The Smurfette Principle: Live-Action TV

  • The Big Bang Theory started with five main characters: the four male nerds, and The Chick who lives across the hall (Penny). As the series progressed, more and more female characters were added, until the main cast (four guys and their respective Love Interests) has become a Gender-Equal Ensemble.
  • The Five-Man Band in Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future included Captain Power, Hawk, Tank, and Scout, all male. Sometime before the start of the show, they rescued Jennifer "Pilot" Chase from the Dread Youth, and she joined the crew.
  • The Daily Show rarely has more than one female regular at a time, if that. Currently, the only female correspondents are regular Samantha Bee and the very irregularly recurring Kristen Schaal. The show's spotty record with women correspondents was lampshaded when Kristen Schaal took over the show and declared Jon Stewart to be the new Senior Men's Correspondent: "Feel free to talk about men's issues. But don't expect to be on the show more than every four to twelve weeks or so." Olivia Munn has appeared multiple times, which may make her the third regular female correspondent. The show has since recruited Jessica Jones, so the situation is improving slightly...
  • Doctor Who, the Third Doctor episodes, set on Earth in a male dominated military organisation, used mostly guys, with main cast members being the Doctor, The Brigadier, Benton, later Harry, and one female character; first Liz, who was replaced by Jo, who was then replaced by Sarah-Jane Smith.
  • Emergency!: Even today, firefighting is male-dominated. To their credit, episodes may feature female trainees or female doctors. Dixie, however, was the only female regular.
  • Hawaii Five-0 is a remake of classic Hawaii Five-O, which is about an elite squad of police in Hawaii. The remake Gender Flipped Kono in order to have a girl among the lead characters.
  • Homicide Life On The Street began with only one woman, Detective Howard, in the main cast. That was a deliberate decision to reflect real-life homicide squads, which were dominated by men. As time passed, more women were added to the cast.
  • During the fourth season of House, the title character Invokes this when he's was told he could only hire two doctors, instead of three. He has four prospects, two of each gender. He kicks one of the women out, and tells the other, nicknamed "13", that he'd hire her if he had a slot. Later, his boss, Lisa Cuddy, informs him that he has to hire at least one woman, and tells him to hire 13. Cuddy starts to walk away, then realizes that she had just given him the three doctors he wanted.
  • Human Target began without any female characters, and planned to add a single female character in its second season. Averted by adding two women to the cast, making it a 3:2 male-to-female ratio.
  • The Principle is followed in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia with their 5-person group. Lampshaded in "The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis", when the gang discuss their roles: Mac's the brains, Dennis is the looks, Frank's the muscle, Charlie's the wild card, and Dee's the useless chick.
  • While it's standard for Kamen Rider to have a girl as the secondary lead, female Riders are few and far between. The first example is in Kamen Rider Dragon Knight (Western adaptation of Kamen Rider Ryuki, using original footage to add to the story), which introduced the first official female Rider; "Kamen Rider Femme". She's the only girl out of thirteen Riders.
  • Land of the Giants has a cast of seven humans, two of which are women. Betty was written out for part of the second season because actress Heather Young was pregnant, making Valerie the only female in a group of six.
  • In London's Burning there is only ever one female firefighter in Blue Watch at any one time. This is a reflection of reality, as only 3.1% of operational firefighters in the UK are female. In 1986, when the series began, there were less than ten women in the London Fire Brigade. The issue was explored in the pilot movie, when the station gets its first female firefighter and the men initially react with hostility.
  • Inverted on The L Word where the vast majority of the (very large) Ensemble Cast is female and there are only ever one or two major male characters at any time.
  • M*A*S*H averts the principle by having many female nurse characters on the cast, even if they aren't the focus of the episode. Gender issues related to the Smurfette Principle were explored in the show — most notably when a male nurse is the victim of gender discrimination, having been made a private when all other (female) nurses were commissioned officers.
  • Mission: Impossible (both the original and revival) never had more than one female regular at a time (though missions could and did have more than one female agent involved) - the original had Cinnamon in the first three seasons, then a revolving door of replacements in season four, Dana in season five, and then Casey for the final two seasons; in the revival Casey came first, and she was replaced by Shannon.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus featured almost no women, because most of the roles were played by the same six (male) actors anyway, regardless of gender. By their own admission, the Pythons brought in women like "Seventh Python" Carol Cleveland only when they needed a female character to actually be attractive, otherwise, they'd just get into drag. Both Python precursor series, Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last The 1948 Show, featured five person casts consisting of four men and one woman.
  • The sketch comedy series Mr. Show was pretty bad about this, as roles in which gender wasn't a factor was rarely written for females (the leads were usually played by Bob Odenkirk and/or David Cross). The only regular female cast member in all the seasons was Jill Talley and the show alternated between other female cast members (Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brett Paesel, Karen Kilgariff, Sarah Silverman, Becky Thyre) through out the show's run.
  • The only major female Muppet is Miss Piggy, a glamourous diva. When she was first introduced, she was a minor character. The large cast of The Muppet Show is male-dominant, but this may be due to its slapstick nature (Miss Piggy, for example, rarely takes any of the slapstick, but she certainly dishes it out when provoked). Furthermore, the regular cast used to include other female characters, such as Janice and Hilda, but both became much less prominent after Hilda's puppeteer quit and Janice's puppeteer died, leaving Piggy. Janice herself rarely appeared outside of her Five-Man Band (The Electric Mayhem), of which she was The Chick. There have been a few other female Muppets, but their tenure is either short-lived; or they're one-off characters. A notable example is Annie-Sue Pig; a young ingénue and foil to Miss Piggy. Her appearances declined considerably after the 3rd season, although she did still appear from time to time. A number of the ambiguously-gendered monsters are noted in background material as being female; but there is no clear indication of this on the show. This applies to the puppeteers as well; in the first season, there were seven puppeteers, and only one (Eren Ozker) was a woman. Ozker & John Lovelady left after Season 1, so they held auditions for a new female for Season 2, with Louise Gold getting the part (although she was uncredited for the season). In Season 3, they hired another female puppeteer (Kathryn Mullen) but also hired another male (Steve Whitmire) making it 6 guys, 2 girls. Also, in relation to Miss Piggy & Janice, they were (and still are) performed by males. Yeah.
  • The spinoff Muppet Babies added Skeeter, Scooter's "identical" twin, to balance the sexes.
  • MythBusters generally has Kari Byron as the token female. This hasn't always been the case, however; Mythterns Christine and Jess often added a second female to the group, and the earlier episodes with the Build Team had Scottie Chapman as the third member after Kari and Tory. Grant only came on board after Scottie left the show.
  • NCIS stars a set of four investigators, only one of which is female at any one time. They do have Abby, a lab tech who is one of three characters who has been in every episode (the other two being Gibbs and Dinozzo).
  • Two episodes of the original The Outer Limits, "The Chameleon" and "The Invisible Enemy", have all-male casts.
  • Virtually every seasonal roster of Power Rangers consists of three guys and two girls. That is, until the invariably male Sixth Ranger showed up. A few seasons instead start with a Power Trio of two guys and one girl, and are then joined by multiple (still invariably male) extra rangers. Super Sentai is sometimes worse, with a Five-Man Band of four guys and one girl; in those cases Power Rangers uses She's a Man in Japan to improve the gender balance.
    • Neither show ever had a female character in Red until Power Rangers S.P.D.'s Charlie, but she was fighting for the villains. The first heroic female Red Ranger appeared in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai (and even then, she got minimal screentime/development/relevancy/etc).
    • Super Sentai often has one female major villain. She is usually a comic relief character. This is less prevalent in Power Rangers, which usually makes female villains The Dragon or even the Big Bad.
    • Engine Sentai Go-onger, for once, had one of the extra rangers as a female with actual screentime. The ratio of the Go-onger team was still 5:2, but at least they made an effort. Power Rangers RPM, sadly, took this a step backward; Gold and Silver became Single-Minded Twins, so the girl basically amounted to half a character. Though it did make up for it by having the mentor character be female and get plenty of focus.
    • Enforced in Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, as Word of God stated that since becoming a Kyoryuger involves a test of strength (defeating a dinosaur in a fight), it made sense to them that only one girl would make the team. Western fans felt the Values Dissonance pretty badly. Thankfully, this was eventually addressed: this season had a number of recurring guest Kyoryugers, and Kyoryu Violet retired and passed his powers on to his granddaughter. She wasn't tested like the others, but she's a Smart Girl and was gutsy enough to impress the dino anyway. Admittedly it's still a one-to-four gender ratio, but considering the team came close to being one-to-nine I'd say we dodged a bullet. And the final episodes see a second guest Kyoryuger choose a female successor for good measure.
      • Its adaptation Power Rangers Dino Charge is a step down from Power Rangers' usual practices, as for the first time it didn't use She's a Man in Japan to correct the extreme gender imbalance. At the same time, it's also a step up from Kyoryuger, adding a female Mission Control character. Casting sheets indicate she's the counterpart to the younger Kyoryu Violet, with an expanded role and no sign of an elder male Violet Ranger to inherit powers from.
    • In the toylines, the female Rangers usually get basic action figures produced and that's it, while the boys get Environment-Specific Action Figure variations out the wazoo. With the Jungle Fury and RPM toys, Bandai America has actually created extra marketable (read: male) Rangers for the toyline to give these extras to, rather than give them to the existing female Rangers. Then again, that's less misogyny and more because girls don't sell: young boys really are the primary consumers of action figures for fighting series, and in second and third grade, owning a Pink Ranger "doll" can be hazardous to your health. Some series have made non-Yellow females a Blue or White Ranger rather than Pink, so that even if little boys don't want her action figure (because the costume will usually have a skirt on it) they can still be persuaded to buy other merchandise based on the character - her weapons, mecha, etc.
  • In the second season of Prison Break, Sara Tancredi is the only female character on the main cast, since Robin Tunney (who played Veronica in the previous season) decided to leave the show. Gretchen and Sofia were later added to the main cast in season 3 though.
  • Red Dwarf had an all-male main cast for Series I, II and VI, but Holly had a sex change for Series III, IV and V, while Kochanski was the only main female for most of VII and VIII (Holly reverted to male). For part of Back to Earth, the hologram Katerina takes up the female role, Kochanski being assumed dead.
  • Averted and inspected in Rescue Me. Janet Gavin and other women are major characters, and the presence of one woman in the firehouse warranted an entire subplot.
  • An interesting case is the BBC's Robin Hood. For the first four episodes, Marian was the only female character, not so much because of The Smurfette Principle, but simply because there was no other reoccurring female character in the legends. This was solved with the introduction of Djaq, a Sweet Polly Oliver in the Gender Flipped role of the Saracen, who contributed her skills as a physician and scientist to the team. However, both Marian and Djaq were written out of the show at the end of Season 2, and replaced with Isabella and Kate. Although Isabella had an important part to play in the narrative, Kate was simply the Token Girl amongst the outlaws, a task that involved fan-girling Robin, getting kidnapped every week, and being a useless tag-along.
  • Scrubs started off with two females (Elliot and Carla) out of a cast of six—later seven once The Janitor was Promoted to Opening Titles. Laverne started off as the only recurring female character until formerly one-shot Jordan became an Ascended Extra, but then Laverne was Killed Off for Real in Season 6. Season 8 averted this, adding three recurring female doctors (Sunny, Katie, Denise) and two recurring non-meds in The Gooch and Lady, but the last season only had two female mains and one recurring, who only served two purposes. There were several female guest stars throughout the series, but the vast majority were just girls of the week for J.D.
  • Out of the four leads on Seinfeld, only one (Elaine) is a woman, and she was a late addition to the cast. All four do get roughly equal screen time, though.
  • Sesame Street has an almost evenly split human cast, but for a period had almost no female Muppets. Even now, there's only a few significant ones, such as the mild-mannered Prairie Dawn (and Betty Lou, who was actually the same Muppet), Snuffy's little sister Alice, and the more recent characters of fun-loving Zoe, earthy Rosita, and girlie-girl Abby Cadabby.
  • Reversed in Sex and the City which had no male characters at all in the main cast; even Big and Steve (the two most frequent recurring characters) appeared in rather less than half the episodes of the series. Carrie's friend Stanford, the next most frequent, showed up in less than a third of the episodes.
  • In Smallville, the earliest version of the Justice League includes Clark, Aquaman/Author, Cyborg/Victor, Impulse/Bart, Green Arrow/Oliver, and Chloe. This defies some common expectations however, as she is The Smart Girl and is, at that time, romantically involved with someone outside the group.
  • Stargate SG-1 suffers from this: Samantha Carter is the only woman on the team (although there is a very prominent female doctor who eventually ends up getting Killed Off for Real). Can be justified by the fact that, even in modern times, the military is hardly the most gender equitable of places. Due to Executive Meddling, a sexy female thief gets added to the team in the final two seasons. Atlantis is a lot better at balancing out the roles.
  • Star Trek:
    • On Star Trek: The Original Series, Uhura was a Token Twofer who was also relegated to the position of space phone operator. For the time, she was rather progressive, but... This was due to Executive Meddling. The original pilot had a female second-in-command. It's been said that NBC gave Roddenberry a somewhat Sadistic Choice: either keep the female second-in-command or keep Spock, but not both. Years later, Majel Barrett would quip that he "kept the Vulcan and married the woman, 'cause he didn't think Leonard would have it the other way around."
    • For a world with supposed complete gender equality, this applies to most Trek series. Star Trek: The Next Generation started with three women - after the security chief died, all that were left were in rather stereotypically feminine roles as the doctor and counselor. Recurring females were Keiko (botanist), Ogawa (nurse), Ro Laren and Guinan. Only the latter two were of any real importance, and the first eventually settled into the role of O'Brien's wife.
    • Much improved in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which had a female first officer (Kira) and female science officer (Dax), though the number of women was still in the minority. Unfortunately, however, the science officer role was not replaced after Jadzia Dax's death - the new Ezri Dax was another counselor.
    • Further improved in Star Trek: Voyager, with Captain Janeway (who later became admiral), Main Engineer Twofer Token Minority Torres (who was Klingon, female and half Hispanic), and little girl-who-evolves-into-god Kes, who was later replaced by science "Überbabe" Seven of Nine. The main villain for the first two series turned out to be Seska, a manipulative Cardassian spy, and the surprisingly non-annoying child character was Naomi (her mom, originally a Recurring Character before falling Out of Focus despite her daughter remaining prominent, was a scientist).
    • Star Trek: Enterprise had a female first officer/science officer (T'Pol), and a female comm officer/linguist (Hoshi).
    • Interestingly villains don't suffer this problem: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had the Female Shapeshifter, and Kai Winn as Big Bads and the Dominion has plenty of female Vortas. The Borg equally have plenty of female drones and are led by the Queen. In Star Trek: The Next Generation there was Planet Angel 1, led by women and Tasha Yar's home planet, complete with Tasha's sister. There were the Duras sisters, aka The Magnificent Four.
  • Amanda Keller is the only female cast member on the Australian panel/game show Talkin' 'bout Your Generation, not counting female guest stars.
  • The sitcom Taxi only had Elaine Nardo, until late in the show's run Simka became a semi-regular.
  • Both the U.K. and U.S. versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? feature four players, all of whom are almost always male. Only one episode in 18 series featured one male and three female performers. This is not helped by both Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles appearing in every episode of the last 11 series, meaning the best the women could achieve was parity with the male performers. Lampshaded in one episode during a game of Scenes From A Hat in which the scene was "Bad Times to Kiss Someone". Since all the players were male, when the game ended, Colin Mochrie asked if they could get some women on the show. This is a common issue on similarly structured comedy shows.
  • Lampshaded on 3rd Rock from the Sun, where the aliens, having learned their ideas about Earth from its popular culture, decided that only one of them needed to be "The Woman".
  • Almost all Panel Games contain one, or no, women.
    • Only two episodes of QI, the Domesticity episode and the Girls and Boys episode, have featured two females on the same panel; this was lampshaded in the latter, which included a question on why there weren't more women as guests on the show (the excuse was that test audiences laugh less at female comedians). Out of approximately 87 different guests over 9 series, 21 of them have been female, and only 7 of those have made more than one appearance. Historically, Jo Brand has pretty clearly served the role of the token female, having appeared 27 times as of series I (the most appearances of any guest panelist, tied with Sean Lock). Sandi Toksvig, however, started appearing in at least two episodes a year as early as series G, and Sue Perkins has also started to appear more regularly (twice in series I, and will appear in three episodes in series J), making them the Affirmative Action Girls of the show.
    • Seems to have been changed for "J" series - "Jack and Jill" had two women and "Jam, Jelly and Juice" had an unprecedented female majority — Jo Brand, Sue Perkins and Liza Tarbuck.
    • The biggest offender is probably Mock the Week, since all four recurring panelists (out of six) are male and the host is as well, and has never featured more than one female comedian on the same panel; out of 51 guests to appear on the show, 16 have been women. In fairness, there is a paucity of female comedians already, so it's not necessarily the fault of the people who make the programmes.
    • To Tell the Truth often averted this, with a 50/50 split of the 4 panelists. The guests on the show are a trio, all imitating the same person, but have been both females and males.
    • Almost always averted in Match Game (at least the 70's versions). Brett Somers was nearly always the top middle spot, and there were usually two women (with Richard Dawson in the middle) on the bottom tier.
    • The BBC recently announced a new rule that all their panel shows would have at last one female participant from now on, effectively making the Smurfette Principle a literal law.
  • Pick any jury on any other talent show. So You Think You Can Dance: 2 men, 1 woman. America's Got Talent: 2 men, 1 woman. The Sing-Off: 2 men, 1 woman. The Voice: 3 men, 1 woman.
    • So You Think You Can Dance has fluctuated; Nigel and Mary are permanent judges, but others have come and gone, so on any given episode the third could be a man or a woman.
  • Dexter: While there are other female officers, none of them seem to be as highly ranked as Debra Morgan or Maria La Guerta, and the latter seems to be the only woman in a position of power, save the woman who was brought in to try and undermine La Guerta's authority. The latter caved under the pressure of her personal life.
  • Ann was the only female out of the five regular characters on The Time Tunnel.