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The 10 Most Powerful Women Characters on Television Series

Updated on July 15, 2011

The 10 Most Powerful Women Characters on Television

I probably watch too much TV, but when I do, I enjoy shows that have strong female characters in either the lead or key supporting roles. I’ve handpicked my votes for “The 10 Most Powerful Women Characters on Television”. These are characters that are part of current, active shows on both network and cable TV.

There are a several dictionary definitions for the word “powerful”:

  • Having great power or force or potency or effect
  • Strong enough to knock down or overwhelm
  • Potent: having great influence

The women characters I’ve chosen have a mix of all three of these characteristics. When you watch them on their television series, there is something that impresses you about them and their roles. You feel like you can learn something by watching. They have something very unique and individual to offer. None of these women characters are victims.

After reading my list, let me know what you think. Did I miss any of the most powerful women on television? Disagree with my choices? Please add your thoughts in the comments section at the end.

Debra Morgan on Dexter
Debra Morgan on Dexter

1) Jennifer Carpenter as Debra Morgan on "Dexter"

Jennifer Carpenter plays Debra Morgan the sister of serial killer Dexter Morgan on the hit Showtime series, “Dexter”. I love Debra’s character. She plays an ultra feisty, passionate, dedicated and very effective detective in the homicide police unit. She's very partial to dropping F-Bombs and telling it like it is. She steals any scene that she stars in. Visit the Dexter website.

The Closer Season 6 Preview

2) Kyra Sedgwick, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh, on “The Closer”

Entering it fourth season, TNT’s television series “The Closer” stars Golden Globe winner, Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh. Brenda leads a special homicide unit assigned to the toughest cases and she is known for her “closing” abilities.

Often, female cops on television are made to look, dress and act in a very masculine way. Brenda maintains her femininity, yet is very effective in her leadership and detective role. The television audience agrees.. The season finale of season three drew nearly 10 million viewers which is a cable television record. Visit The Closer website.

Patty Hewes on Damagaes
Patty Hewes on Damagaes

3) Glenn Close as Patty Hewes on “Damages”

Actress Glenn Close plays high stakes litigator Patty Hewes on the legal thriller “Damages, Wednesdays on FX. Hewes runs her own private law firm and is a self-made millionaire.

She communicates with complete confidence and has been described as “cold and ruthless, silky and seductive" and someone who is equally skilled sweet talking as she is threatening her subjects. When she is on screen, you are completely engaged. Visit the Damages website.

Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactics
Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactics

4) Mary McDonnell, President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica

Mary McDonnell, best known for her role in the movie “Dances with Wolves” plays President of the 12 colonies, Laura Roslin, on the sci-fi hit show Battlestar Galactica. In season one, Roslin was introduced as the former Secretary of Education, who assumes the presidential post after everyone else in line, was killed. In addition to her presidential leadership role, Roslin has battled breast cancer off and on, from season one now into season four.

Roslin has been faced with tough decisions in her time as president as the star fleet searches for earth and battles the Cylons. And tough decisions about her own health. Overall.. very well done! Visit the Battlestar Galactica website.

5) Emily Deschanel as Dr. Temperance Brennan on “Bones”

On the Fox television show, “Bones”, Emily Deschanel stars as Dr. Temperance Brennan, a world famous forensic anthropologist. She works at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, DC, and writes novels as a side job.

Dr. Brennan partners with law enforcement to help identify bodies when the remains are basically- bones, hence the tv show name. She often intimidates or surprises others with her incredible intelligence (a genius), direct communication style, self-defense skills and her candid commentary about relationships. Visit the Bones website.

Meet Cherry Jones

6) Cherry Jones, President Allison Taylor on “24”

In the seventh season of the Fox series “24” Cherry Jones, plays newly elected President Allison Taylor.

So far, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen, In rooms filled with men, President Taylor speaks up for herself and the nation. She’s confident, articulate and powerful. Visit the "24" website.

7) Marg Helberger as Catherine Willows on “CSI”

Marg Helberger stars as Senior CSI Shift supervisor, Catherine Willows on the original “CSI” television series based in Las Vegas. She’s been on the series since the beginning and has been promoted from Crime Scene Investigator, to Supervisor, to Senior Supervisor. She is always calm, in control and knows exactly what to do in every crime scene situation. And, she balances her busy career with her family needs. (She’s a single mom.) Visit the CSI website.

Joan Holloway on “Mad Men”
Joan Holloway on “Mad Men”

8) Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway on “Mad Men”

Christina Hendricks plays Joan Holloway, the Office Manager for ad agency Sterling Cooper on the AMC television series “Mad Men”. She has incredible power over the office and over most of the men (and women) she comes in contact with. Always impeccably dressed, calm, cool and articulate- no matter what situation she’s in. Visit the Mad Men website.

9) Mary Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin on “Weeds”

Not the greatest role model, but a very powerful character- Mary Louise Parker plays drug dealer Mom, Nancy Botwin, on the Showtime series Weeds. She proves that you can look fantastic over 40. She is a major risk taker. And, she can talk herself out of (or into) almost any situation. Visit the Weeds website.

Watch The Best Of Liz Lemon

10) Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on “30 Rock”

The most powerful women characters on television list would not be complete without mentioning Tina Fey’s character, Head Writer Liz Lemon on NBC’s Emmy-award winning series, “30 Rock”.

Tina’s character is hilarious and it’s so much fun to watch her interacting with the other characters, especially her boss played by Alec Baldwin. Fey not only stars in the show, she’s also creator, writer and producer. Visit the 30 Rock Website.

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I hope you enjoyed my list of “The Ten Most Powerful Women Characters on Television”. Did I miss anyone? Disagree? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below!!

Copyright 2009, M. Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

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    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect?

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

      Hi Reynolds_W!  I think you nailed it with Brenda Leigh, Patty Hewes and Catherine Willows, I'm not familiar with the others, but given your choice of these three that I know, I guess the other 7 are also powerful characters :-)

      Here are some other powerful women characters in my opinion (in no particular order of powerfulness!):

      - Allison Janney as C. J. Cregg on The West Wing

      - Lisa Edelstein as Dr Cuddy on House

      - Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones on Sex and the City

      - Candice Bergen as Shirley Smith on Boston Legal.

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image
      Author

      Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Elena.. I completely agree with your adds!! I'll have to append my list with some honorable mentions for other women- especually for shows that are in syndication- ex. Sex & The City and West Wing. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Dan 8 years ago

      well done

    • profile image

      blackjack 8 years ago

      You left out Anna Paquin who played Suki in True Blood. She is my TOP choice as a female actress. Suki was sexy, honest, beautiful and shockingly impulsive.

      Your other choices are on target. This is a stimulating topic.

    • indy cindy profile image

      indy cindy 8 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

      The only one of these I watch is Dexter ... as I'm not all that much into TV ... but it's a great hub. It's nice to see powerful women getting a nod.

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image
      Author

      Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Blackjack.. I agree Ann should be here. She's is awesome in True Blood. Indy Cindy.. Thanks for stopping by. I agree- we need more promotion of powerful women!

    • goldentoad profile image

      goldentoad 8 years ago from Free and running....

      I'm a Dexter watcher and have to agree Debra Morgan is one badmamajama.

    • Robin Marie profile image

      Robin 8 years ago from USA

      Great choices and it's nice that there are so many powerful female characters on televison.

    • profile image

      8 years ago

      Damages is actually on Wednesday nights at 10pm on FX, not Friday.

    • truebloodnet profile image

      truebloodnet 8 years ago from South

      Hi everyone I agree with you guys on Anna Paquin. True Blood is a great show and Anna has been recognized with her Golden Globe win.

      http://truebloodnet.com

    • profile image

      toughchick 8 years ago

      All these characters are awesome, but lets not forget Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarah has the single-minded role of protecting her son for the future so that he can save the world from robots. Okay, it is not reality-based, but maybe it is just the actress, Lena Headly, who is really good at expressing the determination, resolve and lonliness of her situation without saying a word. Let's not forget her robot sidekick Cameron, who is also one tough chick. (Check out that actress (Summer Glau) as she takes out a gang of deadly Reavers in the movie Firefly. What a scene!)

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image
      Author

      Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I agree.. Sarah and her sidekick Cameron, both kick butt as well. If this was the "toughest" women on television, they'd be up towards the top. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Dobson profile image

      Dobson 6 years ago from Virginia

      I like this hub, especially about Brenda and Temperance. She is so believable as a super nerd.

    • profile image

      shoegal 6 years ago

      I agree with your selection ....I would have loved to see Beth Porter on the list- Jennifer Beale's character on The L Word

    • profile image

      richard 6 years ago

      sorry but Ziva on NCIS beats all of these... no contest

    • profile image

      suzyq9157 5 years ago

      I think Gemma on Sons of Anarchy is one of the strongest characters on U.S. television, and I think Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison on Prime Suspect in Britian is an extremely stong character.

    • smcopywrite profile image

      smcopywrite 5 years ago from all over the web

      when it comes to the women you have listed i must admit that i feel the most powerful is my girl from mad men. she finds herself at a time where power needed to be manipulated to be had and she certainly does a great job of it. i am not sure who writes for her character, but they have done a superb job of it. compared with her coherts from the last 20 years she shows the amount of intelligence it takes to get what you want in a mans world as a woman. voted up

    • profile image

      Character_name_correction 5 years ago

      *Bette Porter is the name of the character from the Showtime series The L Word. And that show is absolutely a gem, filled with a ton of strong and fantastic characters.

    • profile image

      Kate 5 years ago

      Sarah Walker from chuck and Buffy from Buffy the vampire slayer should definitely be on this list!!

    • profile image

      fictionfan18 5 years ago

      I think that both Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles from Rizzoli and Isles need to be added to this list!

    • profile image

      Test 5 years ago

      Test

    • profile image

      Noname 5 years ago

      President Laura Roslin was nothing but a drug addicted, bitchy, dictator on the re imagined series of BSG. She was a self absorbed, crack smoking, religious fanatic that was so delusional she couldn't possibly imagine anyone could do the job better than her.

      Not sure if she should be on your list or not. She is certainly 'powerful' as defined by your opening paragraph but your breakdown of her character in the countdown seems to imply shes on there because she was some sort of inspiration.

      So...in summation. Powerful drug addicted dictator yes. Put her at number one as far as powerful goes here.

      Inspirational woman who fought against breast cancer while defending the constitution of the Colonies? Hells no! She shouldn't be on here for this cause she didn't do it.

    • msorensson profile image

      msorensson 4 years ago

      I only watched 3 of the ten, and I agree with you. Great article.

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      You listed two of my favourite female characters - Catherine from CSI and Debra from Dexter. It's a pity that Catherine has now left CSI, but at least there's still Deb. Awesome selection of strong women! Voted up and sharing :)

    • profile image

      ines 3 years ago

      Oilivia Pope from Scandal!!

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