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20 Legendary TV Actresses Who Changed The World Of Television

Who are some of the most influential women in television history, both in terms of their firsts and their successes? Betty White, Lynda Carter, and Oprah Winfrey sho

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Whoever said that women couldn’t play leading roles and pave the way for other women to do so should be ashamed. They have committed their entire lives to their work and have given up their personal lives in order to advance in their chosen fields. Some people have even made the conscious decision not to have children in order to devote their full attention to their careers. We have no right to judge their decisions as these women have made incredible dedications to their field.

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In this article, we are pleased to highlight 15 legendary TV actresses who have left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry thanks to the groundbreaking work they have done. While the majority of them have moved on, the remaining few continue to keep them busy with their work. Please look at them by scrolling down this page.

#1 Carol Burnett

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Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The role that brought Carol Burnett the most fame was playing the title character in the variety and comedy series “The Carol Burnett Show” (1967-1978). During the course of the show, Burnett and a number of other comedians performed a variety of sketches. She began her career in comedy at a time when men predominated the field. However, Burnet’s infectious presence, slapstick comedy, and signature ear tug entertained the nation.

In the year 2020, Rolling Stone ranked “The Carol Burnett Show” as one of the top shows on television that featured sketch comedy.

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#2 Betty White

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Source: NBC/Getty

Starting our her career in 1939, Betty White became iconic for starring on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977) and “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992). Throughout the course of her career, she was also nominated for and received a number of awards.

#3 Lucille Ball

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Source: CBS/Getty Images

There are countless ways in which Lucille Ball altered the face of television. She broke new ground in the world of comedy. She was instrumental in the development of syndication, and the first comedy in which she starred, “I Love Lucy,” was shot on tape rather than being broadcast live on television.

Ball and her Cuban husband, Desi Arnaz, created their show and filmed it in a new format: live in front of a studio audience and with three cameras rolling rather than one. This was a first for television at the time. In 1950, the couple is credited with cofounding Desilu Productions. After the couple divorced in 1960, Ball purchased the company from her former husband in 1962 and made history by becoming the first woman to own and operate a major television production company.

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#4 Donna Reed

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In the long-running family comedy “The Donna Reed Show,” Donna Reed is credited with being the first actress and female character to take the lead role in a married relationship (1958-1966).

Before she had her own television show, Reed had already won a number of acting awards, and she was instrumental in the creation of the series.

#5 Cicely Tyson

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Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Additionally, the actress vowed to avoid playing archetypal roles in the future. In an interview with Parade magazine in 1972, Tyson said: “I won’t play that kind of characterless role any more, even if I have to go back to starving,”.

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#6 Mary Kay Stearns

Source: CBS/IMDb

#7 Diahann Carroll

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#8 Alfre Woodard

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In the television show “State of Affairs,” Alfre Woodard made history by becoming the first actress to ever portray a Black female US president (2014-2015).

#9 Pauline Frederick

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Source: Graphic House/Getty Images

#10 Kerry Washington

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Source: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

On the critically acclaimed political drama “Scandal,” Kerry Washington played the role of Olivia Pope, a director of communications for the White House (2012-2018). Because of this role, Washington made history by becoming the first African American actress in the past four decades to star as the main character in a drama. She also took home her first BET Award, in the category of best actress, for her performance in that role.

#11 Viola Davis

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Source: Mitch Haaseth/Getty Images

#12 Barbara Walters

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Barbara Walters became the first female co-anchor on ABC when writing and producing women’s interest stories on the “Today” show (1952-present). She also launched a daytime talk show called “The View” with the intention of giving more airtime to the perspectives of women.

#13 Marlo Thomas

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Source: ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Marlo Thomas had never been married and did not have any children when she landed the role of Ann Marie in the television series “That Girl,” which ran from 1966 to 1971. Her real-life experiences were similar to those that she portrayed in the movie. The actress made significant contributions to the representation and normalization of single, self-sufficient women.

#14 Mary Tyler Moore

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In the 1970s, women who were entering the workforce could look up to Mary Tyler Moore as a role model for having a career orientation, wearing pants, and having an understanding of birth control.

#15 Mary Tyler Moore

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Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

On an episode entitled “Plato’s Stepchildren,” in “Star Trek” in 1967, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) kisses Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). It was one of the very first times an interracial kiss had been shown on television.

#16 Roxie Roker

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Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The role that brought Roxie Roker the most fame was the one she played in “The Jeffersons,” the spinoff series of “All in the Family” (1971-1979). (1975-1985). The Black actress tied the knot with a white man on the show (and also in real life), making her part of the first black and white interracial couple on TV.

#17 Lynda Carter

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Source: ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

#18 Bea Arthur

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Source: Martin Mills/Getty Images

#19 Candice Bergen

Source: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Candice Bergen’s character on “Murphy Brown” (1988-1998) decided to raise her child on her own. Dan Quayle, the Vice President, took notice of this development as a result.

“It doesn’t help matters when prime-time television has a character that is supposed to epitomize today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, and that character’s name is Murphy Brown. She mocks the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice,”

#20 Katie Couric

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Katie Couric made television history in 2006 when she became the first female newscaster to serve as the sole anchor for an evening news program. Her program was titled “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” and it was broadcast on CBS (2006-2011).

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