Premiering on September 12, 1977, this sitcom featured White playing an actress in a fictional police series with John Hillerman (of Magnum, P.I. fame) playing the director of the show — and White’s ex-husband.
Running up against Monday Night Football and The NBC Monday Movie didn’t work out so well for The Betty White Show, however, and it was canned after just 14 episodes, with the last one airing January 2, 1978. – AJW
CBS sends Betty White up against football
One of the nobler, and more interesting, experiments of the new TV season gets underway tonight when CBS tries to battle football with its previously successful formula of stylish, adult comedy.
The match-up will not be on even terms tonight because the ABC football game is a college affair, which never draws as well as the big boys. But the Betty White Show, beginning at 9 tonight on Channel 2, may make good use of the headstart.
CBS is hoping that this snappy, well-executed comedy will show enough class to forge an audience even against the heavyweight football package. The stock idea is that you fight football with a show with strong appeal for women.
MORE: Young Betty White: See 30 pictures of the actress at the start of her long career
The Betty White Show has that, but much more. It should appeal to anyone who likes to laugh at real humor — witty, cerebral humor.
Miss White carved out something of a comeback for herself on TV with her hilarious portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sue Ann was easily the most noxious nympho ever to appear on TV. It was a priceless characterization.
But wisely, Miss White and the MTM company decided not to build a series around a funny but basically unpleasant character. They made that mistake once with Phyllis. Sue Ann worked because her nastiness was played off against the Barbie Doll goodness of Mary Richards.
Instead, the producers have come up with a character that combines Sue Ann’s no-nonsense aggressiveness with a more vulnerable, and appealing, side. Miss White plays Joyce Whitman, a slightly aging, slightly past-it actress desperate for one last crack at a weekly TV series.
She gets it in a series called “Undercover Woman,” which naturally will be fictionally set on CBS. The series is a TV potboiler, somewhere between “Police Woman” and “Starsky and Hutch.” That will allow for some battles with an ever-present boob of a network censor.
Thus, the Betty White Show can poke fun at television while it is attempting to live off it. Joyce’s show will always be struggling, a fate that may await Betty’s show as well.
The main conflict, however, will be between Miss White and the character of her ex-husband, a cantankerous snob played with cold, deadpan perfection by John Ellerman. it seems old hubby winds up as the director of “Undercover Woman.”
And just to make sure Miss White’s constant insult battles with him go down easy,. there is still a potent flame between the ex-couple that occasionally shines through the venom.
The opening segment of the show is an example of excellent television comedy. it was the series pilot. But it will be interesting to see whether the show keeps up that kind of quality in the face of the ferocious competition.
The Betty White Show is probably the best new show of the season. It deserves survival, but may need a time change to see if it can really become a hit.
The Betty White Show opening credits