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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Golden Girls Forever by Jim Colucci

Every TV show that runs, oh, more than 5 seasons and 125 episodes or so ought to have its own definitive book, but not many are that lucky. Despite its continued success in reruns and its appeal to multiple demographic groups, I was surprised to see a thick, fancy-looking hardback book devoted to the long-running NBC hit The Golden Girls. Jim Colucci has created what is surely the most comprehensive print collection of  information on the show. It's a slam dunk for anyone who loves the series, but even casual fans will find a lot of interest in here.

The first thing that stands out content-wise about the volume is the access Colucci has gained. Despite its release coming after the death of several key figures, the text makes frequent use of interviews with everyone. He personally interviews bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan and uses archival material for some thoughts of Estelle Getty. He also talks to the producers, writers, and many of the more notable guest stars and supporting players involved with  the show during its 8 seasons.

It starts off with a general history of the show and continues with a selective episode guide. It's surprising that such a hefty book does not include a comprehensive episode guide, but Colucci is not just listing the plots. Rather, he uses the episode chapters to work in other details about the series, how it was made, and the many guests who appeared. If you have a favorite episode, chances are it's included in this section.

Several things stand out from reading this book: 1) Everyone working on The Golden Girls took pride in it and felt they did good work. 2) Bea Arthur could be really prickly as a collaborator. Many stories in here begin with someone talking about how she was cold or distant to them, though they often take pains to say she was a real pro. 3) Estelle Getty's memory issues plagued her from the beginning. Several anecdotes center around her inability to remember lines, an unfortunate circumstance which often annoyed others on the set (including, yes, Arthur).

And I'm not saying this because the author happens to be gay (he mentions this), but there is a significant amount of coverage of the show's appeal in "the gay community," and there is extensive coverage of the fate of Coco, the live-in housekeeper who was axed after the pilot. There are a few appendices asking "Which Golden Girl Are You?" or questions like that, with the respondents being gay showbiz figures. It's no secret that the show has a following in that sector, and I am not complaining, but I will say that while any fan will love this book, gay fans will really  love it.

It's an outstanding piece of work by Colucci and a valuable source of info about a beloved sitcom. The commentary from the cast and creative team is useful, of course, but this book goes the extra mile by getting info from the likes of guest stars (Debbie Reynolds) and even bit players like Quentin Tarantino. I'd be a happy man if every show we covered on the podcast inspired this kind of book--well written, detailed, and offering attractive design and fine production values.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Whatever happened to Coco (and who was he, anyway)? (Golden Girls)

When The Golden Girls debuted on NBC in September 1985, the now-familiar group of 4 gals had company: in fact, live-in company in the person of Coco, a gay houseboy played by Charles Levin in the pilot. Amazingly, the character was suggested  by the network despite NBC's own controversy over the "yeah, he is, but we ain't gonna call him that" Sidney Shorr played by Tony Randall on Love, Sidney just 4 years prior.

You hear different things about why the producers got  rid of the character, but the essence is that while Coco was a popular (and, in 1985, rather novel) presence who was popular with the pilot audience, Dorothy's mom Sophia was a real breakout star. Hence the decision to go with a group of 4 and get rid of Coco. Another consideration was that the dynamic was just better with all gals, the girls might not have much to do besides just sit around if an actual domestic was there, and plus it may have looked like an extravagance for these working ladies to have an actual houseboy. In 2017, I can only say, who actually has a houseboy anymore except for the fabled 1%?

Producers considered comedians Dom Irerra and Paul Provenza (who recalls auditioning in drag), plus future Ferris Bueller stooge heel Jeffrey Jones, for the role, but NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff suggested Levin. The actor had a recurring role on Hill Street Blues as a rather over-the-top gay character, but he reports that pilot director Jay Sandrich told him to tone down all the flamboyant stuff.

As Levin recalls, the role as written was much more "swishy," and he found it hard to reconcile Sandrich's advice with the way show co-creator Susan Harris put Coco on the page. Nevertheless, he played it straight (sorry) in the first reading and thought he blew it. He felt the vibe of disappointment from those who expected him to be Eddie Gregg from Blues.

The night of that audition, an NBC exec called Levin and told him they didn't know what he had been doing, but just show up again and be Eddie Gregg. The actor took this advice the next day in front of an audience and was a hit. Unfortunately for Levin, he wasn't enough of one to survive the pilot, so now Coco remains a lost and largely forgotten character with a cult following.

Levin, who also had a recurring role in Alice, would appear on BTONS season 1 spotlighted program Facts of Life, and also showed up in This Is Spinal Tap, did quite well himself. His biggest post-Girls spot is probably appearing as the Mohel on Seinfeld, though I can't help but recognize him as being part of the 1989 Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred.

(Note: Thanks to Golden Girls Forever by Jim Colucci for the background info for this post!)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Thanks for a great second season!

We at BOTNS want to thank you for supporting us and for listening to the show! We will be back soon for season 3, but in the meantime, you can continue to help us out by downloading past episodes, reviewing us on Apple Podcasts, and most importantly by spreading the word on social media or just sharing with anyone you think might enjoy our work.

Keep checking in during this offseason for posts about the shows we have already covered, news updates, and of course details about our next Batty Awards. Let us know if there's something you want to be honored at the Battys. Thanks again!