This is the love interest's love interest; the person brought in, either for an episode or an arc, to date the one that the main character (or just a character) is in love with. The smitten character will be jealous, take an instant dislike to him (often being blind to what attractions he does have), and do whatever they can to sabotage the budding relationship. Usually, the character is either an alpha-dog Jerkass or a bland, boring milquetoast.
This is a hard character to successfully pull off, probably because they usually start out more as a plot device than a character. In many cases they exist solely to create tension and keep the lovers apart, so there's a real risk that your Romantic False Lead, rather than proving a worthy rival to the main character's romantic interests, will simply end up being a rather flat, boring character who just seems to show up and occupy space between the two romantic leads. As a result, this can often risk the show falling into a Romantic Plot Tumor. Furthermore, except in rare cases the False Lead is unlikely to generate the same loyalty or sympathy as the main character, meaning that if your audience is Genre Savvy about what's happening they're likely to just spend the time the False Lead's around loudly wishing for him or her to just go away (and possibly die) already so the two characters they're interested in seeing together can actually get together.
Characterisation can also be tricky. If the false lead is too likable, then the jealous character will seem like a selfish jerk who cares more about winning their beloved for themselves than seeing them happy — or alternatively, since 'perfect' tends to equal 'boring' in the minds of many when it comes to fictional characters, a too perfect and nice character will just lose the audience's interest in comparison to the more flawed and interesting main character. On the other hand, if he's too unlikeable, we'll wonder what the love interest could possibly see in them and lose respect for them.
When introduced for a short arc, often exists expressly for the purpose of contrasting their relationship with the Official Couple's, in order to show how perfect the "official couple" is for each other.
Sometimes to up the angst, the writer will go so far as to marry the love interest to the false lead. If this happens, expect the Official Couple to have a tawdry affair.
Occasionally, the writers step in themselves to engage in Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends. This is usually another trap in and of itself, as it is difficult to do so and not seem cheap, as happens with Derailing Love Interests.
A subtrope is Disposable Fiancé.
Contrast Hopeless Suitor, Romantic Runner Up, New Old Flame. Compare Temporary Love Interest where the relationship is unsuccessful because there is no Official Couple and that won't change. Often the focus of Die for Our Ship.
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Media in General
Virtually any romantic comedy movie will have one of these for one of the pairing, if not both. If they are villainous, expect a Humiliation Conga at the climax of the film; if they are just "not the one", it will be a fairly amicable break-up. If there are two romantic false leads, this may end with the dumped pair getting together.
Anime & Manga
One episode of InuYasha introduces Kuranosuke Takeda, a wealthy young nobleman who proposes marriage to Sango. Atypically and in something of a subversion, Sango's canon love interest Miroku refrains conspicuously from protesting or interfering, taking instead a firm I Want My Beloved to Be Happy approach and leaving the decision entirely in Sango's hands. Kagome is the one that gets riled up.
How could you forget Koga? He has so much of this trope that he was the trope picture for a time.
And then there's Hojo, whom Kagome dated occasionally when she was in her time. Once Kagome's friends who mostly pushed her towards him got to know and accept Inu Yasha, Hojo pretty much vanished.
Kurumi of Kimi ni Todoke tries to win Kazehaya's affections, but her plan backfires because he simply doesn't like her. Her attempt does bring Sawako to confront her true feelings for Kazehaya, though. Ultimately, Kurumi fails to be a true false lead, but achieves the same result.
Cameron Bloom from Mobile Suit Gundam, fiancée' of Mirai Yashima, helmswoman/love interest of acting captain Bright Noah. It might not actually count, though since it was an Arranged Marriage and she didn't really like him. Incidentally, the original captain that Noah replaced was named false lead.
Also, Cameron can be seen as a subversion, since he portrayed better than the normal false lead. After a very ungraceful start, he pulls of a Crowning Moment of Awesome by attempting to escort the White Base out of the local colony, putting his own life in risk so he can apologize to Mirai for his behavior. And in the Char's Counterattack movie, it's revealed that he still cares for Mirai... and this leads him to help out her husband Bright as much as he can, to ensure Mirai's survival and save the Earth, despite knowing he could be executed or imprisoned if found out.
Hermione in Romeo X Juliet is a sweet and sheltered Ojou who is also the arranged fiancée of Romeo, the male lead. She's usually portrayed as The Woobie since she truly cares for Romeo, save for one episode that had her as a momentary Yandere after a mild Break the Cutie process and some severe repression. She still gets better and outlives both Romeo and Juliet in the end.
One of the Sorcerer Hunters novels introduces artistic Enzeru Fish, who falls in love with Tira, who's not actually dating but in love with (and clearly destined for) Carrot. In a moment of weakness after a fight with Carrot, Tira appears tempted to return Enzeru's affections, but in the end she can't betray her feelings for Carrot.
In a bonus chapter of the manga of Rosario + Vampire, Moka goes out with another vampire for a while... Turns out: 1) He blackmailed Moka into it by threatening to kill Tsukune, 2) he's not an actual vampire, but a demon who imitates other demons.
In Sailor Moon, Rei/Sailor Mars is this for Mamoru in the first season of the anime, though they drift apart shortly before he learns about his past with Princess Serenity, a.k.a. Usagi/Sailor Moon. Though right around the time they do learn about this, he'd also developed a genuine attraction to Usagi.
In ...Junai No Seinen, Ian comes to Japan hoping to get together again with his ex-sex friend Kaoru. Daigo, Kaoru's lover, thinks that Ian is the Romantic False Lead, as does Ian himself, but it turns he's actually the Hopeless Suitor and never stood a chance. Kaoru is just invoking the trope to make Daigo jealous for his own reassurance.
In Liberty Meadows, the ultimate story arc had female lead Brandy about to marry Roger (her fiancé for the second time), who is rich, handsome, and basically everything strip protagonist Frank (who, oh-so-coincidentally, sports the same first name as series creator, Frank Cho) isn't. Despite having already told Frank he blew his chance with her due to his wishy-washiness, she leaves Roger at the altar for Frank, in the first issue of the post-strip comic book.
There's also Frank and Jen. It falls apart when it becomes apparent that Jen's just screwing with Frank (she makes out with guys she doesn't even know the names of in front of Frank), and it all finishes with a verySquickyDouble Standard: Rape—Female on Male storyline.
Rex Splode from Invincible briefly dated the title hero's crush Atom Eve, sparking a long standing rivalry between the two that has gotten very violent. Rex seemed like a complete Jerk Ass at first, but turned out to be just a somewhat arrogant Ace. Eventually the two became somewhat reluctant friends. Mark and Eve didget together, but much later.
The two types of this character are present in Corpse Bride. The title character Emily is an extremely likable fiancée, but so is the protagonist's living fiancée, the sweet Victoria. Ultimately, the first makes a I Want My Beloved to Be Happy decision. However, the film also has an evil aristocrat named Lord Barkis who is the rival for the affections of the living bride and the Corpse Bride's former fiancé, and he is the typical nasty form of the false lead.
Technically Barkis is only a rival as far as Victoria's parents are concerned (they want her married off to a rich man). Victoria herself shows no interest in him at all, even sniping to him on their wedding night that "in disappointment we are perfectly matched."
In Toy Story 3, Buzz briefly mistakes Woody as a rival for Jessie's affection when he gets set to "Spanish mode". Buzz ends up doing several extra-showy stunts to get Jessie's attention.
Films — Live Action
(500) Days of Summer is all about a pair of people who turn out to be romantic false leads for each other, and the process of them coming to that conclusion.
The Baxter is built around a subset of this trope, in which a straight-laced, stable, and slightly boring boyfriend is dumped for a more exciting and edgy suitor. The main character is a repeat offender who has been "the Baxter" in all of his previous relationships.
Another example of the "Baxter" style boyfriend is in Liar Liar, where the woman's current boyfriend is a nice, boring guy in contrast to the more charismatic but flaky Jim Carrey.
Bill Pullman's character in Sleepless In Seattle is a decent guy, but he has bad sinuses, so its apparently alright for Meg Ryan to dump him for Tom Hanks. She does, at least, feel very bad about it. When she says she's not worthy of him, he doesn't contradict her, even if he accepts the inevitable break-up in good grace.
Used in The Lizzie McGuire Movie. As it happened, the character's name was Paolo, the former name for this trope (though not the Trope Namer).
The Guardian had a false lead in the form of Brian, Lulu's fiancé. Atypically for this trope, Nick had the chance to seriously undermine his rival (he knew about Brian's infidelity) but didn't take it. He did try to persuade Lulu to choose him over Brian, but she went through with the marriage... and inevitably realized it had been a mistake.
Averted in Out Cold, in which the protagonist's love interest is engaged to a nice guy in a wheelchair. In the end, the protagonist urges her to go with her fiancé, and she does.
The Julia Roberts vehicle My Best Friend's Weddingdeconstructs this trope. Julianne believes that her best friend Michael's bride-to-be Kimmy is this, but realizes after her attempts at Relationship Sabotage blow up in her face and get everyone (rightly) pissed off at her that she's the true Romantic False Lead. And her rival gets the guy in the end, not her.
Played straight in Things To Do In Denver When Youre Dead. The main character, Jimmy the Saint, continually refers to his love interest Daphne's boyfriend as "Chip", even when corrected on more than one occasion.
Ralph Bellamy practically made a career of playing the "dull nice guy" version of this character.
So much so that his character in His Girl Friday is said to look "like Ralph Bellamy."
Forgetting Sarah Marshall features a particular well-rounded false lead in Aldous Snow, the rock star who stole the main character's girlfriend. While he's a somewhat obnoxiously hip, self-centered lothario, he's also quite charming, friendly, and has good taste. The main character admits that it's hard to hate him. Ultimately, his relationship with Sarah Marshall dissolves due to both of their hang-ups.
Gwen's fiancé Richard in Ghost Town is a handsome, wealthy philanthropist, and Dr. Pincus feels incredibly intimidated and guilty about competing for his girlfriend. However, Frank, the ghost of Gwen's deceased husband, points out that Richard doesn't make her laugh, and it turns out that she's just not in love with him.
Jonathan, the false lead in The Movie Hero is of the boring, uptight variety. Since the movie's protagonist is a Genre SavvyFourth Wall Observer, he refers to Jonathan as "The Doomed Fiance" and doesn't consider him a real threat.
Richard in Superman Returns. Made all the harder on everyone concerned by the fact that Richard is a genuinely good, nice guy.
And pushing Badass Normal in a SUPERMAN movie. Who is more heroic when racing off to the rescue, the guy who can fly and lift continents, or the guy who has to get in a plane to go?
Mary Jane's astronaut fiancé in Spider-Man 2 is a good example, similar to Richard in Superman Returns. But despite the fact that he a good guy (and a freakin' astronaut!) he is just helping get in the way of Spider-Man's love web.
Of course, in the COMICS, John Jameson actually has super powers (which turn him into a wolf and make him go BERSERK) and Spider-Man has fought and subdued him several times. It's likely he was planned to be a villain in one of the future movies that will probably never be made now.
In yet another comic book movie giving us a nice guy example, The Incredible Hulk has Leonard Samson. He's shown to be a very nice guy who even gives Bruce some psychotherapy in a few deleted scenes, and while there's no official breakup he seems to understand that Betty and Bruce are a real item and quietly stands aside. Of course, it helps that Samson is a character from the Hulk comics, being Bruce's therapist and another Gamma-powered superhero (though the latter part obviously wasn't in the movie).
Adrian, Elise's former and future fiance in The Adjustment Bureau. From her own recollections and the very brief screen time he receives, he seems like a nice enough guy, but as far as the plot is concerned, he's just an obstacle for Matt Damon to overcome.
Return to Snowy River introduces Alistair Patton, the son of a banker, as Jim Craig's competition for Jessica Harrison's love - although Jessica's feelings aren't left in question for very long once Jim is back on the scene, after which point Alistair starts kicking puppies.
Melanie in Hereafter has all the hallmarks of the love interest who helps George to deal with his abilities. Instead, she's an example of why he can't have a normal relationship. Then he ends up meeting a woman who just might be able to understand him...
Glenn Guilia in The Wedding Singer, who is perhaps more memorable than most in that, not only is he a complete prick, but he's also pretty much the worst aspects of 1980s yuppie culture congealed into one slimy character.
Ron and Hermione of the Harry Potter series have this happen multiple times. In Goblet of Fire, Viktor Krum asks Hermione to the Yule Ball, sparking Ron's jealousy. In Half-Blood Prince, when Ron starts going out with Lavender Brown, Hermione retaliates by asking Ron's Quidditch rival Cormac McLaggen on a date.
Harry also has this happen to him a lot. First Cedric asks Cho to the Yule Ball before him; afterwards, Cedric's death makes Harry's dates with Cho increasingly awkward. In later books, Harry becomes increasingly jealous of Ginny's boyfriends. He also takes Parvati to the Yule Ball and thinks that she "looks nice". It goes no further than that, but then again, he only asked her because he was so desperate for a date that he literally asked the first two cute girls (Ron needed a date too!) who were still available that he could find.
The Vicomte De Chagny in The Phantom of the Opera considers Erik to be this in regards to Christine, at least at first. Ironically, many fans consider Raoul himself to be the false lead with regards to Christine and Erik - blandly handsome, nice, and completely useless (in the book version). And he has a great false lead-esque name to boot!
Well, almost completely useless. He does get his sole awesome scene in which he succeeds first in misleading Erik as to his intentions without communicating and then wounding him in the dark by shooting where Erik is ''supposed'' to be even though he's virtually invisible.
Of course, the whole thing kind of, uh...comes back to bite them later on.
Jane Austen's romantic social satires frequently include, in addition to Casanovas like Willoughby and Wickham who are obviously the wrong guy, an agreeable, friendly, otherwise perfectly acceptable prospective suitor for the heroine in addition to her destined official love interest:
Captain Benwick for Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Her cousin Mr. Elliot also exists purely to make Captain Wentworth suffer.
Colonel Brandon and Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility are both the false lead as, despite interacting enough to make several other characters ship them together, they are both part of the two Official Couples — Elinor with Edward Ferrars and Brandon with Elinor's sister Marianne.
In Edgar Rice Burroughs's Thuvia, Maid of Mars, the story opens with the news that Carthoris's Cannot Spit It Out has resulted in Thuvia's accepting the suit of Kulan Tith. Unusually, she then gets kidnapped, Cathoris goes to rescue her, and Kulan Tith does not even feature until the very end, when Carthoris gets her to his ship, where he can protect her and goes to leave, Thuvia begs him to stay though she knows she is dishonoring herself, and Kulan Tith steps aside.
Only in the book of Howl's Moving Castle, Miss Angorian was brought in for this purpose to make Sophie jealous and make her aware of her own feelings for Howl. Of course, it helps that Miss Angorian is actually the Witch of the Waste's demon.
Daddy-Long-Legs has two possible love interests for Judy, Jervis Pendleton and Jimmie McBride. It's twisted interestingly that it isn't apparent for quite some time which one is actually the false lead — a deliberate trick by the author, because the eponymous Daddy, who receives the letters which make up the novel, is really Jervis, unbeknownst to Judy. The author left the letters vague on the point of which man Judy preferred until the end of the book so that the reader, once aware of Daddy's identity, would understand why he wasn't sure how she felt about him.
Dot and Ned in Trixie Belden and the Happy Valley Mystery; Trixie begins flirting outrageously with the latter out of jealousy at how Jim is getting so cosy with the former.
Henry James loved this trope. The Bostonians is about it, Daisy Miller has several and in The Ambassadors you can go the first two thirds of the book before realizing that the main character is this.
Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil, in S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series, gets two: first KaoTorin, then his brother Xonea (although it was pretty clear from the outset that the latter wasn't going anywhere). It could also be argued that Jarn was one for Duncan.
It's nicely subverted in I Shall Wear Midnight, when Roland's fiancee Letitia appears to be this, except it turns out Letitia is very likable and Roland and Tiffany were actually false leads for each other
In season one, Rachel dated muscle-bound Italian Paolo (who was formerly the Trope Namer for this very page) while Ross looked on jealously. The writers lampshaded Paolo's role by having Chandler's mother, a romance novelist, refer to Paolo as "a complication you eventually kill off." In the second season, Ross dated academic Julie while Rachel looked on jealously. Since Paolo was a slow-witted pig who could barely communicate with Rachel while Julie was a sweet and lovely person, the writers hit one trap then the other. According to the nature of the Ross-Rachel relationship, pretty much every person either one of them dated for more than an episode after that point had elements of the false lead.
Ross' English girlfriend Emily at least seemed to be a generally likable false lead, and Rachel's last minute "I HAVE TO TELL HIM HOW I FEEL" seemed exceptionally selfish and petty (a passenger played by Hugh Laurie calls her out on it too). While she does indeed decide against telling Ross she still loves him and simply wishes him a happy marriage, Ross accidentally says her name when he's up on the altar, showing that he at least has some feelings for her. Later when Ross tries to reconcile with Emily, she too is turned into a selfish, petty shrew by forcing Ross to never see Rachel again and, when she can't have her way, turning her back on him.
Joey himself was a false lead on at least two occasions: first with Chandler and Kathy, then later with Ross and Charlie.
And then of course Ross turned out to be the false lead for Charlie and Greg Kinnear (can't remember the name of his character). The part where he confesses his love and Charlie runs off with him plays like the end of a romantic comedy - except we weren't following the couple's love story, we were following her love story with the other guy (Ross). It's actually pretty hilarious watching Ross' face when he realises he's the false lead and not The Hero.
In series 5, Rachel inadvertently creates one for Chandler and Monica. Their relationship is secret and they're just Friends with Benefits... until Rachel sets up Monica with a very handsome male nurse called Dan. Dan's out of the picture by the end of the episode, but his role was to make Chandler and Monica face the realisation that their "goofing around" has taken them well beyond the friendship stage.
With Angel, Groo became one between Cordelia and Angel after he came to Earth. Later he realized, though, and left.
In Arrested Development, Steve Holt becomes a false lead when Maeby becomes attracted to him, adding yet another obstacle between George Michael and his cousin. However, Steve Holt turns out to also be Maeby's cousin (not by blood though, as later revealed).
Ann Veal also served as a false lead separating George Michael and Maeby, with Maeby jealously calling her "Bland" and "No-Face."
iCarly: Griffin as Carly's love interest in "iDate A Bad Boy". Freddie suffers some severe Green-Eyed Monster and schadenfreude towards him, but doesn't sabotage their relationship beyond questioning Carly's choice to date him.
Brad doesn't even date Sam, but is basically a false romantic lead, because the entire plot of "iOMG" revolves around Carly and Freddie believing that Sam likes Brad.
The Helen/Nikki relationship in Bad Girls was beset by false leads. The first — and arguably most irritating — was Helen's fiancé Sean, a drippy landscape gardener with a screw loose. When Helen ditches him, he shows up outside the prison and sets fire to his wedding suit. Nikki was briefly interested in a new inmate who turned out to be a paedophile. We mustn't forget Helen's baffling decision to date Thomas, the thoroughly dull prison doctor. When he pulled a I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, there was general rejoicing. Even Nikki's ex turned up hoping for another go but was forced to do the same as Thomas!
Battlestar Galactica has a subversion; Sam Anders was supposed to be this for the Kara/Lee paring but the actor was well liked and kept getting brought back. He eventually married Kara, and they slightly more miraculously stayed that way through the end of the series. He even developed his own storylines and fanbase and was made a series regular for season 4.
The path to Caroline and Richard getting together on Caroline In The City was blocked by a steady stream of false leads. The false leads on Caroline's side (Del, Joe, Trevor, and Randy) were generally likable guys whose only real fault was that they didn't quite have the rapport with Caroline that Richard did. On the other hand, the big false lead on Richard's side, Julia (to whom he was actually married for a season), was bitchy and manipulative.
Even Frasier Crane was originally intended as a simple false lead...but then the viewers found Kelsey Grammer funny enough that the producers decided to keep him around for twenty more years.
Ironically, however, Shelley Long actually despised Frasier for the very reason of being a false lead, and frequently lobbied hard to get Grammer removed from the show. The producers, of course, naturally rejected her demands each time.
On the third season of Chef!, Everton fell in love with new character Renee, who provided two false leads: Vincenzo the Italian waiter, and Rick, who had the added bonus of being The Ghost. Savannah, who had an unrequited crush on Gareth, INVENTED her own false lead in an attempt to make Gareth jealous.
In Firefly, both Atherton Wing and Tracey Smith are featured in episodes purely to further romantic tension between Mal and Inara and Kaylee and Simon respectively. Both were found wanting. Another romantic false lead fell on the opposite spectrum of this trope and was written to seem more suitable than Inara for Mal with predictable results.
Donny and Mel in the seventh season of Frasier, along with several other less significant figures in the long course of this Unresolved Sexual Tension storyline. These last two were fully fleshed-out characters (Niles even married Mel). Donny, however, had certain character traits that were very off-putting (and were exaggerated in his few later appearances after Niles and Daphne got together): being a stocky, swarthy, loud-mouthed Jewish lawyer obviously far too old for Daphne doesn't exactly help to build realism.
Donny is a bitterly ironic example, in that he saved Niles from being taken for everything he had in his divorce from Maris. Right after that, he hooked up with Daphne.
Mel was also quite domineering, which isn't a fatal flaw in and of itself, but in Niles's case set off major alarms to the audience that Niles was probably drawn to Mel because she was a nicer version of Maris, his controlling, Manipulative Bitch of an ex-wife (a common phenomenon for people getting out of an unhealthy relationship).
Similarly, Mel arrived on the scene almost simultaneously with the revelation to Daphne of Niles's feelings for her (and shortly thereafter, her realization of hers for him). He revealed that he had married Mel right as Daphne was about to confess those feelings.
Finally, Niles was originally a Hopeless Suitor for Daphne, as he was married, and she was clearly out of his league. The subplot became so popular that the writers began slowly nudging the characters toward a real relationship.
Good Morning, Miami is what happens when a major character is this. Predictably enough with characters who get fleshed out and given a lot of screen time, the writers fell into the "too likable" trap. The main character came across as a girlfriend-stealing asshole and the love interest came off as a bitch who didn't appreciate what she already had.
When Jack and Martha split up on Home and Away, Martha had four boyfriends, Jack had one girlfriend (later wife), and all were obvious false leads. Jack's wife was sympathetic until her jealousy of Martha and some derailment turned her into a homicidal maniac. Martha's first boyfriend after their separation was an old friend of Jack who kept from her that he was married with children and wasn't prepared to get divorced any time soon. Her second was a much older sleaze bag who recruited her as a pole dancer. The latter two were much more popular, and even some Jack and Martha shippers would have been happier to see them actually move on than draw out the "off-again" stage any longer.
Mark Warner in House, married to Stacy, House's ex. Follows the trope exactly, right up to the tawdry affair. It especially sucks for House because Mark develops paralysis of his legs and Stacy stays with her husband, where, five years ago, House lost the use of only one leg, and Stacy left him. And while Mark is, by all accounts, a decent, dedicated husband, and House is really, really not.
In fact, when you think about it from Mark's point of view, House himself is the false lead, and a particularly jerky one at that.
House actually admitted that Mark was probably a great guy and deserved her, showing that he's not blind, just bitter.
How I Met Your Mother, being a story Ted Mosby is telling his kids about how he met his one true love, has plenty of these and every girl he meets is (however briefly) teased at potentially being the "mother." This was done as soon as the first episode, being about Ted falling HARD for a girl and the episode ends with the narrator saying "And that is how I met your Aunt Robin." Ted and Robin are Ship Teased for most of the first season (including some false leads for each other like Derek with Robin and Victoria for Ted) and when they get together they really do love each other, but there are constant hints that they had some fundamental issues that will prevent them from staying together.
Both main character Ted and Tony (who was described as a Jerkass until he came on-screen) fulfilled this trope with Stella. Ted is originally shown as the right guy for Stella, until the wedding day, when both her and Tony's true feelings are shown. Afterwards, Ted is shown as interfering with their relationship. Subverted not only in that Stella leaves Ted, but by Word Of God that says she isn't the titular mother (who is the only woman Ted marries).
In later seasons, Quinn. Unless the writers plan to crush the dreams of most of the fans, it's just not going to work out between her and Barney. The finale of season 7 revealed Barney's bride to be Robin. As of season 8, Ted is now dating Victoria again after she and Klaus have broken up.
Used in an interesting fashion in the fourth series of Jonathan Creek, in which Jonathan's love interest Carla has actually married her false lead, a TV producer called Brendan, after Jonathan and Carla (who had previously been in a relationship) broke it off following a misunderstanding. However, whilst suffering through some definite UST with each other, Jonathan and Carla never actually fooled around with each other, and Brendan was characterized as being an essentially decent and likable man (if rather shallow and slightly foolish and oblivious) who seemed to genuinely care for Carla.
Until the day he casually mentioned that he was once married to a man, and couldn't understand why Carla reacted badly to it. Of course, this was never brought up again after the episode in which it happened and as of the latest season, the two of them are presumably still married.
In the first two seasons (when the title couple hadn't yet admitted their mutual attraction), Lois and Clark went through several false leads, tending to alternate between one for Clark and one for Lois.
Virtually any boyfriend or girlfriend of the main cast on NCIS — except Gibbs' girlfriends. All are to illustrate that the man cast are too badass for anyone except another member of the main cast.
The one depicted most sympathetically is Tony's season-long girlfriend Jeanne Benoit...until she falsely accused Tony of murder to make herself feel better. Giving an innocent man a life sentence is apparently the best kind of therapy.
She didn't falsely accuse Tony. She genuinely believed Tony had killed her father, which wasn't exactly an unfounded accusation, as there was some question as to whether that was, in fact, the case. Not to mention the underlying fact that, even though it was Tony's assignment he essentially lied to her for the entire season she was the love interest. Which makes this a more complicated example of the trope, to say the least.
Plus may have been sent not out of sincere interest but to draw her back to Israel and her father's control.
Psych introduced Shawn's childhood sweetheart, Abigail Lytar, who rapidly became a classic false lead. Although she didn't wind up with Shawn, the writers did a good job of presenting Abigail as a likable, good person who actually went very well with her boyfriend. Eventually, though, they broke up on fairly friendly terms.
They also had one for Juliet, who was a fairly decent guy with lots of cash. He was pretty friendly with Shawn, which made Shawn all the more awkward about trying to get with Jules.
Keith in Scrubs to the J.D./Elliot dynamic. Ditto Sean. Ditto Paul. J.D.'s girlfriends never got this treatment, but then again, J.D. is the viewpoint character. He can't be expected to regard his own girlfriends as romantic impediments.
In the case of Sean, this was played very well. Sean was a great guy and good for Elliot, making JD's jealousy put him in a bad light. Sean however picked up on JD's feelings and called him on it, resulting in JD (for a while, anyway) respecting the relationship, albeit not too happily.
Kim seemed to be one for JD at first, though she was Put on a Bus. When The Bus Came Back she was revealed to have lied about something important and it ruined any chances of JD falling in love in love with her (not that he didn't try).
Mr. Big's second wife Natasha in Sex and the City. There followed a Tawdry Love affair, which ended badly for the wife - she caught Carrie in her apartment, and whilst chasing after her, ended up falling downstairs and breaking her teeth. One could also argue that Carrie's major boyfriends, Aiden and Aleksandr, whilst extremely fleshed out, were false leads for the Big and Carrie relationship.
Smallville probably deserves to be the reigning champion of false leads, having used them both effectively and annoyingly. Whitney Fordman, Lana Lang's boyfriend in season 1, fits the false lead to a tee, and was both sent away and killed off; Adam Knight in season 3 and Jason Teague in season 4 are perfectly charming love interests (and played respectively by Ian Somerhalder and Jensen Ackles, easy on the eyes) right up until they conveniently (for Clark) turn out to be baddies. Chloe and Clark had a brief relationship near the end of season one before she inexplicably broke up with him. Then Lana actually marries Lex Luthor, who could easily be seen as a false lead for the One True Pairing of Clark & Lana... while Lana herself and for a while, Oliver Queen, could be seen as playing Paulos for, respectively, Clark and Lois Lane — the show's inevitable Official Couple. Oh, and let's not forget the Girl of the Week and the occasional, and less fortunate Temporary Love Interest...
Interestingly, in Season 8, Davis did this to the Chloe-Jimmy true pairing, but because Davis was seen as very likable (not quite his dark side but just himself) so Jimmy could be seen as the false lead for the Chlavis shippers! Weiiird...
The second season of Spaced introduced Sophie as a love interest for Tim. Tim and Daisy's mutual attraction has always been understated and although we clearly see that Daisy is jealous, she does nothing to sabotage the relationship beyond some quiet muttering and veiled unfriendliness toward Sophie. Apparently the fanbase was torn about how to feel about the character; on the one hand they wanted to hate her for coming between Tim & Daisy, but on the other she was likable and cool... just before the end of the series Sophie was Put on a Bus and the series closed with some relatively - relatively, mind you - blatant implications that Tim and Daisy were getting together at last.
Daisy might take it relatively calmly, but Mike threatens death if Sophie should hurt Tim. Then again, the Tim/Mike relationship is a little, ummmm...
Sophie: Did he mean that?
Tim: *chuckles* *hugs her* Yeah.
Arthur for Mike/Nikki and Trevor for Mike/Caitlin in Spin City.
Sports Night had Jenny the porn star and Pixley. And Gordon. And Sally.
Somewhat inverted in Jenny as she came across as more likable than not only the love interest, but also the character she was paired with.
On Deep Space Nine, despite being introduced — in an episode named after him, no less — as the former Resistance leader who goes on to become the Prime Minister of Bajor, the recurring character of Shakaar Edon turned into this trope in his very next episode, when he was paired up with Kira (eliciting Odo's secret jealousy, which the episode was all about). The fact that the relationship was unsurprising in the sense that the two characters had a lot in common and a history, combined with a lack of chemistry between the actors, helped to make him a typical false lead.
Saint from Sugar Rush qualifies as the more sympathetic version of the false lead. Although Sugar insists she isn't interested in Kim, her instant dislike of Saint and near continuous efforts to sabotage the relationship — one time she claims Saint came on to her, another she robs her shop — suggest otherwise. If it had continued for another series these issues might have been resolved, but alas...
The Office US has Pam's fiancé, Roy, who is repeatedly shown to be an unfeeling, selfish jerk at every possible opportunity.
More understated in The Office UK, where Dawn's fiancé Lee is mainly notable for his total lack of notable characteristics. He was more objectionable in the Christmas Episode than in the main series, leading her to (finally!) hook up with Tim because she wants someone who appreciates her. Awwww.
Technically he did have some notable characteristics; he is an immense cheapskate, is very lowbrow and, probably most importantly, has very few aspirations outside of getting Dawn to "get a few kiddies under her belt". He also acts like a jerk regularly to Tim under the guise of friendly jokes and taunts.
On the distaff side, Jim's girlfriend Karen Filipelli certainly counts. She's also rather vindictive when he breaks up with her for Pam.
Considering that Jim apparently abandoned Karen in New York City to drive back to Scranton and ask Pam out, she was probably entitled to a little vindictiveness...
There was also Katy (a.k.a. The Purse Girl), who Jim dated from the end of Season one to the second episode of Season two.
Even if you didn't know that Jim and Pam were the Official Couple, you'd know Katy wasn't long for this world - she's played by AmyAdams.
Though he certainly fits the trope, Roy wasn't presented as a completely bad guy. He was always friendly, but insensitive. And even though season 3 made sure to put the nail in the coffin on him and Pam, Roy got a bit of character development that season that made him very sympathetic, except when he lost his temper.
Except Roy explicitly states at the beginning of season 3 that his goal is to win back Pam, rather than to become a better person. Note the way he starts to regress once he gets back together with her (temporarily), having to be goaded into attending her art show and spending time with her friends, and expecting her to jump in bed with him for the former.
Parodied when Michael believes that Carol is standing in between him and Jan while there isn't actually any chance of them together anyway. Well, that gets subverted later....
Damon from The Vampire Diaries. He seems to serve as an obstacle for the main romantic couple (Stefan/Elena).
The West Wing with Jack Reese and Donna Moss. In season Four, Donna begins dating a military aide and guilts Josh into helping her get him. Josh is still in denial of his feelings for her but still undergoes an 'ew awkward' moment indicative of his deeper feelings for her. Regardless, Josh ultimately winds up alternating between sympathetic supporter and saboteur, depending on the situation.
Amy Gardner serves as this, too, although she's actually Josh's main girlfriend during the show's run.
Zoe dumps Charlie in favor of a young Smug Snake who is a French count. Charlie is very upset about it, although he manages to remain likable and sympathetic.
In Castle, Detective Tom Demming became this for Richard Castle in regards to their mutual interest in Detective Kate Beckett in the second season. Unlike a lot of false leads, however, Demming is a genuinely good guy who really does like Kate for exactly who she is. Castle and Beckett are the Official Couple, however, so it was pretty clear he wouldn't last too long...
The writers even seemed to be having a little fun at the expense of what a paragon he was in light of this (pretty much inevitable) development; his alibi for the crime in the episode which introduces him is that he was "coaching a basketball team for underprivileged kids". Castle, who is much less of a paragon, can only groan in exasperated misery when he hears this.
And it of course does in the season finale... at which point Castle sprouts his own Romantic False Lead in his ex-wife/editor Gina.
And then Beckett got another one in the third season, in the form of Josh, a hunky heart surgeon who does Doctors Without Borders missions.
Evan in Ashes to Ashes. He's a great guy though, and played by Stephen Campbell Moore.
Dark Angel: Both of Logan's exes, though Max's instinctive dislike for the second one turns out to be totally justified.
Glee: It sort of seems like we're supposed to think Emma's dentist boyfriend/husband Carl is this, since Will/Emma appears to be endgame...except he's actually really nice and likable and cute with Emma, whereas Will is really condescending and often disliked by fans. And let's not forget about "Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul in the Rocky Horror episode. In a refreshing twist, he ends up dumping Emma — she's clearly in love with Will and he quite rightly refuses to be treated like that. Holly, Shelby, and Ken could also count as Romantic False Leads for the Will/Emma romance.
I think we're forgetting the big one here in the Will/Emma romance, and that's Terri. Her only purpose on the show really was to keep Emma and Will apart. And it took almost all of the first season for Will to get rid of her, too.
Jesse could also sorta count, as it looked like he was around mainly to disrupt the Finn/Rachel pairing.
The principal method of procrastination in Bones, as every romantic interest is portrayed as an interruption to the Booth/Brennan relationship. Brennan had Assistant Director Andrew Hacker, Jared Booth (referred to by Angela as 'Booth-lite'), the Botanist and the Deep-Sea Welder, and Tim "Sully" Sullivan. Booth had Tessa the lawyer, Cam, that Marine Biologist, and as of the current season, Hannah Burley - who is met with a knowing scoff by both the viewers and every other character in the show.
Done in an interesting way on Pretty Little Liars: Toby and Emily are both this for one another. They go to a dance together early in season one, and there does seem to be a little bit of genuine chemistry between them. Emily later comes out as a lesbian, however, and subsequently dates Maya and then gets involved with Paige in some way. Toby, meanwhile, gets involved with Spencer.
Seasons 1-3 of Chuck are filled with this. Sarah insists on staying professional with their relationship, despite the intense Unresolved Sexual Tension between her and Chuck. As a result, Chuck goes searching for meaningful relationships. Lou the sandwich girl in Season 1, Jill in Season 2, and Hannah in Season 3. Also, Shaw is Sarah's in Season 3. Luckily, by the end of Season 3 Chuck and Sarah quit the pretense, and Season 4 keeps them together.
Veronica Mars had Cop Boyfriend Leo in season 1, who was nice, well-liked by her father and a useful contact for Veronica... although it sure looked like she wasn't very invested in the relationship. Not to mention they hooked up just when her relationship with Logan heated up (after which she chose Logan over Leo without much hesitation). Logan himself, however, could be viewed as a Romantic False Lead for Veronica/Duncan, which was clearly a destined pairing from the start of the show, and real life wound up writing the plot for Veronica/Duncan in so far as the chemistry between Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring was electric, the chemistry between her and Teddy Dunn was nonexistent which would have been oddly apt if they'd turned out to be siblings after all. Factor in that Dohring is ten times the actor Dunn is, and that fans just weren't interested in their pairing (and indeed, when season two got them together again, people were not happy that she wasn't with Logan anymore). Hence, Dunn was written out, and Veronica/Logan was made the Official Couple. Finally, season 3 has Piz, who may have been intended to become this trope (again, a nice normal guy who treated her nicely, was liked by her dad, etc.), but as the show was cancelled, we'll probably never know for sure. The final moments of the final episode certainly made it seem likely, however.
If the Mythology Gags that Sherlock is so fond of keep up, Sarah and Jeanette - John's girls of the episode in seasons 1 and 2, respectively - will both become this once Mary Morstan, John's Official Love Interest, shows up.
The Big Bang Theory had several obnoxious, dumb guys of the week for Penny before she realized her feelings for Leonard. A nice little play on the trope came after they broke up, she started seeing Zack, a dense but friendly guy, but she only invited him for a New Years party because her love life tanked when she realized she couldn't date dumb guys anymore. On the Leonard side, he started dating Priya and it's well implied that he wouldn't have had the confidence to make that happen if Penny didn't make his self-esteem skyrocket, which certainly didn't help her situation.
On The King Of Queens, this is zig-zagged somewhat. Spence's ex-girlfriend, who he still has feelings for, is getting married in Memphis. Doug, Spence and the gang drive to Memphis in order to stop the wedding. Just as Spence is about to interrupt the wedding, a completely different guy says he loves her and they start kissing and leave her fiance at the altar.
The writers of Gossip Girl openly admitted that anyone Blair or Chuck dates other than each other is nothing but a Romantic False Lead. This includes a prince whom Blair actually marries as well as both Nate and Dan (the other two male leads).
Played with on Dead Like Me: Daisy starts going out with a TV producer named Ray. Mason, while obviously jealous, tries to respect their relationship, at least until Ray is revealed to be an abusive jerk. However, when Mason tries to convince Daisy that the way Ray treats her is wrong, Daisy calls him out on this trope, saying he is just jealous. Ray is eventually killed off, but the show was cancelled before it was clear if Mason and Daisy would get together.
The popular, high-heeled, short-skirted "cheer captain" in Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me" is a female version of the false lead.
A near-Trope Namer, false lead Albiani in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Not quite this trope. He is promised the hand of Amelia Grimaldi. But when she turns out to really be Maria Boccanegra, the daughter of the Doge, she is allowed to refuse him and ultimately marry her true love. The false lead doesn't go gracefully. He unsuccessfully tries to recruit an assassin, and winds up poisoning Simon.
A once-common first act ending for comedy plays (particular musical ones) was to have the hero get disgraced in public (i.e. in front of the chorus), followed by the heroine's angry rejection of him and the announcement of her engagement to the false lead. The Official Couple would later neatly resolve their differences in time for the final curtain. Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore (as befits a parody of theatrical conventions) is one example of this: Rose chooses Richard when Robin makes an (enforced) Face Heel Turn in the first act finale, and then goes back to Robin when he reasons his way out of having to be a Bad Baronet.
Gilbert and Sullivan use this fairly often. For example, in Iolanthe, Phyllis casts off her fiancé, Strephon, when she catches him speaking to his mother (who being, unbeknownst to her, an unaging fairy, still looks like a young, attractive woman). She then agrees to become engaged to no less than twowealthy peers ("one of you two, and I don't care which"), but goes back to Strephon when she finds out about his mother's fairyhood. The more general trope is used as well, though usually with either more subtlety (Yeomen of the Guard, where Reality Ensues), or with it being Played for Laughs. In Gilbert's writing, where he doesn't feel the need to wrap things up so neatly, things can turn out very differently, though: For example, the story "An Elixir of Love" is basically The Sorcerer, except without the love potion being reversed at the end, which is arguably far more interesting.
Count Paris in Romeo and Juliet; Juliet's mother asks her if she thinks she can learn to love him, and Juliet doesn't deny it, and what we see of him indicates that he would have made a most suitable husband for Juliet had she not be besotted with Romeo.
At the beginning, Romeo also displays plenty of Wangst over the fact that Rosaline doesn't want to be with him.
Speaking of examples with characters named "Lucy", 13 has Lucy, the Alpha Bitch, who ends up stealing Brett from Kendra.
Also, Brett is an example of this, because Archie likes Kendra too.
Stacee Jaxx in Rock Of Ages shows up just in time to come between the male and female leads. Having sex with him sends Sherry Christian into a downward spiral, leaving her lonely and working as a stripper. But it all works out in the end.
Gloria Rasputin in Bye Bye Birdie, whose main purpose seems to be to raise Rose's jealousy to murderous levels. She's actually being paid to do this by Albert's mother, who wants Albert and Rose to be over.
Parodied by Homestar Runner in a short where Marzipan goes on a date with The Cheat, and both Homestar and Strong Bad team up to ruin the date. Their attempts fail miserably, actually enhancing the date, but in the end Marzipan decides she doesn't care for The Cheat anyway.
In Ellerton's The Phoenix Requiem, Teddy is this to Petria. She ends up with Robyn, but not in a particularly obvious kind of way.
At the beginning, Robyn to Anya. When he realizes that she is just not interested though, he gives up quite easily.
The entire cast of El Goonish Shive. For example, Nanase is Elliot's girlfriend when Sarah admits her feelings for him. Elliot is conflicted, Nanase isn't. She acknowledges that she's been Loving a Shadow and dumps him so he can pursue Sarah, who genuinely loves him. Both traps are avoided... Nanase's a likable character, but Sarah is also likable and better suited to being Elliot's girlfriend. In a slight twist, Nanase stays friends with both of them, and this isn't the end of her role... In fact, she later comes to terms with the realization that she's a lesbian, and she winds up in a relationship with Elliot's bisexual female duplicate(long story), Ellen...
Not to mention Justin's feelings toward Sarah, since he's in love with Elliot. Subverted, though: "How dare you be someone I can't hate..."
Missi from Misfile exists mainly as another obstacle to a potential romance between Ash and Emily. This is further complicated by the suggestion that she could have been Ash's love interest in her male life.
She manages to be kind of annoying while being mostly sympathetic. But since it doesn't seem like she'd be totally devastated if Ash and Emily got together, she doesn't really inspire a whole lot of angst. Mostly just serves to make Emily jealous.
In Least I Could Do, a 2004 storyline featured Issa (the one woman Rayne can't bed but obviously wants to) dating Huck, who the others observe is basically a nicer version of Rayne from the country. Although things didn't quite follow the stereotypical formula, there was friction between Rayne and Huck, and Huck has not reappeared since.
Dominic Deegan had Neilen Everstar, a former co-worker of Luna's, who comes off as nice and friendly to Luna, but eventually his plans to ruin Dominic and Luna's relationship purely out of spite come out into the open.
Dex in Sluggy Freelance, specifically at the point when he finally decided to start dating Zoe right after Torg realized his own feelings for her. Of course, this was set up right before the KITTEN slasher parody, so he wasn't a problem for the story for long. This did mean Zoe never got to realize what a jerk he really was, although she already should have done earlier.
The fans, of course, hated Dex and were hoping for his death. The writer was aware of this, and referenced it by having Dex open a fortune cookie that said, "Just die you stupid jerk!"
Of course, Torg and Zoe still didn't get together, so years later we had Leo. Also a bit of a jerk in the end, as he was all right with Zoe's crazy stories about what happened in her life only until it turned out they weren't lies. Of course, Zoe and Torg still didn't get together after this breakup, because Torg was afraid of getting too close to her (since terrible things happen to all of his love interests) and Zoe somehow failed to realize he had romantic feelings for her (or that she had romantic feelings for him).
Tarvek Sturmvoraus from Girl Genius. He's a plausible enough rival to really put the wind up Gil, but the authors are pretty clear on which way the ship sails. The only way Agatha would end up with Tarvek would be if something irreparably split up Agatha and Gil.
Or, given the authors, they may well end up as an OT3, especially if the antagonism between Gil and Tarvek continues to trend towards Foe Yay.
Katara has Jet in Avatar The Last Airbender which stays that way until she finds out Jet's true colors. Even then, she was blushing every time the subject was brought up, until his Heroic Sacrifice closed that particular possibility off for good.
Interestingly enough, Aang shows little to no signs of jealously towards Jet. It was Sokka who disliked Jet because he felt Overshadowed by Awesome.
That seems to just be because Aang wasn't in love with Katara yet, though.
Both Jean and Scott in X-Men: Evolution get their own false leads: Jean dates Duncan and Scott dates Jean's classmate Taryn, and then Taryn dumped Scott when mutants were revealed, not because she or he became a jerk, but for the same reason most of them lost their friends: He can, quite literally, blow up a building with his eyes. Duncan was an Alpha dog Jerk Ass type, who played the Bitch in Sheep's Clothing trope (While he made it clear he was a jerk, he treated Jean Far nicer then he treats anyone else), and when they break up, lets just say he takes his jerkary to a whole new level.
Wendy, Stan's girlfriend in South Park has a couple of these. Gregory, from the Movie, for example.
On Danny Phantom, Paulina is generally the latter style of false lead to Danny, and Gregor was the false lead for Sam for an episode.
There's also Valerie Gray
Pulled off quite nicely in Futurama. Leela dates a wealthy and handsome man — the Mayor's aide, Chaz. He seems charming and kind, if a little overbearing, and Fry seethes with jealousy. However, Chaz's self-obsession begins to tire on Leela, and reaches a peak when it turns out he has used his money and connections to buy the whole of the ice rink for their date, ruining the plans of a coachload of orphans from the same orphanage Leela grew up in. She asks him to let the orphans on. He refuses. She realizes what kind of man he is and leaves him.
Pulled off again with Adlai Atkins (Leela's plastic surgeon), whose main flaw is that he's horrifyingly intolerant of anyone with physical abnormalities.
Once again, when Leela dates a man who she believes is the same alien species as her. It turns out, though, that he's a shapeshifter and planned to marry four other girls on the same day!
Justified, in that it's really expensive to rent a tuxedo that can shape-shift with him.
Colleen, from The Beast With a Billion Backs, is Fry's girlfriend and would be this for Leela, except she really doesn't mind. So, another subverted trope.
Pulled off very nicely on Justice League with Mari/Vixen, John Stewart's rebound girlfriend after Shayera/Hawkgirl temporarily left for parts unknown. Vixen herself is a rather nice person and plucky Action Girl who ends up befriending Shayera, even saving her life at some point, and Shayera doesn't make too much of a fuss at their relationship despite the unspoken (and sometimes blatantly hinted-at) tensions still existing. By the end of the show, John Stewart's relationship with Vixen is treated respectably enough that, even when Shayera learns of her and John's future offspring Warhawk, John still refuses to leave Vixen (who is actually injured at that time) instantly simply because destiny says otherwise. He will instead wait for everything to happen between the three of them organically (and presumably post-series finale, if the fact that Rex/Warhawk is Shayera and John's Kid from the Future says something). Shayera, though logically not happy, more or less accepts his decision, and instead of complaining she goes have a talk with Batman (so he can tell her about Warhawk.)
The fifth season introduces Carter/Hawkman as Shayera's false lead, making the love triangle into a love square. This time, however, he's made into Shayera's Stalker with a Crush.
After the events of the episode "Ancient History" which revealed the truth between the past lives of him and Shayera, he gives up on her and essentially encourages her to be with John.
Although he wasn't introduced for this, Mayor Pothole McPucker of Camp Lazlo became this when he returned to the show to get engaged to Jane, the love of Lumpus' life. Pothole is a tool through which the writers let out all their gross-out humor, making Lumpus a decent guy in comparison. Finally he confesses his love for her, but due to the dress he's wearing (don't ask) is mistaken for a woman confessing her love for Pothole. Hilarity Ensues.
Barbie As The Island Princess averts this when it goes against the "tradition" of making the other girl with an interest on the male lead a Jerk AssAlpha Bitch. The arranged fiancée of the prince is a rather sweet girl who genuinely likes him, voluntarily steps aside when it's clear the prince and the Barbie princess would be much better, and IIRC she even helps take down her Evil Matriarch of a mother and the Big Bad of the movie.
Code Lyoko's William Dunbar has all the trappings of this trope. He is attractive without too many sympathetic traits, is definitely interested in Yumi, and excites her romantic interest for a time, but ends up more of a close friend in her view in the end. Ulrich definitely hates him from the beginning, however, and he is played as a rival for Yumi's affection (William even flat-out tells Ulrich that if he doesn't make a move on Yumi, he [William] will).
Kim Possible: Drakken at the top of his game weaponizes this trope in So The Drama with "Eric" a.k.a. Synthodrone 901: a "made-to-order syntho-hottie".