I have a new favorite show this summer that’s reminiscent of The Golden Girls, one of the most beloved sitcoms in the history of television. Only this time, Golden Girl Betty White has the “Sophia” role, on TV Land’s first original comedy, Hot in Cleveland, the story of three L.A.-based women (Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves) who unexpectedly decide to relocate to Ohio. Four episodes into its hopefully long run, I had a chance to speak to the one and only Betty White.
Seven decades into your career and you are the hottest you have ever been. How do you explain this Betty White phenomenon? You know what…I have no clue. I have strived over the years to do the best I could possibly do and have been open to explore all types of opportunities.
Your bio is the longest I’ve ever seen. Was there ever a time when you weren’t working? I have been very lucky. When one thing ended, something else always seemed to begin. No one seems to have figured me out yet.
What was hosting SNL like? I had turned down SNL three times before because I thought I might feel like a fish out of water. But when the whole Facebook brouhaha started, which just baffles me, my agent told me I just had to do it. So I did, but boy was I terrified.
Have you done a lot of live television in your career? Well, I started in this business doing live television—five-and-a-half hours per day, six days a week on a variety show called Hollywood on Television. But that was 60 years ago. I was afraid I might be rusty.
I love that classic story of how the producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show were looking for a Betty White type when they were casting the role of Sue Ann Nivens.
Mary, Grant (Tinker), Allen (Ludden) and I were all good friends. So I think the producers were apprehensive to approach me in case it did not work. But what started as a one episode guest shot ended up as a four-year run. One of the happiest moments of my career was when Alan Burns and Jim Brooks told me not to leave town after that first episode when I had an affair with Phyllis’ husband.
I also understand you were originally considered for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls. I was because it had similarities to Sue Ann. But I didn’t want to be typecast, so we switched things around and I ended up as cockeyed optimist Rose. There were things Rue (McClanahan) brought to the table as Blanche that I never could have.
How did your current gig on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland come about? Were you looking to do another sitcom? At this stage of the game, no. And I took the role of Elka only as a guest shot in the pilot. But after feeling that chemistry between the four of us and seeing the caliber of writing, I wanted in.
It’s been awhile since you did a sitcom. Are you ready for another long-term gig? I guess that’s really up to the man (or woman) upstairs.
Has there been anything in your career you have regretted doing or any opportunities you passed on? This is boring, I know, but I have never had any regrets. Some things worked, and some didn’t, and something like The Golden Girls should have ended when Bea Arthur left. But why look back?
So what is next for Betty White? Well, we are finishing up the first season of Hot in Cleveland. I just taped a pilot for a new edition of The $100,000 Pyramid with Andy Richter as host. I am booked on Jay Leno and Craig Ferguson. After that, who knows? Make me an offer.