TV's Best Female Characters

Buffy, Lorelai, Olivia, Janeway, Murphy and 15 More Female TV Characters that Blazed a Powerful, Iconic Trail

They are women, hear them roar — and hear us cheer them on while they do so, too!

In honor of International Women’s Day, your feminist friends at TVLine have compiled a list of 20 trailblazing female characters who made a big impact through their presence on the small screen. Among the iconic creations who made the cut, you’ll find everyone from the captain of a spaceship (Star Trek: Voyager) to an especially plucky news producer (The Mary Tyler Moore Show). 

Oh — and, before you grouse, “Where’s Oprah Winfrey? Where’s Barbara Walters?” go back and reread the criteria above one more time: The women have to be not only formidable trailblazers but also fictional ones.

Now then, to check out our picks, click on the gallery above right (or click here for direct access). Then, since there is virtually no way we could have included every deserving groundbreaker, hit the comments with the characters that you think should have been included.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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90 Comments
  1. Kevin Tran says:

    Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers aka The Bionic Woman deserves to be on the list.

  2. NatesMama says:

    Yeah, you’re going to have to explain how Olivia Pope is a trailblazer. Because…um, no.

    • Thithya says:

      Agree

    • laura says:

      Agree
      She’s a horrible character

    • Superwoman says:

      No explanation needed, her impact was and still is significant, whether you agree with her choices or not. She plays by her own rules and she has no desire to fit into the “conventional box” most fans are trying to shove her into.

      • Joey says:

        Your description is “been there, done that” by many other female characters that came before her.

        • Superwoman says:

          Yes, exactly…..so if it’s been done before, why is it that Olivia P still gets so much hate for not adhering to society’s expectations of what they want her to do/be?? It’s an outdated notion to expect female characters to be a “certain way” and act a “certain manner” yet men can way with anything. You are free to disagree with her actions but don’t belittle the impact her character has made. She is a trailblazer!

      • Vanessa says:

        Exactly. People think that their personal dislike of her means=she shouldn’t be on the list which is a ridiculous mindset.

    • Katie says:

      Completely agree on that one. How do you put a woman who sleeps with two different married men, one being the president, get’s pregnant by said president, then has an abortion without telling him she was pregnant in the first place in the same category as Diana Prince, Buffy Summers, Maud and others like them? Add on all the other crap, you don’t have a trailblazer: You have a selfish, self-righteous, foolish homewecker. I don’t think so! You could have easily put Roseanne Connor in Olivia Pope’s place! She represented a lower-middle class working woman with an over-worked husband, three kids, handling it all with razor-sharp wit, a wicked tongue and a hearty dose of tough love. Now there was a trail-blazing female television character!

      • bluepasj says:

        Don’t know this Roseanne Connor, but seems to be a character made in the ridiculous notion that women must be superwoman, perfect and inhuman beings and/or their representation in media must be so, that they must impeccably balance work, home work and parenting while also looking good. Not all TV women need to be perfect, and that’s were Olivia Pope fits. So you can have different types of women represented. Characters aren’t role models, and they aren’t representations of any truth if they are all equal, because we humans vary.

        • PatriciaLee says:

          haha…not looking good, rather the beginning of what you see is what I have time for. It sounds like you missed a jewel for you.

      • Ally Oop says:

        I second your suggestion of Roseanne. I had her on my list of trailblazers too.

      • Vanessa says:

        Peggy on Mad Men also slept with a married man and got pregnant, yet you’re not objecting to her being on the list. Funny how that works. Typical and predictable.

    • Bella says:

      I agree with you, NatesMama.

    • missy says:

      Yeah

      Olivia Benson(L&O:SVU), would of been a better choice

  3. Emmy says:

    I for sure would have included Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica

    • digitalred93 says:

      Laura Roslin definitely belongs on this list. So does CJ Cregg (West Wing) and Dr. Temperance Brennan (Bones). Otherwise, it’s a great list (although I do echo other posters’ wariness about Olivia Pope – trailblazer maybe, but not a role model).

  4. Nathan says:

    Damn no Annaleise Ketting

  5. Mary says:

    Nyota Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek. Xena and Gabrielle played by Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor.

  6. Brian says:

    Yeah, The Bionic Woman deserved to make the list and also Florida Evans from Good Times should be on this list too.

  7. Olivia Pope …. REALLY!!!!! !! NO way ……

  8. Anna says:

    No Dana Scully??? Blasphemy

  9. Annie says:

    How in the name of all that is holy did Dana Scully not make this list?

  10. flowerduh says:

    Glad Murphy Brown is in there. When I was a kid growing up I so wanted to be Murphy Brown. A strong woman living on her own terms.

  11. Grey'sFan says:

    Um, where are the trailblazing women from Grey’s Anatomy?

    1. Ellis Grey – the original female surgeon who battled sexism to become a top surgeon.
    2. Miranda Bailey – first woman to rise to Chief of Surgery at GSMH.
    3. Cristina Yang, Catherine Avery, Callie Torres, Arizona Robbins, April Kepner, Lexie Grey, Amelia Shepherd, Addison Montgomery-Shepherd and of course Meredith Grey. Even Maggie Pierce and Stephanie Edwards could be included on this list.

    All of these women are smart, strong, determined, vulnerable, loving and fierce in work and play and are definite role modals for young girls. Best thing is none of them are perfect. They all make mistakes and have to live/grow with the consequences, but they also don’t apologize for their choices – they OWN their choices, good or bad.

    • Iris says:

      Cristina Yang is one of the few female character who never wanted to be a mother, never changed her mind, and was portrayed as complete and happy without a child.
      More than a trailblazer, she’s still about the only one of her kind after decades of TV.

    • Shru says:

      Honestly all women from Grey’s are trailblazers over Olivia Pope!

  12. Dude Lois freaking Lane, Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance, there is not a more kick ass woman and iconic than that

  13. Tanaod says:

    No Xena, really? No Dana Scully?

  14. M. says:

    Kate Beckett!!!

  15. Bianca says:

    Bad ass Kate Beckett

  16. S says:

    This “article” would have more oomph if each choice included rationale. Otherwise it feels like a slapped together afterthought with people’s favourite characters.

    • MAS says:

      I agree that it was hard to puzzle out what the rationale was. They were role models? They were unique portrayals? They represented strong women? I couple are iconic – known beyond the generation that watched them, but not all. I am not sure how to interpret the list.

  17. georgee says:

    Add one to the list Stana Katic of Castle, The fans loved her, 3 PCA’s worth. On April 29,2016 in a article written by Anam Ahmad about Stana Katic’s dismissal from Castle proves Women still have a huge uphill battle to fight for equality.

  18. What about Max /Caroline from 2 Broke Girls?Sure they have romantic relationships with guys on the show but the shows more about them working hard to overcome poverty & bad luck and scandal to stand on thier two feet and Acheivemt thier drams/goals instead of depending on a sugar daddy or a guy to rescue them.Theyre working two or three just bs to get what they want and need from life and accomplish thier goal of a cupcake shop.

  19. Jan says:

    Cagney and Lacey!!!!

    • claudiagail says:

      That’s who I think should have been on the list. At the time we had never seen women in the role of police detectives which opened the way for all who have come since. I would also add S. Epatha Merkerson’s Lt. Van Buren on Law and Order which was the first time we saw a woman of color in charge. These were true trailblazing characters..

  20. Lantz says:

    Where is Julia Sugarbaker?

  21. Christy says:

    How Kate Beckett didn’t make this list, I will never understand! She trailblazed in heels! She’s totally Badass!!
    Also Dana Scully for inspiring girls to go into science in spite of her short little legs!

  22. TVFan says:

    Lily Munster
    Morticia Addams
    Samantha Stephens

  23. Ryan says:

    Roseanne Barr should have been on that list for sure !!

  24. Geneviève says:

    Sabrina Duncan (Charlie’s Angels – 1976-1978), Dana Scully (X-Files), Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager -1994-2001), Addison Montgomery (Grey’s Anatomy), Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife)

  25. Geneviève says:

    Oh, I forgot Jaimie Sommers (The Bionic Woman)

  26. Iris says:

    Ally McBeal? It’s insulting.

  27. Valkyrje says:

    I don’t know if she falls into the trailblazer category, but I’ve always really loved Dr. Elizabeth Corday from ER.

  28. Kepler says:

    I think it’s a good list, though there are some I would have suggested, like Roz Doyle on Frasier, and even though it’s really recent, Supergirl’s Kara Danvers. Roz, because, despite being in a male dominated industry, she progressed in her field until she was as high as she could go, and that was 20 years ago. And Kara, because her heart and determination are just so commendable.

  29. kmw says:

    Dana Scully for sure. Temperance Brennan as well, otherwise its a good list

  30. Paulie says:

    Where is Sharon Gless & Tyne Daly for Cagney & Lacey???!!!

  31. JD says:

    No Lucy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Lucille Ball is the list.

  32. Brendan says:

    Ha hello XENA

  33. MissyLily says:

    I am so happy that neither Olivia Dunham nor Erin Lindsay was on this list. I’m happy my girl Buffy got on the list!

  34. RedReddington says:

    Not including Dana Scully (who was one of the best and strongest female characters in the 90s) renders this list moot in my eyes. Sorry. 🤷🏻‍♀️

  35. Elle says:

    No Olivia Pope, she’s no trailblazer, but yes to Cagney & Lacey, Willow Rosenberg and Kerry Weaver!

  36. Todd says:

    I understand the (presumed) argument for Lorolai, but I’m not sure I would label her a trailblazer. Also, I think you could probably put all of the Grey’s Anatomy women on this list, but if I had to pick one, I’d pick Christina Yang. A brilliant, complex, uncompromising woman. Meredith’s complexity through the years also could put her in contention. Similarly, characters like Addison, Bailey and even Izzie were tremendous depictions of women, especially a decade ago when they were introduced. Also, I’d put Veronica Mars here, but that’s probably my bias for the show showing.

  37. Dominique says:

    with all due respect, but where is samantha carter??

  38. kirads09 says:

    My list (by no means comprehensive)
    Uhura – Trek
    Ann Romano – Orig One Day At A Time
    River Song – Dr Who
    Kira – Trek DS9
    Chrisjen Avasarala – The Expanse
    Scully – Xfiles
    Endora – Bewitched

  39. Hypey06 says:

    Missing three big doctors: Dr. Michaela Quinn, Dr. River Song and Dr. Christina Yang!

  40. Spence says:

    I would add Liz Lemon to this! Proved that a woman can be sloppy, funny, and downright gross and still be valid, beautiful, hardworking.

  41. As Buffy says “It’s about POWER” These women grabbed some back and created iconic roles about powerful women.

  42. maltru says:

    This would be so much better if you explained why these women were powerful/trailblazers instead of just assuming all your readers know every single character, or why you consider them more empowering/inspirational than the many other badass women on TV. Like, does everyone know about the hubbub Murphy Brown created by being a single mother, or Maude’s abortion? What was the impact of Margaret Kim or Leslie Knope? Don’t get me wrong, I definitely applaud these examples, but just putting up their photos not taking the time to explain what makes these characters important makes it seem like this slideshow was pulled together in 2 minutes after realizing it was IWD rather than something you actually put thought and effort into.

  43. KLS says:

    Having the years on TV attached to the characters would have been nice.
    .
    I agree with others that Dana Scully, Cagney & Lacey, maybe even Rhoda should have made it over some modern selections.

  44. Ally Oop says:

    As soon as I saw the title for this article, crazy tv junkie that I am, I excitedly quickly went and made my own list of 20 to see if I had any of the same names. Well, I didn’t. Not even those. One name only–Buffy. In fact, most of the shows on your list I never actually ever watched. Here’s my list of female characters I idolized and wanted to be like:

    Claire McLeod from McLeod’s Daughters
    Sydney Bristow from Alias
    Buffy from Buffy the Vampie Slayer
    Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gable
    Max Guenvara from Dark Angel
    Stevie Hall from McLeod’s Daughter
    Lagertha from Vikings
    Veronica Mars from Veronica Mars
    Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls
    Mikayla Quinn from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
    Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy
    Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy
    Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones
    the real Amanda Clarke from Revenge
    Jennie Lee from Call the Midwife
    Nikita from Nikita
    Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks
    Amy Gray from Judging Amy
    Michelle Kenidi from North of 60
    Roseanne Conner from Roseanne

  45. Mommaknowsbest says:

    Probably telling my age here, but when I saw the title of the article, I hoped you would include Dihanne Carroll – and was thrilled that you did! I remember loving to watch her show, “Julia”, and not really realizing how important of a breakthrough the show actually was – I just loved watching a show about a wonderful nurse and her adorable son. Thanks for reminding me of her wonderful work!

    Just as an aside – if Miss Piggy were human, we would have rejected her years ago. Why include her?

  46. Jami says:

    Where is Eliza Taylor/Clarke Griffin from The 100 she has to be the biggest bad ass on television. Dana Scully WtF.

  47. Gordon Rick says:

    Nyota Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek is a horrible omission. A black woman controlling the communications for a star ship in outer space in the SIXTIES! Way ahead of her time.

  48. Reba says:

    Lorelai Gilmore a trailblazer – but no Cagney, no Lacey? Really? I loved the Gilmore Girls – but trailblazing it wasn’t.

  49. Agent 86 says:

    Xena: Warrior Princess!

    Which, the inclusion of Captain Janeway, Wonder Woman, Miss Piggy and (future president) Leslie Knope only partially makes up for.