TV’s ‘First Lady’ on PBS

Betty White: First Lady of Television, a PBS special on the 96-year-old fan favorite, premieres tonight at 8 pm ET (but check your local listings for exact days/times in your area).

Filmed over five years ago by the team behind PBS’ Pioneers of Television series, the doc celebrates White’s amazing TV career — the longest of anyone in history.

That career began nearly 80 years ago, in 1939, when the teenaged White sang songs on an experimental Los Angeles station.

Fast-forward 12 years. Just in her 20s, White became the first female host of a TV talk show with the local Hollywood on Television. At that time, she also began producing and starring in her first sitcom, Life With Elizabeth, and was one of those nominated for the very first Best Actress Emmy Award.

White has since received 16 more Emmy nominations, and won five times:

Two of the Emmys were for Supporting Actress, as the bawdy “Happy Homemaker” Sue Anne Nevins on CBS’ The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1975 and 1976).

One came for Lead Actress, as innocent Rose Nylund on NBC’s The Golden Girls (1986).

Two were for Guest Actress: as herself on NBC’s The John Larroquette Show (1996) and as guest host of  NBC’s Saturday Night Live (2010).

Chances are you’re familiar with White’s performances on Mary Tyler Moore and Golden Girls, and even with her much-ballyhooed appearance at age 88 on SNL. So insteadwe’ll show you her Emmy-winning stint on John Larroquette (you’ll find this episode even funnier if you’ve seen the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard):

And for a real unknown, here’s episode one of Life with Elizabeth (below). You can see a whole bunch of others for free on Uncle Earl’s Classic TV Channel.

Betty White: First Lady of Television also touches on the star’s love of game shows, noting that she met her husband and “love of her life” Allen Ludden while guesting on his show Password in 1961. Here are the newlyweds on Password shortly after their honeymoon two years later:

In addition to clips and interviews with White, the PBS doc features comments from Valerie Bertinelli, Georgia Engel, Tina Fey, Valerie Harper, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gavin MacLeod, Carl Reiner, Ryan Reynolds, Tom Sullivan, Alex Trebek and others.

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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