TV Eye

Trailblazers at Any Age

Betty White on <i>SNL</i>
Betty White on SNL

Two legendary ladies made news last week. Betty White, a grande dame of comedy, hosted Saturday Night Live, to the delight of that generation of TV viewers who watched The Golden Girls in their pajamas while the rest of us were in our "I'd rather be dead than at home on a Friday or Saturday night" stage. And then on Sunday, the divine Lena Horne passed away at age 92. Talk about being pulled in two extremes. (See below for information on a special tribute to Horne on Turner Classic Movies.)

What is the appeal of Betty White? I adore her as much as the next person, but why? Is it the poufed, salon-set hair? The giddy twinkle in her eye? Her ability to play sweet one moment, then perilously raunchy the next? There is truth in all of that, but most of all, she has a good sense of humor and great timing.

I first loved her – in my pajamas, while the big kids were getting ready to go out – when she played Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There, she played the pastel-clad cougar with her sights on Lou Grant (Ed Asner). She was all sweetness and light before the camera as the host of a TV cooking show, but once the camera went off, the claws came out. She was hilarious.

As White said during her opening monologue on SNL, the Facebook campaign to get her the hosting gig was extraordinary. Would the same sort of fire have been stoked without a social networking site like Facebook? Not as quickly, perhaps, and not even with as much gravitas as a traditional letter-writing campaign. The ratings for the White-hosted SNL episode were the highest they had been in ages and speak to the ever-shrinking gulf between programmers and viewers. Once the viewership begins to more regularly flex its collective muscle, helping to define what it wants to see, that old-school model of creating content and throwing it out there to see what sticks may become a thing of the past. Well, maybe not entirely gone, but certainly not based on the assumption that network executives know best what people want, and viewers will take what they can get. Ah, times, they are a changin'.

Gleek Alert

Emmy Award-winner Joss Whedon (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) directs a much-anticipated episode of Glee (Fox) on Tuesday, May 18. Whedon's Dr. Horrible star Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) guest-stars as the former high school nemesis of Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison), resurfacing in Schu's life to make trouble for the glee club. Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live) also guest-stars.

Losties Unite!

After six seasons, ABC's Lost is nearing the end of its run. In preparation, series creators Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof will appear by satellite in a confab to discuss their series in movie theatres across the country. New York Times Entertainment Editor Lorne Manly will interview the duo live from TimesCenter in New York. The one-night-only event will screen locally May 20 at 7pm at movie theatres located at Southpark Meadows, the Metropolitan 14, Tinseltown USA in Pflugerville, Cinemark Cedar Park, and the Hill Country Galleria of Bee Cave. Tickets may be purchased here:

Legendary Lena

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) pays tribute to the late, great Lena Horne by screening several of her career-defining films on Friday, May 21:

The Duke Is Tops (1938): In her screen debut, Horne plays Ethel Andrews, an up-and-coming singer torn between two men.

Cabin in the Sky (1943): This has been cited as one of Horne's favorite films. She plays Georgia Brown, a sultry nightclub singer and Lucifer's minion, tempting a gambler trying to change his ways.

Panama Hattie (1942): Horne has a small role as a nightclub singer in this comedy starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern.

Check local listings for screen times.

And here's hoping 60 Minutes reruns the 1981 interview Ed Bradley did with Horne. Bradley was unabashedly smitten with the lovely Ms. Horne, while Horne herself was beyond ravishing at 64.

As always, stay tuned.

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Betty White, Lena Horne, Saturday Night Live, Golden Girls, Glee, Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris, Molly Shannon, Lost, Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Turner Classic Movies, The Duke Is Tops, Cabin in the Sky, Panama Hattie, Ed Bradley

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