Our friendship with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia is still going strong, 30 years after the finale of The Golden Girls premiered on May 9, 1992.
The final show was a huge event, with ratings that are unheard of today. An estimated 27.2 million people tuned into see the hour-long episode, “One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest,” in which Dorothy meets Blanche’s uncle, Lucas, who’s played by guest-star Leslie Nielsen. After Blanche attempts to set up the two — in true Blanche fashion, for her own benefit — Dorothy and Lucas figure out what’s happened and plot to get back at Blanche by pretending that they hit it off and impulsively decided to marry. Not surprisingly, Blanche is upset at this turn of events. (How could a Yankee like Dorothy live at her beloved Hollingsworth Manor? And worse, um, Aunt Dorothy?!) However, what started as a joke soon turns real, and Dorothy impulsively says yes to a marriage proposal from Lucas. Everything wraps up with Dorothy encountering her ex-husband, Stan, on her way to the wedding, and Sophia deciding to stay with her surrogate daughters instead of going to live with the new couple.
To put the number of viewers into perspective, the final adventures of the Golden Girls drew more eyeballs than all but about 15 other programs ever, according to a May 2017 report from Business Insider. It was bested mostly by earlier TV classics, such as All in the Family, which registered 40.2 million viewers in 1979; M*A*S*H, with 105.9 million viewers in 1983; and Dallas, which 33.3 million people tuned in for in 1991. TV juggernauts such as Friends (65.9 million in 2004) and Seinfeld (76.3 million in 1998) have topped it since, but those giant audiences are more and more rare in an age of segmented audiences with seemingly unlimited streaming options. For example, TVLine reported that the finale of hit ABC sitcom Black-ish, which aired its final moments on April 19, had just 2.4 million viewers — its second-largest audience of the season.
And while, officially, it’s been a minute since we’ve dug into a new cheesecake with our Girls, the truth is that the Emmy-winning sitcom never really went away. Arthur was the one who wanted the show to end after seven seasons, so it made sense to keep a good thing going. McClanahan, White and Getty starred in a spinoff, The Golden Palace, which featured Blanche, Rose and Sophia running a Miami hotel with manager Rowland (played by future Oscar nominee Don Cheadle) and Cheech Marin’s Chuy as the on-site chef. Alas, that show only lasted 24 episodes; the chemistry just wasn’t the same without Dorothy. But the universe the characters lived in survived, thanks to a more successful spinoff, Empty Nest, which aired for seven seasons and only ended its run in 1995. Empty Nest produced a spinoff of its own, Nurses, which aired from 1991 to 1994, and featured a character from The Golden Girls a few times. Then there are the unofficial spinoffs, such as Grace and Frankie and Hot in Cleveland, which celebrate older women or women living on their own.
More importantly, the show has thrived in reruns. And so many of them! In 2022, TV audiences who want to see, say, the women sing their original “Miami is so nice” song, could tune into CMT or the Hallmark Channel or stream Hulu to watch it for free, or, if they’re willing to pay a few bucks, find it almost anywhere. And it’s not like those reruns go unwatched; ratings were so high in the week following the death of Betty White in Dec. 2021 that the show was among the top 10 acquired streaming shows list on any provider, according to The Wrap.
Numbers are helpful, but we already knew that The Golden Girls is still a big deal, simply because of the long, long list of merchandise available. Type the name of the show into Etsy, and you’ll get more than 100,000 results: T-shirts, greeting cards, keychains, magnets, an entire shelfful of books and coloring books and even lip balm.
At this rate, The Golden Girls will outlive us all.