Thursday, July 31, 2008

Estelle Getty, 1923-2008

Last week, Estelle Getty, best known to millions of fans as Sophia Petrillo from the 1985-92 megahit The Golden Girls, passed away just three days short of her 85th birthday. Since then, I’ve received messages of condolences from friends, and from readers of my 2006 book, The Q Guide to The Golden Girls, who knew just how much I loved Estelle and the Girls.

Back in ’06, when I was researching the book, my one regret was that the project hadn’t crystallized in time for me to meet Estelle in person. By that time, Estelle was suffering the advanced effects of Lewy Body dementia, a diagnosis her son Carl Gettleman and caretaker Paul Chapdelaine clarified for me (earlier reports had publicized what then turned out to be a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.)

I did get to sit down with Bea Arthur, with Betty White, and with Rue McClanahan – and those are memories that will last me for a lifetime. I blabbed with Bea over a bottle of white wine, saw Betty‘s sharp wit in action, and even got Rue to do Blanche for me, talking about her “many, many men.” But to do justice in the book to Estelle – that mystery woman who in 1985 had come seemingly out of nowhere not just to nab a plum part in an enduring classic sitcom, but to hold her own against three of TV’s veteran heavyweights – I was going to have to work at it.

And so, I met with Carl, and with Paul, with Estelle’s former assistant Richard Weaver, and with a few other longtime friends – many of them gay men – who helped flesh out a portrait of their beloved mother and friend. And I have to say, whereas I may have gone into this process adoring mostly Sophia, I emerged from my interviews with these men with a new appreciation for the woman who had lived so brilliantly beneath that white wig.

Estelle had toiled for years in, as Rue recalls, “off, off, off, off-Broadway productions” in New York, where she raised her family, including a second son, Barry. Only in the mid 1980s, when her portrayal of Harvey Fierstein’s character’s mother in Torch Song Trilogy brought her to national attention, did Estelle hit the big time. But the Big Time never changed this tiny lady. She remained always who she was: a bargain shopper, a soulful Jewish cook, a mother hen, and as the theme song goes, a pal and a confidante. From her days in theater, she had befriended many gay men. And when so many of those friends (and her own young nephew) started dying, Estelle didn’t worry about losing her new-found star power by backing a then-taboo cause; instead, she became one of Hollywood’s earliest and most tireless celebrity AIDS fundraisers, providing not just laughter but hope for so many.

Estelle was a lady who knew how to have a good time – Richard Weaver remembers days when this little, middle-aged lady would routinely hit the town in West Hollywood with a rotating posse she jokingly called her “five fag minimum.” In the late ‘90s, a volunteer theater group called Charity Parody put on spoofs of famous musicals to raise money for an AIDS hospice. As the troupe’s director Randy Brenner later told me, Estelle came to every single production; you could hear her laugh in the crowd.

From the very beginning of her time on The Golden Girls, Estelle was bedeviled by stage fright, and had trouble remembering her lines. A woman modest – perhaps too modest – about her talent, Estelle was very open about her fears. Now, looking back, her co-stars tell me they wonder whether Estelle’s memorization problems were just common stage fright, or were actually the beginning of the medical problem which ultimately took her life many, fading years later.

We’ll never know. But what we can clearly see, more than a decade after Estelle put down Sophia’s trademark straw purse for the very last time, is that this Golden Girl was a woman with the humanity to be scared, the humility to admit it -- and the talent to rise above it all. And so I’m writing today to share those thoughts, and my condolences, with so many other fans who will forever miss a woman who thankfully will live on in reruns and in our hearts.

For Estelle, from those millions who will miss you,

Thank You for Being a Friend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Radio Recap -- July 30, 2008

It's time for a RADIO RECAP
"Must Hear TV" on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius OutQ 109
Wednesdays, 1-2 PM

In news from today's installment of "Must-Hear TV"...

  • Audiences are already mad for season 2 of AMC's Mad Men. Sunday night's premiere more than doubled the season 1 average for viewers (2.0 million vs. 915,000), and also grew significantly in the all-important Adults 18-49 and 25-54 demos.

  • And I'm telling you if you're just tuning in to this destined-to-be-a-classic show, stick around. I've seen episode 2. And whereas episode 1 laid a lot of groundwork, there are now some juicy surprises coming already this Sunday...

  • All you callers who constantly ask about this one -- and with John Barrowman as the lead, why wouldn't you? -- BBC America announced at ComicCon last week in San Diego that they will be carrying Season 3 of the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood. 5 new episodes are being produced in the UK for airing in 2009, with BBC America airing them here shortly thereafter.

  • I know a lot of you will be saying "Any casting news?" And "why only 5 episodes?" The answers so far appear to be "No comment" on both fronts.

  • I know from witnessing it first-hand (click here for a link to my coverage of an Extreme Makeover for the Vitale family of Long Island) that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is the real deal. This show changes lives for the better, empowers neighbors to help, and has a cast of talented designers who really care. Recently, there have been news reports of winners unprepared for the tax bills accompanying their new digs, and now comes the first report I've heard of a pending foreclosure.

  • According to, the Harper family of Georgia used their new mini-mansion, built with the goodwill of 1800 of their nearest and dearest, as collateral on a $450,000 loan to prop up their construction business. When the business failed, the loan defaulted, and now for what I think is the first time, an Extreme Makeover house can be yours, second hand, at an auction beginning August 5. Doria and I had slightly differing opinions on this story (no, I love you more, Doria!). What's yours?

  • Casting news for another show a lot of you are asking about: the ABC adaptation of the British drama Life on Mars. We've already talked about the series lead Jason O'Mara, playing modern-day detective Sam Tyler who is mysteriously transported back to 1973. Now from comes word that the show has cast one of its key female roles: Gretchen Mol, who you may know from the 2005 HBO movie The Notorious Bettie Page (a film which Frank and I like to call "The Notoriously Boring Bettie Page"), as 1973 pioneering female detective Annie.

  • Extra's own little Eve Harrington, namely Mario Lopez, has pushed past current anchors Mark McGrath and Dayna Devon, and now has the show all to himself. McGrath is reportedly going back to making music with Sugar Ray, and Devon is swapping with Lopez, becoming a special correspondent rather than host. Season 15 of Extra, with Lopez alone at the helm, starts September 15.

And you callers asked...

  • Brian in Toledo wondered why Fox seems to be even more trigger-happy than the other networks in cancelling decent shows. Good question! Yes, they originally goofed with Family Guy -- how cool that they were able to rectify that mistake? (Yes, Frank, I said "rectify.") To be fair, they did stick with Arrested Development through 3 seasons, and nurtured 24 when it wasn't quite yet a hit. And other networks cancel things awfully fast these days too --remember ABC, with its 1 aired episode of Emily's Reasons Why Not, or CBS, which showed Viva Laughlin exactly twice?

  • But it's true -- Fox has blown through an awful lot of shows which should have lasted longer. As I often posit, the News Corporation itself is kinda schizoid, with its conservative news operation and its sometimes raucous network. And so that network seems to be as well -- the development people seem to go for edgy or experimental comedies -- think Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Greg the Bunny, The Tick -- and then the scheduling people seem to chicken out. Someone from Fox please weigh in -- am I right?

  • Tom in Miami asked about The Riches. At the Television Critics of America conference in Los Angeles 2 weeks ago, FX president John Landgraf was asked that very question: is the show coming back? The answer: it's not decided as of this time (this was July 15.)

  • John in Texas asked about the L Word spinoff, and the news is: it's happening. According to Showtime president Robert Greenblatt at the TCA convention on Saturday, July 19, they even know which L character is about to get her own show -- but the actress doesn't even know yet! The show will go forward, with L Word producer Ilene Chaiken at the helm, after the mothership wraps production on its sixth and final season this year.

  • Ray in Ossining, I have no news on when Empty Nest might be coming to DVD, and neither does my bible, But it seemed to me to have taken too long for The Golden Girls to come out on DVD, so it might be a while. And John -- as Frank said, it's hard to figure out the logic of why some things come out so slowly on DVD, and in this case why Footballers' Wives DVDs would be so far behind the UK run. Let's ask BBC America -- is it because you guys want us watching them on air first?

Well that's it for me -- my theme music is playing me out. Tune in next Wednesday for the next installment of...

"Must Hear TV!"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcome to Must-Hear TV!

Hey, everyone --

Welcome to my entertainment blog, "Must Hear TV," the companion to my on-air weekly spot on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius OutQ radio (Channel 109, Wednesdays 1-2 PM.)

As an introduction to this blog, here's a bit more about me:

Jim Colucci is a freelance entertainment writer whose work has appeared in such publications as TV Guide, Inside TV, Quick & Simple, InTouch, Rosie, The Advocate, Next and CBS' Watch magazine, where he serves as a contributing editor.

In addition to writing about the subject, Jim also delivers a weekly on-air report, “Must Hear TV,” as a correspondent for “The Frank DeCaro Show” on Sirius satellite radio.

In the fall of 2004, Time Inc. released Jim’s official, authorized companion book to one of NBC’s biggest comedy hits, entitled Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored. His second TV book, The Q Guide to The Golden Girls, was released by Alyson Books in September, 2006.

In television, Jim co-created an original animated pilot for the Disney Channel, and contributed comic material to four annual Oscar-themed comedy specials airing on Comedy Central, hosted by his partner, Frank DeCaro of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.

Jim has written for entertainment media since his days as the Film Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian, the college newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a degree in marketing from the Wharton School of Business. Originally from Wayne, New Jersey, he now lives in New York City with Frank and their mischievous Boston terrier, Herman.

Please also do visit me at for TV-related clips, photos and other goodies -- the likes of which will soon appear here.