Long before there was a "New Girl," or "Two Broke Girls," or just plain "Girls," there was "That Girl," a 1960s-era sitcom co-created by, and starring, Marlo Thomas as a young actress trying to make it in New York. It broke ground as the first network show to revolve around an independent female character living on her own.

After the series ended in 1971, Thomas continued to be fueled by a pioneering spirit with the creation of the award-winning feminist children's franchise "Free to Be ... You and Me," and as a social activist who, with Gloria Steinem and others, founded the Ms. Foundation.

Marlo Thomas, the star of the iconic TV series, "That Girl," will be the keynote speaker at the eighth annual East Bay Women’s Conference.
Marlo Thomas, the star of the iconic TV series, "That Girl," will be the keynote speaker at the eighth annual East Bay Women's Conference. ( PBS )

Thomas, 75, also serves as the national outreach director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, is involved in a number of fundraising projects and has her own website (www.huffingtonpost.com/marlothomas) -- all while still finding time to occasionally guest star in TV shows and do stage work.

This week, Thomas is among the many trailblazers spotlighted in "Makers: The Women Who Make America," a three-hour PBS documentary that chronicles female advancement over the past 50 years. Then, on March 4, she will be the keynote speaker at the eighth annual East Bay Women's Conference in San Ramon.

Thomas fielded a few questions during an interview at the recent TV critics press tour in Pasadena:

Q What drew you to the "Makers" project?

A It's something that really excites me. It lays out the history of the women's movement in a compelling way and provides an understanding of what it really was all about. ... It also puts to bed a lot of myths about what we wanted. What we were really looking for was just a fair shake. We weren't full citizens, so we had to fight for that right, just as the blacks had to fight, and anybody who wasn't a white male had to fight for their rights in this country. This was not about a group of women who didn't like men. It wasn't about a group that didn't want women to stay at home if they preferred not to.

Q So much has been written in recent years about the strides women have made in society, on college campuses, in the workplace, in politics. How pleased are you?

A I'm pleased, but not satisfied. To have 20 women in the Senate when there are 100 (senators) isn't all that impressive. It's still far from equal representation. We are still not where we should be. Women still aren't making the same amount of money as men for doing the same job. I mean, that's crazy. Just look at the Fortune 500. Women are mostly stuck in middle management.

Q Among some young women today, the word feminism is sort of demonized, like it's a dirty word. Does that frustrate you?

A That's what's so great about this show. It squashes some of those myths. How can feminism be a dirty word? That's like saying humanism is a dirty word, civil rights is a dirty word.

Q In "Makers," you bring up a great story about your battle over the final episode of "That Girl." Want to share?

A The writers all wanted a wedding. So did Clairol, our sponsor, and ABC. They knew we'd get a big rating for a wedding. But I said we can't do that. It's a betrayal to all the girls who watched the show.

Q How did you fend them off?

A I just said no. I was the producer and star. You can't force me to put on a wedding dress. They were really mad at me. But we'd done the first show about a girl who said I don't want to be married. I want a career. I want my own apartment. All these things. And then, after all that, the only happy outcome is a wedding? Oh my god, it made me sick to think of it.

Q Now we have a lot of TV shows about women and made by women. Does that make you feel proud and/or encouraged?

A It excites me. You have people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler not only starring in but producing their own shows. And this wonderful woman, Lena Dunham. ... It's great to see that women are in control of the story. That's the key. You wouldn't do a show about surgeons without having medical advisers. So you can't do a show about women where there's all guys writing it.

Q What are your favorite shows?

A I think Claire Danes in "Homeland" is wonderful. I enjoy "The Newsroom" and "Mad Men" ...

Q "Mad Men? That's somewhat ironic, given that it depicts an era when women were treated as second-class citizens.

A Well, it's so well-written and acted. ... I think a lot of women who lived through the '60s enjoy the show.

Q And it doesn't make you angry?

A No it doesn't, actually. I just kind of nod my head and say, "They got it right."

Read Chuck Barney's TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv and follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney.

'Makers: women who make America'

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: PBS

East Bay women's conference

When: March 4 (8 a.m.-
5 p.m.)
Where: San Ramon Marriott
Info: 925-934-2007

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