As Told By Her

Written by rts007

As Told By Her
Lucille Ball
The original TV trailblazer, Lucille Ball self-produced her sitcom “I Love Lucy” and became one of the most successful television executives in history. Her company, Desilu Productions, turned out dozens of hit series, including “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Gene Roddenberry’s original “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible.” Ball made everything seem possible for the women in television who followed. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Anna May Wong
After a film career in which she actively fought against stereotypes and the whitewashing of Asian roles, Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong became the first Asian lead on television in 1951’s “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.” She played an art dealer and detective — a role created specifically for her — in the 10-episode, primetime series.

Donna Reed
Many movie stars take on television projects after winning Oscar gold, but Donna Reed was among the first. After starring in hits like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and winning an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her performance in “From Here to Eternity,” Reed launched “The Donna Reed Show” in 1958. At a time when most sitcoms centered on male characters, Reed proved for eight seasons that mothers may actually know best. Oh, and she did it while raising four children of her own. Columbia TriStar / Getty Images

Marlo Thomas
Before Mary Richards, Carrie Bradshaw or Issa Dee, there was “That Girl.” The first television series to focus on a single woman, Marlo Thomas created, produced and starred in “That Girl” for five seasons beginning in 1966. When network executives suggested the series conclude with a wedding, Thomas rebuffed the idea because she didn’t want to send the message to her female viewers that marriage was the end goal. Thomas also launched the award-winning children’s project “Free to Be You and Me” to promote tolerance and the idea that both boys and girls can accomplish anything they dream. ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images

Nichelle Nichols
When Nichols considered leaving “Star Trek” early in its run to pursue a career on Broadway, it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who convinced her to stay. As Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols became one of the first black women on television portrayed in a position of power, providing a critical role model in the midst of the struggle for civil rights. “Star Trek” was canceled in 1969, but not before Nichols inspired a generation of young people — Whoopi Goldberg, astronaut Mae Jemison and President Obama among them. After “Star Trek” wrapped, Nichols advanced space exploration beyond the Enterprise by working with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Diahann Carroll
When a show about a widowed nurse and her charming son debuted in 1968, Diahann Carroll became the first African-American woman to star in a network sitcom. Some called “Julia” groundbreaking, while others criticized the show for a simplified depiction of the black experience in America in the late ‘60s. “Julia” may have been debated, but Carroll’s work on the show undoubtedly advanced progress. NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Carol Burnett
With a Tarzan yell and a tug on her ear, Carol Burnett joyously opened doors. Before “The Carol Burnett Show” debuted in 1967, a CBS network executive, Burnett recalled, was reportedly doubtful a woman could lead a variety show to success. She proved otherwise with 25 Emmy Awards and 11 hit seasons. During a time of political turmoil and an economic recession, Burnett’s stand-up, sketches and songs struck a chord with viewers in need of laughter. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Mary Tyler Moore
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” explored issues like equal pay, sex and drug addiction through comedy way before it was trendy. As Mary Richards, Moore was America’s model for a modern woman from 1970-1977. She dated, had an accomplished career, meaningful office relationships and funny friends. Make it after all? Moore made shattering stereotypes look effortless. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Bea Arthur
Bea Arthur made her mark as Maude Findlay on Norman Lear’s “Maude” in 1972. For six years, “Maude” explored the issues surrounding the women’s movement at the time, not shying away from polarizing topics like reproductive rights or domestic abuse.  Arthur continued bringing women’s experiences to television in her other unforgettable role as Dorothy Zbornak on NBC’s “The Golden Girls,” which still stands as a gold-standard for its depictions of female friendship. CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Rita Moreno
After winning the best supporting actress Oscar in 1961 for her performance as Anita in “West Side Story,” Moreno said she was disappointingly offered stereotypical Latina film roles she described in a 2008 interview with the Miami Herald as “Conchitas and Lolitas.” So, instead, Moreno brought her talents to television. She became one of the few female Latina performers on TV during the ’70s on the PBS series “The Electric Company,” yelling the show’s famous opening line, “Hey, you guys!” Still making sure she’s heard, Moreno now stars on the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time,” nearly 75 years after she first began entertaining audiences. Richard Blanshard / Getty Images

Marla Gibbs
Marla Gibbs rose to fame as the quick-witted maid Florence Johnston on “The Jeffersons,” but stamped her legacy in 1985 on the series “227.” As the star, writer and producer of the series for five seasons, Gibbs called the job one of her “most rewarding experiences” in a 2015 interview with the Washington Post. But she wasn’t officially recognized for all her contributions. “I had all rights, courtesies and privileges of executive producer. I had no title and no credit. And no money for that. But I didn’t care because I wanted to do it.” Gibbs is still doing what she wants decades after her television debut, recently appearing on “Scandal,” “Black-ish” and “This Is Us.” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Ellen DeGeneres
Before her hit talk show, awards and accolades, DeGeneres shattered stigma in 1997 by saying two words on television, “I’m gay.” She was the first openly gay actress to play a lesbian character on “Ellen,” which ran on ABC from 1994 to 1998. While the show was canceled only a year after DeGeneres shared her truth, she paved the way for other gay characters on television and more LGBTQ storylines. ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images

Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker’s portrayal of the shoe-obsessed, cosmo-drinking, hopeless romantic Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City” was more than a fun romp. When the show debuted in 1998, it explored sex, dating, divorce, careers and cocktailing with a candidness previously unseen on television. Parker’s Bradshaw and her squad of friends guided a generation of urban-dwelling women through their search for love, “real love, ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t live without each other love.” Bill Davila / Getty Images

Geena Davis
Before “Veep” or “24,” Geena Davis became America’s first female television president on “Commander in Chief” in 2005. The series only lasted a season, but Davis played a convincing leader. After “Commander in Chief,” Davis set out to prove the industry could do a better job of representing women in positions of power by launching the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The organization’s mission is to increase the presence of female characters and reduce gender stereotypes in film and television. Peter “Hopper” Stone / Getty Images

Tina Fey
Before Liz Lemon, “Weekend Update” and her on-point Sarah Palin impression, Tina Fey became “SNL’s” first female head writer in 1999. She used her experiences on the sketch-show as inspiration for her satirical “30 Rock,” which debuted in 2006 and became a critical hit. As creator, writer, executive producer and star of the NBC sitcom, Fey was the ultimate “bossypants” for seven seasons. She’s still calling the shots as the producer of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Great News.” NBC / Getty Images

Mindy Kaling
When Mindy Kaling joined “The Office” in 2005, she was just 24 years old and the only woman on the writing staff of eight. She slayed as Kelly Kapoor and directed multiple episodes before setting off on her own. As creator, producer, writer and star of “The Mindy Project,” Kaling has singlehandedly broken decades of gender and race barriers — one well-crafted joke at a time. Beth Dubber / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler created one of “SNL’s” most memorable moments in 2008, when — nine-months pregnant — she performed a rap tribute to then vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. When Poehler recalled the skit months later, she joked she was just trying not to give birth. But in that performance, and dozens before and after, Poehler has proven to be unstoppably funny. For her “SNL” encore, Poehler produced and starred as politician Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation” for seven seasons. Beyond her creative film and TV projects, Poehler helps young people cultivate their own “intelligence and imagination” through her “Smart Girls” initiative. Mitchell Haaseth / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
As President Selena Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has elevated political satire to new heights for six seasons on “Veep.” By delivering razor sharp dialog with perfect timing, Louis-Dreyfus, who is among the producers of “Veep,” has scored the lead actress in a comedy Emmy for five years straight. We, of course, already appreciated her comedic brilliance on “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “SNL” and that little show “Seinfeld,” but we love Louis-Dreyfus as a foul-mouthed and funny politician. Courtesy HBO

Issa Rae
From “Awkward Black Girl” to “Insecure,” Issa Rae has parlayed her authenticity into success. She launched her career on the word-of-mouth raves she got for her “Awkward” web series before creating, co-writing and producing her HBO comedy, which centers on the life experiences of contemporary women. Beyond “Insecure,” Rae has a deal with HBO to create more programming that highlights diverse narratives.Courtesy HBO


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