Catching Up With The Golden Girls' Susan Harris
By Dustin Fitzharris
How long did it take you to write the pilot script?
I think it was the customary length of time, which is a few months. Of course you're talking about 25 years ago, and the fact that I remember anything is a miracle! We'll take it from there because last week is hard enough to come up with.
The show dealt with some heavy issues through the years. Was that a conscious decision?
We liked to tackle -- not outrageous issues -- but important issues. Things that I knew that people went through that hadn't been addressed on television. We did the same thing on Soap.
Speaking of Soap, you said that was your favorite show. Why?
I'll tell you why and what I meant. I didn't mean that it was my favorite. I meant that the form that it took -- the fact that you didn't have to tell a full story every week in 23 minutes and didn't have to have a beginning, middle, and end -- as a writer was such an enormous luxury. You could just have a story that never ended and could include scenes of just good talk. It was a luxury for me as a writer and for the actors. In 23 minutes, everything has to serve the plot. You can't spend time developing characters. Soap gave me that. I hate to lick a story more than anything in the world. I can't do it. I have a terrible story mind. As a writer, this was so much easier. That's why I said it was my favorite.
Let's talk about one of those episodes of The Golden Girls that dealt with a serious issue. It was the season premiere of the fifth season, which you wrote. The episode was called 'Sick and Tired,' and it focused on Dorothy getting chronic fatigue syndrome. That is something you suffered from. Does it still affect you today?
Yeah, it does. It's something that some people get over and others don't. I'm better now than I was -- much better than I was. For example, I used to be a runner, but I had to stop. Now I'm a walker. It's that kind of difference.
So many young people love this show. They can quote all of the lines.
Why do you think that is?
That's what I want to ask you!
I think number 1 it's funny. Secondly, I think this explains the wide appeal. I think everybody -- including younger people -- when they reach an age when they feel alienated, the thought of being alone and spending your life alone is terrifying. These women were at an age where they were alone and were likely to stay alone until they found each other. Then they constructed a family that really, really worked. They encouraged each other and had a life together. It showed that you didn't need the customary, traditional relationship to be happy. It paints a picture of all the possibilities for family. I also think young people like Sophia because she says whatever pops into her head!
Do you ever think The Golden Girls ever jumped the shark?
Ugh ' [long pause] Now, I didn't stay with the show. I was in and out for three years. After my experience with Soap it was too exhausting, and I just couldn't put myself through that again. Then I had a baby to raise. There was a period when I saw a few shows, and I told Paul I thought it had lost its touch with reality. It got silly. I don't know if the audience felt that way, but for me, it jumped my personal shark, which was keeping it real. Keeping the women real. Not joke machines.
What comes to mind when you hear the words The Golden Palace?
I think that lasted what, one year?