As we all get ready for Prince Harry, the only bro ever produced by the British monarchy, and Meghan Markle, a biracial American actress really named Rachel, we have to think back on not just all of the royal weddings of the past, but also all of the giant television spectaculars that fuel the fantasy surrounding the wedding-industrial complex. These culminations of will-they-or-won’t-they sitcom romance, reality-television frippery, and soap-opera derring-do have obsessed us ever since there have been television screens. Here are some of my favorite TV weddings in the order in which I like them the best. The methodology used is completely sound and cannot possibly be argued with, so really, leaving any comments about things that were left off the list or their position on the list is as moot as when the pastor says, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
(This wedding list also leaves off your wedding, which really should come in at No. 1 because, honestly, it was — or one day will be — absolutely perfect. Oh, I know it wasn’t on TV. How could it be? Nothing this intimate and emotional is allowed to exist on a commercial network. It’s not you who’s missing out on it not being televised; it’s the world.)
15. Barney and Robin (How I Met Your Mother)
Wedding Date: March 24, 2014
Viewers: 9.04 million
Five years later, I’m still really mad about this. The show’s ninth and final season was all about the wedding weekend because the audience knew, at some point, that Ted (Josh Radnor) would meet the Mother (Cristin Milioti) at the wedding. It took us an interminable 22 episodes to get to the ceremony (which was fine, whatever). Then, after the ceremony, Ted meets her and we finally learn about the event this damn show was named after. Except, in the series finale the following week, we find out that Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) divorce, the Mother dies, Ted winds up with Robin, and this whole thing was just a giant fake-out all along. Screw this wedding.
14. Luke and Laura (General Hospital)
Wedding Date: November 17, 1981
Viewers: 30 million
This was all Elizabeth Taylor’s fault. When the show was at its peak, its most famous superfan agreed to play the villain Helena Cassadine, but only if this power couple finally tied the knot. The show’s producers agreed, conveniently ignoring the fact that the pair only met because Luke (Anthony Geary) raped Laura (Genie Francis), and that event was reframed as a “seduction.” What in the #MeToo was that all about? The ceremony, like most things on soap operas, was a bit drawn out and anticlimactic, but Helena cursing the couple and ensuring years of suffering just about makes up for it. Okay, not really. I mean, he raped her. Come on!
13. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (Keeping Up With the Kardashians: Kim’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event)
Wedding Date: October 9–10, 2011
Viewers: 4.4 and 4 million, respectively
This two-day affair was as drawn out as the special’s title, which received the Guinness Book of World Records recognition for the Longest Non–Tyler Perry–Related Title of All Time. Over two days, we watched these two fret and flirt while Kim had the usual fake-outs about not inviting all of her sisters to the wedding because they wouldn’t do just what she required. Now, looking back on it, this personal milestone turned vertically integrated synergy event aired only six weeks after the ceremony, which was well past the halfway mark for this 72-day marriage. Still, they got $1.5 million from People magazine for the wedding pictures, so to Kris Jenner, it was probably all worth it.
12. Bethenny Frankel and Jason Hoppy (Bethenny Getting Married?)
Wedding Date: July 8, 2010
Viewers: 2.25 million
There is nothing more taunting or superfluous than that ominous question mark hovering at the end of this 10-episode series title. But that’s not what we remember the most about this wedding, the first special series for the myriad Bravo personalities that have since tied the knot onscreen. No, the one thing that is seared into our brains about this is when Bethenny, very pregnant and wearing her wedding dress, squatted over a trash can to pee into it. If there was ever an analogy for our modern media age, that is it.
11. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson
Wedding Date: July 23, 1986
Viewers: 500 million worldwide
Just five short years after Diana and Charles’s wedding, this spectacular drew 250 million fewer viewers worldwide and, honestly, seemed like a knockoff of the previous affair. Here is Fergie with a huge train and enormous veil in stuffy Westminster Abbey, going through the motions even though we all knew that she would never be queen. While I always preferred Fergie to Di, this wedding had none of her personality, which we would come to know, for better or worse, through her weight-loss woes, corruption scandals, and Oprah-backed reality-television show.
10. Chandler and Monica (Friends)
Wedding Date: May 17, 2001
Viewers: 30 million viewers
It is so like Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) to make “The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding” all about her. While there are the usual “cold feet” issues that surround any sitcom wedding, the big mystery in this seventh season finale was about whether or not Monica (Courtney Cox) was pregnant on her wedding day, thanks to a positive pregnancy test that Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) found in the trash. But no, it’s Rachel’s. Can’t Monica ever have anything of her own? As far as the wedding, it’s sweet and silly and everything you’d expect from this surprisingly-still-popular sitcom. What’s not as charming as it was back then are all of the transphobic jokes about Chandler’s (Matthew Perry’s) transgender parent (Kathleen Turner), who Monica, at one point, literally refers to as a “man in a dress.”
9. Trista and Ryan Sutter (The Bachelorette)
Wedding Date: December 10, 2003
Viewers: 6.2 million
ABC reportedly spent $3.77 million on this wedding. So why did it seem just like every overblown affair you’ve ever been to at the country club in your college friend’s hometown? This thing was traditional beyond belief, with stiff relatives you’ve never met, treacly poems, invented ceremonies, and all of the doodles a little girl makes in her notebook in eighth grade. If you’re going to spend almost $4 million on a wedding, there at least better be a ring bearer being shot out of a cannon. However, this was the first time The Bachelor franchise ever had such a special, and it’s the longest-lasting relationship the show has produced thus far. Maybe being bland is the secret recipe.
8. Jim and Pam (The Office)
Wedding Date: October 8, 2009
Viewers: 9.42 million
Everything about this wedding seems wrong. First of all, the entire cast of the show did a dance down the aisle, which has aged just about as well as the viral video it was based on. Secondly, they have a second ceremony on a boat under Niagara Falls, which is getting them covered in the majestic slobber of the falls, and the whole time I just want to peel off my clothes and wrap myself in a towel somewhere waiting for it to end. But it’s sweet, and it seems like an actual kind of thing that would happen in someone’s real life if one is, you know, inordinately attractive and has a bunch of toxic co-workers, which you probably are and you probably do.
7. Sean Lowe and Catherine Giudici (The Bachelor)
Wedding Date: January 26, 2014
Viewers: 6.2 million
I was only going to include Trista and Ryan’s wedding on this list and none of the other Bachelor-related nuptials we’ve been forced to subject ourselves to over the years, but I had to make a special exception for this one. The wedding theme was “Grown Sexy,” which was actually the theme for Ma Anand Sheela’s 42nd birthday party. But the real reason this was worth watching is because we all knew that Sean and Catherine were waiting for their wedding day to have sex. This was all just boring, sugar-coated pretense for these two boning down, and that anticipation is enough to type about 200 eggplant emoji a second.
6. Prince Charles and Diana Spencer
Wedding Date: July 19, 1981
Viewers: 750 million worldwide
Watching the footage now, this wedding was about as dry as a million chewed up saltines pressed into the shape of a man, which, ironically, is exactly what Charles is. The photos are famous, especially the one of Diana, waving from her gilded carriage in a dress that looks like a bunch of Bob Ross’s fluffy little clouds having an orgy. The whole thing was staid and British, but it’s all iconic and etched into wedding folklore in a way that Kim Kardashian will never quite pull off, no matter how many belfies she takes.
5. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Wedding Date: May 19, 2018
Viewers: 2 billion
Leave it to Harry, the most lovable member of the royal family, to have a wedding that was totally untraditional. He said “You look amazing” as he lifted the veil, a choir sang “Stand By Me” while they sat in little thronelets, then they exited in chic attire to cruise away in a classic car. It was less a royal wedding than the personal (and, honestly, somewhat cheesy) ceremony that your really rich friend from college throws herself. He married a divorced, biracial American actress, so the crowd made up for star wattage what it lacked in stodgy tradition. I mean, this is the most press attention the cast of Suits will ever get. Plus, we must not forget that this union was blessed by God herself: Oprah Winfrey.
4. Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell (Who Wants to Marry a MultiMillionaire?)
Wedding Date: February 15, 2000
Viewers: 22 million
In early 2000, just before Survivor would usher in the modern era of reality television, no one knew Darva Conger, a nurse, and Rick Rockwell, a failed comedian with a few property flips under his belt. Now we will never forget them. Rockwell, hidden from the camera until the final moments of the broadcast, selected Conger from 50 contestants competing for his hand in a beauty pageant–type special that was mystifyingly crass and ingeniously prescient. While there was some blowback for creator Mike Fleiss because he didn’t do sufficient background checks into Rockwell, it still didn’t keep him from inventing The Bachelor, which would pretty much do this special on a grand scale for the next decade.
3. The Moldavian Massacre (Dynasty)
Wedding Date: May 15, 1985
Viewers: 25.9 million
In 1985, America had royal-wedding fever, with Charles and Di in the recent past and Fergie and Andrew on the horizon. What better way for the highest-rated show in America to cap off its highest-rated season with Amanda (Catherine Oxenberg), the long-lost daughter of Blake (John Forsythe) and Alexis (Joan Collins), marrying Prince Michael (Michael Praed), the crown prince of the fictional European republic of Moldavia. Instead of a fairy tale, this turned into a brilliant nightmare when the wedding was invaded by terrorists, leaving the guests in a bloody heap. The season ends without us knowing who lives and who dies. The sixth season premiere, when everyone tuned in to see who made it out alive, was the show’s highest-rated episode ever. But only two minor characters died, and pissed fans turned on the show in droves, which was the beginning of the end of this ultimate cliffhanger gone wrong.
2. Prince William and Kate Middleton
Wedding Date: April 29, 2011
Viewers: 2 billion (????!!!!!!)
Though some scoff at the viewing estimates (there were officially 23 million U.S. viewers, 27 million in the U.K., and 72 million live streams on YouTube), one cannot doubt the impact of the first royal wedding of the internet age. Maybe now that we can watch it in all its HD glory whenever we want makes it look more spectacular by comparison. Kate looks elegant but modern, William looks sufficiently royal but approachable, and the whole affair looked dazzling, with all of the trees inside Westminster Abbey. It doesn’t hurt that hunky Harry is in the background just daring every man-loving human in the world to tear the uniform right off of him. The craziest thing of all, unlike at the weddings of his parents or his aunt and uncle, William and his bride actually look like they are in love and enjoy each other’s company.
1. The Red Wedding (Game of Thrones)
Wedding Date: June 2, 2013
Viewers: 6.3 million
All I want out of any wedding is to be surprised, and I don’t mean like you have a doughnut tower instead of a cake. I’m talking, like, I want a salsa band to show up followed by three drag queens who then open fire on the crowd with water guns. But what if they were arrows instead of water guns? Or swords? That’s what GOT served up at the end of the third season and, to be honest, I’m still shooker than a Shake Weight in an earthquake. Watching it now, naïvely we all thought that the bedding ceremony would be the craziest thing in the episode, until the band cued up “The Rains of Castamere,” the Lannister family song, and the Freys slaughtered all of the Starks in attendance. We got to watch Robb (Richard Madden) react as his wife and unborn child were killed, his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) pleaded for her son’s life, and Arya (Maisie Williams) found out that her reunion with her family wasn’t coming.
The rest of the aforementioned weddings were must-see TV moments that were hyped up within an inch of their lives. By the time we finally got to see them, the letdown was almost inevitable. Not so with the Red Wedding. This is the one none of us saw coming, so it was a bit like eloping and then honeymooning on an erupting volcano. This is the surprise I want at every wedding — TV or otherwise — but maybe not with so high a body count.