In the U.S. we like to trumpet that women now make up half the workforce and are attaining nearly half of law, medical and business degrees. Television producers are picking up on the trend as new shows increasingly focus on professional women with some fairly dazzling careers.
"Women are leading shows now, and the focus is on their interesting careers," says Lizbeth Scordo, Yahoo TV editor. "There's been an influx of high-powered female characters in the last decade."
Whether the genre is comedy, drama or reality, cameras are following women into the workplace, and they're no longer confined to the role of receptionist. (Though it was hard not to love Pam Beasley, long the receptionist from The Office.) Now TV career women are attorneys, surgeons, detectives and business execs.
Twelve TV Career Women We Can't Help But Love
"They have progressed in terms of job," explains Ann M. Savage, Ph.D., professor of media studies at Butler University in Indianapolis. "We see more women as bosses."
Women are on top in the most recent crop of TV dramas. In legal thriller Damages Glenn Close plays cutthroat litigator Patty Hewes, who ruthlessly ensures her cases' success. Kyra Sedgwick offers a different view of a female boss. Playing Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on crime series The Closer, she brings femininity to the tough, male-dominated field of law enforcement with a sugary demeanor and Southern belle charm.
To be sure, women are often portrayed in stereotypically feminine jobs on TV too. Desperate Housewives was conceived as a sneak peek into the lives of wives and mothers. On newcomer Men of a Certain Age, women primarily play the roles of spouses and waitresses. And across channels, it's almost always women who play receptionists, maids and nannies, even if only in the background.
While those powerful female characters show viewers that women can achieve career equality, critics say they may also portray some mixed, if reality-based, messages. "No woman [on TV] is just happy with her career," Savage says. "The job always compromises the family."
No-nonsense surgeon Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) on medical drama Grey's Anatomy is characterized as fiercely devoted and capable at work, which leads to her demise at home. After an ultimatum from her husband to spend less time on the job, her marriage dissolves. Similarly, in the kooky world of NBC comedy 30 Rock, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), the head writer of a fictitious sketch-comedy TV show, must choose between her work life and personal life. She is a single woman closing in on 40 who desperately wants a child and family, which she presumably had to sacrifice to attain her level of career success.
Keep Reading TV's Best-Loved Career Women at ForbesWoman.com
TV Career Women We Can't Help But Love
Peggy Olson, Mad Men
Played by Elisabeth Moss, Olson begins the show as a secretary at a 1960s New York advertising agency but cleverly positions herself as valuable creative talent. Now she's a copywriter struggling to achieve respect in a male-dominated workplace. True to the times, clients more often believe she gets the coffee than boosts the bottom line.
Samantha Jones, Sex & The City
Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is a favorite because she doesn't embody the usual stereotype of career woman. A successful public relations executive with enviable connections, Jones clearly enjoys her work and her life. The job doesn't unnerve her, nor does she seek to fill an emotional hole with a husband or baby, like many modern characters do. The TV series aired on HBO from 1998 to 2004.
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