In the late 1980s you could find me under a folding table covered in Peanuts sheets. Written under the table were the words “Caitlin Tegart Club.” There was only one member. And
our my only activity was watching Golden Girls and Designing Women. Sitcoms from the 1980s and 1990s were my first comedic influences and remain my barometer against which I judge my own work. This year we lost two giants from that genre: golden girl Rue McClanahan and designing woman Dixie Carter.
We lost two amazingly talented comedic actresses who were still working in television in film until their deaths. No one will deliver a comedic line while seemingly lost in her own saucy thoughts like McClanahan and no one will ever tell you where to go as politely, sternly and hilariously as Carter. Though both Golden Girls and Designing Women may be known to younger generations as “those shows on Lifetime,” make no mistake: those shows were mega-hits; Golden Girls averaged almost 20 million viewers a week, garnering Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. And they’re still funny.
The loss of McClanahan and Carter, along with Bea Arthur in 2009 and Estelle Getty in 2008, widens the gap between the heyday of female comedies (Rosanne and Murphy Brown were also top ten shows during the late 80s/early 90s) and today, which I worry will allow us to further erase the legacy of female comedians. In the past couple years there has been a public fascination with “women in comedy.” I get it. There’s a disparity. There’s sexism. Those are important issues to shed light on. But I can no longer abide discussions of successful women’s comedies as something we will do. It’s something we have done. (Hey, Lucille Ball anyone? Redhead? Ate chocolates when they moved too fast on the conveyor belt? Anybody?)
I would’ve loved to meet McClanahan or Carter and have told them how much work continues to mean to me. I would have loved to work with them. That won’t happen now. But I’ll tell you what will happen. When I hear from another producer, production company or director tell me that viewers aren’t interested in female-focused series, I’ll tell them that’s not true. It has never been true. Saying this won’t help my career. Saying this won’t make anyone will won’t make anyone want to work with me. Saying this will just remind myself why I’m here and who paved the way.
Thanks, Rue and Dixie.
Caitlin Tegart is a comedian, writer and director often sighted at the Upright Citizen Brigade Theatre and CaitlinTegart.com.