The Golden Girls

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The Golden Girls
Golden Girls title.svg
GenreSitcom
Created bySusan Harris
StarringBea Arthur
Betty White
Rue McClanahan
Estelle Getty
Theme music composerAndrew Gold
Opening theme"Thank You for Being a Friend" by Cynthia Fee
Ending theme"Thank You for Being a Friend" Instrumental
Composer(s)George Tipton
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes173 (original run)
180 (syndication) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Susan Harris
Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Camera setupVideotape
Multi-camera
Production company(s)Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions
DistributorTouchstone Television
Disney-ABC Domestic Television
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Original runSeptember 14, 1985 (1985-09-14)  – May 9, 1992 (1992-05-09)
Chronology
Followed byThe Golden Palace
Related showsEmpty Nest
Nurses
 
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For other uses, see Golden Girl (disambiguation).
The Golden Girls
Golden Girls title.svg
GenreSitcom
Created bySusan Harris
StarringBea Arthur
Betty White
Rue McClanahan
Estelle Getty
Theme music composerAndrew Gold
Opening theme"Thank You for Being a Friend" by Cynthia Fee
Ending theme"Thank You for Being a Friend" Instrumental
Composer(s)George Tipton
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes173 (original run)
180 (syndication) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Susan Harris
Paul Junger Witt
Tony Thomas
Camera setupVideotape
Multi-camera
Production company(s)Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions
DistributorTouchstone Television
Disney-ABC Domestic Television
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Picture format480i (SDTV)
Original runSeptember 14, 1985 (1985-09-14)  – May 9, 1992 (1992-05-09)
Chronology
Followed byThe Golden Palace
Related showsEmpty Nest
Nurses

The Golden Girls is an American sitcom, created by Susan Harris, that originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida. It was produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, in association with Touchstone Television, and Paul Junger Witt, Tony Thomas, and Harris served as the original executive producers.

The Golden Girls received critical acclaim throughout most of its run and won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.[1] Each of the four stars received an Emmy Award (from multiple nominations during the series' run), making it one of only three sitcoms in the award's history to achieve this.[2][3] The series also ranked among the top ten highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons.[4] In 2014, the Writers Guild Of America placed the sitcom at #69 in their list of the "101 Best Written TV Series Of All Time".[5]

Series overview[edit]

The series revolves around four older, single women (three widows and one divorcée) sharing a house in Miami, Florida. The owner of the house is a widow named Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), who was joined by fellow widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and divorcée Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) after they both responded to a room-for-rent ad on the bulletin board of a local grocery store. In the pilot episode, the three were joined by Dorothy's 80 year-old mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), after the retirement home where she lived burned down.[6][7] Initially, the women had a gay cook named Coco (Charles Levin) who lived with them, but the character was never seen again after the pilot episode.[8]

Finale[edit]

After six consecutive seasons in the top 10, and a seventh season at #30, The Golden Girls came to an end when Bea Arthur chose to leave the series. In the hour-long series finale, which aired in May 1992, Dorothy meets and marries Blanche's Uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen), and moves to Hollingsworth Manor in Atlanta, Georgia. Sophia was to join her, but in the end, Sophia stays behind with the other girls in Miami, leading into the spin-off series, The Golden Palace.

Dorothy, after making an emotional speech and telling the girls that "I love you, always", comes rushing back in through different entrances of the house for their final goodbyes, until making her final exit, saying "You'll always be my sisters. Always", leaving the other three ladies. The series finale was watched by 27.2 million viewers. As of 2010, the finale ranked at #17 of most-watched finales.[9]

Characters[edit]

Main characters[edit]

Main characters in the final scene from the episode season two "Big Daddy's Little Lady" (from left): Estelle Getty as Sophia, Rue McClanahan as Blanche, Betty White as Rose, and Bea Arthur as Dorothy

Recurring characters[edit]

Empty Nest crossovers[edit]

See also: § Empty Nest

Production[edit]

Creation[edit]

"I was running all over the house grabbing anybody who would listen. I kept reading scenes to them and saying 'God, this is brilliant [...] There's nothing trendy about this show. There are no tricks. It's a classic"
—NBC executive Warren Littlefield about reading the series pilot.[10]

Ideas for a comedy series about older women emerged during the filming of a television special at NBC's Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, in August 1984.[10] Produced to introduce the network's 1984–85 season schedule, two actresses appearing on NBC shows, Selma Diamond of Night Court and Doris Roberts of Remington Steele, appeared in a skit promoting the upcoming show Miami Vice as Miami Nice, a parody about old people living in Miami, Florida.[11] NBC senior vice president Warren Littlefield was among the executive producers in the audience who were amused by their performance, and he envisioned a series based on the geriatric humor the two were portraying.[10]

Shortly afterward, he met with producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas who were pitching a show about a female lawyer. Though Littlefield nixed their idea, he asked them if they were interested in delivering a pilot script for Miami Nice instead, but as their regular writer declined, Witt agreed to ask his wife, Susan Harris.[10] While they had doubts whether Harris, who initially had planned to retire after the ending of their ABC series Soap,[12] would pen another project, Harris found the concept to be interesting as "it was a demographic that had never been addressed," and she soon resumed work.[10] Though her vision of a sitcom about women in their 60s differed with NBC's request to write a comedy about women at the age of around 40,[13] Littlefield was impressed when he received Harris' pilot script and subsequently approved production of the pilot.[10] The Cosby Show director Jay Sandrich, who had previously worked with Harris, Witt and Thomas on Soap, agreed to direct.[14]

Casting[edit]

Hired to film the pilot, veteran director Sandrich would also become instrumental in the casting process for the series. Both Rue McClanahan and Betty White came into consideration as the series Mama's Family, in which the two co-starred, had been cancelled by NBC. Originally producers wanted to cast McClanahan as Rose and White as Blanche. The thinking for this was based on roles they previously played; White portrayed man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, while McClanahan co-starred as sweet but scatter-brained Vivian Harmon in Maude. Eager not to be typecast, they took the suggestion of Sandrich and switched roles last-minute.[8][10]

Though Harris had created the character of Dorothy with a "Bea Arthur type" in mind, Littlefield and the producers initially envisioned actress Elaine Stritch for the part.[8] Stritch's audition flopped however, and under the impression that Arthur didn't want to participate, Harris asked McClanahan if she could persuade Arthur, with whom she worked previously on the CBS sitcom Maude, to take the role. Arthur flipped upon reading the script, but felt hesitant about McClanahan's approach as she didn't "want to play (their Maude characters) Maude and Vivian meet Sue Ann Nivens." She reconsidered, however, after hearing that McClanahan and White had switched roles.

Estelle Getty, who was younger than both Bea Arthur and Betty White, was the last to be cast as the elderly mother of Arthur's character. Tony Thomas spotted her playing the mother role on Broadway in Torch Song Trilogy, and asked her to audition.[10] Getty, who went through a three-hour transformation to become Sophia, wore heavy make-up, thick glasses and a white wig to look the part.[15] The character of Sophia was thought by the creators to enhance the idea that three retirement age women could be young. Disney's Michael Eisner explains, "Estelle Getty made our three women into girls. And that was, to me, what made it seem like it could be a contemporary, young show."[16]

Years after the show, it emerged that Bea Arthur and Betty White were not fond of each other. Some speculated this may have been because Betty White won the first Emmy for the show. However, in interviews, Betty White indicated that their conflict was due to a fundamental personality conflict with Bea Arthur becoming easily irritated by Betty White's positive, perky demeanor.[17]

Writing and taping[edit]

Miami skyline as used for Season 1 Title Card

Creator Susan Harris went on to contribute another four episodes to the first season, but became less involved with the sitcom throughout its run; she would however continue reading all scripts and remained familiar with most of the storylines. Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman were the first head writers of the series and wrote for the show's first four seasons. As head writers, Speer and Grossman along with Mort Nathan and Barry Fanaro—who won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing the first season—gave general ideas to lower staff writers, and personally wrote a handful of scripts each season.[18] In 1989, Marc Sotkin, previously a writer on Laverne & Shirley, assumed head-writing responsibilities, and guided the show (to varying degrees) during what would be its final three seasons. Richard Vaczy and Tracy Gamble, previously writers on 227 and My Two Dads, also assumed the roles of producers and head writers. Beginning in 1990, Marc Cherry served as writer and producer, years before going on to create Desperate Housewives, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2012.

The show was the first television series to be produced by The Walt Disney Company under the Touchstone Television label, and was subsequently distributed by Buena Vista International, Inc. (now Disney-ABC Television Group).[19]

Exterior and interior sets[edit]

The house's address was mentioned as being 6151 Richmond Street, Miami.[20] The outside model used in the shots of the house in the series was part of the backstage studio tour ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This façade—along with the Empty Nest house—was among those destroyed in mid-2003, as Disney bulldozed the houses of "Residential Street" to make room for its "Lights, Motors, Action!" attraction. A hurricane that damaged the sets earlier also contributed to this decision. The façade is based on a real house in Brentwood, California,[21] located at 245 N Saltair Ave and was used in the exterior shots during the first season of the show. Later, the producers built a new model at Walt Disney World in Florida.[citation needed]

The kitchen set seen on The Golden Girls was originally used on an earlier Witt/Thomas/Harris series, It Takes Two, which aired on ABC from 1982 to 1983. However, the exterior backdrop seen through the kitchen window changed from the view of Chicago high-rises to palm trees and bushes for the Miami setting.

Format[edit]

The Golden Girls was shot on videotape in front of a live studio audience.[22] Many episodes of the series followed a similar format or theme. For example, one or more of the women would become involved in some sort of conflict or problem, often involving other family members, men, or an ethical dilemma. At some point, they would gather around the kitchen table and discuss the problem, sometimes late at night and often while eating cheesecake or some other dessert.[23] One of the other girls would then tell a story from her own life, which somehow related to the problem (though Rose would occasionally regale a nonsense story that had nothing to do with the situation, and Sophia would tell outrageous made-up stories). Some episodes featured flashbacks to previous episodes, flashbacks to events not shown in previous episodes or to events that occurred before the series began.[24] Though the writing was mostly comical, dramatic moments and sentimental endings were included in several episodes.

Reception[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

An immediate runaway hit, The Golden Girls became an NBC staple on Saturday nights.[25] The show was the anchor of NBC's Saturday line-up, and almost always won its time slot, as ABC and CBS struggled to find shows to compete against it, the most notable being ABC's Lucille Ball sitcom Life With Lucy in the beginning of the 1986–87 season. The Golden Girls was part of a series of Brandon Tartikoff shows that put an end to NBC's ratings slump, along with The Cosby Show, 227, Night Court, Miami Vice, and L.A. Law.

The show dealt with many topical issues, such as coming out and same-sex marriage,[26] elder care and homelessness, AIDS and discrimination against people with HIV, US immigration policy, death and assisted suicide.[27]

U.S. standard ratings[edit]

Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of The Golden Girls on NBC.

SeasonEpisodesSeason premiereSeason finaleTV seasonRankHouseholds
125September 14, 1985May 10, 19861985–86#7[28][29]18,726,200
226September 27, 1986May 16, 19871986–87#5[30]21,413,000
325September 19, 1987May 7, 19881987–88#4[29]19,314,800
426October 8, 1988May 13, 19891988–89#6[31]19,345,600
526September 23, 1989May 5, 19901989–90#6[32]18,512,100
626September 22, 1990May 4, 19911990–91#10[33]15,361,500
726September 21, 1991May 9, 19921991–92#30[34]12,065,100

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Golden Girls Disney Legends plaque at Walt Disney Studios

During its original run, The Golden Girls received 68 Emmy nominations, 11 Emmy awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and two Viewers for Quality Television awards. All the lead actresses won Emmy Awards for their performances on the show. The Golden Girls is one of three shows, along with All in the Family and Will & Grace, where all the principal actors have won at least one Emmy Award.

As a tribute to the success of The Golden Girls, all four actresses were later named Disney Legends.[35]

Distribution[edit]

Syndication[edit]

In 1989, American syndicated reruns began airing, distributed by Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC Domestic Television), the syndication arm of Disney, whose Touchstone Pictures division produced the series.

In March 1997, the Lifetime cable network acquired the exclusive rights to repeat the episodes of The Golden Girls in the US for over a decade, until March 1, 2009. The last episode aired on Lifetime on February 27, 2009. Many episodes were edited to allow more commercials and for content. The Hallmark Channel and WE tv began airing re-edited episodes of The Golden Girls in March 2009. As of February 2013, We tv's rights expired and Viacom networks' TV Land, home to Betty White's current series Hot in Cleveland, purchased them.[36] and Logo TV.[37]

In Canada, CanWest's digital specialty channel, DejaView, aired reruns of The Golden Girls from 2001 to 2004. Recently,[when?] the channel began airing them again.

In South East Asia, the Rewind Networks, began airing reruns of The Golden Girls on its HD channel, HITS, in 2013.

International broadcast[edit]

The show was seen in several locations throughout the world.

CountryTitleNotes
 BrazilSuper Gatas
 ChileLos Años Dorados
 CroatiaZlatne Djevojke
 DenmarkPantertanterFirst appeared in January 1988
 EstoniaKullakesed
 FinlandTyttökullatFirst appeared in October 1986
 FranceLes CraquantesFirst appeared in July 1992
 GermanyGolden GirlsThe series first broadcast to all of Germany on January 26, 1990.
 HungaryÖreglányok
 IrelandThe Golden GirlsThe series was shown on RTÉ One from 1986. TG4 began repeating the series in September 2010.
 IsraelBnot HaZahav
 ItalyCuori Senza Età
 New ZealandThe Golden GirlsThe series was shown on TVNZ and is replayed on public holidays.
 NorwayPantertanter
 PolandZłotka
 RomaniaFetele aurii
 SerbiaZlatne Devojke
 SloveniaZlata Dekleta
 SpainLas Chicas de Oro
 SwedenPantertanterFirst appeared starting on September 24, 1986
 TurkeyAltın Kızlar
 United KingdomThe Golden GirlsIn the United Kingdom The Golden Girls was first broadcast on Channel 4, starting on 1 August 1986 and completing the series on 7 April 1993, before broadcasting The Golden Palace from 14 April 1993. LIVING also repeated the series from the late 1990s to 2009, and from 1995 to 1998, it was repeated on Disney Channel before switching to Sky Movies Gold. Sky1 also repeated the series in full from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. In April 2013, TLC channel started repeating the series.

Home media release[edit]

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released all seven seasons of The Golden Girls on DVD in Region 1 and Region 4 with the first four being released in Region 2. On November 9, 2010, the studio released a complete series box set titled The Golden Girls: 25th Anniversary Complete Collection.[38] The 21-disc collection features all 180 episodes of the series as well as all special features contained on the previously released season sets; it is encased in special collectible packaging, a replica of Sophia's purse. On November 15, 2005, Warner Home Video released The Golden Girls: A Lifetime Intimate Portrait Series on DVD which contains a separate biography of Arthur, White, McClanahan and Getty, revealing each woman's background, rise to stardom and private life, which originally aired on Lifetime network.[39]

Spin-offs[edit]

Upon the success of The Golden Girls creator Susan Harris later devised Empty Nest as a spin-off from The Golden Girls with some character crossovers. Nurses was later spun-off from Empty Nest, and the shows would occasionally have special episodes in which characters from one show made appearances in the others.[40]

The Golden Palace[edit]

Main article: The Golden Palace

After the original series ended, White, McClanahan, and Getty reprised their characters in the CBS series The Golden Palace, which ran from September 1992 to May 1993, and also starred Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle (Bea Arthur guest starred once reprising her role as Dorothy).[41] The show never approached the popularity or acclaim of the original, and ranked 57th in the annual ratings. Reportedly a second season was approved before being cancelled the day before the fall schedule was announced.

Lifetime, which held the rights to The Golden Girls at the time, aired reruns of The Golden Palace in the summer of 2005, and again in December of that year. This was the first time since 1993 that The Golden Palace was seen on American television. Until April 2006, Lifetime played the series as a virtual Season 8, airing the series in between the conclusion of the final season and the syndicated roll-over to Season 1.

Empty Nest[edit]

Estelle Getty at the 41st annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 1989

Capitalizing on the popularity of The Golden Girls, creator Susan Harris decided to develop a spin-off, centering around the empty nest syndrome. The initial pilot was aired as the 1987 Golden Girls episode "Empty Nests" and starred Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno as George and Renee Corliss, a married couple living next to the Golden Girls characters, who faces empty nest syndrome after their three adult daughters moved out.[42] When that idea wasn't well-received, Harris retooled the series as a vehicle for Richard Mulligan and the following year Empty Nest debuted, starring Mulligan as pediatrician Harry Weston, a widower whose two adult daughters moved back home. Characters from both shows made occasional guest appearances on the other show, with the four Girls guesting on Empty Nest and Mulligan, Dinah Manoff, Kristy McNichol, David Leisure and Park Overall appearing on The Golden Girls in their Empty Nest roles.[43] After the end of The Golden Palace, Getty joined the cast of Empty Nest, making frequent appearances as Sophia in the show's final two seasons.

Empty Nest launched its own spin-off in 1991, Nurses, set in the same hospital where Dr. Weston worked. As one of the few times in television history that three shows from the same producer, set in the same city, aired back-to-back-to-back on a single network in the same night, the three shows occasionally took advantage of their unique circumstances to create storylines that carried through all three series, such as "Hurricane Saturday". This was one of the major factors in the popularity of fictional crossovers as a television plot device in the 1990s.

Adaptations[edit]

Stage[edit]

The Golden Girls: Live! was an Off-Broadway show that opened in the summer of 2003 in New York City at Rose's Turn theater in the West Village, and ran until November of that year.[44] The production ended because the producers failed to secure the rights and received a cease and desist order by the creators of the original television show. Featuring an all-male cast in drag, The Golden Girls: Live! consisted of two back-to-back episodes of the sitcom: Break-In (Season 1, Episode 8) and Isn't It Romantic? (Season 2, Episode 5).

Foreign versions[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]