BOOTLEG FILES 535: “The Golden Palace” (1992-93 sitcom spinoff of “The Golden Girls”).
LAST SEEN: Episodes are on YouTube and DailyMotion.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A poorly received post-script to a sitcom classic.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It would be nice.
One of the most beloved sitcoms in the history of American television was “The Golden Girls.” From 1985 to 1992, this program engaged audiences and scored Emmy Awards with its vibrant scripts and the extraordinary synergy between its four leading stars.
Unfortunately, the series did not end on a high note. Although it placed in the top ten for the TV ratings for its first six seasons, the seventh season saw a dramatic slump, with “The Golden Girls” dropping to 30th place in the ratings. For Beatrice Arthur, this was a clear signal that the series had run its course, and she was eager to depart at the end of the season.
However, the show’s producers – Susan Harris, Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas – believed that they could still get mileage out of “The Golden Girls” franchise without Arthur’s Dorothy character. Working with the remaining stars, they conceived a successor to “The Golden Girls” called “The Golden Palace,” in which Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and Sophia (Estelle Getty) depart their shared Miami house and manage a hotel. NBC agreed to run “The Golden Palace” with a 13-episode commitment. But CBS unexpectedly jumped in with the promise of a full 24-episode season. NBC would not match the offer – the network noted that audiences had already moved away from “The Golden Girls” and the idea of launching a spinoff to a sinking series did not appear to be viable. Harris, Witt and Thomas signed with CBS, which inserted “The Golden Palace” into a Friday night line-up that included two long-running sitcoms (“Designing Women” and “Major Dad”) plus a new sitcom called “Bob” that was built around comedy legend Bob Newhart.
Sadly, “The Golden Palace” is remembered today as a failure. While the show debuted to very respectable ratings, it quickly plummeted as its season progressed and landed up 57th place. CBS was originally willing to let it run for a second season, yet it abruptly changed its mind and cancelled the show right before its renewal was to be announced. But while the show never found an audience during its single season run – and it is still being denied an audience, due to its removal from commercial distribution – it really isn’t a bad program. In fact, “The Golden Palace” is an uneven but often entertaining post-script to “The Golden Girls” that deserves to be given a second look.
Admittedly, the absence of Arthur from the proceedings was a problem that the show could never get around. References to Dorothy peppered the scripts, and the highlight of the show’s brief history was Arthur’s guest star return in a pair of episodes. But Arthur’s Dorothy gave “The Golden Girls” an edgy tension and an emotional anchor that was absent from “The Golden Palace.” Complicating matters was having two recurring characters from “The Golden Girls” – Harold Gould as Rose’s boyfriend Miles and Herb Edelman as Blanche’s ex-husband Stan – turn up again, which inevitably created comparisons to the earlier show.
In Arthur’s absence, the returning characters were given three male foils: an eager-to-please hotel manager (played by Don Cheadle at the early part of his career), a grouchy Mexican chef named Chuy (Cheech Marin – his character’s name is pronounced “Chewie”) and a precocious pre-teen that was presented as the manager’s foster son (Billy L. Sullivan). The latter character didn’t fit at all and was written out of the show midway through its run, but the other characters were too bland to take on the smart aleck women.
In order to oomph up the comic power, “The Golden Palace” put a greater emphasis on guest star appearances. A somewhat frail George Burns turned up to tell jokes and sing a song, while Harvey Korman and Tim Conway did a double-act appearance and Bobcat Goldthwait was pure gold as a guest who is suspected of being a killer. But relying on guest stars also had its drawbacks: Ned Beatty was truly embarrassing in his appearance as Blanche’s mentally disabled brother, while Eddie Albert gave a surprisingly bad performance as one of Rose’s boyfriends.
And that was typical of why “The Golden Palace” never truly clicked. More than a few times, it seemed like quotidian sitcom commotion – an episode inspired by “A Christmas Carol” is nearly impossible to watch. But just when you thought the show derailed, it would quickly snap back into place and display the same level of wit and mischief as “The Golden Girls.” Some of the funnier moments involved Blanche admiring a suave Ricardo Montablan and exclaiming, “Why a man like you is not running around in a loincloth, I’ll never know!” She then lets her saucier side out when offering him tea, asking, “One hump or two?”
Getty’s Sophia was less acidic in “The Golden Palace,” but she still had opportunities to show off her bawdy mouth. When being introduced to a handsome gigolo (played by Barry Bostwick), she boldly asks, “Can I feel your bottom?” When informed that he makes love with women for money, she responds, “I’ve got 20 shares of Nabisco – what’ll that get?”
As for White’s Rose, her character seemed a bit more assertive in “The Golden Palace,” but her trademark dizziness did not evaporate. For example, when a robber wearing a ski mask approaches her while she is at the front desk, she looked at his headwear with puzzlement and asked, “Aren’t you warm in that?”
When “The Golden Palace” was yanked off the air, Getty’s Sophia character was moved to the NBC sitcom “Empty Nest,” which was another spinoff of “The Golden Girls.” White would join the cast of the Bob Newhart series “Bob,” which was packaged with “The Golden Palace” as part of the CBS Friday comedy bloc. Arthur, McClanahan and White would reteam for a few public appearances, but Getty was absent from these events due to poor health.
Reruns of “The Golden Palace” were included with “The Golden Girls” when Lifetime held the cable TV rights to the shows. However, the show is currently not included with “The Golden Girls” on its Hallmark Channel rebroadcasts, and “The Golden Palace” was never made available on DVD.
Episodes of “The Golden Palace” can be found on YouTube and DailyMotion. And while the show was never truly equal to its predecessor, it did have more than a few good comedy moments and it is not deserving of the obscurity into which it has been placed. My advice is to grab a thick slice of cheesecake and take some time to experience these long-forgotten episodes. And, yes, you will thank me for being a friend!
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