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The greatest characters ever: Groundbreakers

Emmy Commemorative 2012

Julia Baker was much more than an attractive young nurse in the 1960s with a boy to raise. She was an African-American whom millions of viewers could see each week as the star of her own story. It began a throughline one can follow all the way to Betty Suarez: young, vibrant, Hispanic, and ready to take on the fashion world despite not looking like a cover girl.

Single women with goals became TV milestones of the ’60s, as aspiring actress — and forever temp — Ann Marie proved with fashionable joie de vivre. By the time wry Mary Richards rolled into Minneapolis at decade’s end, having broken off an engagement and eager to start anew, viewers were ready for the joys and exasperations of a career woman (with spunk). Hers was a story one might imagine steadfast advertising copywriter Peggy Olson tuning in to week after week, thinking, “Finally — someone gets me. I live, and I work.”

Wives no longer had to be bromide-spouting homemakers, either, as outspoken Maude Findlay and Roseanne Connor showed. Though representative of different classes, they were passionate feminists, and leaders of their respective homes.

Newsmagazine star Murphy Brown embodied the heights successful women could achieve, but also — in getting admonished by a vice president for deciding to raise a child alone — how far there still was to go. And when bookstore owner Ellen Morgan told the world she was gay, another key barrier to a more expansive TV worldview was busted.

Carrie Bradshaw and Ally McBeal, meanwhile, led the way at being single, searching professionals with unapologetic sex lives, and sometimes farcical mishaps. But they showed that sometimes breaking ground isn’t about anything more than being who you are, warts and all.

Emmy Commemorative 2012
Critic says ‘MASH’ top show of character
Anti-heroes | At your service | Authorities | Crimesolvers | Father Figures | Goundbreakers | Height of Hijinx | Heroes | Inseparable Duos | Journeyers | Ones of a kind

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