Monday, July 30, 2018

It’s #GoldenGirlsDay!

It was the show that shouldn’t have worked, produced by the studio who shouldn’t have produced it and scheduled on the worst possible night. Despite these strikes against it, The Golden Girls would help turn around the studio that produced it, bring generations together and become a legendary part of pop culture.

The show had been shopped around Hollywood for quite some time. Creator Susan Harris, despite having a successful track record in television, was not getting much interest in a series about four old ladies who were living out their retirement in Miami. There was one studio that she hadn’t taken her pitch to, however- Walt Disney Productions. She had assumed that since her show would feature bawdy jokes and adult situations Disney would not be interested. At the time, however, newly installed Disney CEO Michael Eisner was trying to revive the company’s fortunes and he wanted to start out with something big. The company had created a new label for edgier projects- Touchstone- and it wanted to be seen as a place where ideas of all kinds would be considered. Eisner had heard about Susan’s potential project and invited her to pitch it to him. He was impressed and fought to get the show made.

Others were more skeptical. Who would watch a show about some old retired ladies? After NBC expressed interest, the next big hurdle was to find the right actresses for the job. Disney approached Beatrice Arthur for the role of Dorothy Zbornak, the feisty, sharp tongued unofficial leader of the group. Ms. Arthur, however, wanted the role of Sophia. She felt that Dorothy’s character was too similar to past roles she’d had. Rue McClanahan and Betty White were asked to play sex hungry Blanche Devereaux and dim-witted Rose Nyland, though Betty wanted to play Blanche and Rue wanted to play Rose. The actresses were eventually convinced to take the original roles they had been offered and the pilot was filmed.

At first, NBC was cool to the show. NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, however, thought it could work. He was able to convince others within NBC to pick up the show, though it was relegated to the television “graveyard”- Saturday nights. 

On September 14, 1985, the show premiered and both Disney and NBC held their collective breath. Would they get the hit that both of them terribly needed? As we now know, they did. The show was an instant smash hit- literally an overnight success. It would propel NBC’s ratings into the stratosphere and gave Disney’s Touchstone Television instant credibility in the world of television.

So why were the naysayers wrong? First and foremost, the show cast the right actresses in the right roles. The show’s cast was stacked with veteran actresses who didn’t need time to settle into their roles. Secondly, even though the most successful television shows often stumble along in their first season,  The Golden Girls instantly found firm footing from its very first episode. 

More importantly, however, the show brought together generations of family members who could enjoy the show together. On a personal note, whenever my sister and I visited our grandmother for weekend sleepovers, Saturday nights always ended with all of us watching The Golden Girls. To me, the show brings back fond memories of laughing along with my grandmother on those long ago Saturday nights. My grandmother passed away earlier this year, so these memories and the show itself have become more important to me. These “girls” have earned a special place in my heart; they gave me a ton of laughs and fond memories with my grandmother. If anyone involved with the show ever reads this article- thank you. Your work lives on in the hearts and memories of the people it brought together.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Strange Saturdays: Picture Gary Dead

I can picture the discussion at NBC- “Kids love that Gary Coleman, don’t they? Why don’t we kill him off and make it a cartoon?” Crazy, right? Can you believe it actually happened?

The Gary Coleman Show premiered in 1982 on NBC and was based on the made for TV film The Kid With The Broken Halo in which Gary portrayed a kid who died and must help still living people to earn his wings. It was a strange role for an actor who had severe health problems for most of his life. It was even stranger that Hanna Barbera and NBC thought that a show about a dead kid was appropriate children’s programming. The show never caught on and lasted just one season.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Strange Saturdays: Mister T

The 1980’s were a strange time on television. Freed from the normal constraints that required them to produce educational children’s programming, the networks went on a crazy toy and candy binge that resulted in some of the strangest animated cartoons ever created. Today we take a look at one of the weirdest of the bunch- Mister T.

Mister T was everywhere in the 1980’s. He became a hero for kids when his weekly NBC television show- The A Team
became a huge hit. While he was little more than a vigilante on the television series, Mister T decided to become a hero to his new fans by being a great role model. He reminded kids to stay off drugs, exhorted them to treat their moms right and always drink all of their milk. He even found himself meeting the First Lady of the United States.

It seemed like a no brainer to give Mister T a cartoon show, but what would it be about? Well obviously, it should be about a traveling gymnastics team who solve crimes in their spare time. Why Mister T would be leading a team of gymnasts is not something the show ever bothered to answer. Was he their coach? A chaperone? A body guard? Who knows? The creators didn’t, so they just put in a shot of Mister T swinging an alligator around.

Amazingly, that wouldn’t be the craziest thing shown in this cartoon. Breaking with industry standards, Mister T provided his own voice for the cartoon and even went above and beyond by taping live action bumpers in which he highlighted the various lessons we were supposed to learn from each week’s episode.

Often the only lesson to be learned was not to mess with Mister T. Unfortunately for T and his gang, the long lead time required for even the cheesiest of Ruby-Spears animation meant that even the rushed production arrived towards the end of Mister T’s popularity. Mister T faced the foes who proved unbeatable- NBC executives. The show was canceled after just two seasons.