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A breakout character is a fictional character in different episodes, books or other media (TV, comics, literature, games, etc.) that becomes the most popular, talked about, and imitated,[1] sometimes (but not always) becoming the main character. Most often a breakout character in a television series (such as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli of Happy Days)[2] captures the audience's imagination and helps to popularize the show, sometimes inadvertently. Breakout characters have been known to come from intended single appearances.

In some instances, particularly television, when characters have broken out from minor roles to become the center of the action, viewers have felt they received too much focus and were detrimental to the show,[3] sometimes leading it to jump the shark.





  • Castiel (Misha Collins) in Supernatural. Castiel was originally intended for a 6 episode story arc in the beginning of the show's 4th season [4], but positive fan response resulted in his part being rewritten to continue for the rest of the season [5]. Before the 4th season had even completed airing, Collins was signed as a series regular for the 5th season.[6]
  • Sandra Clark (Jackée Harry) in 227. The series was originally meant as a vehicle for Marla Gibbs. Harry's character proved to be a breakout success[7] and she was upgraded from supporting status.
  • Daleks in Doctor Who. The Daleks were orginally only supposed to only to appear in the programme's second story but swiftly increased in popularity and have subsequently become the most popular and recognisable aspect of the programme. An example of this popularity is that the word "Dalek" is in the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • J. J. Evans (Jimmie Walker) in Good Times.[8] With his catch phrase "Dy-no-mite!", J.J. came to dominate the series. This led to friction with stars Esther Rolle and John Amos, who played his parents, not so much because they resented being upstaged but because they felt he was becoming too stereotypical and not a good role model for African American youth[9][10]. Ultimately, they forced a showdown with the producers which led to some changes in J. J.'s character, Amos's character being killed off and later Rolle's temporary departure from the show (she returned at the beginning of the show's final season), after which J. J. became even more the focus of the show.
  • J. R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) on Dallas. Originally intended simply as a nemesis for Pam and Bobby Ewing, his villainy made him so popular that by the end of the show's third season the story arc around his attempted murder put the show high atop the ratings.[11]
  • Barney Fife (Don Knotts) in The Andy Griffith Show.[12]
  • Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) in the American sitcom Happy Days.[1][13] The character of Fonzie started out as a fringe character but quickly evolved into the focal point of the series. His character became best friend to the main character, Richie Cunningham, displacing Potsie Webber - the character originally intended for that relationship. Winkler's billing in the credits rose all the way to second (he refused to go before Ron Howard, the star) and then first after Howard left the show to pursue directing. At one point, network executives even hoped to call the show Fonzie's Happy Days.[14]
  • Gabriel "Sylar" Gray (Zachary Quinto) in Heroes. Gray was originally supposed to be a minor villain for the first season, until increased popularity made writer Tim Kring decide to move Quinto to the main cast for Season 2.[15]
  • Stewie Griffin (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) on Family Guy. Creator Seth MacFarlane reports being very surprised that Stewie turned out to be the show's breakout character, and that when this turned out to be the case he had to work out stories to do with the character.[16]
  • Janitor (Neil Flynn) from Scrubs. The Janitor at Sacred Heart Hospital was J.D.'s personal antagonist. On J.D.'s first day, Janitor suspected him of breaking the sliding door at the entrance to the hospital. Since then he had some sort of grudge against the main character that he manifested by means of elaborate pranks. Sometimes he would befriend or at least do business with the other characters on the show, but ultimately was a wild card. His actual name was also a source of mystery about the character, never being revealed for 8 years until his final episode. The role of Janitor was originally devised as a one-time gag in the series' pilot episode, but amazed the creator of the show with his performance that they decided to make him appear more often. As revealed in the DVD for the show, he was originally meant to be a simple figment of J.D.'s intense imagination, in case the show was discontinued for a second season. He became a series regular in season 2, and remained that status, sometimes having entire story arcs revolving around him, until the finale of season 8.
  • Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) in Family Ties.[17]
  • Dylan McKay (Luke Perry) in Beverly Hills, 90210.[18].
  • Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) of Lost. Stage actor Emerson was originally intended to play a lower-level Other who would have a three episode arc and then escape. However, since both fans and producers loved his performance[19], show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse decided to keep Ben around for the rest of the season, and eventually make him the leader of The Others in season 3, in which he was added to the main cast. By season 4, Ben was one of the show's most central main characters. Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) was also a guest star in season 2 but was promoted to the main cast for the show's third season.[20]
  • Todd Manning (originally Roger Howarth, currently Trevor St. John) on One Life to Live. The character, known for initiating the gang rape of Marty Saybrooke in 1993, was originally supposed to be short-lived, but once Howarth was cited as having drawn in notable positive viewer reaction, the character was slated to become a main focus.[21][22] The character's popularity continued even after St. John assumed the role in 2003.[23]
  • Will Robinson, Dr. (Zachary) Smith, The Robot (Billy Mumy, Jonathan Harris, Dick Tufeld/Bob May) on Lost In Space. The show, as its early episodes suggest, was originally supposed to be a serious action/adventure series showcasing Guy Williams. Fan response completely changed the nature of the show and the set of focal characters.[24]
  • Bart Simpson (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) on The Simpsons. During the first two seasons of the series, Bart was the show's breakout character and "Bartmania" ensued. Bart Simpson T-shirts sporting various slogans and catchphrases became popular, selling at a rate of a million per day at their peak. The song "Do the Bartman" became a number one and the seventh best-selling single of 1991 in the United Kingdom. Around the third season, the series started to focus more on the family as a group, although Bart remains a prominent characters on the series.
  • Spike (James Marsters) evolved from villain to comic relief to hero in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He becomes the lover of the show's titular character, Buffy Summers, and comes to parallel Angel in terms of motivation. He became one of the show's primary focuses in its final season, and then moved to its spin-off Angel. He appeared on the Angel season 5 DVD covers alongside its titular character.[25]
  • Spock (Leonard Nimoy) on Star Trek. Spock was the only character to be carried over from the original pilot to the second. Series creator Gene Roddenberry was pressured by NBC to drop the character from the second pilot, and later to keep the character in the background. The character quickly became popular and NBC soon reversed its stance and encouraged more focus on the character.[26]
  • Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) of How I Met Your Mother. The best-known character of the series, Barney often steals the spotlight from protagonist Ted Mosby with his sharp one-liners and comic sexual appetite. Consistently the most popular and most quoted of the five main characters.[27]
  • Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) in Gossip Girl. The series' most critically acclaimed character, earning mainstream media recognition from Forbes,[28] Rolling Stone,[29] Variety,[30] Entertainment Weekly,[31] and numerous other periodicals. The character was acclaimed as having "stolen the spotlight" in the first season.[32] Additionally, her wardrobe has garnered real-life coverage from fashion outlets,[33] and has been cited as trend-setting outside of the show.[34]
  • Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) on Family Matters. Originally just a one-time only character, he was so popular he eventually became a regular and practically synonymous with the series.[35][36]
  • Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on The Big Bang Theory. Initially the main focus on the show was going to be Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and his relationship with new neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco). However attention soon shifted to Sheldon and his social ineptness due to his overtly intellectual personality. [37] Which causes him to not even fully understand such a basic thing as the concept of sarcasm. Parsons even received a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards for his performance on the show.


  • Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) in The Pink Panther series of films. In the first film, David Niven's suave jewel thief was the main character. But audiences and critics so loved the bumbling Clouseau that later films in the series were written around him instead.[38]
  • Scrat from the Ice Age series of films. Originally a minor role in charge of comic relief, Scrat evolved into one of the most recognizable characters from the franchise.[citation needed]
  • Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) from the American Pie series. A foul-mouthed blowhard who was a supporting character, some would say villain, in the first film, Stifler proved so popular that he became a more integral part of the central gang in American Pie 2. American Wedding was written largely around his character, who was the catalyst for many of the things that went wrong. (Scott was even billed second in the credits after Jason Biggs.) All of the spin-off sequels have focused on some Stifler relative.
  • Hot Rod from Transformers in the original animated film, got the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and turned into Rodimus Prime in Optimus Prime's place, taking his place for most of the third season following the movie.


  • Dean Thomas from the Harry Potter series started off only being seen in very minor roles in the first book, (with only one line describing his looks, calling him "A black boy even taller than Ron) but grew to be a major character and good friend of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling, author of the series, admitted herself that she believed Chris Columbus was "slightly taken aback" by how much information she had on this character.[39]


  • Casey Jones (TMNT) from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame was originally suppossed to only star in a six-issue mini-series but was quickly upgraded to permanent series regular status when fans demanded more appearances.
  • Snoopy in Peanuts became, in the strip's later years, the focus of the strip, displacing Charlie Brown, as his character began to do more and more fantastic things, got his own sidekick, Woodstock, and proved to be a huge seller in the strip's merchandising. In the 1970s he was practically synonymous with the strip. Charlie Brown himself was also a breakout character, for the first year he was just one of the four kids in the strip. In fact it wasn't even established he was Snoopy's owner.[40][41]
  • Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing/Batman was introduced as the first kid sidekick superhero in comic book history in 1940. After forty-four years as Robin, his popularity in the Teen Titans series and his increasing popularity in the Batman monthly books caused him to extend beyond his sidekick role and become the solo hero Nightwing.[42] He would later take up the mantle of Batman when his mentor fell in battle.
  • Mary Jane Watson was introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man. However, Mary Jane's energetic and confident personality drew considerably more reader interest than expected and she evolved into one of the central supporting characters of Spider-Man.[43]
  • Wolverine began as an enemy of the Incredible Hulk. He shortly after joined the X-Men but editors decided that he and Thunderbird were too similar in abilities and temperament and almost killed off Wolverine instead of Thunderbird. Even after, he was a minor character, but he grew in popularity to become one of Marvel Comics' most popular and marketable characters. He features prominently in the X-Men movies and eventually gained his own movie about his origins.[44][45]
  • Opus the Penguin, of Bloom County, Outland, and the strip of the same name was originally intended to last for only his initial two-week run upon his introduction in Bloom County. After receiving a large amount of fan mail supporting the character (along with being personally pleased at how well the character seemed to mesh with the strip) Berkeley Breathed decided to keep him on as a permanent character, eventually supplanting the original cast as the focus of the strip and its subsequent sequels.[46]
  • Death (DC Comics) started out as a supporting character in Neil Gaiman's Sandman but with her perky smile and upbeat personality became popular and gained a couple of mini-series devoted just to her.[47]
  • Ray (Achewood) first appeared as part of a trio of roughly identical cats three months after the comic began; their role was limited to competitive swearing.[48] Both Ray and Roast Beef quickly developed beyond their initial roles; the comic's second sustained story arc revolves around the two characters starting up a business[49] and is the basis of most of the strips for the rest of that month; indeed, several arcs have focused almost totally on Ray,[50][51] with Roast Beef acting as comedic foil in most of his appearances.
  • Popeye was introduced as a minor character ten years into the run of the King Features Syndicate feature, Thimble Theatre, which had begun in 1919. Prior to that time, the strip had focussed on Olive Oyl and her family. Popeye was introduced as a crewman hired by Castor Oyl. Popeye was initially written out of the strip, but fan reaction resulted in his reintroduction and eventual dominance of the feature.[52]



  • Strong Bad from the Homestar Runner flash series started out playing a minor antagonistic role, often attempting to cheat his way to the top, but ultimately being overcome by Homestar. However, Strong Bad soon began to gradually become more and more of the website's focus, particularly after the start of his 'Strong Bad Email' segment, which now has over 200 episodes, and is widely considered the most popular series on the website.[54]


  1. ^ a b Raymond Weschler (2000). "Man on the Moon". English Learner Movie Guides. 
  2. ^ Miller, Ron (2005). "They really were a great bunch of happy people". Retrieved July 11, 2009. "Originally, the Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli character was to be a comic relief dropout type, put there for comic contrast to the whitebread Richie and his pals. He was a tall, lanky guy, but when Henry Winkler blew everybody away at his reading, they decided to cut Fonzie down to Henry's size. Ultimately, Winkler molded the character around himself and everybody, including Ron Howard, realized this would be the show's "breakout" character." 
  3. ^ Break-out characters discussion thread at Sitcoms Online, started May 10, 2006; retrieved July 28, 2006.
  4. ^ ""Three Questions With Supernatural's Misha Collins"". Spelling, Ian. 2008-11-25. Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  5. ^ ""EXCLUSIVE: Misha Collins Gets Angelic in Supernatural"". Gallagher, Brian. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  6. ^ ""'Supernatural' actor Misha Collins is the new angel on the block"". Spelling, Ian. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Moore, Frazier; September 15, 2005;Hurricane made TV see the underclass; Associated Press; retrieved at July 28, 2006.
  9. ^ "Bad Times on the Good Times Set", Ebony, September 1975
  10. ^ Mitchell, John L.; April 14, 2006; Plotting His Next Big Break; Los Angeles Times; retrieved July 26, 2006.
  11. ^ What Larry Hagman Brought to the Character, J.R. Ewing! discussion thread at soapchat; started December 22, 2002; retrieved July 28, 2006. This discussion thread refers to J. R. as the show's breakout character.
  12. ^ Allen Johnson (2006-02-27). "An Ode to Barney". News and Record. 
  13. ^ Ron Miller. "My Happy Days with "Happy Days": They really were a great bunch of happy people". TheColumnists. 
  14. ^ missingauthor. "HappyDays". TV Land. 
  15. ^ ""Heroes': Sylar Here To Stay!"". 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  16. ^ Nathan Rabin (2005-01-26). "Seth MacFarlane". The A.V. Club. 
  17. ^ Weiman (2007-10-05). "'All You Need Is One'". MacLeans Canada. 
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  20. ^ William Keck (2006-08-24). "Cusick carries lone Emmy torch for 'Lost' cast". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  21. ^ Gail. Dines, Jean McMahon Humez (2003). Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-reader. Sage Publications Inc. ISBN 076192261X. 
  22. ^ "About the Actors: Roger Howarth". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  23. ^ ""Reflections by Jill" - A Weekly Commentary on One Life to Live". 2003-09-15. Retrieved 2007-08-28. 
  24. ^ Mark Phillips. "The History of Lost In Space, Part I". Official Series Site. 
  25. ^ August 3, 2005; Movie File: Jon Heder, Ryan Reynolds, Alyson Hannigan, Mike Judge & More; MTV Movie News; text refers to Spike as a breakout character.
  26. ^ Dillard, J.M. (1994). Star Trek: "Where No One Has Gone Before": A History in Pictures. Pocket Books. ISBN 0671511491. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Broek, Anna (2009-05-13). "The Forbes Fictional Interview: Blair Waldorf". Forbes. Retrieved 7-5-2009. 
  29. ^ Gay, Jason. "The 2008 Hot List". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 7-9-2009. 
  30. ^ "Leighton Meester". People. Retrieved 10-9-2008. 
  31. ^ Stack, Tim. "Gossip Girl: Yale and Hearty". Entertainment Weekly.,,20232869,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  32. ^ "Leighton Meester Named 'Hottest' by FHM Online". Entertainment Tonight. 2008-09-19. Retrieved 10-9-2008. 
  33. ^ "Gossip Girl Season One: Get the Look". InStyle. 2008-09-19.,,20164507_20057738_20371760,00.html. Retrieved 10-9-2008. 
  34. ^ "Glam Slam: I'm With The Band". Yahoo!. 2008-08-14. Retrieved 7-10-2009. 
  35. ^ Joel Keller (2006-05-14), The TV Squad Interview: Fred Goss and Nick Holly of Sons & Daughters, TV Squad, . Fred Goss and Nick Holly, creators of Sons & Daughters, describe their hopes that that show's Carrie will be "our breakout character ... our Urkel"
  36. ^ missingauthor, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, MSN Movies,  This MSN review of the DVD set of second-season episodes of Hangin' with Mr. Cooper refers to "Marquise Wilson, a new regular who was evidently intended to be the series 'breakout' character, a la Urkel on Family Matters".
  37. ^
  38. ^ Derek M. Germano (2004). "The Pink Panther film collection". The Cinema Laser DVD Review. 
  39. ^ J.K. Rowling. "Dean Thomas's background (Chamber of Secrets)". 
  40. ^ comment by lastangelman; March 5, 2006; The Barber Shop 3: The Funny Pages Ain't Funny No More; All kinds of stuff; retrieved September 10, 2006.
  41. ^ Author not identifiable; undated; cb; Roseville Times Online; retrieved September 10, 2006
  42. ^ Hardback release of Infinite Crisis, as stated in an interview by Geoff Johns.
  43. ^ Spider-Man 2 DVD, Disk 2, "Women in Spider-Man" segment, stated by Stan Lee.
  44. ^ DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. Titan, 2006. Pg. 110
  45. ^ MaGnUs. "Wolverine Is Everywhere! (GGO Zine 09/09)". 
  46. ^ Breathed, Berkeley. One Last Little Peek, 1980-1995: The Final Strips, the Special Hits, the Inside Tips. Little Brown & Co, 1995.
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  52. ^ Grandinetti, Fred M. Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History. 2nd ed. McFarland, 2004. ISBN 0-7864-1605-X
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  54. ^ "Characters: Strong Bad". Homestar Retrieved 2008-09-18. 


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