The opening line of the popular song "Thank You for Being a Friend" not only became the weekly thematic prelude to the situation comedy, The Golden Girls, it also came to represent the sensibility which sprang from the heart of this delightful program. With The Golden Girls NBC brought to television one of the first representations of senior women coming together to create a circle of friends that functioned as a family. The program centered around four main characters: Dorothy Sbornak (Bea Arthur), a divorced school teacher; Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), Dorothy's elderly, widowed mother; Blanche DeVereaux (Rue McClanahan), a widow and owner of the Miami home in which all of the women lived, and Rose Nylund (Betty White), a widow and an active volunteer in the community. Aside from the mother-daughter relationship between Dorothy and Sophia, no other family relations existed between the women, yet they shared their daily lives, dreams, fears, and dilemmas as a unit. The group life of the characters enabled expression of diverse opinions and approaches to problems the women faced as individuals.
The south Florida setting added a warmth and lightness to the show, reflected in the tropical furniture and clothing favored by the women. The vivid colors and the light that flooded the production visually represented the vibrance of the lives of the characters.
Though all of the women were late-middle aged or beyond, they were presented as full of life, working, capable, and energetic. Even Sophia, the elderly mother was often in plays, taking trips, having dates, and doing charity work. Blanche, the youngest of the golden girls, known for her fondness for men, enjoyed her reputation for wild sex. (Though Blanche's sexual adventures were always a topic of conversation, they were never actually portrayed on the program). Rose, the storyteller of the group, boasted about her roots in St. Olaf, Minnesota and was painted as much more conservative than the passionate Blanche. Much of the comedy in the program stemmed from the absurdity of Rose's stories of her "simple" hometown. These rambling narratives were often utterly inane, but eventually, after the no-nonsense Dorothy shouted in frustration, "the point, Rose, get to the point!", the story would offer warm-hearted advice or a perceptive viewpoint on the problem at hand. Sophia often aimed her sharp and sarcastic wit at Rose's stories, making fun of her in a critical, but kind, way. Dorothy, the working school teacher and the voice of reason, generally played against the more extreme, often comical perspectives of the other women. Despite individual eccentricities, each woman was wise in her own way and each valued the others' experiences and sage advice. Each played her part in the maintenance of friendships and family bonds that resulted from their cohabitation.
The Golden Girls valued women and put special emphasis on the importance of women's networks friendships, and experiences. The series was big enough to showcase the concerns and escapades of four distinctive, aging women, yet balanced enough to combine the individual experiences into a positive picture of four senior citizens functioning together to make the most of life.
Despite the success of the program, NBC dropped The Golden Girls from the prime time line up at the end of the 1992 season. CBS picked up the program, but Arthur refused to make the move. The new network changed the show into The Golden Palace, and set it in a hotel run by Blanche, Rose and Sophia. It was a failure, and after its swift cancellation, the character Sophia returned to NBC to do occasional walk-ons on Empty Nest, a Golden Girls spin-off.
-Dawn Michelle Nill
Dorothy Zbornak...................................... Bea Arthur
Rose Nylund.......................................... Betty White
Blanche Devereaux......................... Rue McClanahan