his relationship with Scotty remains the most complete and satisfying gay relationship in TV drama history, and will probably never be matched.
15. Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory (Jim Parsons)
[On Air: 2007-Present] Though The Big Bang Theory is a glossy CBS production with Chuck Lorre’s ubiquitous, dictatorial name attached, it’s hard not to love the show for bringing geekdom – nutty, delirious geekdom– to the masses. Jim Parsons’ performance as Sheldon Cooper is so convulsively wacky that we can’t even think of an older character to whom it compares. Surely Danny Pudi’s fabulous Abed on Community owes something to Sheldon, but it’s more fun to think of the one-of-a-kind gifts Sheldon has given viewers, namely a believably brilliant character who can still dish spot-on humor in spite of a blindness to sarcasm.
14. Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (James Marsters)
[On Air: 1997-2003] Buffy makes a strong showing in the top 50, and it’s no surprise that bleach-blond bad boy Spike made the cut. Thanks to Marsters’ sly, sexy, and unexpectedly witty take on this villainous vamp, Spike blossomed like blood in a swimming pool over the series’ seven seasons and wound up having one of the most satisfying character arcs of the whole Scooby Gang.
Whether he was ruthlessly taunting the Buffster and her friends with his lady-love Drusilla, playing house with newbie vamp Harmony, or dealing with the anti-aggression chip planted in his brain by the Initiative, Spike was always criminally fun to watch. But it was when he fell in love with Buffy that his character really came into its own, leading to a heroic sacrifice in the final reels that left us all gasping for more.
Spike, we’d pick you over a Chaos demon any day.
13. Luke Snyder, As the World Turns (Van Hansis)
[On Air: 2005-2010] The template for creating a successful gay male soap character, Luke Snyder wasn’t on the periphery, he was a part of the core family of As The World Turns. In addition to the usual soap teen problems (alcoholism, paternity issues, parental strife, deadly kidney infection), he also had to deal with coming-out issues, including bullying, blackmail, and attempted “re-orientation camp” abduction.
In other words, he was a classic soap opera character.
The drama extended to his love life, which included daytime’s first guy/guy romantic kiss, as well as kisses that were … less successful. And he had three great loves in his life: A sensitive barista, a cranky doctor … and striped shirts.
Lots of striped shirts.
12. Ianto Jones, Torchwood (Gareth David-Lloyd)
[On Air: 2006 – 2009] Ianto had a humble beginning for a man who would eventually go on to make such an impact on viewers. He may have started as a glorified butler who helped maintain the guise that the Torchwood Hub was a mere tourism office, but his strong sense of loyalty and his love for Captain Jack Harkness would give him a lasting place in viewers’ memories.
Ianto had a sweet and mild-mannered exterior, but he was also capable of holding dark secrets and keeping Captian Jack’s voracious sexual appetite satiated. Sadly, just as he started becoming a more confident and active member of Torchwood, he was killed when joining Captain Jack to confront an alien menace, a death that drew the ire of fans and drove pages and pages of articles, blog posts and heated discussion threads. Years later, any mention of his death can still get people talking.
Ianto lives on in novels, radio plays and comics that explore his history between TV episodes. As long as there are Torchwood fans, it seems likely that they’ll be debating the impact his death had on the series.
11. Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Alyson Hannigan)
[On Air: 1997-2003] Willow Rosenberg, for you we reserve the highest praise: We loved you even before you were a lesbian.
For years, Buffy Summers’ first Sunnydale friend got the short end of the stick (though, luckily, not the pointy one – except in an alternate universe), but trudged on as one of the more valuable but under-appreciated members of the Scooby Gang. But all her studies and patience paid off, because over time Will stepped out of the corduroy overalls to become one of the most powerful characters in the Buffyverse. Sure, she almost used that power to destroy the world a few times, but let’s chalk that up to unchecked enthusiasm.
Willow of course also went down in television history as one of the first teen characters on a mainstream show to explore her sexuality and come out as a lesbian, thanks in good part to her first girlfriend, Tara (Amber Benson). We love Potential-jumping Alpha Witch Willow, softer-side-of-Sears Willow, werewolf-dating bookworm Willow, darksided and “kinda gay” vampire Willow, and everything in between.
10. Santana Lopez, Glee (Naya Rivera)
[On Air: 2009-present] Actress Naya Rivera and the Glee writers have taken the typical bitchy cheerleader character — which could have been nothing more than a cliché in less talented hands — and turned Santana into a character who seems refreshingly real, with shades of humor, sadness and vulnerability.
Sarcastic? Hells yeah! She has some of the best one-liners of any character currently on the airways. But she’s also been known to break down in tears while singing a song to her true love and fellow Cheerio, Britney S. Pierce (played by Heather Morris, Rivera’s real-life best friend). It doesn’t hurt that she’s got that amazing voice either. But Santana’s real importance lies in being a multi-dimensional character who is not defined by her sexuality, but rather her complexity.
9. Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood (John Barrowman)
[On Air: 2005 – pending] When Doctor Who introduced the roguish Captain Jack, it was impossible to look away. Not only did he have charm and confidence to spare, Captain Jack also had John Barrowman’s good looks and disarming swagger to reinforce the character’s appeal. No matter how grim the situation, he faced every threat with determination, a sly grin and a certainty that made him a valuable ally.
The omnisexual time traveler has left an impact that goes beyond the iconic Doctor Who franchise. He’s been parodied and referenced on a variety of shows and comic writer Peter David named Captain Jack as an influence in how he wrote a bisexual superhero. While it’s not clear when we’ll see Captain Jack again, his influence will be felt for a long time.
8. Dean Winchester, Supernatural (Jensen Ackles)
[On Air: 2005-current] Considered to be “the best demon hunter in the world” (he says so himself), Dean is the unlikeliest of good guys, managing to be sympathetic even while struggling with various emotional baggage. Daddy issues, brother Sammy issues, trust issues, drinking problems and enough guilt to last a lifetime.
As low maintenance as he is easy on the eyes, he is perfectly content with a bottle of beer and a couple of cheeseburgers, though his co-dependency with brother Sam (or “WIncest”) would make dating him almost impossible.
On the other hand, how many people do you know who can actually boast of stopping the Apocalypse and saving the world, twice!! Besides… he’s adorable! He says so himself.
7. Liz Lemon, 30 Rock (Tina Fey)
[On Air: 2006-Present] They say that when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade. But whenever life handed Tina Fey lemons, she squeezed them into Liz – a living, breathing, awkwardly-dancing golem of the working woman’s worst fears and insecurities, bound in Spanx and propelled by brains, optimism, and an undisclosed number of donuts devoured under the cover of darkness.
We love Lemon because she’s smart and funny and self-effacing. But more than that, we love her because more often than not, she stands her ground and doesn’t get her way – so at the end of the day, she’s a lot like many of us, still hoping for a happy ending. And really, if Liz can survive suffering the many fools of TGS on her way to personal fulfillment, our lives can’t be THAT bad, can they? (Liz, please do a funny dance before I start to cry.)
We love Liz’s relationship with her right-winger boss, Jack (Alec Baldwin), and we laugh every time the selfish machinations of Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) land Liz and her show in hot water. We adore Liz’s improv comedy past and fondness for sleepwear at the office. And of course we can’t get enough of the adorable parade of men who have passed through Liz’s life, played by such adorkable fellas as Jason Sudeikis, Michael Sheen, James Marsden and Jon Hamm. But most of all we just love Liz in all her uncompromising, perpetually frustrated, granny-panties-bolstering glory.
6. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar)
[On Air: 1997-2003]Spider Man may have imparted the lesson that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but Buffy the Vampire Slayer did it one better: “With great power comes great fashion sense and a weakness for kicking ass in expensive shoes.”
For seven seasons on two fledgling networks, reluctant hero Buffy Anne Summers grew, stumbled, loved, groused, and of course kicked a lot of vampire butt as she developed from a petulant SoCal princess to a strong, independent, wonderfully layered woman. She also died a few times along the way, but hey – nobody’s perfect!
Buffy won us over because even though she wasn’t perfect, she tried her best. She didn’t ask to be the savior of the human race, but when push came to shove (and kick, and roundhouse, and pile driver), she was willing to sacrifice life as a normal teenage girl in order to save us all. Her father/daughter relationship with her doting watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) was the emotional core of the show, but it was her close bond with her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) that delivered some of the series’ most stunning moments.
And come on – at one point she dated a guy who later came out as gay (Scott). How could we not love this woman?
In the years since there have been legions of imitators, but no one will ever match the wit, strength, and just-stepped-out-of-the-salon hair that Buffy brought to the business end of Mr. Pointy.
5. Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Various)
[On Air: 1963 – present] In some ways it isn’t fair. The Doctor has been played by no less than eleven different actors since the character was first introduced by the BBC back in 1963. That’s eleven potential nominees for a favorite character list. Everybody has their favorite Doctor, be it the original crotchety version played by William Hartnell, or the iconic Tom Baker Doctor of the seventies with his multicolored knit scarf, or one of the most recent three iterations: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant or the current Tardis occupant, hottie Matt Smith.
So many of you failed to specify which Doctor was your favorite, so ultimately we had to lump all the votes together. But if you’re interested, the Doctor most mentioned by actor name? David Tennant.
4. Karen Walker, Will & Grace (Megan Mullally)
[On Air: 1998-2006] The world’s best “hag,” worst designer’s assistant and Candice Bergen’s “archenemy-slash-best friend,” omnisexual Karen Walker is also known by her alias: Anastasia Beaverhausen — when certain situations warrant it.
Jack McFarland’s best gal pal, Karen tells it like it is — at least in her deranged mind. Whether it’s critiquing Grace Adler’s fashion choices (“Great dress. Where are Fred and Ethel?”), berating her loyal, long-suffering maid Rosario (“In this country, you wash my bras”) or name-dropping her famous friends (“If I gave in to every persuasive argument, I’d be in some crazy three-way marriage with Maury Povich and Connie Chung”), only Will & Grace’s Karen Walker could get away with these moments and these zingers. We wish we’d done that or said that … every time! And that’s why we love her.
3. Brian Kinney, Queer as Folk (US) (Gale Harold)
[On Air: 2000 – 2005] It’s just a law of nature that Queer As Folk’s resident bad boy Brian Kinney will always show up at or near the top of any favorite TV character list we ever do. Remarkable, since the sexy rogue has been off the airwaves since 2005! No doubt we’ll take another favorite TV character poll in the year 2050 – and he’ll still be right there in the top ten.
People just never can forget Brian. He’s the king of all gay scoundrels, the patron saint of unapologetic homo hookups. For a brief period he made puka shell bracelets cool. (No mean feat). And, well, he’s played by Gale Harold and so he’s just ineffably hot.
Once on the show he was described as “the love child of James Dean and Ayn Rand.” That fits, though thankfully he takes after Dean in the looks department.
2. Kurt Hummel, Glee (Chris Colfer)
[On Air: 2009 – Present] Kurt strikes a chord with many gay viewers because he reminds us of our own high school experience: the social outcast, loner or misfit.
A groundbreaking TV character on a one-of-a-kind series, Kurt has been slowly evolving out of the victim role (being thrown in a dumpster in the pilot, multiple Slushies to the face) into a more mature, stronger mentor. Witness his recent forgiveness and friendship with former bully, Dave Karofsky (Max Adler) for proof.
While many of Kurt’s storylines in the first two seasons of Glee revolved around his sexual orientation (and they sometimes still do) his character has become more well-rounded and is currently looking hopefully toward the future — life after high school. Kurt is a hopeful sign of the future for many of today’s gay teens: It may be a long, rough journey, but it will get better.
1. Blaine Anderson, Glee (Darren Criss)
[On Air: 2009 – Present] We fell in love with him from his first appearance on the show, where he shimmied and crooned the sweetest confection of a Glee number ever, serenading Kurt Hummel with Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” That smile, those moves, that voice, and a navy blazer with red piping. We were instantly hooked.
The song was perfect for him because Blaine really is a teenage dream. Young girls and boys alike crush on him. Like the perfect Tiger Beat cover boy, he’s both cute and yet completely non-threatening at the same time. Another part of his appeal? Blaine seems completely unaware of precisely how hot he is. (A personality trait he seems to inherited from actor Darren Criss.)