It’s hard to imagine the greatest TV shows made without the vital character of a mother. These skilled, sagacious and special women might not have given birth to their on-screen children, but they are mothers in every sense of the word. Here are our favorite TV moms then and now.
Katey Sagal as Peggy Bundy – Then
Married With Children‘s red-headed mom was non-other than Peggy. Al’s lazy, self-indulgent wife was far from the ordinary homemaker as she refuses to cook or clean the house. However, her character of a ’60s housewife was impeccable.
Katey Sagal – Now
Before the show, Sagal married drummer Jack White. Once Married… With Children started filming, Sagal learned she was pregnant. The unexpected pregnancy was written into the storyline of the show, but sadly, the pregnancy ended in an emergency c-section, leading to the stillbirth of a daughter. This inspired Sagal to write the song “(You) Can’t Hurry the Harvest.” Sagal can still be spotted in films and TV to this day, the latest appearances being in 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2 and a series regular on Superior Donuts.
Shirley Jones as Shirley Partridge – Then
The Partridge Family would not have been the same without actress Shirley Jones, who played the distinguished widow and mother of five during the 70’s. This musical sitcom was Jones’ big break, but there was one major problem with the character: “My agents came to me and … said if you do a series, and it becomes a hit show, you will be that character for the rest of your life and your film career will go into the toilet, which is what happened. But I have no regrets,” said Jones.
Shirley Jones – Now
In 1979, Jones desperately tried to break out of character (ironically, by playing a widowed mother on another show), but the show failed to gain ratings and was canceled halfway through the season. However, in July 2006, Jones received an Emmy Award nomination for her role in the TV film Hidden Places. In 2014, Shirley had a guest-star appearance in a General Hospital episode, where she acted the role of Mrs. McClain. Her latest appearance was on the Hallmark film The Irresistible Blueberry Farm, which came out in 2016.
Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham – Then
Happy Days‘ Marion Cunningham is the wife of Howard Cunningham and the delightful mom of Richie, Joanie, and Chuck Cunningham. In a way, Marion is also a kind of surrogate mother to Fonzie. As a housewife, Marion’s character did what her image depicted, thus meaning she spent most of her time cooking and cleaning. The stereotypical housewife was one of the only three characters to remain on the show for all 11 seasons, from 1974 to 1984. For her impeccable portrayal, actress Marion Ross received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations.
Marion Ross – Now
Once the door closed on Happy Days, Ross sought out different opportunities. Since the 90’s, Ross has been known for voice-over work on animated TV shows like SpongeBob SquarePants. She also had a recurring role on The Drew Carey Show as well as That ’70s Show, Gilmore Girls, and Brothers & Sisters. In 2011, Ross and four of her former Happy Days co-stars filed a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, claiming they weren’t paid for merchandising revenue. In July 2012, the case was settled with each actor receiving $65,000.
Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore – Then
Gilmore Girls‘ Lorelai Victoria Gilmore was the daughter of Emily and Richard Gilmore in Hartford, Connecticut. Growing up, he life was complicated due to a proud, neurotic mother and a workaholic father, who both demanded Lorelai would live in their world of privilege, a dream that went down the drain when 16-year-old Lorelai found out she was pregnant. The highly talkative, free-spirited woman always had a rebellious and resentful attitude, and so following the birth of her daughter Rory, Lorelai left home to create her own, independent life.
Lauren Graham – Now
Graham received countless award nominations for her portrayal of Lorelai, among which the Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe, and Satellite Awards. After the show ended, Graham landed roles in films like Sweet November (2001), Bad Santa (2003), The Pacifier (2005), Because I Said So (2007), and Evan Almighty (2007). Graham also published a debut novel in 2013 titled Someday, Someday, Maybe. In 2016, Graham gladly reprised her role as Lorelai Gilmore on the Netflix reunion miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Graham has been in a relationship with actor Peter Krause since 2010.
Joanna Kerns as Maggie Seaver – Then
Not long after the cancellation of The Four Seasons, Kerns auditioned for the role of Maggie Seaver on Growing Pains. Her audition partner was actor Alan Thicke, the two had immediate chemistry, which landed them the roles immediately. Kern’s character was Maggie Seaver – a mother who recently returned to work as a journalist. Along with Jason, her husband, the two have three children, and later a fourth. Maggie is diligent, cherishes her children and is utterly in love with her husband.
Joanna Kerns – Now
When Growing Pains ended, Kerns wanted to switch things up. Since she directed one episode of Growing Pains, she was hooked on giving it a go. In an interview, Kerns said, “Directing is where I’ve always wanted to go.” Kerns then went on to direct episodes of shows like Dawson’s Creek, Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, Army Wives, Pretty Little Liars, This Is Us, and Fuller House. Kerns has a daughter from a previous marriage to commercial producer Richard Kerns and is now married to prominent LA architect, Marc Appleton.
Patricia Richardson as Jill Taylor – Then
Home Improvement might have been the “Tim Taylor Show,” but any fan of the series would tell you it was Tim’s wife, Jill, who made serious waves on the show. Jill not only raised their three sons (Brad, Randy, and Mark), but her feminism was emphasized in a unique way that was rarely seen on TV before her time. Jill also appeared on critics’ lists of “top TV” or “most memorable” moms. This role landed actress Richardson four Emmy Award nominations and two Golden Globe nominations.
Patricia Richardson – Now
Richardson went on to replace Janine Turner in the medical drama Strong Medicine. As Dr. Andy Campbell, Richardson was nominated for two Prism Awards. Later, Richardson was cast as Sheila Brooks in The West Wing. Richardson also appeared in the first season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2015, Richardson decided to run for the position of national president of the SAG-AFTRA but lost the election to President Ken Howard. Richardson was married to actor Ray Baker and they had three children together but got divorced 15 years later.
Debra Jo Rupp as Kitty Forman – Then
In 1998, Kitty Forman became a common household name amongst sitcom lovers, as That ’70s Show was a huge hit. The character of Kitty was married to Red Forman and mothered daughter Laurie and son Eric. Kitty has a loving, caring nature which goes hand in hand with her profession (a nurse) and these traits are especially evident when she convinces veteran and cynical Red they should take in Steven Hyde as his mother left him. Kitty is the embodiment of a ’70s mother who nurtures everyone else but herself.
Debra Jo Rupp – Now
After That ’70s Show, which ended in 2006, Rupp appeared in a dramatic role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Rupp’s character was the wife of a murdered pharmaceutical CEO. Come 2007, the film Kickin It Old Skool was released, and Rupp was Jamie Kennedy’s mother. A year went by, and Rupp scored yet another key role on the comedy-drama-musical Jackson as a restaurant owner who helps two homeless men. Rupp has two homes – one Los Angeles and the other in Lee, Massachusetts.
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley – Then
Downton Abbey‘s Lady Cora Crawley is the Countess of Grantham and wife of Robert Crawley, 7th Earl of Grantham. Cora Crawley is the American daughter of Martha and Isidore Levinson. She married Robert Crawley and brought her considerable dowry to Downton. Lady Grantham has three daughters: Mary, Edith, and Sybil, who she wants to be happy and prosperous. Cora is considered a sweet and tolerant character and is oblivious to negative aspects of peoples’ lives. However, she has been shown to have a temper from time to time.
Elizabeth McGovern – Now
Few people know that actress McGovern is also a singer and songwriter. In 2008, she joined the band Sadie and the Hotheads at The Castle pub venue in Portobello Road, London. It was at this place that she met Michelle Dockery, who is McGovern’s eldest daughter in Downton Abbey. McGovern appeared in several movies and made a great impact in the film Woman in Gold, which was a drama starring Helen Mirren. McGovern was engaged to actor Sean Penn when she was younger, but married British film director and producer Simon Curtis in 1992.
Roseanne Barr as Roseanne Conner – Then
Barr broke into the limelight after working many hours on stage doing stand-up at comedy clubs, but the hard work paid off when she was given her own show titled Roseanne. The notable sitcom Roseanne ran for nine seasons, from 1988 to 1997. Roseanne, the eponymous main character of the show, is based on her presumed real-life persona of a bossy, noisy, sarcastic, overweight, and aggressive woman. Roseanne constantly tries to control the lives of everyone around her. Despite this, she’s a loving and attentive mother.
Roseanne Barr – Now
Barr also tried to prove her worth in the music industry, and on July 25, 1990, Barr performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a baseball game. Afterward, Barr claimed she had trouble hearing herself which led her to sing as loudly as possible, which is why she sounded “screechy.” The song received heavy media attention and angered many, including President George H. W. Bush, who called her performance “disgraceful.” In 2015, Barr revealed she was diagnosed with macular degeneration and glaucoma, meaning she’s gradually losing her eyesight.
Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy – Then
Since 2009, Bowen has been the highly-recognizable face of Claire Dunphy on Modern Family. Claire, Mitchell’s older sister, and Phil’s wife is also the mother of the Haley, Alex, and Luke. Claire’s character was a stay-at-home mom until she decided it was time to get back in the game and started working for her father. The decision to stay at home for the first few years enabled Claire to watch her kids grow, but her character showed an intriguing side when she joined the workforce.
Julie Bowen – Now
Bowen received six consecutive Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her part in Modern Family, and she had won the award twice. This is especially impressive since Bowen has a cardiovascular condition Bradycardia, which resulted in her getting a pacemaker since her early twenties. Bowen married real estate investor and software developer Scott Phillips in 2004, and the couple has three sons together. Unfortunately, the two divorced in February 2018. Bowen appeared in “Fight Song,” a music video, shown at the Democratic National Convention.
Catherine Hicks as Annie Camden – Then
7th Heaven‘s Annie Camden is the wife of Eric and loving mother of Matt, Mary, Lucy, Simon, Ruthie, Sam and David Camden. Although she chose to be a stay at home mom, Annie is a versatile player. Not only does she balance a family of nine on a reverend’s pay, but she is also a plumber, builder, seamstress, and cook. Annie is the backbone of the family, as she is also the unofficial psychologist everyone feels like they can talk to – mostly over milk and cookies.
Catherine Hicks – Now
After 7th Heaven, the phone was ringing off the hook for the notable Hicks. When she landed the role of Texas family court Judge Harriet Krammer in the TV movie A Valentine’s Date in 2011, she put herself on the map for the new decade. Hicks was also engaged to journalist Jeff Silverman during the mid-’80s, but the engagement ended. She then met her future husband, special effects make-up artist Kevin Yagher, on the set of the film Child’s Play. Hicks and Yagher married in 1990 and have a daughter named Caitlin.
Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks – Then
Prof. Vivian Banks, Ph.D., was initially portrayed by actress Janet Hubert-Whitten. She is the mother of Nicky, Ashley, Carlton and Hillary Banks, but more importantly, she was the aunt who took Will Smith off the streets along with husband, Phillip Banks. Vivian’s personality and role in The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air change over the run of the series, as her character is at first a no-nonsense, vocally talented, straightforward, and career-centered woman. Later, a much different side rises to the surface.
Janet Hubert – Now
What started off very promising ended up being one of the most heavily publicized feuds in the history of television. As many fans know, Hubert was kicked off the show, and Smith later shed some light on the drastic decision: “I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show,” he explained. Since the ugly departure, Hubert was featured in a single Friends episode. In 2005, she landed the role of Lisa Williamson on One Life to Live.
Suzanne Somers as Carol Foster-Lambert – Then
Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers starred as single parents in Step By Step, each character having three children of their own. The plot details two single parents who spontaneously marry after meeting on vacation, thus forming one big happy family. Carol Foster-Lambert is the matriarch of the Foster family who a self-employed beautician and runs a hair salon out of her home. Eventually, with her husband’s help, she is able to open up a bigger studio at a stand-alone location as the show progresses.
Suzanne Somers – Now
In the summer of 2005, Somers made her Broadway debut in a one-woman show titled The Blonde in the Thunderbird. This was a collection of stories about Suzanne’s life and career, but it was canceled in less than a week. Somers refused to admit defeat and said she had no chance of succeeding since “These men [New York critics] are curmudgeons, and maybe I went too close to the bone for them. In 2012, Somers hosted a show titled The Suzanne Show, but this too was canceled after only 13 episodes.
Caroline Rhea & Beth Broderick as Sabrina’s Aunts – Then
Sabrina The Teenage Witch tells the tale of Sabrina Spellman, a teenager discovers she has magical powers on her sixteenth birthday. Sabrina lives with her 500-year-old aunts, witches Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), as well as their magical talking cat Salem. Hilda is seen as less rational than aunt Zelda and is more impulsive. Zelda is Hilda’s older sister. She is a scientist and college professor, which easily translates into being the more rational one of the two.
Caroline Rhea & Beth Broderick – Now
After the show ended, the talented two went their separate ways, but both stayed in the spotlight. In 2005, Rhea appeared in the film The Perfect Man, playing a co-worker of actress Heather Locklear. Rhea also had a recurring role on the Disney Channel Original Series, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody as Ilsa Shickelgubermeiger-Von Helsing der Keppelugerhofer. Broderick appeared in numerous films including State’s Evidence, Timber Falls, Two Step, and Echoes of War. She also went on several TV shows, but few included appearances for more than one episode.
Carol Ann Susi as Mrs. Wolowitz – Then
If her face doesn’t seem all that familiar, it is probably because Carol Ann Susi was more well-known for her unique vocal abilities. The Brooklyn native studied acting in New York City, moved to Los Angeles then began to build up an impressive resume, appearing in Grey’s Anatomy, Becker, That ’70s Show, Out of Practice, Cats & Dogs, Just Shoot Me, Married… with Children, The King of Queens, Death Becomes Her, Seinfeld, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and was the voice of Howard’s mom in The Big Bang Theory.
Carol Ann Susi – Now
Following Carol’s untimely death at the age of 62, Warner Bros. Television, CBS, and The Big Bang Theory executive producers released the following statement: “Unseen by viewers, the Mrs. Wolowitz character became a bit of a mystery throughout the show’s eight seasons. What was not a mystery, however, was Carol Ann’s immense talent and comedic timing, which were on display during each unforgettable appearance. In addition to her talent, Carol Ann was a constant source of joy and kindness to all.”