Picture This: Miami, 1985 – the starting point for arguably one of the greatest TV shows of all time. A series that ran for seven seasons, spanning 180 episodes from its debut on NBC 35 years ago, seizing numerous awards including Golden Globes and Emmys, and broadcasting all over the world (besides inspiring international versions, including Spain, Russia and The Philippines). The original premise, and its star quartet, still feels exceptional: here was a prime-time sitcom that reveled in its focus on four female senior-citizen housemates sharing a home in Miami. Created by Susan Harris, it starred Beatrice Arthur as outspoken substitute teacher Dorothy Zbornak, Betty White as the somewhat naive and dim-witted Rose Nylund, Rue McClanahan as sex-craved Southern Belle Blanche Devereaux, and Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Dorothy’s feisty and unfiltered mother. Fiercely funny, featuring timely stories, sharp writing, and great comedic performances, it was an instant hit, the premiere episode being the highest rated show for the week, and going on to spend the majority of its run in among the top ten shows in the rating. All four of its stars would go on to win Emmy Awards for their performances. That show was The Golden Girls, a true American and international phenomena, which, according to The Today Show and Broadcast and Cable, is one of the top programs audiences have turned to during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis, racking up an impressive 11 million-plus hours streamed on Hulu during the month of April. What makes an over three decades old sitcom about four women of mature age still resonate so deeply with such a vast audience and diverse audience transcending generations?
Perhaps it is the familarity and comfort that The Golden Girls represents. Fans run the gamut from many who have watched since its initial 1985-1991 run on NBC, a lot whom, such as Teri Voyna, remembers watching with parents and/or grandparents. “I started watching with my Grandma. I was 10 when the show started and didn’t get so many of the jokes. Watching it as I matured made me laugh thinking of my Grandma laughing all those years ago. It was one of our favorite things to do together.” said Voyna.
Others, meanwhile, found the show later on through reruns on local television stations, on cable repeats, and more recently on Hulu, where episodes have been streaming since 2017. Twenty-four year old Melissalou Ellis has been watching since she was five. When asked why she enjoys the series, Ellis says, “because it’s very progressive! Not only relatable, but informative on topics that may be considered taboo even by today’s standards! Due to the creative, comedic approach this is a timeless show for all ages!”
The Golden Girls was indeed groundbreaking not only in its depictions and portrayals of mature women as active and hip, but also in how it tackled hot button issues and topics such as drug and gambling addiction, age discrimination, interracial marriage, homelessness, homosexuality, teenage pregnancy, illegal immigration, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, sexual harrassment, and many others that rarely, if ever, had been openly discussed and presented on network television, and most certainly not in a sitcom. The ability to mix such topical storytelling with humor set The Golden Girls apart, something that still manages to standout to the current day, the material remaining fresh and contemporary. It not only made audiences laugh, but also educated, inspired, and tugged at heartstrings. It has given validation and acceptance to many who previously didn’t feel represented.
Twenty-six year old Chase Hawes explains, “As an adult, and a gay man, I love it for it’s timelessness and I’m always amazed at how progressive the show was for its time in regards to LGBT issues, women’s issues, race, and
Catherine Coccagna, thirty-one, said that the show has taught her “to live life to the fullest. Also, to have fun and laugh at yourself, and the importance of family and friendship.”
Anthony Kuiper, twenty-seven, says he has learned, “to accept others for their faults as well as their strengths.”
The themes found in The Golden Girls of finding and valuing friendships, of living life to its fullest and not letting age define or stop you from doing so are what have truly struck a chord with audiences, and caring and love shared among the characters, is something viewers still find comforting. There are now multiple Facebook groups devoted to the show with thousands of members. That feverent and intense devotion has led to a fan-centric cruise earlier this year, a Golden Girls-inspired restaurant in New York City, a breakfast cereal, action figures and dolls, a boardgame, and an upcoming cook book. Fans lock to the Southern California home used in exterior shots for the house that the four women lived in. The popularity continues to grow, at these times of uncertainty and upheaval, there is no wonder why so many are turning to the warmth and humor of The Golden Girls, as evidenced by the huge Hulu numbers. The show fills a void of feel-good entertainment and reliable laughs that never seem to get old, and leaves viewers with a sense of positivity and hope.
“It taught me that starting over at any age can be full of adventure, that the truest friendships are the ones we don’t see coming, that even though we lose husbands, or children, as women we can push through the worst situations and find our best selves and that finding humor in the hardest situations is the way to push through,” said twenty-three year-old Haley Greer.
Life lessons, laughs, nostalgia, and comfort are all reasons that The Golden Girls remain such a beloved creation, transcending being just a mere sitcom into something much more. The feelings it illicits in its fans serve as seeds planted in their heart and minds in how go about living, to find the best in themselves and others. By seeing that Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia could tackle life together with strength, free-will, class, humor, and guts reminds viewers that can do the same. The show offers motivation and fuel not only to laugh, but find your own way to be golden in all you do, to cherish the bonds of friendship, and that close friends who love and support you are in fact your own family. The essence of The Golden Girls is perhaps summed up perfectly in the lyrics to its catchy and memorable theme song, something that everyone could use in times like this…
Thank you for being a friend
Travel down the road and back again
Your heart is true
You’re a pal and a confidant
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see
The biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say
Thank you for being a friend