|The Golden Girls|
|Created by||Susan Harris|
|Theme music composer||Andrew Gold|
|Opening theme||"Thank You for Being a Friend" written by Andrew Gold sung by Cynthia Fee|
|Ending theme||"Thank You for Being a Friend" Instrumental|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||7|
|No. of episodes||180|
Paul Junger Witt
|Running time||22-24 minutes|
|Distributor||Buena Vista Television|
|Picture format||480i (4:3 SDTV)|
|Original release||September 14, 1985 -|
May 9, 1992
|Followed by||The Golden Palace|
|Related shows||Empty Nest|
The Golden Girls is an American comedy drama television series created by Susan Harris that originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning seven seasons. The show stars Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty as four older women who share friendship, and a home in Miami, Florida. It was produced by Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, in association with Touchstone Television, and Paul Junger Witt. Tony Thomas and Harris served as the original executive producers.
The Golden Girls received critical acclaim throughout most of its run and won several awards including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy. Each of the four stars received an Emmy Award, making it one of only three sitcoms in the award's history to achieve this. The series also ranked among the Nielsen ratings Top 10 for six of its seven seasons. In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Golden Girls number 54 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time. In 2014, the Writers Guild of America placed the sitcom at number 69 in their list of the "101 Best Written TV Series of All Time".
The show had an ensemble cast and the plot revolves around four older single women (three widows and one divorcée) sharing a house in Miami. The owner of the house is a widow named Blanche Devereaux (McClanahan), who was joined by fellow widow Rose Nylund (White) and divorcée Dorothy Zbornak (Arthur), after they both responded to an ad on the bulletin board of a local grocery store a year before the start of the series. In the pilot episode, the three were joined by Dorothy's 80-year-old mother, Sophia Petrillo (Getty), after the retirement home where she had been living burned down.
The first episode featured a cook/butler named Coco (played by Charles Levin), but the role was dropped before the second episode. The writers observed that in many of the proposed scripts, the main interaction between the women occurred in the kitchen while preparing and eating food. They decided that a separate cook would distract from their friendship. In addition, the character of Sophia had originally been planned as an occasional guest star, but Getty had tested so positively with preview audiences that the producers decided to make her a regular character.
After six consecutive seasons in the top 10, and the seventh season at number 30, The Golden Girls came to an end when Bea Arthur chose to leave the series. In the hour-long series finale, which aired in May 1992, Dorothy meets and marries Blanche's uncle Lucas (Leslie Nielsen) and moves to Hollingsworth Manor in Atlanta, Georgia. Sophia was to join her, but in the end, she stays behind with the other women in Miami. This led into the spin-off series, The Golden Palace.
The series finale of The Golden Girls was watched by 27.2 million viewers. As of 2016, it was the 17th-most watched television finale.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||25||September 14, 1985||May 10, 1986||7||21.8|
|2||26||September 27, 1986||May 16, 1987||5||24.5|
|3||25||September 19, 1987||May 7, 1988||4||21.8|
|4||26||October 8, 1988||May 13, 1989||6||21.4|
|5||26||September 23, 1989||May 5, 1990||6||20.1|
|6||26||September 22, 1990||May 4, 1991||10||16.5|
|7||26||September 21, 1991||May 9, 1992||30||13.1|
Ideas for a comedy series about older women emerged during the filming of a television special at NBC's Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, in August 1984. Produced to introduce the network's 1984-85 season schedule, two actresses appearing on NBC shows, Selma Diamond of Night Court and Doris Roberts of Remington Steele, appeared in a skit promoting the upcoming show Miami Vice as Miami Nice, a parody about old people living in Miami. NBC senior vice president Warren Littlefield was among the executive producers in the audience who were amused by their performance, and he envisioned a series based on the geriatric humor the two were portraying.
Shortly afterward, he met with producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas, who were pitching a show about a female lawyer. Though Littlefield nixed their idea, he asked if they would be interested in delivering a pilot script for Miami Nice instead. Their regular writer declined, so Witt asked his wife, Susan Harris, who had been planning to retire after the conclusion of their ABC series Soap. She found the concept interesting, as "it was a demographic that had never been addressed," and she soon began work on it. Though her vision of a sitcom about women in their 60s differed from NBC's request for a comedy about women around 40 years old, Littlefield was impressed when he received her pilot script and subsequently approved production of it.The Cosby Show director Jay Sandrich, who had previously worked with Harris, Witt, and Thomas on Soap, agreed to direct.
The pilot included a gay houseboy, Coco (Charles Levin), who lived with the girls. Levin had been suggested by then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff based on Levin's groundbreaking portrayal of a recurring gay character, Eddie Gregg, on NBC's Emmy-winning drama Hill Street Blues. After the pilot, the character of Coco was eliminated from the series.
The part of Sophia Petrillo was the first of the four roles to be cast. Estelle Getty auditioned and won the role of the feisty mother of character Dorothy Zbornak. This was due, in part, to the rave reviews she garnered in her Off-Broadway role reprisal for the 1984 Los Angeles run of Torch Song Trilogy. Afterwards, Getty had returned to New York but gained permission from her manager to return to California in early 1985. Getty figured it would be her last chance to find television or film work. She would return home to New York if she was unsuccessful.
Casting director Judith Weiner had seen Torch Song Trilogy and thought Getty was terrific in it. She was also impressed by Getty's audition for the role of the mother of Steven Keaton (played by actor Michael Gross) for a guest episode of Family Ties. Although Getty was impressive, the show's producers went with another actress. Getty came to Weiner's mind soon after when it became time to begin casting of The Golden Girls.
Getty, who went through a three-hour transformation to become Sophia, wore heavy make-up, thick glasses, and a white wig to look the part. The character of Sophia was thought by the creators to enhance the idea that three retirement-aged women could be young. Disney's Michael Eisner explains, "Estelle Getty made our three women into girls. And that was, to me, what made it seem like it could be a contemporary, young show." As surprising as it might sound, Estelle Getty continuously battled her stage fright. During an interview in 1988, Getty commented on her phobia and expressed how working with major stars, such as Arthur and White, made her even more nervous. At times, she even froze on camera while filming.
Hired to film the pilot, director Jay Sandrich also became instrumental in helping to cast the roles of Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund. Both Rue McClanahan and Betty White came into consideration as the series Mama's Family, in which the two co-starred, had been canceled by NBC. Originally, producers wanted to cast McClanahan as Rose and White as Blanche. The thinking for this was based on roles they previously played; White portrayed man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, while McClanahan co-starred as sweet but scatter-brained Vivian Harmon in Maude. Eager not to be typecast, they took the suggestion of Sandrich and switched roles last-minute.
In the pilot script, Blanche was described as "more Southern than Blanche DuBois", so McClanahan was perplexed when she was asked by director Sandrich during the filming of the pilot not to use the strong southern accent she had developed, but to use her natural Oklahoma accent instead. Once the show was picked up for a first season, the new director Paul Bogart felt exactly the opposite, insisting that McClanahan use a Southern accent. McClanahan deliberately exaggerated her accent, stating "I played Blanche the way I felt Blanche. She thought an accentuated Southern accent...would be sexy and strong and attractive to men. She wanted to be a southern heroine, like Vivien Leigh. In fact, that's who I think she thought she was."
Though Harris had created the character of Dorothy with a "Bea Arthur type" in mind, Littlefield and the producers initially envisioned actress Elaine Stritch for the part. Stritch's audition flopped, however, and under the impression that Arthur did not want to participate, Harris asked McClanahan if she could persuade Arthur, with whom she worked previously on the CBS sitcom Maude, to take the role. Arthur flipped upon reading the script, but felt hesitant about McClanahan's approach, as she did not "want to play (their Maude characters) Maude and Vivian meet Sue Ann Nivens." She reconsidered, however, after hearing that McClanahan and White had switched roles.
Bea Arthur and Betty White worked well together in shared mutual respect but they did not pursue a personal friendship with one another outside of The Golden Girls set. Arthur's son, Matthew Saks, later spoke of tension between the two actresses, stating that his mother "unknowingly carried the attitude that it was fun to have somebody to be angry at...It was almost like Betty became her nemesis, someone she could always roll her eyes about at work." Both actresses had dramatically different training and acting backgrounds; Saks commented on White's habit of breaking the fourth wall to engage and joke with the studio audience during breaks between filming, which Bea Arthur found unprofessional. In 2011 White stated that she believed it was her "positive attitude" and perky demeanor which got on Arthur's nerves.
The show was the second television series to be produced by the Walt Disney Company under the Touchstone Television label, and was subsequently distributed by Buena Vista International, Inc. (which holds as the ownership stake in Disney Channel Southeast Asia, now Disney-ABC Television Group).
Creator Susan Harris went on to contribute another four episodes to the first season, but became less involved with the sitcom throughout its run; she continued reading all scripts, though, and remained familiar with most of the storylines. Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman were the first head writers of the series and wrote for the show's first four seasons. As head writers, Speer and Grossman, along with Mort Nathan and Barry Fanaro, who won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing the first season, gave general ideas to lower staff writers, and personally wrote a handful of scripts each season.
In 1989, Marc Sotkin, previously a writer on Laverne & Shirley and a producer on fellow Witt/Thomas series It's a Living, assumed head-writing responsibilities, and guided the show (to varying degrees) during what were its final three seasons. Richard Vaczy and Tracy Gamble, previously writers on 227 and My Two Dads, also assumed the roles of producers and head writers. Beginning in 1990, Marc Cherry served as writer and producer, years before creating Desperate Housewives, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2012.Mitchell Hurwitz also served as writer for the show in its last two seasons. Hurwitz later created Arrested Development for Fox and later for Netflix.
Cherry commented on read-throughs of the scripts that "generally, if the joke was a good one, the women found a way to make it work the very first time they read it. You have a lot of table reads where the actors will mess it up because they don't understand what the characters are doing, or they misinterpret. But the women were so uniformly brilliant at nailing it the first time...we basically knew that if the women didn't get it right the first time, the joke needed to be replaced."
Estelle Getty's stage fright, which affected her from the beginning of the show, grew worse as the show went on, to the point that she would forget her lines more and more. Beginning in Season 5, she would have to read her lines off cue cards held off-camera or from props. Rue McClanahan, who shared a dressing room with Getty, described the severity of Getty's stage fright: "She'd panic. She would start getting under a dark cloud the day before tape day...You could see a big difference in her that day. She'd be walking around like Pig-Pen under a black cloud. By tape day, she was unreachable. She was just as uptight as a human being could get. When your brain is frozen like that, you can't remember lines."
During season six there was some uncertainty over whether Bea Arthur would commit to future seasons, or leave the show once her contract expired to pursue other projects. Arthur had expressed weariness with doing the show, and had also grown frustrated with the disparaging jokes made about her physical appearance which were often in the script.Debbie Reynolds was brought on as a guest star in the season 6 episode "There Goes the Bride: Part 2" to test her chemistry with the other actresses as a possible replacement for Arthur, but it was decided that nobody could replicate the chemistry of the four original actresses. In any event, Arthur chose to commit to a seventh and final season.
The house's address was mentioned as being 6151 Richmond Street, Miami. The model used for exterior shots of the house from the third season through the end of the series was part of the backstage studio tour ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This façade, along with the Empty Nest house, sustained hurricane damage leading to Disney's 2003 decision to bulldoze the houses of "Residential Street" and construct its "Lights, Motors, Action!" attraction. The façade was based on a real house at 245 N. Saltair Avenue in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. Producers used this residence for exterior shots during the first two seasons.
The show's designer, Ed Stephenson, took inspiration from his time living in Florida to design a "Florida look" for The Golden Girls house set. The wooden accents, columns, and doors were painted to mimic Bald cypress wood, popular in South Florida homes, with rattan furniture and tropical-printed upholstery chosen for the furniture.
The kitchen set seen on The Golden Girls was originally used on an earlier Witt/Thomas/Harris series, It Takes Two, which aired on ABC from 1982 to 1983. However, the exterior backdrop seen through the kitchen window changed from the view of Chicago high-rises to palm trees and bushes for the Miami setting. Space was limited on the soundstage, so when the kitchen was off camera it was usually detached from the rest of the set and the space used for something else. The doorway from the living room, with the alcove and baker's shelf just inside, was designed to give the illusion that the actors were walking in and out of the kitchen.
Costume designer Judy Evans created distinctive looks for each of the four actresses to suit their character's personalities and to reflect the Florida setting. According to Evans "I wanted a sexy, soft, and flowing look for Rue, a tailored, pulled-together look for Bea, a down-home look for Betty, and comfort for Estelle." Anna Wyckoff of the Costume Designers Guild wrote that "Evans took the direction from the producers to create a vibrant look for the four mature leads, and ran with it...redefining what "dressing your age" looked like." Many of the character's outfits were designed by Evans and made specially, but there were between seven and ten costume changes per episode between the four actresses, which entailed a great deal of off the rack shopping. Evans generally dressed the actresses in expensive pieces and high quality fabrics, despite the recurring theme that the four characters were struggling with money, because "The main idea was to make them look good. We didn't want the show to be about four dowdy ladies."
Bea Arthur had a preference for wearing loose fitting clothing, like slacks and long sweaters, along with sandals because she hated wearing shoes. She had established this signature look while playing Maude, and Evans honored it in her designs for Dorothy. Much of Arthur's wardrobe was custom-made because at the time it was difficult to find off-the-rack clothing that was flattering for a taller woman. Rue McClanahan had a special clause written into her contract allowing her to keep her costumes, which were mostly custom-made using expensive fabrics. Eventually McClanahan went on to create a clothing line for QVC, called "A Touch of Rue", inspired by Blanche but made with affordable fabrics and practical designs.
The Golden Girls was shot on videotape in front of a live studio audience. Many episodes of the series followed a similar format or theme. For example, one or more of the women would become involved in some sort of problem, often involving other family members, men, or an ethical dilemma. At some point, they would gather around the kitchen table and discuss the problem, sometimes late at night and often while eating cheesecake, ice cream or some other dessert. One of the other girls then told a story from her own life, which somehow related to the problem (though Rose occasionally regaled a nonsense story that had nothing to do with the situation, and Sophia told outrageous made-up stories). Some episodes featured flashbacks to previous episodes, flashbacks to events not shown in previous episodes, or to events that occurred before the series began. Though the writing was mostly comical, dramatic moments and sentimental endings were included in several episodes. One of the actresses on the show, Bea Arthur, actually hated cheesecake.
During the NBC upfronts, the preview screening of the show got a standing ovation. The show promptly received a full order of 12 episodes.
An instant ratings hit, The Golden Girls became an NBC staple on Saturday nights. The show was the anchor of NBC's Saturday line-up, and almost always won its time slot, as ABC and CBS struggled to find shows to compete against it, the most notable being ABC's Lucille Ball sitcom Life With Lucy in the beginning of the 1986-87 season. The Golden Girls was part of a series of Brandon Tartikoff shows that put an end to NBC's ratings slump, along with The Cosby Show, 227, Night Court, Miami Vice, and L.A. Law.
The show dealt with many controversial issues, such as coming out and same-sex marriage,elder care and homelessness, HIV/AIDS and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, US immigration policy, death and assisted suicide.
Writer and producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason created a sitcom with this kind of image as a "four women" show, which became Designing Women on CBS. Designing Women began competing against The Golden Girls in the same time slot, however The Golden Girls always got the higher rating, resulting in CBS pushing Designing Women to Mondays.
At the request of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who was reputedly a big fan, the cast of The Golden Girls performed several skits as their characters in front of her and other members of the Royal Family at the 1988 Royal Variety Performance in London.
During its original run, The Golden Girls received 68 Emmy nominations, 11 Emmy awards, four Golden Globe Awards, and two Viewers for Quality Television awards. All the lead actresses won Emmy Awards for their performances on the show. The Golden Girls is one of three live action shows, along with All in the Family and Will & Grace where all the principal actors have won at least one Emmy Award.
Beginning July 3, 1989, NBC added daytime reruns of the show, replacing long-running Wheel of Fortune (it moved to CBS) on the NBC schedule at 11:00 a.m.(EST). It ran for a little over a year until September 1990. At this time, syndicated reruns began airing, distributed by Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC Domestic Television), the syndication arm of Disney, whose Touchstone Television division produced the series.
In March 1997, the Lifetime cable network acquired the exclusive rights to repeat the episodes of The Golden Girls in the US for over a decade, until March 1, 2009. Many episodes were edited to allow more commercials and for content.
Both the Hallmark Channel and WE tv picked up the reruns in March 2009. As of February 2013, We TV's rights expired and Viacom networks' TV Land, home to Betty White's last series Hot in Cleveland, purchased them, as did Logo TV.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment has released all seven seasons of The Golden Girls on DVD in Region 1 and Region 4 with the first four being released in Region 2. On November 9, 2010, the studio released a complete series box set titled The Golden Girls: 25th Anniversary Complete Collection. The 21-disc collection features all 180 episodes of the series as well as all special features contained on the previously released season sets; it is encased in special collectible packaging, a replica of Sophia's purse. On November 15, 2005, Warner Home Video released The Golden Girls: A Lifetime Intimate Portrait Series on DVD which contains a separate biography of Arthur, White, McClanahan and Getty, revealing each woman's background, rise to stardom and private life, which originally aired on Lifetime network between June 2000 and January 2003.
Australian Region 4 DVD Releases:
Upon the success of The Golden Girls creator Susan Harris later devised Empty Nest as a spin-off from The Golden Girls with some character crossovers. Nurses was later spun-off from Empty Nest, and the shows occasionally had special episodes in which characters from one show made appearances in the others.
After the original series ended, White, McClanahan, and Getty reprised their characters in the CBS series The Golden Palace, which ran from September 1992 to May 1993, and also starred Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle (Bea Arthur guest-starred in a double episode, reprising her role as Dorothy). The show never approached the popularity or acclaim of the original, and ranked 57th in the annual ratings. Reportedly, a second season was approved before being canceled the day before the network announced its 1993-94 schedule.
Lifetime, which held the rights to The Golden Girls at the time, aired reruns of The Golden Palace in the summer of 2005, and again in December of that year. This was the first time since 1993 that The Golden Palace was seen on American television. Until April 2006, Lifetime played the series as a virtual season eight, airing the series in between the conclusion of the final season and the syndicated roll-over to season one.
Capitalizing on the popularity of The Golden Girls, creator Susan Harris decided to develop a spin-off, centering on the empty nest syndrome. The initial pilot was aired as the 1987 Golden Girls episode "Empty Nests" and starred Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno as George and Renee Corliss, a married couple living next to the Golden Girls characters, who face empty nest syndrome after their teenage daughter moves out. When that idea was not well received, Harris retooled the series as a vehicle for Richard Mulligan, and the following year Empty Nest debuted, starring Mulligan as pediatrician Harry Weston, a widower whose two adult daughters moved back home. Characters from both shows made occasional crossover guest appearances on the other show, with the four girls guesting on Empty Nest and Mulligan, Dinah Manoff, Kristy McNichol, David Leisure, and Park Overall appearing on The Golden Girls in their Empty Nest roles. After the end of The Golden Palace, Getty joined the cast of Empty Nest, making frequent appearances as Sophia in the show's final two seasons.
Mulligan and Manoff were alumni from one of Susan Harris' earlier shows, Soap.
Empty Nest launched its own spin-off in 1991 set in Miami in the same hospital where Dr. Weston worked. The series starred Stephanie Hodge and a set of other young female and male nurses. As one of the few times in television history where three shows from the same producer, set in the same city, aired back-to-back-to-back on the same network, the three shows occasionally took advantage of their unique circumstance to create storylines carrying through all three series, such as "Hurricane Saturday". Starring actress Hodge left after two seasons, David Rasche joining the cast at the start of the second season and Loni Anderson being added as the new hospital administrator in the third.
The Golden Girls: Live! was an off-Broadway show that opened in the summer of 2003 in New York City at Rose's Turn theater in the West Village, and ran until November of that year. The production ended because the producers failed to secure the rights and received a cease and desist order by the creators of the original television show. Featuring an all-male cast in drag, The Golden Girls: Live! consisted of two back-to-back episodes of the sitcom: "Break-In" (season one, episode eight) and "Isn't It Romantic?" (season two, episode five).
The cast of The Golden Girls, Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose, have been even further immortalised in two puppet parody shows Thank You For Being A Friend and That Golden Girls Show: A Puppet Parody, both created by Australian screenwriter, Thomas Duncan-Watt and producer, Jonathan Rockefeller.
In 2017 a Golden Girls-themed eatery Rue La Rue Cafe owned by Rue McLanahan's close friend Michael La Rue, who inherited many of the star's personal belongings and in turn decorated the restaurant with them, opened in the Washington Heights section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. The eatery closed in November 2017 after less than a year of operation.