Pop Culture

17 sad splits: TV couples' most heart-wrenching breakups

Breaking up is hard to do, even when it comes to scripted television.

WARNER BROS.
"The Separation Oscillation" -- Sheldon (Jim Parsons, right) films a special episode of "Fun with Flags" after his breakup with Amy (Mayim Bialik, left), on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Monday, Sept. 28 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2015 WBEI. All rights reserved.

Often the ones who take the news the hardest are the viewers. Just ask "The Big Bang Theory" fans, many of whom, as of this publication date, were still mourning the split of Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) — aka "ShAmy" — who recently went their separate ways.

Of course, ShAmy could wind up back together and live nerdily ever after. But fans are just as likely to remember their time apart, perhaps to better appreciate the good times. To be fair, some of these fictional couples got back together, but others weren't so lucky — or realized their separation may be for the best.

Here are 17 of the most heart-wrenching prime-time TV breakups since 1980, listed from least traumatic to most traumatic, and limiting each series to one splitsville couple apiece.

17. Betty and Don, "Mad Men" (AMC)

AMC
Betty Draper (January Jones) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) didn't always see eye-to-eye on AMC's "Mad Men."

Betty (January Jones) wasn't perfect, but the tortured and philandering nature of Don (Jon Hamm) certainly didn't help maintain the integrity or stability of their marriage. A brief reunion notwithstanding, the two separated and, to their credit, often did their best to stay civil for the sake of their children.

16. Diane and Sam, "Cheers" (NBC)

Gary Null / Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank
CHEERS -- Pictured: (l-r) Shelley Long as Diane Chambers and Ted Danson as Sam Malone -- Photo by: Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

Diane (Shelley Long) and Sam (Ted Danson) are a classic "Will they or won't they?" couple, although it was almost impossible to gauge their relationship status in any given moment. If you need proof that kisses, arguments and even engagements can be ambiguous — decades before Facebook popularized the "It's Complicated" status — look no further than these two, who eventually broke up for good. We think.

15. Carrie and Mr. Big, "Sex and the City" (HBO)

HBO
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) had her share of breakups on "Sex and the City," but by the end, wound up back in the arms of Mr. Big (Chris Noth).

Some might argue the breakup between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Aidan (John Corbett) should be the pick from this series, but that's not as significant when you consider two subsequent sets of nuptials: one involving Carrie and Big (Chris Noth), and the alternate-universe one between Corbett's Ian and Nia Vardalos' Toula in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Let Toula be happy!

RELATED: Nia Vardalos returns for 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2': See the hilarious trailer

14. Marissa and Ryan, "The O.C." (Fox)

Fox
For a stretch, Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) helped Ryan Atwood (Benjamin McKenzie) feel welcome in "The O.C."

Long before Adele reflected on failed relationships with the help of a flip phone, Marissa (Mischa Barton) and Ryan (Ben McKenzie) used similar cellular models to break up with each other in a matter-of-fact fashion. It was a far cry from the days when Marissa, in her own way, welcomed Ryan to the O.C.

13. Brenda and Dylan, "Beverly Hills, 90210" (Fox)

Everett Collection
BEVERLY HILLS 90210, (from the left): Luke Perry, Shannen Doherty, (1991), 1990-2000. © Aaron Spelling Prod. / Courtesy: Everett Collectiona

To be fair to Dylan (Luke Perry) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty), like you're still going out with your prom date? (I mean, good for you if that's true. But a lot of us aren't.)

12. Olivia and Fitz, "Scandal" (ABC)

ABC
SCANDAL - "Even the Devil Deserves a Second Chance" - While Fitz is focused on winning back the American people, he makes a shocking discovery. Meanwhile, OPA takes on a new client, but Olivia seems preoccupied keeping her own secrets, and Elizabeth North sets her sights on a new agenda, on "Scandal," THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Ron Tom) TONY GOLDWYN, KERRY WASHINGTON

Chances are, your most recent ex isn't a high-profile crisis manager (Kerry Washington) or a sitting president of the United States (Tony Goldwyn). So, be thankful for that.

11. Topanga and Cory, "Boy Meets World" (ABC)

Everett Collection
BOY MEETS WORLD, Ben Savage, Danielle Fishel, 1993-2000, (c)Touchstone Television/courtesy Everett Collection

Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and Cory (Ben Savage) forever! No, really, if you've seen a cast photo for the recent spinoff, "Girl Meets World," you have a pretty good idea how these two fared in the end.

10. Penny and Leonard, "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS)

CBS
"The Separation Oscillation" -- Leonard (Johnny Galecki, right) confronts the woman he kissed on the North Sea in an attempt to set Penny's (Kaley Cuoco, left) mind at ease, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Monday, Sept. 28 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. © 2015 WBEI. All rights reserved.

Breakups are nothing new to "The Big Bang Theory," on which Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) drifted apart before eventually finding their way back to each other — and getting hitched.

9. Rory and Dean, "Gilmore Girls" (The WB/The CW)

The WB/The CW
Alexis Bledel and Milo Ventimiglia's characters dated, then didn't, during the original run of "Gilmore Girls."

Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) showed so much chemistry, some viewers might have found it difficult to pick which relationship they liked more, as both the actors and the characters were involved in relationships at the time.

RELATED: 12 celebrity couples who dated on TV — and became an item in real life

8. Angela and Jordan, "My So-Called Life" (ABC)

Everett Collection
MY SO-CALLED LIFE, Claire Danes, Jaret Leto, 1994-1995. © ABC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

If you were anywhere near a brooding teenager in the mid-'90s, they likely were sulking at the time over the split between Angela (Claire Danes) and Jordan (Jared Leto). Or said teens were just mopey because teens can be that way. Either way, brooders gonna brood.

7. Buffy and Angel, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (The WB/UPN)

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection / ©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett C
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, David Boreanaz, Sarah Michelle Gellar, 1997-2003, season 2, . TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.

Perhaps Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) were doomed from the start, because of, y'know, the whole vampire-hunting thing. But once they reached a milestone in their relationship, Angel lost his soul, putting a major damper on potential make-out sessions from that moment onward.

6. Robin and Ted, "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)

CBS
Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted (Josh Radnor) shared some serious sparks on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother."

Long before the controversial series finale, which revealed the mom's identity to the kids of middle-aged Ted (Bob Saget), fans seemed content to sit back and enjoy the sparks between Robin (Cobie Smulders) and younger Ted (Josh Radnor). Their split, in turn, had fans wondering about their fate until the very end.

5. Winnie and Kevin, "The Wonder Years" (ABC)

Everett Collection
THE WONDER YEARS - "Whose Woods Are These?" - Season Two - 5/9/89 Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie (Danica McKellar) tried to stop the destruction of Harpers Woods. (CREDIT: ABC PHOTO ARCHIVES) FRED SAVAGE, DANICA MCKELLAR

What is it with the Savage brothers and their TV breakups breaking viewers' hearts? Anyway, big brother Fred, as Kevin Arnold, seemed like he'd found his happily ever after in Winnie Cooper (played by Danica McKellar), but as the finale illustrated, life doesn't always work that way, even if you "look back with wonder."

4. Holly and Michael, "The Office" (NBC)

Danny Feld / NBC/Photo Bank
THE OFFICE -- "PDA" Episode 17 -- Pictured: (l-r) Amy Ryan as Holly Flax, Steve Carell as Michael Scott -- Photo by: Danny Feld/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Michael (Steve Carell) didn't quite jell with Carole (played by Carell's real-life wife, Nancy Carell), but whether you were a fictional Dunder Mifflin employee or a real-life viewer, it was hard to ignore the goofy and sweet chemistry he had with Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). The two eventually found themselves back together, and his candle-lit proposal, small snag notwithstanding, wound up winning her over for good.

3. Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog, "The Muppets" (ABC)

Thomas Peter / Reuters
Muppet characters Miss Piggy (L) and Kermit the Frog pose during a photocall promoting the movie 'The Muppets' in Berlin, January 18, 2012.

Perhaps the most controversial breakup of 2015, Miss Piggy (currently played by Eric Jacobson, popularized by Frank Oz) and Kermit the Frog (currently played by Steve Whitmire, popularized by Jim Henson) seemingly broke the Internet when they announced they were ending their romantic relationship. And the felt really started to fly when fans learned Kermit was seeing a new pig Muppet named Denise. They may be the ones who are puppets, but they certainly know how to pull on our heartstrings.

2. Cristina and Preston, "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)

ABC
GREY'S ANATOMY - "Didn't We Almost Have It All" - Cristina and Burke's wedding day arrives - along with the interns' first exam results - and a successor to the Chief is named, as Callie and George make a big decision about their relationship, on the Season Finale of "Grey's Anatomy," THURSDAY, MAY 17 (9:00-10:07 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/SCOTT GARFIELD) ISAIAH WASHINGTON, SANDRA OH

Preston (Isaiah Washington) left Cristina (Sandra Oh) at the altar more than eight years ago. We're still not over it.

1. Rachel and Ross, "Friends" (NBC)

Warner Bros./NBC
FRIENDS -- NBC Series -- Season 2: "The One Where Ross Finds Out" -- Pictured: (l-r) David Schwimmer as Ross, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel -- Photo: Copyright 2004 Warner Bros. Television Production Inc.

Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross (David Schwimmer). Ross and Rachel. Breaking them up wasn't a possibility until it was all too real. Thankfully, in the finale, she "got off the plane."

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