1 of 24 Herb Ball/NBC/Getty Images
B.A. Baracus (Mr. T, The A-Team)
We'd be crazy fools not to recognize The A-Team's B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracus, the muscle in the group of mercenaries keeping 1980s America safe. Baracus — the team's highly skilled Army mechanic — never had time for "jibber-jabber," often letting his massive fists do the talking. Adorned in those trademark gold chains, the character went on to grace lunch boxes, notebooks and T-shirts and even starred in his own animated series before being reborn in the 2010 film adaptation. Who's the fool now?
2 of 24 Ben Mark Holzenberg/The CW
Nikita (Maggie Q, Nikita)
The fourth iteration of the La Femme Nikita character — twice in the movies and twice on television — is arguably the most killer to date: She's a covert assassin gone dangerously rogue, biting the hand (the sinister Division) that trained her. Maggie Q's exotic grace and lithe physicality made Nikita 4.0 a formidably steely and sexy opponent for four seasons, powered by an appetite for take-no-prisoners revenge and an even more passionate need for connection with her band of colorful fugitives.
3 of 24 CBS/Getty Images
James West (Robert Conrad, The Wild Wild West)
Conceived as a tongue-in-cheek James Bond on horseback, this dashing post-Civil War Secret Service agent came equipped with futuristic gadgets and weapons — tucked into his snug duds — to fight off a parade of outlandish villains threatening the U.S. of A., most memorably diminutive madman Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn). With flamboyant master of disguise Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) by his side, West wooed the ladies in between bare-knuckled dustups. Now that's how Western legends are born.
4 of 24 ABC/GettyImages
Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine, Kung Fu)
TV's most Zen warrior was supposed to be lying low while hiding from Chinese bounty hunters in the 19th-century American West. Instead, the soft-spoken martial artist spent his time doing good deeds — once even risking his life to reunite a baby buffalo with its mama! This kindness came from being raised by monks in the Shaolin temple, where his mentor nicknamed him Grasshopper. Fun fact: Tai Chi and Qigong expert Carradine didn't truly study martial arts until after the show ended.
5 of 24 Geoffrey Short/MCA TV/Universal
Xena (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess)
"The world had been crying out for a sexy-tough chick to come in and straighten it all out. R.J. Stewart wrote for Xena as he would write for a man: She was flawed and sometimes struggled to do the right thing, but she ultimately always made the right choice. I still see bumper stickers: WHAT WOULD XENA DO? I think people looked at Xena like an avatar of their best/wisest/strongest selves. I also don't think you can underestimate the power of the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle [Renée O'Connor]. Really!" – Lucy Lawless
6 of 24 Prashant Gupta/FX
Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant, Justified)
"It's pretty cool playing a guy who, when he has a gun pointed at his head, seems to be most at home — relaxed, comfortable. He just knows the rules of the game. But he's a f---ing mess in the rest of his life. Everybody knows what it's like to deal with those kinds of folks. He's really good at what he does, but along the way, you're gonna lose some hair having to deal with the way he goes about things. What's also fun about doing the show is taking this character, who was seemingly born 100 years too late, putting him in this modern world and watching him operate." – Timothy Olyphant
7 of 24 MPTV
Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner, The Bionic Woman)
After one hell of a skydiving mishap, this sexier cyborg yin to Six Million Dollar Man Steve Austin's yang wound up capable of superspeed, enhanced hearing and a killer serve. Yet her real strength came courtesy of Wagner's appealing mix of sensuality (that hair!), athleticism and sensitivity. Whether the schoolteacher/Office of Scientific Intelligence agent was fighting off Fembots, adopting a bionic dog or flirting with Austin during their must-see crossovers, we were Sommers lovers.
8 of 24 CBS/Landov
Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris, Walker, Texas Ranger)
The former world karate champion and B-movie action star high-kicked his way onto the small screen in 1993 as Cordell Walker, a lawman devoted to upholding moral values through martial arts. "If you become a hero-type figure, you have a responsibility," Norris told us in 1999. "We have a huge influence on kids, and we've got to make it a positive one." The series later spawned an Internet phenomenon devoted to satirical factoids about its leading man, such as "Chuck Norris does not sleep; he waits."
9 of 24 Diyah Pera/The CW
The Arrow (Stephen Amell, Arrow)
The Emerald Archer's "lesser-known status" in the comic world makes him a hero audiences can really connect with, according to executive producer Marc Guggenheim. "He's one of the few superheroes who is pure human. He has no superpowers. So we wanted to do a show that is more about the hero and less about the super." Not that a few preternatural abilities would hurt. "He is a real person, with real vulnerabilities," adds Amell. "So if I get hit by a bullet in the head, that is curtains for me!"
10 of 24 20th Century Fox
Kato (Bruce Lee, The Green Hornet)
Sure, Kato was technically the Green Hornet's sidekick, but he was no second banana. As played by the soon-to-be-world-famous Lee, Kato was the vigilante duo's true muscle. His karate chops could put a man to sleep. His actual side kicks were even meaner — so fast that the camera couldn't always capture them. And if a baddie was too far away to reach? Kato would just strike him down with green darts that came shooting out of his sleeves. But his biggest feat: introducing martial arts to 1960s America.
11 of 24 ABC/Getty Images
Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman)
"It was beyond a TV show — it was a cultural event," says DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns of the series about an Amazon princess whose magic bracelets and Lasso of Truth became must-have accessories for girls around the world. "Wonder Woman was not about finding Prince Charming. She was about being her own hero, and that's inspiring. I have two nieces, and I don't want them to put on princess dresses. I want them to put on capes — like Wonder Woman does."
12 of 24 ABC/Getty Images
The Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger)
"Hi-yo, Silver!" Nobody wore a white hat better than TV's first Western hero. And this masked man captivated a generation of kids with his gunfights and horseback chases, made family-friendly by his rectitude. Despite his prowess with a six-shooter, the former Texas Ranger never killed any of the villains he captured. "If a man must die, it's up to the law to decide that," he told his equally noble Native American sidekick, Tonto (Jay Silverheels).
13 of 24 Carole Segal/NBC
12. Starbuck/Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica)
Of all the tweaks made for the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, none was as controversial — or effective — as changing the gender of the embattled fleet's most fearless fighter pilot (played by Dirk Benedict in the 1970s series). The new Starbuck was an unforgettably bold handful: hard-drinking, authority-defying and reckless in her sexual and military exploits. Once seen in action, there was no doubt she was the best person for this high-risk, high-flying job.
14 of 24 Everett Collection
Superman (George Reeves, Adventures of Superman)
Besides featuring the most memorable opening lines in TV history ("Faster than a speeding bullet; more powerful than a locomotive; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound"), the seminal 1950s series starred Reeves — a dashing lead who was able to pull off the folksy charm of Clark Kent and the suave mystique and amazing strength of Superman. The characterization might seem simplistic, but Superman didn't need more layers than that — he stood for truth, justice and the American Way.
15 of 24 Courtesy Everett Collection
Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)
"The fact that Illya was a Russian working undercover for an American organization during the Cold War gave him a degree of anonymity, a degree of mystery, which was further enhanced by the fact that we kept any specifics about his life or background out of the script. The other cool thing about him was, when we first started, I wore a black suit, a white shirt and a thin black tie. But producers said, 'We need to make a change.' So I just pulled a black turtleneck sweater over the shirt and tie and put the jacket back on. The turtleneck eventually became iconic, but the only reason I did it was to cover up the shirt so I didn't have to change!" – David McCallum
16 of 24 Gene Pgae/AMC
Michonne (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead)
Armed with her signature katana, Michonne slices through the undead with vengeful resolve as she helps her ragtag group of survivors fight to stay alive. "By definition, an action star kicks ass almost effortlessly and is a master strategist — the kind of person you'd want by your side in the zombie apocalypse," says executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. "Having produced a number of films with strong female leads, I can say Danai portrays her with a perfect balance of strength and grace."
17 of 24 David Gray/The CW
Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles, Supernatural)
You would think after nine seasons of killing supernatural creatures and saving humanity that the elder of the demon-hunting Winchester brothers would be all dark and brooding. But despite a history of constant mayhem and epic suffering — including dying more than once — Dean has never lost his charm or his courage. "Dean's just cool," says executive producer Jeremy Carver. "There's a hero and an everyman perfectly intertwined in this one fantastic [character]."
18 of 24 Mitchell Haaseth/ABC/Getty Images
Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner, Alias)
Like any great superspy, Sydney Bristow is a master chameleon, navigating labyrinthine international conspiracies with a lethal Mata Hari allure. But beneath the dazzling disguises, it's Sydney's aching vulnerability in a trust-no-one world that we remember best. She had major daddy and mommy issues, and her love affair with hot handler Vaughn suffered torturous twists, including amnesia and a seductive mole. Throughout, Sydney fought the good fight and, more often than not, won.
19 of 24 ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
Steve Austin (Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man)
Even before his pricey bionic implants gave him fast moves, superstrength and enhanced vision, Steve Austin was in the heroics business as an astronaut. But after his experimental aircraft crashed, Majors's tracksuit-favoring macho man became better, stronger, faster…and responsible for five seasons that included slo-mo sci-fi goodness, battles with Bigfoot, a handful of TV movies and, of course, a distaff spinoff that rocked just as much (see The Bionic Woman, No. 18).
20 of 24 Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
Emma Peel (Diana Rigg, The Avengers)
"What was it like to play such an iconic character? The answer is: wonderful. Emma fought for good against evil. She was self-sufficient and could look after herself in a time when women were not represented that way on TV. My favorite of her skills was her karate and the intelligent way she used it, though her leather catsuits were very hot and took a long time to get out of. But the later costumes were made out of jersey, so they were comfortable!" – Diana Rigg
21 of 24 Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection
Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson, MacGyver)
What can one man do with a roll of duct tape, a paper clip and a Swiss Army knife? If that man is secret agent Angus MacGyver, plenty. And those were just a few of the rudimentary tools he used to diffuse bombs and thwart evildoers on the classic series. "To create those MacGyverisms was the single toughest thing to do over the seven years," says executive producer Henry Winkler, who consulted with scientists. "My favorite was that his radiator got shot out and he poured raw eggs into it so, when they boiled, they sealed the holes!"
22 of 24 ABC/Getty Images
Batman (Adam West, Batman)
"The Batman character had become somewhat iconic with the DC comic books, but nobody really anticipated the explosion when we debuted on television in 1966 — it was Batman, Bond and the Beatles. Our TV and movie version gave the books an immediate jolt of life, and my character was a comedic homage to those comic book stories — and much of what was happening in the '60s. And I think our adaptation hit so big and has been so long-lived because it was serious for kids and a comedy for adults." – Adam West
23 of 24 Richard Cartright/The WB
2. Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
As Buffy Anne Summers's premature tombstone declared: "She saved the world. A lot." And died at least twice in the process, though she always rose to the challenge of reducing terrifying monsters to dust while confronting inner demons of adolescent turmoil. Buffy — and Buffy the Vampire Slayer — was all about subverting horror-show clichés with a fiercely feminist wit and exceeding genre expectations with metaphorical depth. This deceptively winsome California ingenue could also pack a mighty emotional punch, romancing two drop-dead vampire suitors (Angel! Spike!) while protecting those she loved from the forces of evil. So much for the so-called damsel in distress.
24 of 24 Chris Raphael/FOX
Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, 24: Live Another Day)
"I've spent a third of my career playing Jack Bauer," Kiefer Sutherland says on the London set of 24: Live Another Day. Heading into the show's 200th episode, the actor remains fully invested. "Jack is heroic for the reasons he's always been — he's completely committed, he's got enormous integrity and he still slams through windows and doors to protect what he believes in." And he's had plenty to contend with recently: a goth Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), the return of ex Audrey (Kim Raver), the exposure of CIA honcho Steve Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) as a mole and a new terrorist mastermind (Michelle Fairley). The final four episodes will be just as challenging for Jack, Sutherland says. "We left Season 8 open-ended. Now we're going for closure. And let me tell you, it ain't gonna be tied up with a bow."