Someone has to celebrate the 25th anniversary of 'The Golden Palace'
Take a look back at one of the most forgettable sequel series in TV history.
Image: The Everett Collection
The Golden Girls made retirement living hip. For seven seasons, Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia lived it up in Miami and continually thanked each other for being a friend. Considering the sitcom was about retirees during the 1980s, the show has surprising legs with younger generations. Earlier this year, a Golden Girls–themed restaurant, dubbed Rue la Rue Café, opened in Manhattan. There was a set of limited-edition Golden Girls action figures that now fetches half a thousand bucks.
Naturally, NBC capitalized on the popularity of The Golden Girls, greenlighting a spin-off in 1988. Empty Nest ran for just as long, a whopping seven seasons. That show spawned its own spin-off, Nurses, which ran a respectable three years, from 1991–94. Overlooked in all this Golden success is the one dud, The Golden Palace. It was less a spin-off than a sequel, following on the heels of The Golden Girls finale in 1992. Though, perhaps as a sign of confidence from the original network, The Golden Palace aired on CBS.
Dorothy had married and moved to Atlanta, which left Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and Sophia (Estelle Getty) to their own devices. Bizarrely, these devices specifically involved running a hotel. The retirees were no longer retired, rather suddenly immersed in the Miami Beach hospitality scene. There were just two other employees in the fold, a manager and a cook, played by Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin, respectively.
Because this was a sitcom in the early 1990s, there was an unnecessary kid with heartthrob hair — that middle-parted Jonathan Taylor Thomas look — in the cast, too. His name was Oliver, in true Dickensian style, and he was the foster child of Roland, Cheadle's character.
Originally, a British comedian was signed on to portray the chef. Alexei Sayle was perhaps best known to Americans for his work on The Young Ones, which MTV aired in the 1980s, in which played Balowski, the Eastern European landlord. Likewise, Sayle was slated to play an Eastern European persona on The Golden Palace. Reportedly, the network rather optimistically inked the actor to a seven-year contract.
The media coverage leading up to the premiere even promoted Sayle's role in the series. "Stir in a college student, …a 12-year-old boy who has been abandoned by his family, a hot-headed chef who once was a doctor in Eastern Europe, and… you have a 'Golden Palace,'" the Chicago Tribune wrote in the summer of '92. Co-executive producer Paul Junger Witt expressed uncommon concern over the new characters. "You don`t know how well they're going to work," he said. "You don`t know how quickly you're going to learn how to write for them."
Sure enough, Sayle was cut from the show before the pilot filmed. Cheech Marin, of Cheech & Chong fame, stepped in as the chef's nationality was shifted.
Not all of Witt's predictions were so on point.
"We're not doing Love Boat in a hotel. This is not going to be guest stars each week filling the rooms," the producer declared in the article. "This is The Golden Girls in a new setting, in a new situation, the same characters in something that we see breathing new life into the series."
Inevitably, the The Golden Palace did somewhat turn into "Love Boat in a hotel" (so… like Hotel, then?) as a string of guest stars appeared episode to episode. Bobcat Goldthwait, Kim Fields, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Dick van Patten, Eddie Albert, George Burns and Ned Beatty all checked in over the couple dozen episodes. There were the requisite reunions, too, as Bea Arthur returned for a special two-parter. Harold Gould also reprised his role of Miles, Rose's ex. A quite young Jack Black even turns up in the Bea Arthur storyline.
By that point, the kid had already been written off the show. The Golden Girls was in full crisis mode, retooling for ratings. From the opening credits, which featured a far lesser re-recording of "Thank You For Being a Friend," viewers could sense this was a pale imitation. In the end, it lasted a single season. Over the next few years, Sophia returned as a recurring character on Empty Nest. She was back living in her retirement home, Shady Pines. No mention the hotel was made.