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At 91, Betty White Pulls Off Live TV on ‘Hot in Cleveland’
June 19, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

Betty White starred in her first live TV series at age 30. She was 91 when, Wednesday night on TV Land, she and her costars went live for a special Hot in Cleveland…

Right behind her was William Shatner, a mere 82 years old, stealing the show as a special guest star, playing Ohio mobster “Sally from Cincinnati.” And while another special guest, Shirley Jones, is only 79 years old in real life, she played Sally’s mother, preserved because of experimental medical drugs and creams.

“Look at her,” Shatner’s Sally said of his mother, played by Jones, with pride and wonder, as she vogued for the ladies of Hot in Cleveland, “108 years old!”

The real wonder was the sweet undercurrent of TV history, not just respect for impressively active elders, that ran through Wednesday’s live East Coast telecast of TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland sitcom. White’s first live TV series, Life with Elizabeth, came in 1953, and both Shatner and Jones clocked lots of guest roles on anthology series in the early 1950s. All three were there for TV’s salad days, long before they became established television stars.

Seeing them on Hot in Cleveland, sharing the same stage and scene, was worth the high-wire experiment. White stumbled on one line early, but in a way that matched her often flustered character. Shatner attacked his role, and his lines, like a happy ham actor at a local dinner theater, and the studio audience reacted with appreciative roars. And Jones, who showed up early and vanished after two quick lines, returned for the climax to grab the spotlight and leave — with her “son,” the imposing mob boss played by Shatner, sheepishly in tow.

Also figuring rather prominently were recurring player Georgia Engel and guest star Brian Baumgartner (Kevin from NBC’s The Office), who was given many of the funniest lines, and bits of business, from writer Joe Keenan and director Andy Cadiff. However, he may have been given special handling because he’s the baby of the group. He’s only 40.

The stars of Hot in Cleveland, besides White, are Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves, all of whom seemed to breeze along in a live format that, for them, was relatively foreign. No fluffed lines, no disasters. And when the show ended on time, one of the trickiest concerns, they broke the fourth wall to gather together, stars and guests alike, to take a bow and salute themselves, and their audience, for getting through it together.

Live TV. Even if there’s less and less of it, there’s nothing quite like it. A savvy programmer, at TV Land or elsewhere, would do good to remember that.

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Yeah, David, what happened to any mention of the real baby of the cast, Danny Pudi?? He was only 34 and played the prime antagonist of the episode!!
Jun 4, 2015   |  Reply
saw this episode. what about "community's" danny pudi?

over the last few years, a few people have encouraged me to regularly watch this show and i've never followed their encouragement. watching last night's live broadcast typified why i've refrained from regularly watching: it was not funny. i understood the punchlines and jokes and heard the audience's laughing but i did not laugh.......................
Jun 20, 2013   |  Reply
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