Risque for its time, “The Golden Girls” was forever locked in a battle with network censors who wanted to tone the show down.
In an interview with Pop Goes the Culture TV, “Golden Girls” star Rue McClanahan, who died in 2010 at age 76, recounted how the show’s co-creator fought NBC censors to try to keep the show on the air in spite of intransigent network executives.
“I remember many Tuesday nights, is when we taped… every night that we taped, anyway, once a week, we’d get right up to the wire, we’d get right up to eight o’clock, and we would still be censored,” McClanahan recalled. “And they would say, ‘You have to change those lines, or we’re not gonna run the show.’ And Norman Lear stood horn to horn with them, every week. And every week he won. Every week we aired the show.”
Watch McClanahan’s comments here:
‘Golden Girls’ Star Said Network Executives Call the Shots
The “Golden Girls” star further explained that while some creative people do push boundaries too far from time to time, usually, it’s the network executives who call the shots.
“The executives in any TV studio, I mean any network, are going to be a lot more conservative than the creative people that are doing the programs. And some of the time, there are some shows where I think they go too far… and not entertainingly so. I won’t name any,” McClanahan said. “In general though, in general… everything depends on who’s in charge.”
Although the show’s creative types had to do battle with network executives every week, it didn’t start out that way. “Golden Girls” executive producer Tony Thomas told Vulture in 2017 that when they first brought the pilot script to NBC, then-network president Brandon Tartikoff and protégé Warren Littlefield were thrilled.
“It was Brandon, Warren, and [then–executive vice president of prime-time programming] Perry Simon,” Thomas recalled. “And their collective reaction was rather ecstatic. It was, ‘Shoot it.’”
In fact, when speaking to Vulture, the show’s creators recalled a lot of support from the network to tackle serious subject matter. It was probably the material about the protagonists’ private lives that provoked the executives to try to censor the show.
Show Reached Its End in 1992 After Seven Seasons
“Bea decided that, having been in so many other series, she did not want to continue,” Thomas explained. “It was a decision we regretted, but understood. She didn’t want to spend the next X years of her life doing what she saw as the same thing over and over. Not that the episodes had became predictable, but I think she had basically had it with series TV.”
“And to do the show without Bea wasn’t possible,” he added. “Her reactive comedy was as brilliant as anyone we had ever seen. Continuing without her was not appealing.”
The other actresses reportedly tried but failed to entice Arthur into reunion shows after “The Golden Girls” ended. It might have meant a lot to the fans, but Arthur’s mind was made up. And so “The Golden Girls” remained a seven-season string of Emmy-winning sitcom episodes.