Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: The Golden Girls spun out of a joke at an NBC function introducing the 1984-85 NBC lineup.
Few shows were quite as surprising of a hit as The Golden Girls, which ran from 1985-1992 and starred three veteran sitcom actresses (Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan) and a longtime community theater actress who had only recently received her breakout role in her late 50s in the hit 1982 play, The Torch Song Trilogy, Estelle Getty (Getty shockingly was over a year younger than Arthur, who played her daughter – wigs and makeup can do wonders!). The show centered around three older single women moving in together (along with the mother of one of the women) to share a condominium in Miami. The show was a major success, anchoring NBC’s Saturday night lineup for years. It was a top ten show in the Nielson ratings its first six seasons.
The show was remarkably progressive for the era (following in the footsteps of Arthur and McClanahan’s previous series, Maude), dealing with all sorts of notable social issues of the era, from gay rights to the plight of the homeless to discrimination against people living with HIV. It was also a critical smash, winning Emmys for literally every member of the main cast (Getty won Best Supporting Actress for the show’s third season and the other three each won for Best Lead Actress in the show’s first three seasons, with White going first, then McClanahan and then finally Arthur). The show also spun off the hit show Empty Nest (in an indirect manner, as I detailed in an old TV Legend). It’s surprising, in an industry that tends to devalue older performers, that a show starring women in their 50s and 60s would be greenlit, let alone become a hit show. Naturally, then, the origins for The Golden Girls are strange. The show, you see, began as a joke.
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