Inventory: 10 TV Romances For The Ages

Inventory: 10 TV Romances For The Ages

1. Sam Malone and Diane Chambers (as played by Ted Danson and Shelley Long), Cheers
Just about every workplace sitcom of the last two decades has wrestled with the legacy of this, the mother of all TV romances. But the ill-fated love affair of a brainy barmaid and a retired relief pitcher would top this list even it didn't still have TV producers sweating over how long to tease out their love stories. The Cheers creators paced this on-again/off-again affair perfectly, such that fans of the show can switch on an episode and figure out which season it's from just by whether Sam and Diane are flirting, bickering, or seeking psychiatric help.

2. David Addison and Maddie Hayes (as played by Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd), Moonlighting

Three years after Cheers' debut, Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron rehashed the "snob reluctantly loves slob" motif in a one-hour comedy-mystery format, with nods to Preston Sturges and Frank Capra. In its own way, David and Maddie's stormy relationship served as a model for the will-they-or-won't-they? romantic subplots for hourlong series to come, though it mainly proved that it isn't always the best idea to throw the leads into bed. Once David and Maddie "got horizontal," Moonlighting essentially collapsed. The creators of X-Files must've taken notes.

3. Tim Canterbury and Dawn Tinsley (as played by Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis), The Office

The original British version of The Office hilariously skewers cubicle drudgery and the delusions of reality-TV stars, but the show's heart is in the poignantly awkward dance of seduction between underachieving paper salesman Tim and engaged receptionist Dawn. It's a sweet story, in part because anyone who's ever flirted with a co-worker knows that Tim and Dawn's dalliance is born more of boredom than true love. The American version has handled the relationship surprisingly well—thanks to sympathetic performances by John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer—but the new series' open-ended nature means we're unlikely to see a moment as heart-stopping as the one where Tim detaches his microphone to go tell Dawn how he feels, then returns, puts the mike back on, glances into the camera, and says, "She said no."

4. Andy Taylor and Helen Crump (as played by Andy Griffith and Aneta Corsaut), The Andy Griffith Show

The sheriff of Mayberry went through about half a dozen potential mates before he met a spinster teacher with strong ideas and commenced what might be the longest courtship in sitcom history. (It lasted until the debut episode of the show's spin-off, Mayberry R.F.D.) Roughly once a year, The Andy Griffith Show would address the fact that Andy and Helen had been together so long with no plans to get married—usually by having Barney Fife misunderstand their intentions, with wacky consequences—but mostly, the couple kept on going to movies on Friday nights, dancing in Mt. Pilot on Saturdays, and sitting close together on the porch swing nearly every other night of the week. So... did Andy and Helen have sex? The fact that they were in no hurry to tie the knot probably answers that question. Why buy the cow, etc.

5. Luke Danes and Lorelai Gilmore (as played by Scott Patterson and Lauren Graham), Gilmore Girls

The problem with plotting out the long-term story arcs of TV characters is that sometimes those characters (and the people who play them) make plans of their own. Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino clearly wanted her gruff small-town diner owner to pine for the series' star for as long as possible, but the chemistry between Patterson and Graham—and the general lameness of any love interest not played by Chris Eigeman—pushed the couple together more quickly. Now Sherman-Palladino is scrambling to find ways to delay the inevitable marriage. (Luke has a long-lost daughter? Really?) If the show's fans are getting impatient with the artificial obstacles, it's only because there doesn't seem to be anything that could seriously keep these two wisecracking romantics apart.

6. Chandler Bing and Monica Geller (as played by Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox), Friends

It wasn't supposed to be this way. For the first three seasons of Friends—and again at the end—it was all about Ross and Rachel, following the classic Sam-and-Diane pattern of seduction and separation. But the storyline stalled, and even long-time viewers didn't entirely buy it when the ex-lovers got back together for the series finale. Instead, what was supposed to be a one-off twist—Chandler and Monica having a drunken fling—triggered an obvious-in-retrospect long-term relationship between the two fusspots. Their rocky road to marriage and their transition from friends to partners wound up defining a show that carried a whole generation from college to adulthood.

7. Dobie Gillis and Zelda Gilroy (as played by Dwayne Hickman and Sheila James), The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis

Ambitious high-school kid Dobie Gillis spent the first season of his show chasing after pretty rich girl Thalia Menninger, but she had eyes for the monied Milton Armitage, leaving Dobie stuck time and again with his good friend Zelda Gilroy. Zelda's abiding affection for Dobie forms the model for the unrequited sitcom loves to come (including Niles and Daphne on Frasier), and it has subtextual resonance to boot. The actors who played Milton and Thalia—Warren Beatty and Tuesday Weld—bolted from Dobie Gillis after a year to become movie stars, blowing past perpetual small-timers Hickman and James.

8. Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls (as played by Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring), Veronica Mars

For about the first half of the first season of Veronica Mars, the titular high-school sleuth had a serious hate-on for oily Logan Echolls, and the TV audience shared her loathing while eagerly awaiting his every electrifying appearance. (That's largely thanks to the charismatic Dohring, the actor most likely to come out of Veronica Mars with a successful movie career.) When Veronica and Logan unexpectedly started dating, our initial impulse was to recoil, but when they split up in the now-classic season-two opener, we realized once and for all how much they need each other. Veronica is a sucker for lost causes, and Logan is about as lost as they come.

9. Ned Dorsey and Stacey Colbert (as played by Thomas Haden Church and Debra Messing), Ned And Stacey

And now a moment of silence for all those TV romances that didn't have a chance to play out. The underrated mid-'90s Fox sitcom Ned And Stacey had ruthless yuppie Church and artsy liberal Messing agreeing to a sham marriage so he could have a trophy wife and she could have a place to live. The mismatched pair spent two seasons clashing over values and sharing rare moments of sympathy, but the series ended with the couple separated, living lonely lives that doubtless would've been temporary had the show been granted a third season. It's almost as sad a case as Ned And Stacey's first-year time-slot mate Partners, which ended on a cliffhanger, with one character running late for his wedding and another in the middle of a botched proposal. We'll have to rely on our imaginations to know whether these crazy kids would've worked it all out.

10. Alex Reiger and Elaine Nardo (as played by Judd Hirsch and Marilu Henner), Taxi

Okay, so these two never really got together, outside of the touching episode "Vienna Waits," where a friendly European vacation ends with one night of no-strings-attached passion. Certainly they're no Rhoda and Joe, who met, got married, and divorced during Rhoda's four-year run; and they're no Joanie and Chachi, whose love spawned a Happy Days spin-off. But Alex and Elaine were the perfect couple for a transitional age in American popular culture. There were few great TV romances prior to the '80s, because the pre-'70s TV shows were mostly about traditional nuclear families, and the '70s wave of divorcees and young singles were too busy making it (in every sense of the phrase) to settle down. Alex and Elaine were unattached, compatible people, taking a breather from the free-love era and taking a moment to appreciate a good friendship before getting bickered off the screen by the Sams and Dianes of the world. Theirs is the perfect TV relationship: persistently static.