Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

So many shows, so many abandoned kids. Check out our favorite TV orphans

1 of 24 Jessica Miglio/FOX

Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), Gotham

Everyone knows that Bruce Wayne was driven to become Batman after witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a mugger as child. That holds true on Fox's prequel series, which finds Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down in front of lil' Bruce in a dark alleyway after the thug snatches his mother's pearls. Bruce will be left to be raised by trusty butler Alfred at Wayne Manor.
2 of 24 Everett Collection

Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Friends

Phoebe and her twin sister Ursula were raised by Lily, whom they believed to be their mother, after their father, Frank, abandoned the family when she was a child. They were orphaned at 13 when Lily "put her head in the oven" and their stepfather went to prison, after which Phoebe lived on the streets, learned French behind a dumpster, contracted hepatitis when a pimp spit in her mouth and mugged Ross' only copy of Science Boy. She discovered as an adult that Lily's friend, Phoebe, was actually her birth mother, who also shares her love of the word "floopy."
3 of 24 Richard Cartwright/ABC

Olivia (Kerry Washington), Scandal

Liv lost one parent at the hands of the other. At 12, she was led to believe that her mother, Maya, had died in a plane crash. Truth was, Maya was a terrorist and had lied to her husband Eli that she was on a plane with a bomb in it. Eli then ordered Fitz to shoot it down, killing 329 innocent civilians. After realizing Maya wasn't on it, he locked her up for 22 years. Years later, Liv and Eli became estranged after she learned Papa Pope headed up B613 and don't reconnect until the Season 2 finale when she was leaked as First Mistress.
4 of 24 Everett

Shawn (Rider Strong), Boy Meets World

Shawn's backstory has suffered from several continuity problems (what happened to his sister Stacy?!), but the basics have been consistent. Born to Chet and a stripper, his mom took off shortly after his birth, leaving Shawn to be raised by his dad and new wife Verna in a trailer park. Verna ran away multiple times during his childhood and Chet would always go after her, leaving poor Shawn to be cared for by relatives and later Mr. Turner. He moved in with his half-brother Jack, who arrived in Season 5, after Chet kicked him out. However, father and sons made amends before Chet died from complications of a heart attack in Season 6
5 of 24 Touchstone TV/Kobal Collection

Sydney (Jennifer Garner), Alias

Oh, the casualty of being a spy kid. Spy Daddy Jack was an absentee parent for Sydney's early childhood because of his CIA work. After her mother Laura (aka Irina Derevko), a KGB spy, faked her own death in a car accident to avoid arrest when Sydney was 6, Jack was taken into custody, leaving Sydney to be raised by Sloane and his wife Emily.
6 of 24 Liane Hentscher/The CW


Sam and Dean (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), Supernatural When Sam was only 6 months old, the Winchesters' mother Mary was killed by the demon Azazel when she walked in on him feeding Sam demon blood. Their father, John, then gave 4-year-old Dean his baby brother to protect from the ensuing fire, starting a lifetime of Dean, instead of John, taking care of Sam. Though the boys traveled with John throughout their adolescence, he would disappear for periods of time while on the hunt until one time he never returned, spurring Dean to seek out Sam in the series premiere.
7 of 24 NBC/The Kobal Collection

Will (Will Smith), The Fresh Prince Prince of Bel Air

Abandoned by his father when he was 5, Will was raised by his mother in poverty in West Philly until one day he got in one little fight and his mom got scared and said, "You're moving with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air." His dad showed up in Season 4, but left Will high and dry at the last minute. Will tried to remain strong, but eventually broke down in the arms of Uncle Phil, aka the only dad he's had, crying, "How come he don't want me, man?"
8 of 24 Everett

Luke (Leonardo DiCaprio), Growing Pains

With all the Seaver kids growing up, the ABC sitcom added a cute new one on the last season in Luke, a homeless teen in one of Mike's classes he convinces his parents to take in. Luke's backstory was unclear, but just when he was feeling like a Seaver, his father showed up for the second time to ask Luke to join him on his trucking adventures, which Luke accepted.
9 of 24 Patrick McElhenney/FOX

Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), Bones

Brennan's emotional detachment is the result of her fugitive criminal parents, Max and Ruth, abandoning her and her brother, Russ, when they were teens. Russ abandoned Brennan shortly after and Christine died two years later. Brennan has slowly reconnected with both her father and brother, and Max helped her and baby Christine go on the lam when Pelant framed her for a murder.
10 of 24 Everett

Punky Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye), Punky Brewster

Eight-year-old Penelope "Punky" Brewster was as bright and cheery as her colorful clothes, despite being left behind at a shopping mall with her dog Brandon by her single mother. Punky found her way to a vacant apartment, where she befriended curmudgeon widower Henry, who adopted her, and other tenants who became her new family.
11 of 24 Everett

Fonzie (Henry Winkler), Happy Days

After his father abandoned him as a child, The Fonz's mother did the same a few years later, leaving him bitter and to be raised by Grandma Nussbaum. On the Season 6 Christmas episode, Fonzie received a letter from his father delivered by a sailor, which revealed that his dad had joined the Navy and didn't have the courage to tell him in person. Fonzie later met a woman at a diner he believed was his mother. After she told him she wasn't, she secretly pulled out a photo of Fonzie as a child.
12 of 24 Randy Tepper/Showtime

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), Dexter

After being found next to his mother's dead body when he was 3, Dexter was adopted by Harry Morgan and his wife Doris. By the time Dexter was 20, both his adoptive parents had passed away, but not before Harry taught Dexter the code that limited his killing to only those who deserve it. Dexter eventually learned who his biological parents are: Laura Moser, a police informant and Harry's secret mistress, and Joseph Driscoll, a drug-addicted criminal. Unfortunately, Dexter's brother killed Joe before they could ever meet.
13 of 24 Art Schriber/ABC

Everyone on Lost

When thinking about memorable aspects of Lost, daddy issues is probably sandwiched between Smoke Monster and polar bears. Everyone from Boone to Daniel to Claire were raised without strong parental guidance, due to reasons ranging from understandable (one or more of their parents were dead) to the unforgivable (they just couldn't be bothered). And don't get us started on Locke, who got conned out of a kidney and paralyzed when he finally met his father. There was also Sawyer, whose father killed his wife and himself with their son as the only witness. Even Michael, who went to great lengths for his son Walt, didn't actually know him until their time on the Island.
14 of 24 Craig Sjodin/ABC

Everyone on Once Upon a Time

No one can live happily ever after on Once Upon a Time when there are so many orphaned and abandoned children! Snow White and Prince Charming were forced to transport their newborn daughter Emma from fairy-tale land to Storybrooke so she could avoid being cursed. Emma "paid it forward," so to speak, by putting up her son, Henry, for adoption. Like Emma, Rumplestiltskin was also the abandoned and the abandon-er (sort of). His father, Peter Pan, gave up Rumple as a child in order to retain his youth, and Rumple lost his son Baelfire when he refused to jump through the portal with him to a land without magic.
15 of 24 Everett

The Salingers, Party of Five

The Salinger siblings — Charlie, Bailey, Julia, Claudia and Owen — became a party of five after their parents died in a car accident and the kids are not only forced to care for each other, but run their eponymous family restaurant. Though Charlie was the oldest, Bailey quickly emerged as the responsible head of household at home and at work (this is obviously before the alcoholism).
16 of 24 Bill Records/NBC


Tim Riggins and Matt Saracen (Taylor Kitsch and Zach Gilford), Friday Night Lights FNL might have given us the greatest TV parents of all time (Tami and Eric forever!), but not everyone was as lucky as that ungrateful wet blanket Julie. Tim Riggins lived with his older brother and Landing Strip enthusiast Billy after being abandoned by both their parents. Tim later tracked down his father after legal issues required a parental signature. Matt Saracen was also raised without parents. His father was overseas in the military and eventually killed in duty and his mother abandoned him as a child. At least Matt had the world's sweetest grandmother, Lorraine, though more often than not, it was Matt taking care of her.
17 of 24 Bob Mahoney/The CW


Elena and Jeremy Gilbert (Nina Dobrev and Steven R. McQueen), The Vampire Diaries Elena and Jeremy's parents, Grayson and Miranda, were killed in a car accident when Elena was a sophomore in high school. Their aunt Jenna became the siblings' legal guardian until she was turned into a vampire and murdered by Klaus. However, Elena eventually learned her actual parents were John Gilbert and Isobel Flemming, who fled town immediately after she was born and later both died to save her life.
18 of 24 Richard Cartwright/ABC

Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke (Emily VanCamp), Revenge

Born Amanda Clarke, she was raised to believe her mother died in a car crash when she was 5. The truth is that Kara tried to drown Amanda and herself, causing her father David to commit Kara to a mental institution. David was later arrested for helping a terrorist organization and murdered while in prison. The Graysons' role in framing her father and his death is what led Amanda to take on the alias of Emily Thorne and seek her revenge in the Hamptons.
19 of 24 Everett

Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart), Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

Sabrina discovered she's a witch on her 16th birthday, but it came with a catch: She wasn't allowed to see her mom for two years or else she'd turn into a ball of wax. Shortly before Sabrina's birthday, her father was called to the Other Realm so Sabrina went to stay with her dad's younger sisters Hilda and Zelda. But unlike her mother, Sabrina was allowed to contact her father through his portrait in the Magic Book.
20 of 24 Steve Wilkie/BBC AMerica

Sarah and Helena (Tatiana Maslany), Orphan Black

Posing as a couple needing a surrogate, the Dyad Institute convinced a woman, Amelia, to do in-vitro for them. When she realized the twins she carried were potentially in danger, Amelia ran away and gave them up for adoption. Sarah bounced around foster care until she was 8, when Mrs. S took her in. Helena was given to a convent in Ukraine, where she lived until she was 12. At that point, she was found by Tomas and Maggie Chen, who told her she was the original of the clones and was trained to hunt down and kill her sestras. Thankfully, when Helena met Sarah, they bonded and she stopped murdering Clone Club.
21 of 24 Everett

Webster (Emanuelle Lewis), Webster

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? After the success of NBC's Diff'rent Strokes, ABC tried its own hand at the "rich white people adopt orphaned black kid" concept. This time, retired football player George Papadopoulos and his socialite wife Katherine took in their godson, 5-year-old Webster, after his parents (and George's former teammate) are killed in a car accident.
22 of 24 Columbia/Tri-Star /Everett Collection


Arnold and Willis (Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges), Diff'rent Strokes Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis? After Arnold and Willis' mother dies, rich widower Philip Drummond, for whom their mother worked, adopted the boys, moving them out of the slums of Harlem to a Park Avenue penthouse. There, the show singlehandedly kick-started "very special episodes", tackling such topics as racism, child abuse and more.
23 of 24 CBS/Landov

Timmy (Jon Provost), Lassie

On the fourth season, 7-year-old Timmy showed up in the Miller barn after running away from his old relatives who believed him to be a burden on them. After the character proved to be popular with viewers, the show was retooled to center on Timmy. The Millers sold their farm to the Martins, who adopted Timmy, and even left Lassie behind for him!
24 of 24 Chris Haston/NBC

Erin (Ellie Kemper), The Office

Orphaned as a baby, Erin, who was born four months premature, and her brother Reed were raised in a foster home (she was also in the hospital from ages 3 to 6). At the mockumentary's "Where Are They Now?" Q&A on the series finale, a woman in the audience asks Erin what she would do if she met her birth mother, before revealing that she was in fact Erin's birth mother and that her father was also there. The three embrace and cry.