‘Gay Golden Girls’ TV Show Struggles Against Ageism, Not Homophobia
Written by Drew Mackie on July 4, 2017
What if The Golden Girls returned to television, but with gay men?
That’s a question that might seem redundant to the series’ gay fans, who have long related to Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia. But now two of the show’s writers, Stan Zimmerman and James Berg, want to make that connection more literal with a revamp of sorts. Should it be realized on the small screen, Silver Foxeswould generate laughs and late-in-life lessons from four older gay men living together.
The show would move the action from Miami to Palm Springs (because obviously), and it already has a great cast in place. George Takei would play a former military man who left the ranks during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. Bruce Vilanch would play a politically minded firebrand in the style of Dixie Carter from Designing Women. Leslie Jordan would play a character that we hope is more or less Leslie Jordan, and Parks & Recreationalum Todd Sherry would round out the cast as a past-his-prime twink.
To many gay fans, that pitch would sound like a slam dunk, especially given that in addition to episodes of Golden Girls, the Zimmerman-Berg team also wrote for Roseanne (including that famous lesbian kiss episode) and Gilmore Girls, as well as the script for A Very Brady Sequel. As he’s worked to move the project forward, however, Zimmerman says the series has encountered some resistance — not for being a gay-centric sitcom but for being one that focuses on older characters.
“I was shocked that still, in this day and age, I couldn’t get a major broadcast network to even read the script. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying,” Zimmerman tells us. “Even going to my producer friends, even some who have deals at studios, they literally said they’ll never make the show. It cut a little deeper for me. It’s become a cause for me to make it happen.”
aid it was strange to feel like progress had been made of the past few decades getting networks to put gay characters onscreen but for ageism to be something people felt free to express outright.
Currently, Zimmerman and Berg have made some progress with outlets such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Zimmerman points out that a service like these might make a great home for Silver Foxes. Hulu has already found considerable success streaming all seven seasons of The Golden Girls, and Netflix’s stable of shows includes multicam sitcoms like Fuller House and the One Day at a Time remake, as well as Grace and Frankie, which also focuses on older characters.
When it comes to those major broadcast networks, Zimmerman, an industry veteran, explained that he’s not protesting rejection but the lack of a chance to even be considered. “It would be one thing if someone read the script and said, ‘I don’t think it’s funny,’ or if we made a pilot and it didn’t test well. To not even get it to the top to be read is just very frustrating.” Consequently, Zimmerman is encouraging anyone who wants to see this show to take to social media and tell networks and streaming services to give Silver Foxes a chance.
Lest network executives forget, the commercial viability of Golden Girls was also questioned before the show proved to be a hit — not just with blue hairs but with viewers across the age spectrum.
“Everybody is chasing the young demographic,” said Vilanch. “No one wants to capture the older audience because they feel they won’t get as much money from them.”
However, Vilanch points out that there are many examples aside from Golden Girls that show this isn’t true. “Murder, She Wrote ran 12 years on a major network and was one of the top five shows — and it clearly skewed to an older demographic. And now, when you read the [TV rating] analysis, you see CBS referred to as ‘older-skewing,’ but they’ve got the raw numbers. They’ve got eyeballs. They’re just older eyeballs, which are not as commercially valuable, but they’re watching all those police procedurals.”
“They need to sell tampons,” Vilanch jokes, “but I suppose the market for tampons, at a certain point, dries up.”
The pilot, as Zimmerman explains it, also allows for the discussion of social issues that affect older people (and older gay people), though in the style of The Golden Girls, it does it in a funny way. The first episode hinges around Takei and Vilanch’s characters visiting Jordan’s character in a rest home, after he burns down his West Hollywood condo in an accident involving a George Foreman grill. When they get there, they find Jordan butching it up and watching the game, only to learn that he felt he had to go back into the closet in this community. (This element was inspired by the documentary Gen Silent, about this very phenomenon as LGBT seniors age.) An ensuing ruckus gets Jordan kicked out, and he comes to live with his friends.
The show would also feature power lesbian next-door neighbors. Played by Cheri Oteri and Daniele Gaither, they’re keen on buying the gents’ home and flipping it.
“Our voices count,” Zimmerman said. “We do buy products, especially for our hair and our faces, and the older we get, the more products we use.”
Vilanch said he hoped the increased attention on social media would make a difference. “I’d really like to do it,” he said. “I want a house at the beach.”