Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Here's to THE GOLDEN GIRLS - the Rodney Dangerfield of sitcoms

Thanks to everyone who saw me on the CNN documentary, THE EIGHTIES and said nice things besides “where’d I get that tie?" One thing I was struck with in watching the two-hour look back at television was how few truly great shows came out of that decade. Nostalgia aside, the airwaves were filled with cheesy nighttime soaps, goofy multi-cam comedies, and schlock reality shows like REAL PEOPLE and LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH & FAMOUS.

Of course I’m thrilled to be associated with one of the best sitcoms of the era, CHEERS, but another ‘80s situation comedy that never really gets its due but should is THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS even won the Emmy for Comedy of the Year twice but still is rarely mentioned when you talk about the cream of sitcoms. In 2013 TV GUIDE ranked it 54th of the 60 best all-time sitcoms. Big whoop. And the following year the WGA named it 69th of 101 great sitcoms. Come on. It should be way higher than that. (And remember, I say this as someone who never worked on THE GOLDEN GIRLS.)

It also finished six years in the top ten on a night networks don’t even program original material anymore. There has not been a sitcom in the last ten years (including THE BIG BANG THEORY and MODERN FAMILY) that even comes close to posting the numbers THE GOLDEN GIRLS got weekly.

Reasons why it’s often overlooked: It’s multi-camera on tape (retro to the max), and stars four women who were Millennials in the last Millennium.

But damn that show was funny. And it still holds up.

There’s a reason it’s still airs fifteen times a night on cable (way more than a lot of the 53 best all-time sitcoms ahead of it).

A couple of years ago I moderated a panel on THE GOLDEN GIRLS at USC and was delighted to see that the auditorium was packed with students who all watched and adored the show. Gee, what a shock – kids don’t only watch shows featuring kids their own age. They watch shows that are entertaining. Who knew?

THE GOLDEN GIRLS was duly featured in THE EIGHTIES and the show’s wonderful creator, Susan Harris was suitably saluted, but what got my attention was that in the fifteen-second clip they showed there were four great laugh-out-loud jokes. Wow. Compare that to any show today.

For sheer comic timing, no cast ever could beat THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty were absolute masters of their craft, and together they were amazing. I watch those shows today and am in awe.

Various writers from THE GOLDEN GIRLS went on to create such shows as ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, MODERN FAMILY, and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS is not slick and it’s not sexy; it’s just FUNNY. Very funny. And isn’t that what a great sitcom is SUPPOSED to be? So here’s to THE GOLDEN GIRLS. You’ll be watching them long after 2 BROKE GIRLS has disappeared.

41 comments:

Aaron Hazouri said...

When I was in college, in my 20s and living with my grandmother, one of the things we had in common was THE GOLDEN GIRLS. It's one of those things that I think millenials, Gen Xers, hipsters, etc. can enjoy un-ironically. I could never stomach Full House or whatever that show was that Urkel was on, but The Golden Girls was dependably hilarious.

Jeremiah Avery said...

I enjoyed watching "Golden Girls" as a kid with my mother. As my brother got older (he was 4 when it ended) he caught it in reruns and wound up buying the seasons on DVD (Same with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"). Some of the jokes were a little over my head due to probably my age but there was still great wit and other bits of humor that came across universally.

One of my favorite exchanges between Dorothy and Rose went along the lines of:

Rose: "Can I ask a stupid question?"
Dorothy: "Better than anyone I know."

andy215 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
andy215 said...

I am a Golden Girls fanatic, and I must say I loved their dirty humor the most ;-)

norm said...

In this day and age it is funny to me the Network Wonks don't understand that the baby boomers are creeping toward the majority of TV watching, due to being of AGE.
I watched the GG before I approached their age that I am now, and having watched it Sunday, with my MIL (89) and we all laughed at the 30 year old jokes.

Mike Barer said...

I would agree that it is funny, it touches the heart and it maybe the last show that did not need pretty people to be successful.

john not mccain said...

My favorite Golden Girls moment: Dorothy has just told Blanche that a visiting friend of hers is a lesbian. Blanche says, "So what? Isn't Danny Thomas one?"

Speaking of which, on this morning's Burns and Allen, Gracie talked about how great Ava Gardner is when it comes to making love. I'm thinking "making love" didn't have the same meaning then as it does now.

Terrence Moss said...

It's revered amongst the gays. REVERED. And there is so much fan-generated merchandise and parodies and homages that has come out in the last few years.

Question Mark said...

I dunno, I think Golden Girls is still held in very high regard by the general public today. Even younger audiences know and appreciate the show due to Betty White still being in the public eye.

Beyond the underrated/properly rated debate, there is no question that Golden Girls was an amazing show. Has to be near the top of the list for the most perfectly-cast shows of all time...I love the anecdote of Rue and Betty being originally cast in the opposite roles but deciding to switch it up to avoid typecasting and to keep it fresh.

McAlvie said...

I agree that it is an underrated show. That it did so very well is another indicator that suits don't know beans about what people really want in the way of entertainment. And yeah, younger women are great fans of the show, even those of us who were young women when it aired originally. No big surprise there, just look at the show itself. These women are not just strong and witty, they are supportive of each other. If you have to grow old anyway, and we all do, it's hard to find better role models.

Michael Spadoni said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of "Golden Girls." And let's pray for the day when "2 Broke Girls" becomes a trivia question no one ever asked!

Anita said...

Amen.

Chris said...

When I ask both my undergraduate and grad students what they watch and what they like, "The Golden Girls" always gets mentioned. Always. When I ask why (at first it was a real head-scratcher) the answer is usually the same: "It's funny."

Michael said...

I have read that originally the producers wanted Betty White to play the slut (and she was so great as Sue Ann Nivens) and Rue McClanahan to be the dingbat (she was so great on Maude). And they said, we've done that. So they switched and, I have to say, I think it made the show even better.

V. Anton Spraul said...

Thank you, Ken, for giving this show some love. My wife and I started watching the Golden Girls on reruns many years ago and quickly discovered how well they were written. Yes, they occasionally rely too much on cheesy topical humor, but for the most part, the episodes are gems.

My favorite example of why this show was so much better than it could have been in lesser hands is the episode in which Blanche's niece is hooking up with older men she's just met, and when the "girls" go to straighten her out, they discover her current fellow isn't the obvious cradle-robber type--he's a sweet, if dim, cop who joined to force to act out his fantasy of being on Miami Vice. When he discovers that Rose is also a Miami Vice fan, he's disappointed when she won't stay to watch the show with him--I remember his forlorn delivery of the line: "But I just microwaved some popcorn!"

The Golden Girls is proof that anything done well is worth treasuring.

Tim W. said...

When a teenage boy watches a show about a bunch of retired women, you know they're doing something right. The teenage boy was me, by the way.

Johnny Walker said...

Hear hear! And even forgetting Mitch Hurwitz, Marc Cherry, and Christopher Lloyd, there was another name that leaps out to me: Tom Whedon, Joss Whedon's Dad. Apparently Joss studied THE GOLDEN GIRLS, because he mentions it when talking about developing FIREFLY, and how you can get three or four jokes ricocheting around the room from having characters with different viewpoints.

He's also mentioned the best bit of writing advice his father gave him: "If you have a good story, you don't need jokes. If you don't have a good story, no amount of jokes can save you."

In other words (as Sam Simon also said), "story above all else".

VP81955 said...

"Hot in Cleveland" was nowhere as iconic as "The Golden Girls," but it shared the wonderful Betty White, a new set of old sitcom pros for her to work with, and plenty of laughs.

Pat Reeder said...

I never saw "The Golden Girls" until recently, but I've been catching up on it because I usually have TV Land or the Hallmark Channel on in the background when I'm working nights, and one or both of them usually shows it for a couple of hours a night. "The GG's" appeal isn't nostalgia; I have no youthful attachment to it, but I find it to be hilarious even by current standards. I'm not surprised that younger audiences like it. Besides being funny and occasionally moving, it has Betty White, who is still far cooler than Justin Bieber.

Joseph said...

Like a few others have posted, I watched Golden Girls with my mom when I was a kid. I really enjoyed it then and whenever I happen to flip pass it now I usually end up watching the whole episode. Great acting and writing. You can't go wrong.

Anonymous said...

Four superlative comediennes delivering lines like nobody's business.

Anonymous said...

Four superlative comediennes delivering lines like nobody's business.

Mel Agar said...

I used to be one of those people who kind of "poo-pooed" the Golden Girls. It seemed so dated and cheesy to me. And then one afternoon, I was working on some project with the tv in the background, no remote available, and a Golden Girls marathon came on. I was laughing constantly even though only about half paying attention, but enough that eventually, I put my project aside and just sat and watched a couple hours of the show. I've been hooked ever since. I am just in awe of the intelligence, the humor, and the ballsiness of that show. I love, too, that each character is so richly drawn and full of depth while still being absolutely hilarious.

Justin Russo said...

Thank you for honoring one of the greatest television shows PERIOD. It was ahead of its time simply for realizing that women of any age are hysterical. I have watched this show almost daily (along with Cheers) since I was a kid and it has only become better.

The show has also become hugely iconic within the gay community: t-shirts, marathons, drag shows. Seemingly the humor caught wind and has luckily been reveled for years. There is always the conversation of "which GIRL are you?", even before Sex and the City! (I am very much a Sophia, thankfully, just like my grandmother).

On another note, one amusing take away I learned via a therapist is that each girl represents a part of a whole person and depending on your mood, one girl is screaming louder than the other (good luck to the world during a Blanche breakout!). It's when the four women are sitting together having cheesecake that a whole is present.

Overall, this show will continue to grow in popularity, thirty years later. It is as sharp as they come!

Peter said...

The Golden Girls was funny.

The Golden Palace.... not so.

Diane D. said...

With a post and 25 comments all conferring lavish praise, I should probably say nothing, but I feel compelled to give my opinion of why perhaps it "doesn't get it's due." Although many of the jokes are hilarious, the stories are frequently weak (IMHO), and that will just ruin it for me. The actresses (except for Estelle Getty) were superb, their timing flawless, but guest actors (especially men) just did not measure up most of the time. And the last thing that I would mention is the constant stream of sexual innuendo. Some of it was hilarious, but the nonstop nature of it got really tiresome, especially when it crossed the line and became repulsive.

Stuart said...

I agree with Diane D up to a point-the plot lines were feeble, and at some point they take over almost every episode. But the timing, the one-liners, and the repartee are fantastic! For me, the top five are Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Frasier, and Cheers. But Golden Girls is definitely number 6.

Johnny Walker said...

Looking up that Joss Whedon quote (for my comment, above) I came across the transcript of an impromptu writer's workshop here in London (he Tweeted about it in the evening, and it happened the following morning). I cursed myself for missing it at the time, but stumbling across a transcript of the event was just wonderful. I found it inspiring beyond belief. I've never seen him talk about his take on writing so candidly before, and it kind of blew my mind.

There was one bit in particular that was like a megaton explosion between my ears. It's about something I'd subconsciously noticed while I was watching (and falling in love with) BUFFY, but I couldn't put it into words at the time. Finally hearing him explain his thinking behind it was SO illuminating. Anyways, enough of my waffling, here's the bit:

This is something that I didn't mention, but when I have a writing staff, the first thing we ever talk about is the difference between moments and moves. And because ultimately we're only creating moments, we're creating a series of moments, and then we are stringing them together in what then becomes a narrative...

[W]hen you're building [a] story it's very easy to go, "Y'know what would be cool is if then... he has an evil twin!" Which is a move. And obviously you need a certain number of moves if you are writing something, just for there to be action.

But a move is, "Oh I thought of a plot twist." A move is "Oh and then there's this thing they have to get."

A moment is... "[The character is] gonna knock at the door wearing an Eskimo suit." But it was also, "I am going to put [the character] in a situation where she feels the least cool and attractive that she's ever felt, and then that guy is gonna look at her from across the room and fall in love with her, at that exact moment." That was what I was actually writing.

Because the moments that we are getting to, are the moments the audience can take away with
them. The thing that they take away from whatever you are writing, that makes it yours, that makes it worth their time and the enormous amount that you're gonna give it, are these
moments. Are the moments if you're trying to make them cry, if you're trying to make them
laugh, if you're trying to make them do both, if you're trying to frighten them, whatever it is... The more those are earned and the more you understand that you need that more than you need this part, 'where they go in the safe house bit'... you need this emotional experience, you need this human moment, you need this surprise, this delight, this thing that makes us bother to see any story, when every story has been told. Those are the things that you build on and the mistake I get from highly paid professional writers, who've been doing it for decades, over and over and over, is them creating moves and mistaking them for moments.


I'm sure Ken would agree.

For anyone who's interested, you can find the whole thing here: http://news.impossible.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Joss-screenwriting-talk.pdf

MikeK.Pa. said...

Funny you posted this. I was just thinking of GG the other day, and whether it would even been considered today. My daughter watched the reruns in college and loved it. Good writing never gets old. I don't watch it much, but whenever I catch a couple minutes of it, I think Kat Dennings is hilarious on TWO BROKE GIRLS. I know I'm in the minority on this blog. Maybe I'm a little biased because she's local.

Speaking of which, a shout-out to NCAA BB champs Villanova. Hard to do since I went to another Big Five school, but this city is starved for winners. One of my first jobs was with Jay Wright. Class act and he hasn't changed since he got out of college. Philly guy through and through, as was his team this year. Last night has to be one of the greatest NCAA championship games ever played.

Steve Bailey said...

I saw an interview with Norman Lear many moons ago. Someone asked him what sitcom he wished he'd done that wasn't his. He said he couldn't believe he had worked with all of the women in THE GOLDEN GIRLS, and it had never occurred to him to put them together in a sitcom.

Chris D. said...

Love GOLDEN GIRLS. When I'm looking for a show that just plain old makes me laugh, I can always count on it. It's still one of the funniest things on television. My twenty-year-old niece is a huge fan of it. She's told me that she watches GOLDEN GIRLS reruns almost every night.

Mike said...

Continuing my analogy of scriptwriting & engineering, @JohnnyWalker's structure of moments & moves is a state machine.

Diane D. said...

Johnny W,
Wow, very interesting. However, since what you shared is a transcription of the spoken word at an informal workshop, the syntax makes it hard to follow. When he says, "..the more those are earned.." I'm not sure if 'those' refers to the audience reactions to 'moments', and if it does, how is that earned? Anyway, I went to the website to read more and it was great. Thanks for sharing.

Johnny M. said...

Ken, what do you mean Golden Girls isn't sexy?

Johnny Walker said...

Diane D, I took it to mean those moments have to be earned, as in you can't just pepper your script with them and expect them to resonate as much. There needs to be struggles before the rewards.

As to "how", I guess that's the fun (difficult) part :)

Barry Traylor said...

My wife and I both like this show (but perhaps we do not count as we were born in the middle of the last century) but dang it is a funny show. Great chemistry between all the cast. I do not think I am a prude but this is a show I could watch with my grandkids and although I enjoy The Big Bang Theory I do not want to watch it with my young granddaughters.

Roger Owen Green said...

I disagree with Ken that the Golden Girls weren't sexy, innocent Rose and the vixen Blanche especially.

CarolMR said...

Blanche Devereaux had the sexiest nightgowns/robes ever!

Tudor Queen said...

I loved - and still love - The Golden Girls and agree with everything you said Ken about why it worked and why it's not truly given its due. It's actually probably one of my top ten sitcoms, and one of the few shows where every regular and many recurring characters were vital and necessary and attended to (even the ones we never met, like Dorothy's cross-dressing brother Phil).

My GG-loving friends and I still start stories on occasion with "Picture it: [location/year]", quote the show incessantly, and were thrilled when Tim Gunn made a Blanche Devereaux reference on "Project Runway", though we were less thrilled that the contestant didn't get the reference.

A sadly ironic note: when the girls pledge to always look after each other, Rose asks, "What happens when only one of us is left" and, in fact, Betty White is the last surviving Golden Girl.

And I can only conclude with the immortal words of Blanche: "Sonny Bono, get off my lanai!"

RCP said...

Thanks for this appreciation of The Golden Girls, which I love to the extent of owning the entire series on DVD - a good thing too, since the syndicated episodes are now missing whole scenes with some of the best lines of the show. Bea Arthur was a good sport because much of the (exaggerated of course) humor was directed at her appearance. Example:

Dorothy: How do I look?
Blanche: Okay I guess. But aren't you afraid those shoulder pads might make you seem too aggressive?
Dorothy: I'm not wearing shoulder pads.

Plus nicknames like Stretch, Bigfoot, Moose and Sap on Stilts. All the characters could stand on their own, yet the show would suffer if it had to do without any one of them (see The Golden Palace). I could be wrong, but seem to remember that it was thought 'daring' at the time to portray older women who not only thought about sex but enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

I never saw a single episode of GG when it was in prime time (I'm a guy, why would I watch THAT?). But after being married and surfing the waves after the news, I couldn't argue with my wife about "leave that on". Long story short, I've seen every episode (that is in syndication) without regret. There are only a few shows I can watch the same episode again and again, Seinfeld, MASH, Frazier (another favorite after news show, but is no longer on), BBT (although it is wearing thin since they syndication only has a limited number at this point. TBS, get on that). Modern Family is on the list too since I don't see it in prime time either. Funny to see a new episode and see how big the kids have gotten. Makes me wonder if any of the kids will have a future in tv/movies after the show.