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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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] All four stars each received an Emmy Award throughout the series, making it one of only three sitcoms in the award's history to achieve this feat. The actresses also had multiple nominations.[2][3] The series also ranked among the top ten highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons.[4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7]

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. Presumably, 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.[8]

Characters[edit]

Main characters[edit]

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

Recurring characters[edit]

The show also drew many well-known or then up-and-coming actors and actresses for single guest starring roles, such as Don Ameche, Barbara Babcock, Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ken Berry, Lloyd Bochner, Sonny Bono, Eddie Bracken, Joseph Campanella, Virginia Capers, Rosalind Cash, George Clooney, Polly Holliday, Robert Culp, Ruby Dee, the Del Rubio triplets, Jeane Dixon, Anne Francis, Johnny Gilbert, Jack Gilford, Alice Ghostley, Beth Grant, Peter Graves, Merv Griffin, George Grizzard, Gary Grubbs, Bob Hope, Julio Iglesias, Freddie Jackson, Tony Jay, Billy Jayne, Gordon Jump, Paula Kelly, Alan King, David Leisure, Jenny Lewis, Hal Linden, Mario Lopez, Ralph Manza, Kevin McCarthy, Edie McClurg, Marian Mercer, Martin Mull, Leslie Nielsen, Jeanette Nolan, Jerry Orbach, Leland Orser, Milo O'Shea, Robert Picardo, Tony Plana, Peggy Pope, Joe Regalbuto, Burt Reynolds, Debbie Reynolds, Donnelly Rhodes, Richard Riehle, Alex Rocco, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Harry Shearer, Reid Shelton, McLean Stevenson, Inga Swenson, Jeffrey Tambor, Meshach Taylor, Jay Thomas, Alex Trebek, Dick Van Dyke, Tom Villard, Lyle Waggoner, David Wayne, and Fred Willard. Director Quentin Tarantino appeared as an Elvis impersonator in one episode.

The Westons[edit]

Like many sitcoms and serials of the 1980s and early 1990s, The Golden Girls frequently referenced neighbors in storylines and set-ups for gags and crossovers. Eight neighboring families were referenced over the show's run; one of them (The Westons) evolved into a spinoff of its own, Empty Nest. Of the nine neighbor families only the Westons, the McDowels, the Bartons, and Frieda Claxton were actually shown on screen; the rest were only mentioned.

The Westons consisted of Dr. Harry Weston, his dog Dreyfus and his two daughters; Barbara and Carol. It was established in two episodes of The Golden Girls that Dr. Weston was a widower. His late wife's name was revealed to be Libby when the Westons were spun off into Empty Nest. Dr. Weston was portrayed by Richard Mulligan and the character was a pediatrician. Harry Weston was prominently featured in a two-episode story arc in which Dorothy suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. He was instrumental in her proper diagnosis, being the only physician besides his referral who believed she was actually sick.

His two daughters also appeared throughout the sitcom's run. His middle daughter, Barbara, was portrayed by Kristy McNichol. She made her living as a policewoman and in one episode she arrested a man in the girls' living room. In Empty Nest, it was revealed she moved back in with her father because she accumulated significant credit card debt and could no longer afford to live on her own.

His other daughter, Carol, (portrayed by Dinah Manoff) also appeared in several episodes. Carol had slightly more direct involvement with girls than Barbara. She dated Stanley Zbornak's psychiatrist, Dr. Richard (Richie) Halperin, in one episode and crashed Blanche's party in the episode 'Moonlight Madness'. Carol was neurotic and emotionally unstable. Her career, although thoroughly explored in Empty Nest, was never mentioned in The Golden Girls.

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.[9]

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.[9] Produced to introduce the network's 1984-1985 season schedule, two actresses appearing on NBC shows, Selma Diamond, of Night Court, and Doris Roberts, then of Remington Steele fame, appeared in a skit promoting the upcoming show Miami Vice as Miami Nice, a parody about old people living in Miami, Florida.[10] 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.[9]

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.[9] While they had doubts whether Harris, who initially had planned to retire after the ending of their ABC series Soap,[11] 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.[9] 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,[12] Littlefield was impressed when he received Harris' pilot script and subsequently approved production of the pilot.[9] The Cosby Show director Jay Sandrich, who had previously worked with Harris, Witt and Thomas on Soap, agreed to direct.[13]

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.[7][9]

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.[7] 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.[9] 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.[14] 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."[15]

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 gave general ideas to lower staff writers, and personally wrote a handful of scripts each season.[16] 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. Marc Cherry was a writer and producer, beginning in 1990. Cherry would go 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).[17]

Home exteriors[edit]

The house's address was mentioned as being 6151 Richmond Street, Miami.[18] 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 Summer 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[19] 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]

Kitchen set[edit]

The kitchen set seen on The Golden Girls was originally used on an earlier Witt/Thomas/Harris series, It Takes Two (ABC, 1982–1983). The sitcom was set in Chicago and starred Richard Crenna and Patty Duke Astin as a modern career couple with teenaged children (played by Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards), who found that their respective careers as a surgeon and lawyer were impacting their personal lives. After the cancelation of It Takes Two, the show's kitchen set was preserved, as the producers felt it would have use in the future, and was ultimately brought back for The Golden Girls.

For most of The Golden Girls' first season, the kitchen retained the exact same cosmetic look from It Takes Two, with the exception of the exterior backdrop seen through the kitchen window. The backdrop had changed from the view of Chicago high-rises to palm trees and bushes for the Miami setting. Toward the end of the first season, the wallpaper around the living room doorway was changed from the yellow-and-white-striped pattern held over from It Takes Two, in favor of a more modern-looking beige floral-patterned wallpaper; shelves were built into to the wall adjacent to the living room doorway.

Format[edit]

The Golden Girls was shot on videotape in front of a live studio audience.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] The show was the anchor of the Saturday line-up, and almost always won its time slot, as the other networks tried to find shows to compete against it. 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,[24] elder care and homelessness, AIDS and discrimination against people with HIV, US immigration policy, death and assisted suicide.[25]

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, 19861985–1986#7[26][27]18,726,200
226September 27, 1986May 16, 19871986–1987#5[28]21,413,000
325September 19, 1987May 7, 19881987–1988#4[27]19,314,800
426October 8, 1988May 13, 19891988–1989#6[29]19,345,600
526September 23, 1989May 5, 19901989–1990#6[30]18,512,100
626September 22, 1990May 4, 19911990–1991#10[31]15,361,500
726September 21, 1991May 9, 19921991–1992#30[32]12,065,100

Awards and nominations[edit]

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.[33]

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 for commercials and 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, to be picked up by Viacom networks TV Land (home to Betty White's current series Hot in Cleveland)[34] and Logo TV.[35]

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

International broadcast[edit]

In 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 1995–98 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.

In Ireland the series was shown on RTÉ One from 1986. TG4 began repeating the series in September 2010.

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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38]

The Golden Palace[edit]

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).[39] 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 canceled 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 included into 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.[40] 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.[41] 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.

The initial concept of the Empty Nest series appeared in an episode of Season 2 entitled "Empty Nests", however, the neighbors were named George and Renee Corliss, portrayed by Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno.[42]

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.[43] 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]