The Golden Girls' feminism is self-evident: Four outspoken, post-menopausal women live together and support each other through older age, dealing together with their grown kids, ex-husbands, and dating lives. And they are not the punchline—they make the punchlines. This show, against all odds, was a massive hit in the '80s.
When shows like this happen—groundbreaking shows that disprove network executives' narrow views of what makes good TV—we tend to believe that everything has changed in one swoop. But we are usually wrong. When Golden Girls became a hit in the '80s, it was easy to imagine a whole spate of wonderful shows about older folks ushering in a new era of acceptance for stars of all ages.
But all we got was Empty Nest.
The Golden Girls remains incredibly popular in syndication. Fans of all ages continue to find and fall in love with it. Star Betty White has been all but canonized at this point as the sole surviving Golden Girl. So why, in addition to worshipping White, can't we get a suitable next-generation Golden Girls?
White's Hot in Cleveland on TV Land comes the closest, and basically rips off the formula—four women live together and share their problems—but has not gained the cultural traction of Golden Girls. Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy were also older than the Cleveland gals: The Girls ranged from 51 to 63 when the show started in 1985, the Cleveland gals ranged from 49 to 60 (minus White) when the show launched in 2010, favoring the young end of that spectrum.
Networks still prefer young stars. Specifically, they prefer stars that magazines will like to feature in big, pretty photos. They love Betty White, too, but as an exception. At this point, media believes at in the power of White, which they wouldn't have without all that (young-person) hoopla over her a few years ago.
What's funny, though, is that plenty of younger people loved Golden Girls in its original run, and love it now in syndication. But networks don't trust young people to like old people. They forget that focusing on making a good show is more important than focusing on the median age of its stars. Instead, TV networks seem to figure young folks will watch only people they would like to sleep with.
How cool would it be to see a 2013 version of The Golden Girls, with all the '80s-sitcom-cheesiness stripped out and all the zippy delivery, irony, and edgy realism of our best modern comedies added in?
Potential cast members (I've clearly given this fantasy some serious thought!) include Kirstie Alley, Loni Anderson, Roseanne Barr, Candice Bergen, Delta Burke, Carol Burnett, Kim Cattrall, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jane Curtin, just for starters.
HBO, are you listening?