A healthy 4.8 million viewers tuned in to the June 16 premiere of TV Land’s first original series, Hot in Cleveland, nabbing the highest ratings in the network’s history and the day’s biggest cable audience. The undeniable draw? Betty White, who stars as the cranky caretaker of a house of L.A. transplants (Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick). But this foursome almost didn’t include the Golden Girl.
The original plan was to have White for a guest spot in the first episode. ”I did the pilot with the understanding that I would not be obligated to do anything more,” she told EW in April. ”But it got picked up so fast, and they came back, and I said, ‘No, that wasn’t the arrangement.’ ” Indeed, TV Land’s October 2009 announcement about the Cleveland pilot makes no mention of White’s cantankerous character. But after her memorable SAG speech and Snickers Super Bowl ad at the beginning of the year, the network realized it would be foolish to let White go, so they sweetened the pot in March by offering her a less rigorous shooting schedule. ”They were making all these concessions where I felt like a heel if I said no!” White says. ”So I guess, let’s face it: I’m easy.” Once she signed on, production on the series went into overdrive to make the June 16 premiere.
While White will appear in all of Cleveland‘s 10 episodes this season, her longer-term future on the show is uncertain: TV Land will have to renegotiate with her if they want her back. But costar Bertinelli, for one, knows the show needs its Betty. ”Betty White is definitely the queen,” she says, ”and Jane, Wendie, and I are her ladies-in-waiting.”