Influential Women in Television History

Influential women in television history such as Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Ellen DeGeneres have served as idols for girls, young women, aspiring actresses and female comedians. These women have helped to shape the general population of women and their sense of strength and empowerment. Here is a list of 5 examples of strong women in tv history who played powerful roles both in front of the camera and behind the scenes:

    • Lucille Ball —> Lucille Ball is often publically conceived as the ditsy house wife on the widely beloved 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. However, Lucille Ball’s wildly popular and hilarious stage presence through physical comedic style shows Lucy’s characteristics as a smart, funny and talented actress and comedian.  Yet, Lucy was not only a strong example of a successful female comedian and actress during a period where comedic television was brand new; but Lucy also  accomplished roles of film-studio executive and producer. Roles such producer, director, writer, studio executive are titles that women typically didn’t have the chance to explore.
    • Lucy’s initiation into television production roles began soon after she met her husband, Desi Arnaz. The pair took their “I Love Lucy” act on the road after CBS decided against taking on Lucy and Desi’s. But eventually, CBS agreed not only to put “I Love Lucy” on the air. The network allowed Lucy and Desi to create the show with their own vision; and to do so under the couples new created production company, Desilu Productions. Her start in the business and creation side of on-screen broadcasting as a television producer reflected Lucy’s intelligence and strength as a leading lady in television.
    • Carol Burnett —> Actress and comedian Carol Burnett continued to pave the way for strong, funny, intelligent women in television. Burnett started her on-screen career in the mid 1950s, and continues to work into today. Among the dozens of roles she took on, one of Burnett’s most memorable was on the Carol Burnett show. As Host of The Carol Burnett Show for over 10 years, Carol had total control in producing on her show. Her vision was for The Carol Burnett show to be a variety show, a show comprised up of sketch comedy. That idea was followed through. The Carol Burnett show presented some of her best comedic material and skits. Furthermore, Burnett’s content influenced the world of on-screen variety shows. 
    • Burnett also formed a comedic duo with Lucille Ball in a few episodes of The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. Both Lucy and Carol worked so well together because they of their similar comedic style, and the wit and intelligence they employed in their roles as actresses.
    • Recently, Carol Burnett guest starred on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the interview, Fallon flashed back to a clip of Carol on the Carol Burnett show. In the scene, there was an actual earthquake while on set. But despite the fear and alarm on set, Burnett used her quick wit to push the scene forward and make the audience laugh. She stated, “No visiting, the earth just moved. See what happens when you pay attention?” It is this kind of quick fire reactions that gave viewers the sense of how powerful actresses like Burnett were. She was more than just an actress, Carol Burnett was a visionary in creating as well as executing comedy in television.  

Influential Women in Television: On Screen and Behind the Scenes


    • Ellen DeGeneres —> Ellen DeGeneres professional career as an actress and comedian began in the late 1980s. DeGeneres typically stuck to the small screen in television shows that she starred in as well as episodes of other series. But her comedic wit and her love for laughter would empower Ellen to become a writer and producer, as well as a host, of her own talk show. 
    • Ellen’s sitcom from 1994-1998 was one of the first tv shows to feature a leading female role where the character is gay
    • The Ellen DeGeneres show originally aired in 2003 and still continues with live broadcasts today; with over 10 years later with nearly 2,000 episodes. In which Ellen DeGeneres portrays strength as an actress, comedian, content creator, producer, writer, and host. Her efforts to make television a better place for the LGTBQ community and for women will continue to shape and influence both; as well as impact both groups and their abilities to work in television, in which ever role they seek out. Just as Ellen’s fellow female comedians Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett did so elegantly before her.  
    • Tina Fey —> In addition to her professional career as a comedian and actress for the past 15 years, Tina Fey is involved  behind the screen as a producer and writer for both television and movies. Among her most noteworthy works, one includes Fey’s positions of Writer and Head Writer on Saturday Night Live from 1997-2006. Fey is also credited as the creator for the series 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; shows that Fey also produced and contributed to as a writer. Fey’s roles in television exemplify her dedication, determination, intelligence, and natural talent to be a leading women in television both on screen as well as behind the scenes.   
    • Melissa McCarthy —> Melissa McCarthy has established a professional career as an actress since the late 1990s. But it was only within the past 5 years that the audience have had the opportunity to experience McCarthy’s flare as a comedian. Similar to Ball and Burnett’s style of comedy, Melissa employees a physical sense of comedy. Some of the recent movies that she’s obtains major roles in include: Identity Thief, The Heat, Tammy, Spy, The Boss. Just to name a few. 
    • Melissa has accomplished much more than staring in these comedic films. McCarthy plays creative, behind the scenes roles of producer and writer in movies such as The Boss and Tammy. Melissa McCarthy is also working on a film project called Life of the Party, which she also wrote and produce. Additionally, she also has experience directing in a handful of episodes on a show that McCarthy stars in called Mike and Molly. 
    • McCarthy’s continues to accomplish roles as a successful female comedian. Yet, it doesn’t end there. Melissa continues to follow in the foot steps of great female comedians, actresses, and creators like Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. McCarthy does this by creating content. She creates humorous story lines and scenes and knows how to capture and execute these comedic moments. 

These are just a few examples of the witty, intellectual, determined female visionaries  that drastically influenced and shaped t.v. history. What women in television do you idolize or inspire you? Let us know in the comment section below. 

Lauren Peterson