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The No. 1 Ladies of Television

Recently, on an internet forum that I frequent which dabbles in cult film and television discussions, the question arose of who we thought were the 10 best television characters of all-time. It helped to see others' choices, as it reminded me of certain no-brainers I was ashamed to have forgotten upon first thought (Emma Peel, Columbo, etc.), but what really niggled at me was the paucity of females on our lists.

At first, when reading the selections of others, the lack of female characters stood out like big neon lettering, and I shook my head in dismay at what I assumed to be unintentional sexism. Then, it came time to add my Top 10 and... I was stuck. Seriously, there would seem to be a dearth of solid women on television, especially in recent years.

Understand that this list isn't just meant to consist of characters that you like, or think of as pretty cool peeps. No, these are the 10 Best TV Characters of All-Time. They are meant to be near-iconic, or at least exceptional. And, honestly, determined as I was to have at least 3 females included, one of the picks (Barbara Douglas) doesn't really belong (love her as I do).

Here, then, are my choice, in alphabetical order:

Lenny Briscoe (Law & Order)

Lt. Columbo (Columbo)

Doctor Who (Doctor Who)

Barbara Douglas (My Three Sons)

J.R. Ewing (Dallas)

Inspector Morse (Inspector Morse)

Emma Peel (The Avengers)

Frank Pembleton (Homicide: Life on the Street)

Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore Show)

John Steed (The Avengers)

So, dear reader, what say you? Is it a fair list? Am I forgetting anyone - male or female?

The thing that still bothers me is the inability to come up with any women who should make the list (besides the three I included, and one of them being an admitted stretch of inclusion). Emma Peel and Mary Richards are shoe-ins, definitely. Who else? Miss Ellie from Dallas? Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show? Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show? One of the gals from Cagney & Lacey? I'm not sure that any of them fit the bill.

Of course, such lists are subjective, so perhaps I've got it all wrong?


  1. Well, yes it's subjective. However, you're also right in that there are not many iconic female characters (and fewer leads). I would add Lucille Ball as a leading icon for sure. The one lady from L&O:SVU? I can't think of her name (but I don't know the names of any of the characters on that show, really). Punky Brewster (whoever played her)? The character is an icon, if not the actress.


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