Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White in HOT IN CLEVELAND on getTV
From I Love Lucy to The Golden Girls to Sex & the City, female friendship has long been a sitcom staple. Hot in Cleveland evolves the “girlfriends” format with characters who are realistically flawed and stories that are surprisingly poignant — while remaining unflinchingly funny.
You can see for yourself when Hot In Cleveland debuts Monday, August 5 on getTV — with four episodes every weeknight starting at 6p ET!
Here’s the story: three friends “of a certain age” (Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick) who are unhappy with their Los Angeles lives relocate to Ohio and move in with an outspoken octogenarian (Betty White). “Fish out of water” may be a stock comedy premise, but it’s elevated here by Emmy-winning creator Suzanne Martin (Frasier), executive producer Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) and a cast that living legend Betty White is convinced “will go down as one of the ones to remember.”
"There’s such a natural rapport between us that is so precious,” she said. “And believe me, we’ve all been around the horn enough to know how precious it is.”
As Queen Betty suggests, all four stars have been familiar faces for decades. And their resumes imbue their characters with a history that makes them seem like old friends — not just to each other, but to us. In the pilot, newly single writer Melanie Moretti (Bertinelli, 1970s teen star of One Day At A Time), never-married “eyebrow artist” Joy Scroggs (Leeves, an Emmy nominee for Frasier), and perennially divorced soap star Victoria Chase (Malick, Emmy-nominated for Just Shoot Me) are forced to lay over in Cleveland when their flight to Paris is grounded. They drown their sorrows at the local watering hole, where male customers reward them with unexpected attention.
“We spent all that time, effort and money (in L.A.) trying to look ten years younger and ten pounds lighter,” unapologetically shallow Victoria laments. “All we had to do was crash-land in Cleveland!”
In short order, Melanie connects with a handsome plumber (Dukes of Hazzard star John Schneider) who gives her a tour of the city and a pitch on all it has to offer. With her son (Joe Jonas) and daughter (Samantha Martin) off to college, she decides to skip the Paris trip and “reinvent herself” in the city once known as the Mistake on the Lake.
“Friends don’t let friends move to Cleveland,” Joy insists.
Melanie ignores Joy’s trademark British scorn and rents a gorgeous Victorian house with an old-fashioned porch swing. And that’s where the three 40-plus friends meet 80-plus Elka Ostrovsky (White), the sassy caretaker who’s been in residence since the Truman administration. Elka is a Bedazzled, anachronistically hip senior with a taste for vodka who drops pop culture and technology references that might confuse people half her age. She fled the Nazis during World War II, married a mob accountant (Don Rickles), and has been widowed for six decades. Over time, she becomes the advisor (and frequent antagonist) to her younger housemates, while they inspire her to stop holding a torch for her dead(?) husband and pursue the opposite sex. Her suitors over six seasons are an all-star team of TV icons, including: Carl Reiner, Tim Conway, Regis Philbin, Buck Henry, Steve Lawrence, Robert Wagner, Ben Vereen, and Frasier dad John Mahoney.
“I have no business doing this much work at this age” said White, who was 88 when the series began. Her Elka is Hot in Cleveland’s Fonzie, a supporting character who gets all the best lines and becomes the face of the franchise. White had been an icon for decades when she took on the role, but Cleveland kicked off an inspiring career renaissance that continues today. And the writers mine her history for laughs, with homages to past triumphs on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls and her long relationships with performers like Carol Burnett and Georgia Engel, both of whom play recurring roles.
In one of Cleveland’s most unforgettable episodes, White reunites with Engel and her old school MTM girlfriends Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman. In another, she’s courted by Lou Grant himself Ed Asner. And throughout the series, we see recognizable Golden Girls guest stars like Hal Linden, Paul Dooley, Fred Willard, Alex Trebek and others.
Like Dixie Carter’s Julia Sugarbaker was to Designing Women, Elka is the truth-teller of Hot In Cleveland. Her aim is merciless – especially with the hapless Joy, who endures six seasons of mockery — but her sass is a necessary component in breaking down their egos and opening them up to the possibilities of positive change in this strange new world called Cleveland.
And change they do. Shy Melanie becomes a magazine columnist, public relations professional, and radio host. Self-involved Victoria becomes a local TV news personality and celebrity pitchwoman for “Mrs. Ladypants,” the incontinence product that gives the show its best running gag (and Malick a chance to show off her physical comedy chops). Joy experiences the most personal growth of the three, finding the son (Michael McMillian) she gave up for adoption as a teen, helping him to raise her grandson, reconnecting with her baby daddy (Craig Ferguson), reconciling with her prickly mother (Juliet Mills), going back to college, and getting a new job with a private investigator (Dave Foley) who ends up changing her life.
Along the way, all of the ladies find love — both of the short- and long-term variety. But their dating relationships are never played for cheap and easy laughs, except when the relationships themselves are intentionally cheap and/or easy.
“I hadn’t seen, for a long time, a group of women of a certain age being portrayed as still viable and sexual and celebrated the way they have been on this show,” Leeves said in a retrospective that served as one of the show’s final episodes. “It was very empowering to be a part of something like this.”
And perhaps most importantly, the transformative power of supportive, woman friendships remained a core truth of the series for all six seasons. “This is what real girlfriends are like,” said Bertinelli, who also reunited with her One Day At a Time co-stars Bonnie Franklin, Pat Harrington and Mackenzie Phillips on the show.
Also notable is the evolution Cleveland experiences in Hot In Cleveland – from the titular butt of the women’s jokes to the site of their transformative success. Early in the series, Victoria mocks it as the “elastic waistband of American cities.” By the end, she becomes artistic director of the Cleveland Studio Theater and a confirmed Clevelander. “Los Angeles makes me shallow,” she says. “When I was there, I was jealous of everyone else’s success. But here, everyone’s jealous of me.”
Melanie agrees, adding, “L.A. is the sexy bad boyfriend. You keep going back to him thinking he’s gonna change, but he never does. Cleveland? He’s our loving husband.”
“Like a good husband, Cleveland always thinks we’re just a bit better than we are,” Joy concurs, with Leeves adding that working on the series made her “feel better about myself.”
Hot in Cleveland ends after 129 episodes as it began, on a plane. We won’t spoil where Melanie, Joy, Victoria and Elka are going, but we think you’ll find their journey worth the trip.
Hot In Cleveland debuts August 5 on getTV at 6p ET. Four episodes air each weekday, back to back. For more, visit the getTV schedule.