TV or not TV. . . .
MOVING ON: "The Golden Girls" was not only flat-out funny when it debuted in 1985--it was also a major TV concession to the aging of America.
The talented, raucous cast of Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White and Rue McClanahan portrayed four older women living together in Miami.
Until NBC made an ill-advised scheduling decision this past season, moving "The Golden Girls" to an earlier time slot on Saturdays, it was a key to holding together one of the two nights that kept the network atop the ratings for six years. The other night was Thursdays, anchored by "The Cosby Show."
Ratings for "The Golden Girls" dropped immediately after the time switch, contributing to NBC's fall from the top. Even though some critics felt the show had become rather one-note at times with its oldster sex gags, it had still been a bankable force.
Now the series is undergoing a major change--returning next season on CBS, the new No. 1 network. It has a new title, "Golden Palace." And Arthur has quit. But the three other stars will be back as the same characters they played on "The Golden Girls," except that now they are the bosses of a Miami hotel.
And once more, the show will offer a bit of a role model for America by having the old-timers run their own business, accompanied by some new, younger characters.
Getty, who played Sophia, the mother of Arthur in "The Golden Girls," was the least-known of the four principals when the series began despite a long and distinguished stage career--but she exploded onto the TV scene with a devastating delivery of crackling comic lines.
"I did two very important things in my life--'Torch Song Trilogy,' which changed the face of the American theater, and 'The Golden Girls,' which changed people's attitudes toward older characters," Getty says.
She had thought that the series, which winds up on NBC May 9 in an episode in which Arthur decides to get married, would continue on its old network.
"I guess that in this business you learn to shift your allegiances very quickly--with agents, with networks, with the powers-that-be," she adds.
Arthur "was determined" not to come back to the show, says Getty: "She said, 'I've been in that little box for 20 years.' It's a good job, but it's not easy. The hardest job is keeping the standards up. We worked as hard the last week as the first show."
Getty speaks fondly of Arthur, who formerly starred in the "Maude" series: "I guess Bea was ready for a rest. But with her talent, she doesn't have to worry. The woman's a comic genius. It's sure going to be tough without her--for myself. We played so close off each other. I felt dependent on her in so many ways."
Of "Golden Palace," Getty says: "It's a brand-new show. Our characters will have to be re-evaluated by the writers."
Getty, by the way, has also done some writing--a book titled "If I Knew Then What I Know Now . . . So What?"
ROOM AT THE TOP: Ted Koppel, whose ABC "Nightline" series goes head-to-head with Johnny Carson's NBC "Tonight Show," dropped in on his longtime competitor to pay his respects before the comedian retires from the show next month.
"As someone who has gotten his brains beat out for 12 years, I'm not going to miss you," Koppel cracked in a genial visit.
The newsman probably also boosted ratings for "The Tonight Show" by doing an imitation of Richard Nixon and singing a comic song.
Another notable Carson visitor, Bill Cosby, is scheduled for a "Tonight" appearance on Wednesday--the day before the final episode of his own series, "The Cosby Show." Within a month, NBC will be without the two comedians who have carried the network for many years.
By the way, the Comedy Central cable network will not only go dark during Carson's final broadcast May 22, urging its viewers to watch the event, it will also precede that gesture with seven hours of programming focusing on the comedian and other aspects of "The Tonight Show."
MOM'S THE WORD: The CBS special tentatively titled "Sitcom Moms," set for May 8 on Mother's Day weekend, will be hosted by Phylicia Rashad of "The Cosby Show." It will look at such famous TV mothers as Donna Reed, Lucy, Roseanne and Peg Bundy. Funny how TV sets images in stone, but let's not forget that Reed also had a few other pretty fair roles--in "From Here to Eternity" and "It's a Wonderful Life."
KING LEER: We couldn't agree more with Anthony Burgess' view that Benny Hill, the naughty but nice British comedian who died last week and whose show appeared on American TV, was "one of the great artists of our age." He was just about the last reminder of burlesque on the home screen.
SEA HAWK: Well, who do you think will host CBS' May 15 special "Titanic: Treasures of the Deep," which explores the famous sunken ship? Longtime sailor Walter Cronkite, that's who.
RINGER: "CBS This Morning" rounded up Dr. Joyce Brothers to do her stuff all next week during the May sweeps.