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That’s Not Sonny, That’s a Dead Man.

April 12, 2010

Susan Harris created six television shows: Soap, Benson, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Nurses, and The Golden Palace. Of the six she created four were spin offs – Empty Nest, Nurses and The Golden Palace from Golden Girls. Benson was a spin off of Soap. Susan is the Tom Fontana of the sitcom world. Okay, well technically Norman Lear is, but we’re not talking about him.

Fun and Random Facts about The Golden Girls

  • All four lead actresses received Emmy Awards for their work on the series, a feat shared only with All in the Family and Will and Grace.
  • Bea Arthur did not like cheesecake.
  • Estelle Getty was younger than Bea Arthur.
  • Angela Lansbury was considered for the role of Dorothy, though the character was described as “a Bea Arthur type”. Bea played Vera Charles to Angela’s Auntie Mame in Mame
  • Rue and Betty were asked to swap roles in order to move away from any resemblance to their previous television incarnations – Vivian Harmond (Rose-ish/Maude) and Sue Ann Nivens (Blanche-ish/Mary Tyler Moore Show) respectively.
  • Herb Edelman (Stan) – in addition to his talents – was cast for his height – 6’5. Producers felt the actor should be taller Bea, who was 5’10.5.
  • The season five episodes “Sick and Tired I/II” were inspired by creator Susan Harris’s real life experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • Actress Inga Swenson appeared as Rose’s sister Holly (S4 – Little Sister) and had previously appeared Harris shows Benson (as his nemesis Gretchen Kraus) and Soap.
  • Empty Nest was supposed to focus on characters portrayed by Paul Dooley and Rita Moreno. They tested negatively and the original idea was scrapped. It was revamped with Richard Mulligan – an alum from Soap – playing Dr. Harry Weston.
  • Dreyfuss’s (the Weston’s dog) real name was Bear.
  • Mark Cherry (Desperate Housewives) and Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) wrote for several Harris created shows, namely GG.
  • Two actors from Barney Miller appeared on GG and in both cases were central to Dorothy’s story arc. Barney himself – Hal Linden as the prom date who finally shows up and Steve Landesberg as the therapist who encouraged Stan to transfer his feelings for Dorothy onto a sock monkey.
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27 Comments leave one →
  1. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 10:59 am

    I love watching Rue and Betty on Mama’s Family. They were on at the same time and played polar opposites of their GG characters. Rue played Vicki Lawrence (Thelma, or “Mama”)’s uptight little sister, and Betty was a snobby beeyotch. It’s especially giggle-worthy when they’re onscreen together. It boggles the mind!

    And Rue’s character died because she choked on a toothpick, I think? Hilarious.

    Lovely flowchart!

  2. April 12, 2010 11:20 am

    Whoa, I totally forgot about that show! I almost never watched it. I’m gonna go look up episodes on the web.

  3. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:31 am

    It’s terrible. Like, terribly terrible. I’ve only seen so much of it because it’s constantly in syndication in the South. In Memphis in the 90’s, old Mama’s Family reruns used to beat local newscasts in the ratings. Awful.

  4. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:35 am

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that Betty White played Thelma’s daughter- so Rue played her aunt!

  5. hsofia permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:39 am

    I used to watch Benson – had no idea it was made by creator of GG. Wow. Don’t ask me why a five year old would be watching Benson all by herself … but I did. I loved that show. Maybe I found Robert Guillaume’s character (grumpiness included) really comforting. Not to mention, I enjoyed his sense of superiority.

  6. hsofia permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:46 am

    msjacks – haha! Mama’s Family. Take me back, why don’t you. I used to catch that show sometimes and it freaked the hell out of me. I was so young, I couldn’t figure out how everyone was related. Like The Muppets, every episode left me feeling kind of overstimulated and confused. And on top of that, I was baffled the eff out about Vicki Lawrence because she was in another show (Carol Burnett Show, I believe) that was in syndication at the time, so I was seeing her as a young woman one hour and then an old crone later the same day. It was too much for my pre-school brain, I tell ya!

  7. IrishUp permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:56 am

    hsofia – Mama’s Family was a spinoff from TCBS; it was based on a recurring skit where Vicki Lawrence was Mama, & Carol Burnett was the daughter Eunice. Putting the Family Fun back in Dysfunctional Family!

  8. evmaroon permalink
    April 12, 2010 12:45 pm

    I never got into Mama’s Family because for me, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t see every night at home. Who needed more yelling? I do miss Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett on TV, though. And Tim Conway. And Harvey Korman. And I miss actors having names like Harvey Korman and Herb Voland.

  9. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:07 pm

    God, I HATED that show! hsofia, you’re exactly right- it was overstimulating. There was way too much going on. Plus, every time Carol Burnett came on there she ripped the rug right out from under Vicki Lawrence. So did Rue, Betty, the uptight lady next door… even Opal from All My Children made her look pitiful when she was on Mama’s Family.

  10. April 12, 2010 1:22 pm

    I do miss Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett on TV, though. And Tim Conway. And Harvey Korman.

    Don’t forget professional hunk Lyle Waggoner! I think he really helped redefine what it meant to be the “straight man” in a comedy routine.

  11. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:37 pm

    Geez, you all sound like my grandmother with all these Batman guest stars and whatnot!

    It’s Britney, bitch!

  12. IrishUp permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:42 pm

    @evmaroon, sooo true. I liked the CB show skit, because it was heartfelt and funny and Carol brought a real pathos to Eunice. I hated Mama’s Family because it was just people being mean, with a laugh track.

    Back to GG: Steve Landesberg as the therapist & the sock monkey bit makes me alternately shriek with laughter & just shriek. Sock monkies are RIGHT THERE with clowns in the “sure-you-THINK-it’s-cute-but-it’s-plotting-your-bloody-painful-demise” department. To borrow from John Irving, I gets THE SHIVERS from sock monkies.

  13. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 12, 2010 1:59 pm

    @redlami : damn, Lyle Waggoner. thanks for that. I remember Mama’s Family and Carol Burnett incarnations well, yet, I still sometimes forget about Lyle.

  14. April 12, 2010 3:00 pm

    I never realized Paul Junger Witt was married to Susan Harris… if you added in all the shows he wrote or produced that’s gonna be one monster flowchart!

  15. April 12, 2010 3:06 pm

    I used to watch Benson – had no idea it was made by creator of GG. Wow. Don’t ask me why a five year old would be watching Benson all by herself … but I did. I loved that show. Maybe I found Robert Guillaume’s character (grumpiness included) really comforting. Not to mention, I enjoyed his sense of superiority.

    I did a paper on this because it seemed there were more than a few people (me included) who had this experience. My conclusion suggested there was something in Guillaume’s voice, which made children sit down and be quiet and of course, made parents encourage us to watch the show.

    Plus they were pretty faithful with the format and didn’t confuse things with a B Team storyline, like many sitcoms do.

  16. April 12, 2010 3:07 pm

    Don’t forget professional hunk Lyle Waggoner! I think he really helped redefine what it meant to be the “straight man” in a comedy routine.

    Lyle Waggoner was so hunky and hilarious on that Sonny Bono episode of Golden Girls. HA. “I’m Lyle Waggoner!” and Sophia said, “Well that’s nice for you.”

  17. April 12, 2010 3:10 pm

    Who needed more yelling? I do miss Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett on TV, though. And Tim Conway. And Harvey Korman. And I miss actors having names like Harvey Korman and Herb Voland.

    CAROL BURNETT. I just heard her on NPR recently. I loved TCBS! She has the most delicious comedic timing and the good judgment to know when to let go of a joke. Other comics would do well to learn Burnett’s secret to milking a joke without running it into the ground.

    I’m looking at you, M. “My name is Gwen I’m here to wash your vagina” Cho.

  18. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 3:12 pm

    I’m looking at you, M. “My name is Gwen I’m here to wash your vagina” Cho.

    Truest “oh snap!” I’ve read in quite some time.

  19. April 12, 2010 3:12 pm

    Back to GG: Steve Landesberg as the therapist & the sock monkey bit makes me alternately shriek with laughter & just shriek. Sock monkies are RIGHT THERE with clowns in the “sure-you-THINK-it’s-cute-but-it’s-plotting-your-bloody-painful-demise” department. To borrow from John Irving, I gets THE SHIVERS from sock monkies.

    I remember being half asleep and THOUGHT I was dreaming about Dietrich on Golden Girls. It just made no sense to me. Then I opened my eyes and there he was being utterly hilarious and ribbing in that unmistakable rumbling dead pan. Steve Landesberg needs to be on TV again. I mean love all my guys on Barney Miller, but Dietrich used to really make me laugh.

  20. April 12, 2010 3:15 pm

    hsofia – Mama’s Family was a spinoff from TCBS; it was based on a recurring skit where Vicki Lawrence was Mama, & Carol Burnett was the daughter Eunice. Putting the Family Fun back in Dysfunctional Family!

    Didn’t the show actually go on Family Feud? This is something I remember. But I also remember Robert Guillaume playing the phantom, but wiki seems to have sketchy to no information on both items.

  21. evmaroon permalink
    April 12, 2010 3:21 pm

    Yes, the show did go on Family Feud! Or rather, there was an episode in which they went on Family Feud, I don’t think it was the other way around.

    I really miss the TCBS . . . I can hear Tim calling for “Missushewiggens” now . . . .

  22. April 12, 2010 3:23 pm

  23. msjacks permalink
    April 12, 2010 3:29 pm

    OMG, tell me an 80’s show that DIDN”T go on Family Feud. My favorite was when 227 went on there and Jackee’ blew the bonus round at the end by answering “a man” for every question. I remember this SO vividly. It broke my heart!!! Lester tried so hard!!!

  24. IrishUp permalink
    April 12, 2010 4:18 pm

    The absolute best part of watching TCBS was watching them try to crack each other up/try not to lose it! I heard an interview with Tim Conway right after Harvey Korman passed. He said something to the effect of “I cracked him up on stage for 40years. … Now he’ll never get the chance … to get me back.”

  25. evmaroon permalink
    April 12, 2010 5:14 pm

    @Snarky’s:
    RHETT: That’s a nice dress.
    SCARLETT: Thanks, I saw it in a window.

  26. April 12, 2010 7:16 pm

    @Snarky’s:
    RHETT: That’s a nice dress.
    SCARLETT: Thanks, I saw it in a window.

    HA!!! I love that bit.

  27. April 12, 2010 11:40 pm

    1. I love how this evolved into a conversation about Carol Burnett and Margaret Cho. And that “227” was referenced.
    2. I didn’t know Paul Junger Witt was married to Susan Harris either! That does deserve a flow chart.
    3. I also didn’t remember that Rue and Betty were on Mama’s Family.

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