PTR Senior Staff Writer
File this under: completely nostalgic post.
Since PTR's editor in chief, TVFan, recently paid tribute to Jane Seymour and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (for which we grandfathered in both actress and show as a PTR fave), I've decided to do my own tribute to The Golden Girls, which makes its syndication move to the Hallmark Channel beginning this Sunday, March 1st with an 18-hour marathon (yes, that is 18 hours, folks).
Can I just ask: does anyone remember when network television was like this ...?
Anyone ...? Bueller ...?
Remember when the sitcom lived.
When there actually were people OVER 40-years-old on television who were NOT considered washed-up has-beens, a joke of a reality show contestant, or a horrible cosmetic surgery experiment gone wrong.
When Botox was NOT around, and every female lead actress did NOT look as if she had just walked out of some version of rehab - whether for an eating disorder, drugs, alcohol or all of the above.
When you did NOT have to figure out whether you were smarter than a fifth grader, and therefore, be entertained by ridiculous voyeuristic reality show drivel.
When Saturday night was actually THE night to sit down and watch the tube (whether you were 10, 30, 45, 60 or 80-years-old), and it was NOT the night where shows went to die.
To think I'm a thirtysomething, and I can remember when television was like this is depressing. And yet, there are plenty of you far older and wiser than I, who remember the network television landscape even MORE differently than I do.
What the heck has gone wrong with network television these days?
Is it any wonder big name film AND television actors are moving to cable because there is NOTHING FOR THEM TO DO on network besides make a special guest appearance and deal with material that is ...lame? Unimaginative? Boring? Formulaic? Hardly challenging or creatively inspiring?
I'm beginning to think that if it weren't for cable - basic or premium - continuing to bring us ORIGINAL programming (read: not ANOTHER reality show and/or not ANOTHER spinoff of two other versions of the been-there-done-that-can-we-get-over-it-please crime or legal drama procedural), I wouldn't be watching television at all.
All that said, The Golden Girls left us a legacy that resonates as strongly today as it did when the show went on the air in 1985.
And hey, we all know the 80s are back, right?
"The show is romanticized and has a fantasy element to it, but more than that there's this theme: Friendship over all, no matter what crap happens to you, you'll have best friends who are hysterically funny – and everything will be fine as long as you have your friends around," explains Jim Colucci, a television critic who wrote The Q Guide to The Golden Girls in 2006.
That idea appeals to every age group, says Colucci, including disaffected teenagers (as he was when the show began airing, as I was when I began watching) who rely on their friends to help them through rough spots.
He adds: "It's the kind of thing you can watch with a friend, your mom – and moms can pass it down to daughters, sisters to sisters."
Says longtime fan Kristine Cohen, who used to watch the show with her grandmother when she was just 10-years-old: "I used to hear her laugh and laugh," she says. "Soon we were watching every Saturday night together. My grandma had three sisters, so she would always say the Golden Girls relationship was similar to her and her sisters."
"I used to get letters from teenage girls who wanted to come live with us," remembers Rue McClanahan, who played man-hungry Blanche, alongside Bea Arthur's pragmatic and sensible Dorothy, Estelle Getty's wickedly sassy Sophia and Betty White's always-sees-the-glass-half-full Rose. "Because it was a warm, friendly show and no matter what problems we had, we faced them together."
And, yet even back then, trying to get the show on the air was nearly impossible. But we can thank legendary NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff for seeing the potential. He hired longtime producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas. Witt's wife, Susan Harris (creator of Soap and Benson), knew how to write for older people, and thus, the show was born.
Says Witt: "We had been frustrated over the years by the emphasis on young audiences on television. Comedy is such a difficult thing to master, so some of the funniest people we had worked with were older – yet in terms of series leads they were not considered attractive to networks, until this came along. Older people just have better stories – heck, they have stories. Younger people don't. There are layers of things you just can't get when you're writing younger people."
Amen to that.
We all know the show developed a major following, earning 11 Emmys® and landing in the ratings Top 10 for six out of its seven seasons. But one unexpected demographic – aside from disaffected teens – was children.
"I think kids loved Sophia," says Harris. "They loved someone who could talk back, and say the things they couldn't say. And people still tell me they couldn't have gotten through college without Golden Girls. It was like having a family."
Even though those kids are grown up, the show has managed to retain its litany of admirers thanks to DVDs and syndication. And the longevity of the show's appeal - two decades AFTER it went on the air - comes as no real surprise to Thomas; he saw it from the third episode in: "I said to Paul Witt, 'This will never tire. These people are brilliant, it's going to be funny forever. It's going to be generational – it's [I Love Lucy]-esque."
Fan Cohen says: "It gives a great example that life can be wonderful and fulfilling even in our later years – you can have new friends, handsome boyfriends, a busy social life and even a sex life!"
"We all know we're going to be Golden Girls someday," says Harris. "The worries and concerns of women in their 60s are very much the concerns of women in their 30s and 40s and 50s. Meeting guys, dating, sex, being lonely – all of that – and having friends. Those are problems with no age limits. And these women are wise, they can speak with decades of experience."
And remind us all how good network television used to be.
The Golden Girls make their move to Hallmark Channel beginning with an 18-hour marathon on Sunday, March 1 starting at 8:30 a.m. ET/PT. Then, beginning March 2, the show will air Mondays - Fridays from 9 a.m. – 10 a.m., 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. and 12 a.m. – 2 a.m. It will also air Saturdays from 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m.
Additional Source: Hallmark Syndicate