The Golden Days of Television

No doubt you’ve been thinking a lot about “The Golden Girls” lately. At least, I know I have been, and I’m not a guy with a lot of time on his hands.

The subject came up while I was with some friends on a road trip, which is a time when people will talk about pretty much anything, simply because they’re confined to a tight space with nothing else to do. (I’ve always wanted to go to prison for that reason: Lots of interesting conversations. Plus, I’d get a lot of reading done.)

Anyway, we were alarmed to find that we could all name all four characters on the 1985-92 NBC sitcom (Dorothy Zbornak, Sophia Petrillo, Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund). We also agreed that this show would never make it past the proposal stage today.

TV WRITER: We’d like to do a show about four old ladies who do nothing but eat cheesecake and talk about sex.
NETWORK EXECUTIVE: I like it. But let’s make it two young men and two young women, and instead of eating cheesecake, they have sex, and instead of talking about sex, they have sex.

There was also a heated debate among us over the gender of “Golden Girls” star Bea Arthur. Luscious Malone (names have been changed) insists Ms. Arthur is female, while I swear she is actually a man. I also claimed to have photographs of Ms. Arthur relieving herself from a standing position, though in fact I was bluffing on that point. Our other friend, Tanny Tantan, found common ground, saying Ms. Arthur is a woman, but has the parts of a man. Ms. Arthur, if you are reading this, please contact this newspaper to settle the matter once and for all, with a doctor’s note if possible.

But “The Golden Girls” has not been the only thing occupying my mind lately, though the restraining order from Rue McClanahan might suggest otherwise. No sir, I have also been deeply contemplating mediocre TV shows, such as “City Guys.” This is an NBC sitcom that airs on Saturday afternoons and is geared toward teen-agers, i.e., it’s really stupid. It takes place at an inner-city high school, although for as pleasant and affable as the teens in it are, it might as well be “Leave It to Beaver.”

Apparently, this show has been running since 1997, although I didn’t know it existed until I stumbled across it several Saturdays ago. In this episode, a new guy moved into school and immediately started getting involved with campus activities. This included helping plan the Big Dance with a girl, whose boyfriend got very jealous at all the time she was spending with the new guy. And so the girl, unaware of her beau’s seething envy, is innocently telling him what they’ve been planning for the Big Dance when this tense dialogue occurs:

GIRL: And we’ll have a raffle, and a photo booth, and a —
BOY: (interrupting) And a whatever!

(Except instead of “whatever,” he pronounces it “whatevah.”)

What I’ve been pondering since then is why someone thought this was a good exchange to include on the “City Guys” show. Some screenwriter, no doubt talented in some way (though perhaps not as a screenwriter), wrote that and then thought, “Yeah. That’s a keeper. That captures the gritty urban edginess of this show, while simultaneously establishing characterization and advancing the plot, not to mention getting a laugh with its sheer sassy boldness. Bravo for me. BRAVO FOR ME!” And then someone paid this schmuck and forced two actors to say the words in front of a TV camera.

Am I saying I could do any better if I were writing the show? Well, yes, actually, I am saying that. In fact, I bet YOU could do a better job, and I don’t even know you. But I could definitely do it. Standing up, in fact.

I was in New York when I saw that episode of "City Guys," which I guess makes this another New York column. And we were on our way to Disneyland when we had the "Golden Girls" conversation, which I guess makes this another Disneyland column.

My grandmother watched "The Golden Girls" from its first episode, though she acknowledged it was a bit "raunchy." Spending a lot of time as I did with my grandparents (they lived in a fun home-business combination that had a lot of candy), I watched it, too, and always thought it was funny.

Some people feel that every column you write needs to make some major point, or at least have a central idea that is either interesting or funny. I think that should be the case MOST of the time, but that it's OK now and then to have one that's just generally amusing and maybe makes a small point in a small way (like this one, about the mediocrity of television). In other words, no one will remember this column a year from now, but hopefully it was entertaining to read right now.