Betty White, still going strong at 96, is the subject of “Betty White: First Lady of Television,” a new documentary airing Aug. 21 on PBS (8 p.m.)
Filmed over a five-year period by Steven J. Boettcher and Michael J. Trinklein, the film takes a deep dive into White’s 80-year show-business career and includes interviews with friends, colleagues and admirers including Tina Fey, Ryan Reynolds, Valerie Bertinelli and Carl Reiner (also 96).
White, the first woman to produce a sitcom — the syndicated “Life With Elizabeth,” in which she co-starred with Del Moore from 1953-55 — has won eight Emmys (in primetime and daytime) and co-starred in two TV classics: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (as randy “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens) and “The Golden Girls” (as Rose Nylund).
White answered a few questions from The Post about her illustrious career.
How tough was as it getting “Life with Elizabeth” on the air, and could it have continued past its original run of 65 episodes?
Getting it on the air back in those days wasn’t as competitive … They were sort of hungry for programming. And, I think I was moving on to something else so I’m not sure if it could have continued but it was a wonderful stepping stone.
Are you amazed at the technological changes/advances in television since “Life with Elizabeth” first aired?
When you’re in the middle of it you’re not standing back watching it unfold, you’re living through it. So even though I’ve seen it all, it was all happening as I was working so nothing stands out. We just adjusted and moved forward with it.
Is there one show or moment that stands out for you when you think back to your 80 years in the business?
Any time you’re doing a show it’s your whole world. They’re all special. Every one becomes a little family. Of course “Life With Elizabeth” was a big breakthrough for me, but I’ve been so lucky to be a part of so many wonderful projects. I’m so grateful.
You’ve acted with thousands of people on TV over the years. Is there one person who stands out as being really unique?
“Unique” is an interesting word. [“The Golden Girls” co-star] Bea Arthur was unique. I loved her. [“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-star] Georgia Engel is unique — and she’s still going strong in her career! I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many talented people!
Do you feel like a national icon, or is it like being at the center of the storm, where everything else is swirling around you and it’s calm at the center?
My egomaniacal answer is — of course I’m the center of the storm! That’s a joke. I’m just grateful to be working and that starts at the beginning. When you start out you’re so grateful to have a job … and you carry that feeling through your whole career. At least I have.
Is it a weird feeling to see yourself on TV, even after all these years?
I was flipping through channels the other night and came across something. I don’t know what show it was but they had a TV on in the scene and I was on that TV! I’m just grateful that people have put up with me for so long.
You hosted “Saturday Night Live” when you were 88 and made a well-received Super Bowl commercial several years later. Are you the type of person who needs to always be working?
I’m thrilled to still be working. I’d rather be working than anything else in the world … well — almost anything.
You appeared on so many game shows over the years. Do you still watch them?
I watch “Jeopardy!” First, it’s such a good game and second, I happen to have a huge crush on the host, Alex Trebek. But I don’t watch much TV.
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