40 groundbreaking women who changed the world of television

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  • Women have broken barriers and changed the TV landscape through many firsts and iconic roles.

  • Stars like Sandra Oh, Laverne Cox, and Quinta Brunson are helping increase representation on TV.

  • From leading dramas to solo anchoring the news, these women changed history.

If the idea of someone holding the title of "first to..." in 2024 seems far-fetched, think again.

Despite being over two decades into the 21st century, American society is still reaching new milestones for the representation of women in entertainment, especially in television.

In the last 10 years alone, we've seen Quinta Brunson become the first Black woman to receive three Emmy nominations for comedy, Jodie Whittaker become the first female Doctor on "Doctor Who," and Sandra Oh become the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe for best leading TV actress.

And in January 2024, Ali Wong became the first Asian woman to ever win an Emmy for a leading role.

Despite this progress, there are still so many more firsts to come. So, in celebration of Women's History Month, here's a list of 40 groundbreaking women's contributions to television history.

Betty White was dubbed "The First Lady of Television" and had an 80-plus-year career.

Betty White next to a camera
Betty White on the set of "The Betty White Show," which aired from 1953 to 1955.NBC/Getty

Known as the "first lady of television" and "queen of the small screen," Betty White made her debut in 1939. She was the first woman to produce a national TV show and to star in a sitcom, both for her variety show, "Life with Elizabeth" (1953-1955). She was also one of the first women to be nominated for an Emmy.

She's best known for her roles on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-1977) and "The Golden Girls" (1985-1992), both of which earned her Emmys. She made many appearances on game shows and even hosted a few including "Just Men!" (1983); White became the first woman to win an Emmy for outstanding game show host.

She won another Emmy for her episode of "Saturday Night Live" in 2010 where she hosted and drew in over 12 million viewers. She then won a Guinness World Record for having the longest TV career as a female entertainer, spanning around 80 years.

After passing on December 31, 2021, White's legacy lives on, especially through the many female TV entertainers she's influenced and inspired.

Carol Burnett broke into comedy when it was dominated by men, and her variety show entertained the nation.

Black and white photo of Carol Burnett sitting on stage surrounded by a laughing audience.
Carol Burnett interacting with the audience on "The Carol Burnett Show" on April 5, 1968.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

"The Carol Burnett Show" (1967-1978) was a variety and comedy series that featured Burnett and other comedians performing various sketches. Her infectious presence, slapstick comedy, and signature ear tug were favorites across the nation. It was cited as one of the best sketch-comedy TV shows by Rolling Stone in 2020.

Burnett had a pool of entertainers from Betty White to Lucille Ball to Cher to Sammy Davis Jr. guest star on her show.

Her contributions to comedy and TV have been so great that the Golden Globes created the Carol Burnett award in 2018, which has been given to Burnett, Ellen DeGeneres, Norman Lear, and Ryan Murphy.

Mary Kay Stearns was the first actress to have her pregnancy written into her storyline on network television.

Black and white photo of Johnny Stearns, Mary Kay Stears, and their baby on set.
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns and their baby in character on the sitcom "Mary Kay and Johnny," which ran between 1947 and 1950.CBS/IMDb

The first ever sitcom broadcast on network television was "Mary Kay and Johnny" (1947-1950) and starred real-life couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns. They were the first small-screen married couple to share a bed, which was taboo and uncommon, and wasn't seen more consistently for another decade.

In 1948, Stearns was pregnant, so it was written into the show, making her the first onscreen pregnant character.

Stearns died in 2018 at the age of 93.

Lucille Ball was a trailblazer in comedy, had her pregnancy and birth be a major television event, and was the first woman to own a production company.

Lucille Ball holding baby Richard Lee Simmons
Lucille Ball in character and holding Little Ricky Jr. played by twins, Richard and Ronald Lee Simmons on "I Love Lucy."CBS/Getty Images

From her start on the comedy "I Love Lucy" (1951-1957), Lucille Ball, who died in 1989, changed the world of television many times over. When "I Love Lucy" premiered, she advocated for her Cuban husband, Desi Arnaz, amidst the racist mentalities surrounding interracial relationships.

The real-life and on-screen couple 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. Ball even helped invent syndication and was successful with "I Love Lucy" being filmed on tape, rather than being broadcast live.

Ball made TV history (similar to Mary Kay Stearns) with her second pregnancy being written into her character's storyline. In 1953, the subject almost wasn't allowed on TV, and the word "pregnancy" wasn't used either. The episode where the character gave birth was also aired the same night the actress actually gave birth, and a record-breaking near 72% of homes with television sets tuned in to watch, reported MeTV.

After co-founding Desilu Productions in 1950, divorcing Arnaz in 1960, and buying the company from him in 1962, Ball became the first woman to own and run a major television production company. It went on to produce "The Lucy Show" (1962-1968), "Star Trek" (1966-1969), and "Mission: Impossible" (1966-1973).

Donna Reed was the first actress and female character to be the lead in a married dynamic on a family sitcom.

Donna Reed and her TV family sitting on set in a living room with Donna in a chair in the middle of them.
Donna Reed and her TV family in a promo for "The Donna Reed Show" on August 28, 1964.ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

While "I Love Lucy" primarily focused on the wife in the married duo, "The Donna Reed Show" (1958-1966) was the first family sitcom to do the same.

Donna Reed, who lived until 1986, was an Academy Award winner before she had her own TV show and she helped develop the series. Reed's impact of placing the focus on the wife rather than the husband, and touching on controversial and important topics like women's rights, was all groundbreaking during the 1950s.

Roxie Roker was part of an interracial couple on TV in "The Jeffersons" when it was still controversial.

Portrait of Franklin and Roxie.
Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker pictured in character for the premiere of "The Jeffersons" on January 18, 1975.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Roker, who died in 1995, played neighbor Hellen Willis in the "All in the Family" (1971-1979) spinoff series, "The Jeffersons" (1975-1985). The Black actress was married to a white man on the show (and also in real life), making her part of the first black and white interracial couple on TV.

This came at a time when there were still strong prejudices against interracial relationships. But Helen and Willis were a strong and positive representation of what love could look like.

Nichelle Nichols had one of the first interracial kisses on TV in "Star Trek" in 1967.

Nichelle in a red dress uniform and William in a green shirt universe. Both are at a control panel.
Nichelle Nichols as Uhura and William Shatner as Captain Kirk on an episode of "Star Trek" broadcast in 1967.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

One of the first and most significant interracial kisses on TV was on "Star Trek" (1966-1969). In 1967, on an episode entitled "Plato's Stepchildren," Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) kisses Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).

Although interracial kisses had been seen between white and Asian characters on TV, this was the first with a white man and Black woman. Nichols made history, first breaking the typecast for Black actresses and second for being part of this significant kiss and moment in TV history. She died in 2022 at the age of 89.

Early in Marlo Thomas' career, she was the first lead whose character was single, living on her own, and without children to be portrayed on TV.

Black and white photo of Marlo smiling.
Marlo Thomas in character on the set of "That Girl" in an episode aired on September 8, 1966.ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

The first sitcom to focus on a female lead who was single was "That Girl" (1966-1971). Living on her own, unmarried, and without children, actress Marlo Thomas' real-life experience matched that of her character, Ann Marie.

Despite few women being leads on TV before this, they were typically wives and mothers. Thomas helped represent and normalize independent, single women.

Mary Tyler Moore destigmatized single career-oriented women, wearing pants, and birth control.

Mary on the phone and typing in an office with a surprised expression.
A still taken from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the early 1970s.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Although Lucille Ball wore pants in prior years, Moore's character wore them frequently on TV.

"I had Laura wear pants, because I said, 'Women don't wear full-skirted dresses to vacuum in,'" Moore told TV Guide in 2004 of her role on Van Dyke's show (1961-1966).

Sponsors found issue with her pants, though, because of how snug they were, reported MeTV. She was first limited to wearing them in one scene per episode and required further approval. But quickly, capri pants became her signature, opening the door for more women on TV to wear pants.

Her most notable contributions to TV though were through her role as Mary Richards on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-1977). A single, 30-something-year-old woman who was career-oriented and freely dated, Moore's character was distinctly different from the typical TV housewife role.

She was a role model for women entering the workforce in the '70s. She was also sex-positive, something that wasn't highly represented. In one episode, it was likely the first time birth control was mentioned on television, with Richards' mother telling her, "Don't forget to take your pill." She died in 2017 at the age of 80.

Candice Bergen's Murphy Brown gained attention from the vice president when the character decided to raise her child on her own.

Candice opening a box for her baby son who's sitting on the couch.
Candice Bergen in character on "Murphy Brown" with son Avery, broadcast on November 14, 1988.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

On "Murphy Brown" (1988-1998), Candice Bergen's character decided to raise her child as a single mother in the 1992 season finale. This caused a debate that even drew in Vice President Dan Quayle for comment.

On May 19, 1992, Quayle delivered a speech during his re-election campaign with George W. Bush, where he added, "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."

This turned Quayle into the butt of the joke and only heightened Bergen's profile. After already winning two Emmys for her role, Bergen won a third after the pregnancy episode and after Quayle's speech — the actress sarcastically thanked him as she accepted the award.

Bea Arthur used comedy to tackle feminist topics.

Bea in a colorful blouse and holding up her finger to the camera.
Bea Arthur poses for a portrait in 1972, before starring in "Maude," which aired from 1972 to 1978.Martin Mills/Getty Images

It's not a shock that in 1972, a year before Roe v. Wade was decided, abortion was a highly sensitive and controversial topic, especially to be discussed on TV. So, on the sitcom "Maude" (1972-1978), when Bea Arthur's lead character became pregnant at 47 years old when she was already a grandmother, an abortion storyline was highly taboo.

Over the course of the two-part episode, Maude decided to go through with an abortion. This sparked protest. But it also made Arthur an icon for the feminist movement.

Arthur, who died in 2009, continued to take roles that defied societal and gender norms and ageism, and that touched on feminist topics, most notably as Dorothy in "Golden Girls" (1985-1992).

Cicely Tyson was the first Black actress to have a continuing role in a TV drama and pledged not to take stereotypical parts.

Black and white photo of Cicely writing on papers on a filing cabinet.
Cicely Tyson in character in an episode "East Side/West Side" on October 18, 1963.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Tyson became the first Black woman to star in a TV drama in "East Side/West Side" (1963-1964). She played a social worker's secretary. While her character's job wasn't revolutionary for women, her representation was revolutionary for Black women. Tyson is also said to be one of the first Black women to wear her natural hair on TV.

She told Parade magazine in 1972 that she refused to play a drug addict or a maid, according to the National Portrait Gallery.

"I won't play that kind of characterless role any more, even if I have to go back to starving," Tyson said.

The trailblazer passed away at 96 years old on January 28, 2021.

Diahann Carroll was one of the first actresses to play a single mother on TV and was the first Black actress to win a Golden Globe.

Black and white photo of Diahann in a nurses costume/uniform.
Diahann Caroll in a promotional photo for "Julia," taken in 1968.NBC Television/Getty Images

Diahann Carroll was the first Black female lead on TV in a non-stereotypical role. On "Julia" (1968-1971), Carroll was a nurse, widow, and single mother. Single mothers weren't typically represented on TV, so her role broke boundaries.

Carroll, who died in 2019 at the age of 84, was one of the first Black actresses nominated for an Emmy for another role in 1963. Carroll then became the first Black actress to win a Golden Globe for her performance in "Julia" in 1969.

In 1983, Debbie Allen became the first Black woman to win a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series — musical or comedy.

Debbie Allen poses as her "Fame" character, Lydia Grant.
Debbie Allen poses as her "Fame" character, Lydia Grant.Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

The legendary choreographer, actor, director, and producer starred as Lydia Grant in the film and television adaptation of "Fame," which ran from 1982-1987.

While appearing on the show, Allen became the first Black woman to win a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series — musical or comedy in 1983, an award that wouldn't belong to a Black woman again until 34 years later when Tracee Ellis Ross won for her role in "Black-ish."

She also served as the show's lead choreographer, winning two Emmys for outstanding achievement in choreography in 1982 and 1983, respectively, and later became its director.

Allen's career has progressed to include a large range of acting, directing, producing, and choreography credits which range from projects like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Insecure" to "Dolly Parton's Christmas On The Square."

Allen has won a total of five Emmys, receiving a total of 21 nominations, reported Emmys.com.

Some of her other achievements include five NAACP Image Awards, four honorary doctorate degrees, one of which came from her alma mater Howard University; entry to the Television Academy Hall of Fame, a Governors Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pauline Frederick was the first female full-time news correspondent on ABC and the first woman to moderate a presidential debate.

Black and white photo of Pauline reading a paper with headphones and speaking into a microphone.
Pauline Frederick covering the 1948 presidential election results for ABC.Graphic House/Getty Images

Frederick, who died in 1990, had many significant firsts in her career and made impactful differences in the world of news for women. In 1948, she became the first full-time female news correspondent on ABC. This early success broke ground for other newscasters. She went on to work for NBC, where she covered the United Nations for 21 years.

In 1976 she made history again when she was the first woman to moderate a televised presidential debate. This transformative moment was for Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford's campaigns.

Barbara Walters was the first female co-anchor on ABC and created "The View" to share more female voices.

Barbara Walters sitting on a couch and interviewing a man.
Barbara Walters interviewing the Shah of Iran on ABC's "Issues and Answers" in 1978.ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

After writing and producing women's interest stories on the "Today" show (1952-present), Walters became its first female co-anchor in 1974. She also became the first female co-anchor for ABC's "Evening News" in 1976.

She created the daytime talk show "The View" in 1997, which gives other female voices a platform and is still on the air. Walters' popularity with viewers and interviewees furthered her success. She also appeared on other shows like "World News Tonight" and "20/20" until her retirement in 2014.

In 2022, she died at the age of 93.

In 2006, Katie Couric became the first female newscaster to be a solo anchor on network TV.

Katie Couric smiling and waving to fans.
Katie Couric makes her final appearance on the NBC "Today" on May 31, 2006, to become the anchor of the "CBS Evening News."Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Couric made TV history when she became the first woman to be a solo anchor for an evening news broadcast. Following in the steps of Barbara Walters, Couric co-anchored for years before taking the helm in 2006 with "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" (2006-2011).

Oprah Winfrey was the first woman to own, produce, and host her own talk show.

Oprah in a red and black coat and dress holding an Emmy award.
Oprah Winfrey at the 14th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on June 30, 1987, where she won for outstanding talk show for the first time.Ron Galella/Getty Images

Not many are known worldwide by their first name alone or are as successful or as influential as the one and only: Oprah. Winfrey was the first woman to own, produce, and host her own talk show with "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (1986-2011). In 1987, she won the Daytime Emmy for outstanding talk show, an award she'd win three more times throughout her career.

Prior to this, Winfrey was a news anchor, but her talk show made her a celebrity and icon. Its success revolutionized talk shows, transformed television, and helped her create an empire.

Winfrey started her own TV network, OWN, in 2011.


Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay on her sitcom, making waves before she hosted a successful talk show.

Ellen and Laura sitting cross-legged on a couch.
Ellen Degeneres and Laura Dern on the set of "Ellen" during "The Puppy Episode," broadcast on April 30, 1997.ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

DeGeneres' character on the sitcom "Ellen" (1994-1998) came out as gay in 1997. She was the first actress to do this, and the coming out was also in sync with DeGeneres' real-life announcement of her sexuality, which was shared on an iconic Time magazine cover on April 14, 1997.

"The Puppy Episode," where she came out, aired on April 30, but it caused a stir among conservative organizations and sponsors before it was even broadcast. The groundbreaking two-part episode became a phenomenon, though, with an outstanding number of views.

However, "Ellen" had "parental advisory" warnings on the following episodes and was canceled after its fifth season in 1998. Both DeGeneres and Laura Dern, who guest-starred on "The Puppy Episode," couldn't find work for a couple of years after the episode.

DeGeneres had a revival and new phase of her successful TV career, though, with her popular talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" (2003-2022). She's beloved by audiences and uses the tagline "be kind to one another," although accusations by guests and crew members in 2020 painted a less-than-kind picture of the host. In a letter to staff that July, DeGeneres said she was "disappointed to learn" that people working for her did not feel happy or respected.

The show ended in 2022  after running for 19 seasons.

Kerry Washington was the first Black actress in 40 years to star as the lead of a drama with "Scandal."

Kerry in a suit sitting on a desk.
Promotional photo of Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in "Scandal" for the first season.Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

Washington played Olivia Pope, a White House communications director, on the acclaimed political drama "Scandal" (2012-2018). She was the first female Black lead in a network TV series since 1974, when Tessa Graves played a police officer on "Get Christie Love!"

Washington's performance and presence helped bring back the importance of giving and seeing Black women in multidimensional lead roles. Washington won her first BET Award for best actress in 2013 for her role.

Viola Davis proved that a woman's age and the color of her skin don't dictate what type of characters she can portray.

Viola speaking in a court room.
Viola Davis in character on "How to Get Away with Murder" during the third season.Mitch Haaseth/Getty Images

While Viola Davis is perhaps best known for her work on the big screen, she made great strides on TV, too. Starting at the age of 49, Viola Davis played the role of a lawyer and criminal law professor in "How to Get Away with Murder" (2014-2020).

Davis became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series in 2015.

In 2018, Davis' "How to Get Away with Murder" and Kerry Washington's "Scandal" had a monumental crossover episode, bringing two powerhouse actresses and characters together .

Davis has received an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, an Oscar, and a Tony Award.

Alfre Woodard was the first actress to play a Black female US president on TV.

Alfre in a gown on the red carpet.
Alfre Woodard attends the 86th Annual Oscars on March 2, 2014, in Hollywood, California.Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Alfre Woodard was the first Black actress to play a US president on TV in "State of Affairs" (2014-2015). Her role mimicked actual possibilities and her real-life experience of previously working in politics.

Lynda Carter played one of the first female superheroes on her TV series "Wonder Woman."

Lynda dressed in an American flag corset and short costume with a crown and lasso.
Lynda Carter pictured dressed in character for the pilot episode of "Wonder Woman" on November 7, 1975.ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Cathy Lee Crosby was the first woman to play Wonder Woman in a TV movie of the same name.

Lynda Carter became the next interpretation of the superhero, swapping her 1972 Miss World USA crown for another in her role as Wonder Woman on the eponymous live-action TV series (1975-1979). Carter is one of the most iconic actresses who has played the part, with the role not having a new face until 2017 with Gal Gadot.

After appearing in a post-credits scene in Gadot's "Wonder Woman: 1984," Carter is set to star in the third upcoming film.

Jodie Whittaker became the 13th person to play the Doctor in "Doctor Who," but she was only the first woman to play the role.

Poster of Jodie in the center in a bright blue costume holding a wand and with her castmates in the background.
Promotional poster for Season 12 of "Doctor Who" which debuted January 1, 2020.BBC/IMDb

Whittaker made TV and franchise history when she became the first female Doctor on the TV series in 2017. As the 13th regeneration of the iconic character, Whittaker replaced white male actors who famously played the role prior.

Her episode debut brought in the biggest "Doctor Who" audience in over a decade, with 8.2 million viewers, according to Bustle. She quickly became a fan-favorite.

Whittaker helped design her character's costume and decided to make it comfortable and gender non-specific, specifically with fans in mind, according to an interview with Radio Times.

She left the series in 2022.

Nicole Maines, a transgender actress, was the first to play a transgender superhero. She starred in CW's "Supergirl."

Nicole in front of a Comic-Con backdrop.
Nicole Maines at the "Supergirl" special and Q&A during Comic-Con on July 21, 2018, in San Diego, California.Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Much like the early female superhero trailblazers, modern transgender actresses also helped pave the way for Maines, the first transgender superhero on TV. Maines played reporter-turned-superhero Dreamer on CW's "Supergirl" (2015-2021), breaking more boundaries for the trans community.

Before this contribution to the superhero universe and as a role model for young people, Maines was also in documentaries about the trans experience.

"I've been doing a lot of auditions lately because a lot of different shows have been really eager to tell the story of transgender people," Maines said at Comic-Con in 2018.


Candis Cayne was the first openly transgender actress who played a recurring role on prime-time TV as a transgender character.

William and Candis posing at the event.
William Baldwin and Candis Cayne at the Advocate Magazine 40th Anniversary Party on September 18, 2007, in West Hollywood, California.Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

In 2007, Cayne played a transgender mistress on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," which was groundbreaking because she was an LGBTQ+ actress playing an LGBTQ+ character, rather than a cis actor playing a transgender person. It set the landscape for more transgender actors to be hired for meaningful roles.

Cayne didn't realize the impact of her presence on TV until the 2017 GLAAD Media Awards when a scene of hers was played and the audience erupted in applause.

"That was the first time I realized, 'Yeah, this is a lot more than me just getting a gig. This is moving our community forward.' So it was impactful, finally, in that moment," Cayne told "Today" in 2021.

Laverne Cox changed the TV landscape and opened doors for more transgender actresses after her role in "Orange Is the New Black."

Laverne in a blue mesh gown in front of a backdrop.
Laverne Cox attending the amfAR Inspiration Gala on June 10, 2014, in New York City.Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Cox is one of the figureheads of the transgender community because of her contributions to entertainment and transgender representation and activism during her career. She's best known for her role as inmate Sophie on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" (2013-2019). Cox was the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy in 2014, and she banked three nominations throughout the show's run.

She executive-produced the TV special "Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word" and won a Daytime Emmy for it in 2015, becoming the first transgender woman to win the award.

And in 2016, she played Frank N. Furter (a part originally played by a cis actor, Tim Curry) in the TV special remake "The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again."

Cox has appeared in multiple comedy and drama shows and was most recently in Netflix's "Inventing Anna" (2022).

In 2022, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez became the first transgender actress to win a Golden Globe.

Mj Rodriguez at the Golden Globes wearing an off-the-shoulder dress
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez attending the HFPA And THR Golden Globe Ambassador Party on November 14, 2019, in West Hollywood, California.Leon Bennett/WireImage/Getty Images

Rodriguez appeared in shows like "Nurse Jackie" and "The Carrie Diaries" before her big role in "Pose" (2018-2021).

"Pose" follows the stories of drag performers and transgender people during the ballroom scene in the '80s and '90s. Its cast is predominantly made up of LGBTQ+ actors, including Billy Porter, Rodriguez, Indya Moore, and Dominique Jackson.

Rodriguez was nominated for an Emmy in 2021, and in 2022 she became the first transgender person to win a Golden Globe.

In 2019, Sandra Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to win the Golden Globe for best leading TV actress.

Sandra being interview next to a large poster for the show.
Sandra Oh doing press for "Killing Eve" on Build Series on April 5, 2018.Noam Galai/Getty Images

Oh is best known for her 10-year-arc playing Dr. Cristina Yang on "Grey's Anatomy" (2005-present). She also plays MI5 security officer Eve Polastri on "Killing Eve" (2018-2022).

Oh was the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy for lead drama actress for "Killing Eve" in 2018. She was also the first Asian woman to host the Golden Globes in 2019, and ultimately became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for best actress at that same ceremony.

"I don't think I can explain to you how profound I feel it meant to not only myself and my parents, but for a lot of people in my community," Oh said of her win to USA Today in 2019.

Ali Wong is the first Asian woman to win an Emmy for a leading role.

Ali Wong poses with her awards at the 75th Emmy Awards in 2024.
Ali Wong poses with her awards at the 75th Emmy Awards in 2024.ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Best known for Netflix comedy specials like "Baby Cobra" and "Hard Knock Wife," Ali Wong has gracefully ventured into acting with roles in romantic comedy "Always Be My Maybe" and award-winning dark comedy "Beef."

Created by Lee Sung Jin, "Beef" followed the chaos that ensued between characters Amy Lau (Wong) and Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) after a road-rage incident and was hailed for its complex portrayals of anger by The New York Times' television critic James Poniewozik.

Wong's performance was full of emotion from start to finish, and with it, she became the first Asian woman to win a Primetime Emmy award for a leading role, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. (Sandra Oh previously won an Emmy in a supporting role).

Wong won the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie; and as an executive producer on the show, she brought home the Emmy for best limited series, too.

She also made history as the first Asian actress to win the Golden Globe for best actress in a limited series, reported CNN.

In 2013, Adrienne Bailon-Houghton became the first Latina to host a daytime talk show in the US.

Adrienne Bailon-Houghton attends the 2019 E! People's Choice Awards.
Adrienne Bailon-Houghton attends the 2019 E! People's Choice Awards.Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage

The 3LW and "Cheetah Girls" alum joined the cast of daytime talk show "The Real" in 2013.

In 2018, Bailon-Houghton won the Daytime Emmy award for outstanding entertainment talk show host alongside her co-stars, Loni Love, Jeannie Mai (now known as Jeannie Mai Jenkins), and Tamera Mowry-Housley.

Houghton told OprahMag.com later that year, "We recognize that we are four women of color on television every day, speaking to an audience that includes so many women of color. We have an opportunity to make a difference in history — in the way women of color are viewed. We're in an era where this really matters, and we don't ever want to take that for granted."

After "The Real" was canceled in 2022, Bailon-Houghton worked as co-anchor for "E! News" until late 2023. She also runs her own fashion and accessories brand, La Voûte.

America Ferrera is the first Latina to win an Emmy for a leading role.

America Ferrera at the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
America Ferrera at the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.Lionel Hahn/Contributor/Getty Images

While Ferrera's been in the headlines recently for her Oscar nomination for "Barbie," the industry veteran began her career over 20 years ago, appearing in projects like "Real Women Have Curves," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Ugly Betty," and "Superstore."

In 2007, she made history as the first Latina to win a Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for her role as Betty Suarez in "Ugly Betty," E! News reported. The same year, she also won a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series — musical or comedy and a SAG award.

During her Golden Globes speech, Ferrera said, "Thank you to the Hollywood Foreign Press for recognizing the show and this character who is truly bringing a new face to television and such a beautiful message about beauty that lies deeper than what we see."

Ferrera has been vocal about diversity, or the lack thereof, in the industry throughout her career. In a 2024 interview with The New York Times she said it brings her no joy to be the only Latina to win an Emmy in a lead category and that she hopes Latinos can have more opportunities throughout the industry.

"There's a lot out there that is very transactional in terms of checking boxes to claim diversity," she said.

Of starring in "Barbie," she added, "One of the most exciting things to me about the movie was, as a Latina woman, being invited to be a part of something so adventerous and joyful and fun. Gloria is Latina, but being Latina was not her reason for being in this story."

Mindy Kaling has been an influential figure in improving the representation of women of color on-screen.

Mindy Kaling at the HBO Max & Phenomenal Media celebration of "Sex Lives of College Girls" season 2.
Mindy Kaling at the HBO Max & Phenomenal Media celebration of "Sex Lives of College Girls" season 2.Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for HBO Max & Phenomenal Media

At only 24 years old, Kaling became a staff writer on "The Office," where she was the only woman and person of color on the team. She also starred on the show as Kelly Kapoor.

In an interview with Elle in 2019, Kaling recalled how in order to receive a nomination for outstanding comedy series, the Television Academy required her to "fill out a whole form and write an essay about all my contributions as a writer and a producer," she said. "I had to get letters from all the other male, white producers saying that I had contributed, when my actual record stood for itself."

The Television Academy had originally stated that the show had too many producers to credit, but with her efforts, her name was included in the official nomination.

Kaling went on to become the "first woman of color to create, write, and star in a primetime sitcom" with "The Mindy Project," which aired from 2012 to 2017, reported Elle.

In recent years, Kaling has produced hit Netflix show "Never Have I Ever," Hulu's "Four Weddings and a Funeral" series, and HBO's "Sex Lives of College Girls."

She also runs her own production company, Kaling International.

Quinta Brunson is a trailblazer for Black women in comedy, having become the first Black woman to have received three Emmy nominations in the comedy category.

Quinta Brunson, winner of Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for “Abbott Elementary, poses in the press room during the 74th Primetime Emmys at Microsoft Theater on September 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Quinta Brunson at the 2022 Primetime Emmys.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

As the creator, executive producer, and lead in "Abbott Elementary," Brunson's 2022 Emmy nominations included outstanding comedy series, lead actress in a comedy, and writing for a comedy series.

In a 2022 interview with The New York Times, Brunson talked about what sets "Abbott Elementary" apart from other network TV sitcoms.

"There have been recent sitcoms — 'Black-ish,' 'Fresh Off the Boat' — really good sitcoms, but my generation was starting to get tired of race as the only focal point," she said. "The white shows got to just be white, but a lot of the shows with people of color were about the color of the people and not about stories of the people. So 'Abbott' also feels like a shift in that way."

In 2019, she also starred in the first season of HBO's "A Black Lady Sketch Show" — the first sketch comedy series written by, directed by, and starring Black women.

Jung Ho-yeon starred in the first non-English-language television series to win at the Screen Actors Guild awards, "Squid Game."

HoYeon Jung poses with her Screen Actors Guild Award in 2022.
Jung Ho-yeon poses with her Screen Actors Guild Award in 2022.Gilbert Flores/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

Korean actress and model Jung Ho-yeon made history at the 2022 SAG awards when she won outstanding performance by a female actor in a drama series for her performance as Kang Sae-byeok in Netflix's "Squid Game."

Her win, along with that of co-star Lee Jung-Jae, made "Squid Game" the first non-English-language television series to win at the SAG awards, reported Vanity Fair.

The show marked Jung Ho-yeon's acting debut, and became Netflix's most popular TV show release to date, drawing 1.65 billion watch hours in its first four weeks, Netflix reported.

Zendaya's performance as Rue in "Euphoria" led her to become the first Black actress to win the Emmy award for outstanding lead actress twice.

Zendaya attends the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on February 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Zendaya attends the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on February 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

At the 2020 Emmy Awards, Zendaya made history when she won the award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her role in "Euphoria." In 2022, she won the award again. In addition to being the second Black actress to win this award, and the first Black actress to win the award twice, she is also the youngest woman to have won the award.

Rue, Zendaya's character on "Euphoria," has been recognized for providing representation to those struggling with drug addiction. A CNN opinion article discussed the groundbreaking nature of the character, stating, "Most people do not know what a young Black woman experiencing addiction looks like because we are not used to seeing Black women publicly battling anything."

In 2022, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of the year, calling her an "autonomous creative force" and "a cultural icon in the making."

"I May Destroy You" star Michaela Coel was the first Black woman to win the Emmy for outstanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special.

Michaela Coel with her award at the 2021 Emmy Awards.
Michaela Coel with her award at the 2021 Emmy Awards.Cliff Lipson/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

Inspired by her own experience with sexual assault, Michaela Coel created, wrote, produced, co-directed, and starred in the critically aclaimed show "I May Destroy You" in 2020.

That same year, she was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People, with Lena Waithe writing, "Usually, with Black women protagonists, everyone's mission is to make you like or root for them. But Michaela shows us that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. She reminds me that the only person who can destroy me is myself. She's showing us a piece of ourselves that is rarely captured onscreen."

In 2021, Coel became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for oustanding writing for a limited series, movie, or dramatic special, dedicating the story to "every single survivor of sexual assault," Business Insider reported at the time.

Coel has also starred in "Chewing Gum," "Black Mirror," and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever." Her most recent role was as a guest star in the 2024 television adaptation of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most awarded actresses in television history.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the 71st Emmy Awards in 2019.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the 71st Emmy Awards in 2019.David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Louis-Dreyfus began her career in 1982 when she joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" at just 21 years old, reported People.

But the role that truly made her stand out was that of Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld," which aired from 1990 to 1998 and also starred Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards. In 1996, she won her first Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.

Louis-Dreyfus has gone on to win 10 more Emmys, nine of which came from her work on "Veep," in which she starred as lead Selina Meyer and served as an executive producer throughout its run from 2012 to 2019.

While on "Veep," she won a record-breaking six consecutive Primetime Emmy awards for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, becoming the actor with the most Emmy wins in a singular role, Entertainment Weekly reported.

Throughout her career, Louis-Dreyfus has also won nine Screen Actors Guild awards and a Golden Globe.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2023, she talked about how younger generations are enjoying "Seinfeld" on Netflix.

"I mean, I gotta say, I just think funny is funny! It was superb writing and dare I say, a superb cast that supported the writing — and perhaps even elevated it sometimes," she said.

Mariska Hargitay plays the longest-running character in television history, Olivia Benson, on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

Mariska Hargitay attends the "Law & Order: SVU" 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2024.
Mariska Hargitay attends the "Law & Order: SVU" 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2024.Kristina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty Images

For 25 seasons, fans have listened to the iconic intro of "Law & Order: SVU" and watched as Mariska Hargitay embodied the role of Olivia Benson.

The show is the longest-running drama in American prime time television, with Hargitay's Benson becoming the longest running character ever on a prime-time drama series, People reported in 2024.

Two years prior, Hargitay spoke about Benson becoming the longest-running female character in television history in an appearance on "The Drew Barrymore Show."

"I feel very satisfied, sated, because I'm having I think more fun now than I ever have. So I feel grateful. I love my cast. I love them, they're like family now," she said. "I'm also mostly grateful that the show that's the longest running show on television is about believing victims and so that for me is the most rewarding thing."

Sarah Jessica Parker's "Sex and the City" character, Carrie Bradshaw, remains influential in our cultural landscape.

Sarah Jessica Parker holds her Emmy award in 2004.
Sarah Jessica Parker holds her Emmy award in 2004.Kevin Winter/Staff/Getty Images

"Are you more of a Carrie or a Miranda?" "Are you Team Big or Team Aidan?"

These are the kinds of questions that entered public conversation during and after the airing of "Sex and the City," the influential, albeit problematic, show about four women in their 30s and 40s navigating their careers, relationships, and friendships. The original series aired between 1998 and 2004.

Sarah Jessica Parker played main protagonist and narrator Carrie Bradshaw, a columnist who lived an unrealistically lavish life in New York City known for her prominent shoe collection and messy love life.

Parker won a total of six Golden Globes, four for best actress in a comedy series and two for best televison series — musical or comedy. She also won two Primetime Emmy awards and three Screen Actors Guild awards.

"Sex and the City" was groundbreaking in its open discussion of women's issues and sex, though it has since been criticized for its lack of diversity, with writer Hunter Harris describing the show as "simultaneously progressive and regressive, where people of color were either stereotypes or punchlines" in a 2018 article for Refinery29.

The show was rebooted in 2021 as "And Just Like That..." with Parker reprising her role as Carrie Bradshaw in a series that seemingly attempts to overcome the original version's shortcomings.

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