Classic female reporters such as Lois Lane, Hildy Johnson in “His Girl Friday” and comics character Brenda Starr were wisecracking gals full of chutzpah who could handle breaking news just fine, thank you very much. But these days, in works like “Trainwreck” and “House of Cards,” it’s more likely that on-screen lady journalists will be wrapped up in love connections than pounding the pavement.
NBC’s new sitcom “Great News,” which premiered Tuesday, may change this. It stars Briga Heelan as a TV news producer hoping for more responsibility at work — and Andrea Martin as her mother who decides she wants a gig at the news station, too. Given that the show was created by “30 Rock” alum Tracey Wigfield and counts Tina Fey as one of its executive producers, there’s hope it can break today’s stereotype and show that it’s possible to be quirky and good at your job tracking down stories.
In the meantime, we’ve analyzed other examples of the best and the worst of the beat and rate them for respectability.
Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore)
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”
Many a think piece has been written about Mary Richards as a feminist icon, especially after Moore’s passing earlier this year. She asks for equal pay and leaves her fiance when she knows they’d never make it to the altar. Plus, she’s a capable journalist, struggling with issues that real news reporters face, such as contempt of court charges, conflicts of interest and keeping a straight face at absurd news (or, at least, she tries with that last one).
Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers)
“WKRP in Cincinnati”
It’s Loni Anderson’s Jennifer Marlowe, the radio station secretary on this CBS sitcom, who holds up as a powerful female role model. In the first episode alone, she brushes off male-gazing and asks for a raise. Comparatively, aspiring journalist Bailey is meek. And she doesn’t always help her cause. Bailey finally gets a chance at a real story — the budget crisis at a children’s hospital — in Season 4, and she fabricates a source in a rough draft (which, naturally, makes it to air with hilarious results).
Jane Craig (Holly Hunter)
Somewhere during James L. Brooks’s snarky, behind-the-scenes look at the TV news industry, a network exec stands in awe at the fast-talking whirlwind that is Hunter’s ace producer when she’s breaking a story. He had no idea she was this good. Really? Everyone else did. Sure, Jane may be a hot mess in some scenes, but she is an unapologetically honest reporter who also happens to know exactly when to call a romance that’s not working. And we think her morning crying fits are meant to be cathartic.
Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen)
Multi-Emmy winner Bergen’s seasoned investigative journalist and news anchor picks up Mary Richards’s empowerment baton. A character just as accomplished as any man in the field (and possibly just as damaged; she’s also a recovering alcoholic and smoker), Murphy has no qualms about taking on everyone from real-life politicians to the multitude of secretaries who couldn’t keep up with her demands. She did, famously, succumb to the classic pitfall of becoming the story. But the blame there goes to then-Vice President Dan Quayle, who said her single parenting was “mocking the importance of fathers.”
Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher)
“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”
Many an actress has donned the press pass of this ink-stained idol, who holds her own against mild-mannered co-worker Clark Kent. What’s great about ABC’s “Lois & Clark” is that by the very nature of its title, Lois is thought of as an equal to Dean Cain’s Man of Steel (or at least his alter ego). In the first episode, she tries to disarm a bomb she finds while investigating a story. In the final season, she gets promoted to editor of the Daily Planet, making her Clark’s boss.
Alicia Clark (Glenn Close)
There are many all-too-real aspects of director Ron Howard’s depiction of the fast-paced life of news people at a scrappy New York daily, despite its pre-Internet premiere. One is Alicia, who is forced into a role as a strict budget-minder who clashes with Michael Keaton’s metro editor. She even stresses over circulation numbers when she’s in a hospital bed after suffering a gunshot wound (and no way she’s sharing her copy of the paper with her nurse).
Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker)
“Sex and the City”
This HBO series based on Candace Bushnell’s dating columns may have kick-started as many journalism grads’ moves to New York as it did fashion trends. Yes, Carrie wasn’t writing hard-hitting exposés. And the idea that she earned $4 a word while freelancing for Vogue still makes real journalists laugh-cry. But “Sex and the City” did document the ebbs and flows of female friendships in a way that we — as Carrie might say — couldn’t help but wonder has ever been done as successfully before.
Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore)
“Never Been Kissed”
Barrymore’s lead role in this romantic comedy is the gold standard for bad journalism on screen. Let’s leave aside the ridiculous notion that her geeky newspaper copy editor character would actually get her own secretary or that anyone believes she looks young enough to pass as a high school student. There’s the much bigger issue of sending an adult reporter to go incognito among teenagers and tell stories about them with no intention of revealing her true identity — leading to her flirtation with one of them.
Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel)
2000-2007, Netflix revival 2016
In the show’s original run, Rory is editor of her college newspaper and prophetic enough to cover Barack Obama’s campaign trail. But Rory gets cocky somewhere between the series’s ending and Netflix’s four-episode revival. After she has a small piece in the New Yorker, she doesn’t bother to prepare for job interviews, is fine sleeping with a source (this one, apparently, is dressed as a Wookiee) and believes her mere presence is enough to make her tiny city journal thrive.
Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson)
“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
As a Ms. Fix-It, Hudson’s magazine columnist can teach her readers how to feng shui their apartments. But Andie just wants to be taken seriously as a writer and solve global catastrophes, you know? Great. But if you want to be a respected writer, maybe you could be a little more forthcoming before using a potential suitor in a con game?
Betty Suarez (America Ferrera)
ABC’s telenovela about an unfashionable fish thrust into a tank of gleaming mermaids isn’t perfect. But Betty breaks down stereotypes about how a women’s magazine staffer looks, thinks and dresses. (We like a Season 3 story line where Betty actually finds what could be the new hot fruit for what otherwise would be another blasé theme issue). Even better: The series doesn’t end with Betty partnered off with her fancy male boss.
Della Frye (Rachel McAdams)
“State of Play”
McAdams’s intrepid reporter may not be as seasoned as Russell Crowe’s Cal McAffrey when she’s brought on to assist in his research of a suspicious death. But she should not be trifled with just because she’s spent most of her career blogging — and she proves it by seeking out her own leads in the case. It’s fitting that McAdams would go on to portray an actual, stone-cold female journalist in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight.”
MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn)
Few things irked the fans of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show more than his depiction of female journalists. MacKenzie deeply wants to legitimize her show, but she gets derailed by something as innocuous as her Wikipedia listing having the wrong alma mater. Maggie encounters some serious demons (a kid dies while she’s reporting), but her distractions are more frequently love-life related. That leaves Munn’s financial whiz who, perhaps because of the actress’s gift for the show’s rapid-fire dialogue, can explain the subprime mortgage crisis and have no fear of questioning authority.
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara)
“House of Cards”
This cub reporter so badly wants to be in the big league. Although Zoe is enterprising enough to seize an opportunity when he (Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian Frank Underwood) is presented, she is too gullible for the job. Zoe is a cautionary tale for covering the murky political world: Don’t sleep with a source, and don’t hide information about a potential murder from the teammates on the piece. And if you do happen to do those things? Don’t meet said unscrupulous source late at night at a subway stop and delete any evidence of your relationship.
Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson)
Dawson’s character in Chris Rock’s dramedy isn’t so much a journalist as she is a sounding board that the comedian utilizes to allow his character to monologue about typecasting, alcoholism and the price of fame. Plus, she takes Rock’s flailing lead inside her apartment so he can meet her family, profiles him after she’d already written a negative review of his film under a pseudonym and (sigh) gets with him in a nightclub bathroom.
Amy (Amy Schumer)
Star and writer Schumer’s 2015 flick is great when it comes to its pro-feminism thoughts on sex and relationships. But just like Zoe Barnes and Katie Holmes’s character in “Thank You for Smoking,” the plotline about a magazine writer who falls for the doctor she’s profiling (Bill Hader) continues the tired trope of female journalists shagging their sources.
The women of “Good Girls Revolt” (Anna Camp, Genevieve Angelson, Erin Darke and others)
Don’t write off Amazon’s short-lived period drama for its sometimes sluggish plots or two-dimensional characters. Instead, consider what this show teaches us about women in the 1970s — in this case, female researchers at a newsmagazine who watch the male reporters take their work and their glory after they do the grunt work of finding sources and uncovering leads. And while newsroom roles have evolved since, evidence suggests that workplace sexism and racism haven’t as much.