Emma Peel, "The Avengers"
WHY SHE RULES: Arguably, there's never been another woman on TV as unmistakeably cool as Emma Peel. For two years in the mid-1960s, Mrs. Peel served up feminine modernity with an elegance, charm and humor that made everyone sit up and take notice. She was a scientist, a woman of independent means, who joined with British spy John Steed to solve crimes and protect the world from evil-doers, whether they be deranged kitties, comic book artists or cyborgs -- and she did it will wearing the most awesome clothes ever. She could defeat bad guys with her intellect or her karate moves, both worked just fine. And she always, always had witty things to say and time for champagne when the hard work was done. As Steed said at the beginning of each episode, "Mrs. Peel, we're needed." And as suave and awesome as he was in his own right, this dynamic duo would not have been the same without Mrs. Peel. And 1960s England would not have been half as cool.
Hermione Granger, "Harry Potter"
WHY SHE RULES: Honestly, what would Harry and Ron do without Hermione? For one thing, they'd have flunked out of Hogwarts ten minutes after they got there, all covered in chocolate frogs and such. Hermione was the brains of that trio, a bad-ass witch who helped her friends work together to reach their potential and save the world from evil time and time again. She was the one who kept her head, kept the boys calm and cool and used her noggin to solve problems and make plans. She was not only a wickedly good witch, she was also the world's best study buddy. And she still had time to woo Ron, keeping him entranced and scared while still possessing the awesome ability to turn him into a squirrel at any moment. What woman hasn't dreamed of that kind of power? Exactly.
Maude, "Harold and Maude"
WHY SHE RULES: If you've never seen "Harold and Maude," you're missing out on one of the most wonderfully original female characters ever created. For those who don't know, "Harold and Maude" is a film about Harold, a young man obsessed with death and Maude, a Holocaust survivor who loves life, and the brief romance they share in the days before her 80th birthday. From the moment Maude picks up Harold at a funeral and she dupes him into helping her steal a car, you know that this is a woman who marches to the beat not only of her own drummer but an entire percussion section. She lives in a train car, loves sculpture, collects the air from memorable places and packs all the joy of life into every second that she breathes. The audience falls in love with her just as quickly as Harold and it's because of her strength. This is a character who faces death not with guns or quick retorts but with sheer, unadulterated bravery. She's tough in all the ways that matter.
Liz Lemon, "30 Rock"
WHY SHE RULES: Liz Lemon let America know what you and I have known all along: nerdy women are awesome. She showed that knowing the difference between "Star Wars" and "Star Trek," wearing bi-curious shoes and being really, really smart doesn't make you less of a woman, it makes you more of an individual. Like her fictional predecessor Mary Richards, Liz Lemon is the quiet at the center of the storm, the rudder that keeps the Crazy Ship on course. Sure, she occasionally walks off with other people's babies, dates Beeper Kings and wears her dresses backwards, but who among us hasn't done that? Liz is a tough gal with a wicked sense of humor who's not ashamed to make a guy do "The Worm" when he gives her flack. She is her own person and doesn't care AT ALL what anyone else thinks of her -- okay, well, she cares for about five seconds but then she just gets mad. Liz Lemon is an American hero, goddamit, and in nerd country, she's our queen.
TOMORROW: The Final Four