20 Legendary TV Actresses Who Changed The World Of Television

Female TV stars whose firsts and successes have changed the world of television? Betty White, Lynda Carter, and Oprah Winfrey should top the list. Take Betty White, for example. She was dubbed the "first lady of television" and "queen of the small screen". The legendary actress was the first woman to produce a national TV show and to star in a sitcom, and earned numerous awards and nominations throughout her 80-plus-year career.
Who said women couldn't do leading roles, paying a way for women like them? They have dedicated themselves to their careers, sacrificing their personal life to pursue them. Some have even chosen to be single or childfree to focus on their work completely. We have no right to judge their decisions as these women have made incredible dedications to their field.
In this post, we're glad to introduce 15 legendary TV actresses who have changed the Entertainment industry with their firsts and successes. Many of them are gone while some still keep them busy with their work. Please scroll down to check them out!

#1 Carol Burnett

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Carol Burnett is best known for starring in the variety and comedy series "The Carol Burnett Show" (1967-1978). The show featured Burnett and other comedians performing various sketches. She broke into comdedy when men dominated it. However, Burnet's infectious presence, slapstick comedy, and signature ear tug entertained the nation.
"The Carol Burnett Show" was cited as one of the best sketch-comedy TV shows by Rolling Stone in 2020.

#2 Betty White

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Dubbed "The First Lady of Television", Betty White changed the world of Television with her firsts and successes during her 80-plus-year career. She was the first woman to produce a national TV show and to star in a sitcom.
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). She also earned numerous awards and nominations throughout her career.

#3 Lucille Ball

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Lucille Ball changed the world of television many times over. She was a trailblazer in comedy. She helped invent syndication and "I Love Lucy", the first comedy she starred in, was filmed on tape, rather than being broadcast live.
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. The couple cofound Desilu Productions in 1950. When they divorced in 1960, Ball bought the company from him in 1962 and became the first woman to own and run a major television production company.

#4 Donna Reed

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Donna Reed was known as the first actress and female character to be the lead in a married dynamic on the family sitcom "The Donna Reed Show" (1958-1966).
Reed was an award-winner actress before she had her own TV show and she helped develop the series.

#5 Cicely Tyson

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With her role as a social worker's secretary in the TV drama in "East Side/West Side" (1963-1964), Cicely Tyson was the first Black actress to have a continuing role in a TV drama.
The actress also pledged not to take stereotypical parts. 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,".

#6 Mary Kay Stearns

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Mary Kay Stearns and her husband, Johnny Stearns starred in "Mary Kay and Johnny" (1947-1950), the first ever sitcom broadcast on network television. Stearns was pregnant in 1948 while on the show, and she had her pregnancy written into storyline on network television.

#7 Diahann Carroll

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Diahann Carroll was one of the first actresses to play a single mother on TV. She played a nurse, widow, and single mother on "Julia" (1968-1971). This role earned her a Golden Globe in 1969.

#8 Alfre Woodard

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Alfre Woodard was the first actress to play a Black female US president on TV in "State of Affairs" (2014-2015).

#9 Pauline Frederick

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Pauline Frederick paved a way for woman in the world of news with her firsts and successes. She was the first female full-time news correspondent on ABC and the first woman to moderate a presidential debate.

#10 Kerry Washington

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Kerry Washington portrayed Olivia Pope, a White House communications director, on the acclaimed political drama "Scandal" (2012-2018). This character is a breaking one as Washington was the first Black actress in 40 years to star as the lead of a drama. She also won her first BET Award for best actress for that role.

#11 Viola Davis

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Viola Davis is recognized for her work on the big screen, but the actress made great strides on TV, too. She played a lawyer and criminal law professor in "How to Get Away with Murder" (2014-2020).

#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 created "The View", a daytime talk show, to share more female voices.

#13 Marlo Thomas

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Before starring as Ann Marie in "That Girl" (1966-1971), Marlo Thomas had lived on her own, unmarried, and without children. Her real-life experience matched that of her character. The actress helped represent and normalize independent, single women.

#14 Mary Tyler Moore

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Mary Tyler Moore was a role model for women entering the workforce in the '70s, having career orientation, wearing pants, and understanding birth control.

#15 Mary Tyler Moore

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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 first interracial kisses on TV.

#16 Roxie Roker

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Roxie Roker was best known for appearing in the "All in the Family" (1971-1979) spinoff series, "The Jeffersons" (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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Lynda Carter was the first woman to play female superheroes on her TV series "Wonder Woman."

#18 Bea Arthur

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Bea Arthur became an icon for the feminist movement. She used comedy to tackle feminist topics.
Arthur's lead character, Maude, on the sitcom "Maude" (1972-1978) became pregnant at 47 years old when she was already a grandmother. Over the course of the two-part episode, Maude decided to go through with an abortion.

#19 Candice Bergen

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Candice Bergen's character on "Murphy Brown" (1988-1998) decided to raise her child on her own. And this gained attention from Vice President Dan Quayle.
"It doesn't help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice."

#20 Katie Couric

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In 2006, Katie Couric made TV history when she became became the first female newscaster to be a solo anchor for an evening news broadcast, "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" (2006-2011).
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