Golden Girls and Gary Coleman: Emblems of a Bygone Era


rue mcclanahan as blanche deveraux

Rue McClanahan’s death coming within a week of Gary Coleman passing away seems remarkably symbolic. The Golden Girls and Diff’rent Strokes were hallmarks of a TV era — my formative TV era. What makes it all so poignant is how that generation of television is so completely unrecognizable by today’s entertainment standards.

Rue McClanahan’s Blanche Deveraux and Gary Coleman’s Arnold Jackson weren’t memorable simply because of these actors’ sharp comic performances. Back then (Strokes ran from 1978-1986, Girls from 1985-92), with fewer channel choices and less or no interference from the internet, TV watching was a communal activity. We all gathered around the same shows. We were all following “Whatcha’ talkin’ about, Wills?” at the exact same moment. DVRs? Didn’t exist. Online gaming? Barely a blip. 

It makes me sad, as a mom, for my son. Will there be TV actors who hit the zeitgeist in the same way for his generation? People whose performances are cultural touchstones that connect with an entire generation of kids? A Blanche Devereaux for today’s toddler set? Maybe. Here are 5 of TV’s current contenders:

1. Miley Cyrus. She’s caught the attention of ‘tween girls, at least. As she grows out of the tween market and her Hannah Montana persona, it remains to be seen whether Miley continues to hold onto the public consciousness.

2. iCarly‘s Miranda Cosgrove. Could she be the young generation’s Mayim Bialik? I think perhaps. 

3. Charlie Sheen. Ouch — I hesitate to think of my son someday growing despondent over the death of Charlie Sheen, and yet, Two and a Half men has had a stunning run of eight hit years and counting. And Sheen happens to be uproariously funny. And children love shows about kids and their parents. Especially when there’s a twist: Two dads who aren’t gay? Bingo.

4. Lea Michele from Glee. It still remains to be seen whether this show truly has staying power. But kids love singing (High School Musical, anyone?), and they love shows set in schools (Saved by the Bell ring a bell?). Lea and her on-screen classmates could easily become hallmarks of my son’s early TV days.

5. Tom Colicchio. What’s up with kids and cooking these days? My son had cooking lessons in his daycare “ones” class. Chefs have become uber-hip, and thanks to Top Chef, Colicchio is the hippest of the pack. Plus, he’s a dad himself. I’d put money on him being a household name for all of our kids, and maybe their kids, too.

Got anyone to add? Let me know in the comments below.