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.