Queens of the screen

They are the women most coveted by television stations for their appeal among viewers. But the big question for 2013 is which female TV stars will be the most popular in Australia this year?

The networks have already unveiled their major shows for the year and there is a mix of new faces and familiar favourites among the women chosen to dominate our small screens.

Here's our verdict on which women will light up our screens in the coming months.

THE HOT LIST

Their names are like gold in the corridors of television stations. Some of these women set ratings alight last year and others have already got viewers talking before they've appeared on screen. Mandy McElhinney, who has been phenomenally popular starring as Rhonda in car insurance ads, will play the role of Nene King in Paper Giants: Magazine Wars on ABC1, opposite Rachel Griffiths. McElhinney should be one of the most talked about faces on television (and, no, there won't be a cameo from Ketut). Brenna Harding and Ashleigh Cummings, the stars of Puberty Blues, will return for a much-anticipated second series on Ten this year. They received widespread acclaim for their roles, marking a much-needed high point for Ten. Mind you, Asher Keddie (in her lead role as Nina on Offspring) has been a strong achiever for the same network and with another series scheduled this year, she is considered one of its most important stars. And while there has been plenty of talk about The Voice's new coach Ricky Martin, don't underestimate how much Nine is banking on its female star Delta Goodrem to help carry the show's second season. While she experienced serious problems with online abuse from detractors last year, Goodrem got the audience talking and that's what TV executives love. Sonia Kruger is another woman who can currently do no wrong, after the success of Big Brother on Nine in 2012. Kruger will be back for another season and is considered a major star at the network, after proving her defection from Seven was worth every dollar. At Ten, Kat Stewart is another woman on the rise with her new leading role in Mr & Mrs Murder, opposite Shaun Micallef, as well as her ongoing role in Offspring. And stars won't get much bigger than Claudia Karvan in 2013. She has three projects lined up on three different networks - her ongoing role in Puberty Blues, an appearance in Better Man on SBS and a starring role in The Time of Our Lives on ABC1.

THE POWER BROKERS

Newsreader and journalist Helen Kapalos hasn't let a redundancy from Ten affect her status as a powerful force in current affairs. She is the front runner for the Today Tonight chair vacated by Matt White. Across at Nine there's no greater powerbroker than A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw, who has scored more big exclusives than most of her rivals and handled them with aplomb. Over at the ABC, Leigh Sales is a force to be reckoned with. She had a slow start after stepping into Kerry O'Brien's shoes, but made up for it with her sharp, insightful interview with Tony Abbott and it's been upward from there. Seven has a major star in Sunrise co-host Melissa Doyle, who is one of the most influential women at the network (as is newsreader Chris Bath), while over at Nine, Today co-host Lisa Wilkinson remains one of the most intelligent, likeable - and powerful - women on screen. SBS can still claim one of the most impressive women on television, Insight host and Gold Walkley winner Jenny Brockie.

FAMILY FAVOURITES

It's not cheesy or soft to describe these women as favourites among a family audience. In fact, it makes them big stars inside the television networks because of their widespread audience appeal. Top of the list is, of course, Rebecca Gibney from Seven's Packed to the Rafters, while Julia Morris on House Husbands is slowly catching up. Ten's Carrie Bickmore is considered one of the most important hosts at the network because of her ability to relate to a range of viewers. Her Ten stablemate Chrissie Swan is another rightfully popular name in television right now - she proved with Can of Worms that she can pull an audience as a host in her own right. Watch out for more from Swan this year. Justine Clarke is already loved among many families for her work on Play School but she steps into adult drama this year with the ABC's The Time of Our Lives. Noni Hazlehurst is another long-time favourite of the small screen who will be returning to a prime-time drama this year, on Seven's A Place To Call Home. Former swimming champion Hayley Lewis will be back for another season of The Biggest Loser and Ten is banking on her family-friendly appeal to get viewers watching the show this year.

RISING STARS

Keep an eye on Marta Dusseldorp, the star of Seven's major new drama A Place to Call Home. This time next year the network is hoping she will be a household name. Anna McGahan has already impressed many viewers in her role on House Husbands (not to mention the Underbelly franchise) but expect her profile to rise even more dramatically this year. Elle Dawe is the female star of the SBS comedy Housos and she is gaining industry attention as a result. Singer Casey Donovan has scored a hosting role on NITV and looks set to make her stamp on the television market. And although she's only a puppet, Hootabelle - the female owl on the ABC's children's show Giggle and Hoot - is also on the rise. She raised eyebrows as a latecomer to the show (because of gender stereotyping and her introduction as the ''girl'' owl) but she's now playing a major role on the program, with a marketing campaign to match. Anna Gare has been handed another hosting role, on Nine's The Great Australian Bake Off, so it will be interesting to see if she gains more traction than she did on Junior MasterChef.

THE UNKNOWN QUANTITIES

While we know many of the key female personalities the networks are banking on, expect plenty of other potential stars in 2013 with announcements pending about cast members in shows including Seven's Celebrity Splash. Many roles are up for grabs - the new panellists on the revived Spicks and Specks on ABC1, the fresh cast of Nine's Celebrity Apprentice, the new judging panel for Australia's Got Talent (in the format snapped up by Nine). Expect plenty more women to be reckoned with.

csams@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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