The Golden Girls was such a unique show because it allowed something so simple and natural to be center stage.
The show featured four older women when it premiered in 1985. Three of them were middle-aged — Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan). And one was an acerbic, 80-something widow, Sophia (Estelle Getty), who basically was comedian Don Rickles with a straw purse and support hose.
Three women were widows, one was divorced. They dealt with everyday issues like love, children, aging, finances and various social issues. It was ordinary fare, but told from the colorful prism of some sassy, well-seasoned women.
Funny is funny, no matter who is cracking the jokes.
Betty White talked about how the show championed aging during a 1991 interview for the Today show. By this time, the show had been on air for six delightful years.
“You don’t fall off the planet just because you pass a certain age,” White said. “You don’t lose any of your sense of humor (and) you don’t lose any of your zest for life, or your lust for life, if you will.
“If you were a dull young person, you’re going to be a dull old person,” White said. “I don’t think just because the years go by you have to be that way.”
There Was Nothing Dull About Golden Girls
There certainly was nothing dull about the Golden Girls. As actresses, they all were at the height of their craft. All four women won Emmys over three straight years. The show twice won the Emmy for best comedy series. Fans of all ages adored the Golden Girls because they were funny.
To get an idea of what the nation preferred back in 1985, the year of the Golden Girls premiere, the top series was The Cosby Show. The series was about an upper-middle-class Black family. The second-rated show was Family Ties, a series about a family with teen-aged kids. Murder She Wrote was third. This show was more like the Golden Girls, in that the star — Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher — played an older mystery writer/amateur detective.
The news show 60 Minutes was fifth, followed by prime-time soap operas Dallas and Dynasty. Miami Vice, which was set in the same city as Golden Girls, and Who’s the Boss rounded out the top 10. The Golden Girls tied with Dynasty in the ratings.
And an actress like Betty White, who’d been a prominent fixture on TV since the 1950s, became even more popular. She was 63 when Golden Girls started. So as White said, funny is funny, no matter how old you are.
Seriously, on what other show could you get lines like this one, as Dorothy discusses her mother’s new boyfriend. Mix a little sex with age in this TV cocktail and you get this dialogue:
“Ever since Ma started seeing him, she’s on the phone all the time, she stays up all night,” Dorothy said of Sophia. “Last night she came with NyQuil on her breath and his surgical stockings in her pocket.”
The Golden Girls equals timeless.