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Top 10 Toughest Female Characters on CBS TV Series

Jim Colucci - February 24, 2010


From the moment television's first signals went out over the airwaves, fun, fascinating females have filled its frames. In the 1950s, they were ditzy housewives; in the '60s, strangely subservient witches and genies. But as the women's liberation movement expanded women's career possibilities, so grew the roles for their counterparts on TV. The small screen has since brought us the girl soldier, the lady cop, the female journalist and the businesswoman. Role models for millions, these gals brought home the bacon, fried it up in a pan and never let us forget they could be as exacting, as driven, as dramatic or as funny as any man. They were often as tough as nails—all while never breaking one. And they headlined CBS shows strong enough for a man, but made for a bunch of admirable, indomitable broads.


This article originally appeared in Watch! Magazine (February 2010) and is reprinted with permission. Subscriptions are absolutely free and you can subscribe here.


& Show

Years Dominion Temperament Trademark Style Secret Weapon(s) True Love Bete Noire And the Theme Song Says...

Maj. Margaret Houlihan

on M*A*S*H

1972-83 The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, somewhere in Korea Officious Army fatigues with medical mask Hot lips Maj. Frank Burns The surgical room shtick of Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre and/or B.J. Hunnicut Maybe Suicide Is Painless, but a unit hath no fury like a head nurse scorned.

Maude Findlay

on Maude

1972-78 The social circles of Tuckahoe, N.Y.
Crusading Maxi vests
Feminist beliefs -- espoused in a deep, masculine voice
Fourth husband, Walter Findlay
Anyone talking smack about her hero, FDR Maude is in good company with Lady Godiva, Joan of Arc and Betsy Ross. She's "uncompromisin', enterprisin' and anything but tranquilizin'." Right on, Maude!

Margaret Pynchon

on Lou Grant

1977-82 The offices of The Los Angeles Tribune
Patrician Half-glass spectacles, complete with chain Imposing, leather-bound office guarded by Barney the Yorkshire terrier "The Trib."
"The Trib." Because from a shady fiance to some corporate wheeler-dealers, everyone just wants this widow for her newspaper.
The jazzy saxophone piece is wordless, so there's no embarrassing lyric paying tribute to Mrs. Pynchon. And this autocratic super-WASP would have it no other way.

Capt. Doreen Lewis

on Private Benjamin

1981-83 Fort Bradley, outside Biloxi, Miss.
Explosive Olive drab uniform with bright red lipstick
A not-so-secret riding crop
Discipline, and a long, warm bath
Spoiled socialite-turned-Army brat Judy Benjamin
Capt. Lewis is stuck in a losing battle. After all, "Soldiers do what Sergeant say / But soon they'll do things Judy's way."

Angela Channing

on Falcon Crest

1981-90 Titular winery in California's (fictional) Tuscany Valley
Domineering Curly brunet Little Orphan Annie wig and high-necked blouses
Chao-Li, her devoted manservant, chauffer and martial arts master
Money and power
The name "Apollonia." Angela never could get her grandson Lance's girlfriend's name right. Maybe that's why the relationship didn't work out. The pomp of trumpets announces that this matriarch means serious business. After all, she's survived gunshots, fires, earthquakes -- and even a marriage to Ronald Reagan.

Christine Cagney

& Mary Beth Lacey

on Cagney & Lacey

1982-88 New York's 14th police precinct
Unattached; maternal
Cowlnecks, guns and badges
The ladies' room, where two girl cops can strategize in peace
Fighting crime
Single Cagney's addictions to alcohol and shopping; married Lacey's thick-as-buttah Queens accent Two harmonizing saxes begin and end the instrumental theme, underscoring the importance of this new female buddy duo.

Julia Sugarbaker

on Designing Women

1986-93 Sugarbakers Design Firm in Atlanta
Big 1980s belts to go with her big '80s eyeglasses
Well-scripted, politically correct tirades, complete with musical underscoring
Reese Watson
Those lacking in class, compassion, wisdom and/or common sense (i.e., everyone)
"Like an old sweet song," Georgia, and one of its most eloquent and distinguished daughters, will always be on our minds.

Murphy Brown

on Murphy Brown

1988-98 The airwaves of Washington-based TV newsmagazine FYI
Big 1980s perm and shoulder pads in her man-tailored blazers
Creativity, resourcefulness and a taste for revenge
Son Avery
The gatehouse guards at the White House -- regardless of its current occupants
Murphy is just a Motown-adoring "Natural Woman," complete with "Love Child," who just wants a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."

Evelyn Harper

on Two and a Half Men



The Malibu, Calif. real-estate scene
Power suits with short skirts
Guilt and manipulation
Her husband du jour
Grown men who blame Mommy for their emotional problems. (Boo hoo.)
Let's see..."Men men men men manly men" -- nope, Evelyn's not even mentioned. No wonder she's bitter!


This article is the first in a series of articles exploring tough female TV network at a time.

Jim Colucci is a freelance entertainment writer whose work has appeared in such publications as TV Guide, Inside TV, Quick & Simple, InTouch, Rosie, The Advocate, Next and CBS' Watch magazine, where he serves as a Deputy Editor. Since 2008, he has covered television and other entertainment media in his popular blog, Must Hear TV. Jim also delivers a weekly on-air version of “Must Hear TV” as a correspondent for “The Frank DeCaro Show” on Sirius XM radio.