As part of our study of how the knowledge class gets married and has kids, we were discussing portrayals of smart women in popular culture. So I put it to two of the smart women in my house: who is the smartest, best educated, most cultured woman on television? A lively discussion ensued.
One important conclusion we reached was that there is no show that centers on such a woman. The examples we could think of were often in strong supporting roles. The closest we could come to a show centering on a smart accomplished woman was "Judging Amy," in which the central character is a family court judge. I believe this one is no longer in production.
There are a number of strong women on "House," especially the chief administrator of the hospital. "Grey's Anatomy," which seems to be the favorite show of college women at the moment, has a number of strong smart women. Likewise "Gilmore Girls," a big favorite in our house, centers on smart women. The scary-smart best friend, Paris, might grow into a cultured and erudite woman if she stops being psycho.
All lacked something, though, that suggested the kind of deep culture that one would want in a knowledge class heroine. Smarts, education, and a strong will would all be necessary components, of course, but beyond that, I would want to see some sense of reserves of cosmopolitan culture which produced wisdom, one of the rarest of television commodities.
My nominee: Shirley Schmidt, the most functional and wisest of the senior partners in "Boston Legal," played by Candice Bergen. In real life Bergen was the daughter of famous Hollywood performers, who sent her to the best schools -- Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, the Cathedral School in Washington D.C. and then abroad to the Montesano (finishing) School in Switzerland. She briefly attended the University of Pennsylvania, which she wrote about amusingly as "My Bright College Months," before making her film debut at 19 in Sidney Lumet's "The Group," a dark satire of a Vassar-like college for privileged women. As if in answer to the question, "where are the smart, educated, cultured women on television?" she famously said "Hollywood has been vulgarized, mostly by television, which vulgarizes everything."
I especially welcome your comments on this category.