TV’s Powerful, Complex Women

The tube is alive these days with acclaimed actresses such as Holly Hunter (TNT's Saving Grace), Glenn Close (FX’s Damages), Kyra Sedgwick (TNT’s The Closer), Mariska Hargitay (NBC’s Law & Order: SVU) and Edie Falco (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie), all playing powerful characters who represent a sea change from the saintly matriarchs and ditzy housewives we grew up with. “We’re making real women relatable, as opposed to the perfect mom,” says Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal’s cable entertainment. These heroines may have messy personal lives, but they’re smart and complicated, and they look fabulous.

Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives led the charge. When television executives saw the cash brought in by these risk-taking, female-centric shows, they loosened the rules that once boxed women in. “Desperate Housewives was the biggest display that women over 40 can be a viable industry,” says Vanessa Williams, who plays the scheming editrix on ABC’s Ugly Betty (a show executive-produced by Salma Hayek). “TV is the Wonderbra for actresses over 40.”

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