Images: The Everett Collection
Betty White is a national treasure. The television icon has been with us for nearly a century, and her small screen career stretches back to the earliest days of the medium.
Her stellar string of sitcom roles began in 1952 on the charming Life with Elizabeth, a series based around a character she had performed on the talk show Hollywood on Television going back to the 1940s. The show, which was essentially a collection of short interactions between husband and wife, helped pioneer the romantic sitcom.
Two decades later, The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave White her next breakout role, Sue Ann Nivens, the seemingly cheery host of fictional WJM-TV's The Happy Homemaker who had far more of a bite off-camera. The darker role gave a new angle to White's career.
From there, White would, of course, go on to create unforgettable characters on Mama's Family and The Golden Girls. And she's has continued to work on television ever since, celebrated for her comedic work, of course, but also receiving an Emmy for her dramatic turn on the crime drama The Practice.
In that long, storied career, some roles are bound to be overshadowed. Let's take a look at a handful of White's recurring roles that further demonstrate her talents.
Every day, starting at 5 PM | 4C
CIA-trained interrogator Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) leads an LAPD division of elite officers who investigate high-profile murders in the bustling metropolis. With an unorthodox style and innate ability to read people, Deputy Chief Johnson lives up to her reputation as a “closer” — an interrogator who can obtain confessions that result in convictions.
Vickie Angel on 'Date with the Angels'
One of the first primetime series explicitly created with a female perspective for a female audience, Date with the Angels arrived in a time dominated by cowboys and Westerns. White played a newlywed, Vickie Angel, and much of series revolved around fantasy sequences. White often got the chance to sing in her reveries. For a bit, at least. The show clicked with women, but the sponsor could not fully comprehend it. So the suits forced changes and ironed out the idiosyncrasies. "Without our dream sequences, our show flattened out and became just one more run-of-the-mill domestic comedy," White later said. It was too ahead of its time for the corporate folk.
Mondays through Saturdays, starting at 11AM | 10C
Sundays, starting at noon | 11C
Suburban housewife and mother Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) has a unique talent: She can communicate with the deceased, foresee future events and witness past events in dreams. Putting her supernatural abilities to good use, Allison works as a consultant for the Phoenix district attorney’s office, working with Det. Lee Scanlon (David Cubitt) to crack cases that might otherwise go unsolved.
Joyce Whitman on 'The Betty White Show'
This was the third series to carry the name The Betty White Show, but the first scripted comedy. The previous two had been a daytime talk show in 1954 and a variety show in 1958. White's success and acclaim on The Mary Tyler Moore Show landed her this headlining role (and former co-star Georgia Engel came along for the ride). Here, she played an actress working on a fictional cop show called Undercover Woman, a spoof of Police Woman. One catch — her ex-husband (John Hillerman in a pre-Magnum, P.I. role) was the director. Again, the network did White few favors, scheduling the show against Monday Night Football, killing its chances to find an audience.
Every day, starting at 2PM | 1
Det. Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris), the Philadelphia homicide squad's lone female detective, specializes in solving “cold cases,” crimes committed long ago that have never been solved. Working alongside Det. Scotty Valens (Danny Pino), Lilly takes a fresh look into such crimes hoping to identify the missing links that will result in long-overdue justice.
Betsy Boucher on 'The Love Boat'
The Love Boat welcomed hundreds of celebrity guest aboard its happy cruises, and a few of those favorites would become minor regular characters on the show. White appeared in a handful of episodes as Betsy Boucher, a gal pal of Julie's (Lauren Tewes) Aunt Silvia, played by the late, great Carol Channing. In the 1982 tale "My Friend, the Executrix," the two showbiz veterans put on a delightful song-and-dance number, seen here.
Every day, starting at 11PM | 10C
Dr. Samantha Waters (Ally Walker) is a criminal profiler working for the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force. A forensic psychologist with a unique insight into the criminal mind, Sam investigates the most difficult of cases along with an elite team of agents. While solving crimes for the VCTF, Sam is perpetually on the lookout for a serial killer known as “Jack of All Trades,” who killed her husband years earlier.
Sylvia Schmidt on 'Bob'
With every new sitcom, Bob Newhart kept shortening the title. Bob followed Newhart and The Bob Newhart Show, casting the master of dry comedy as a comic-book creator — well, at least for its first season. CBS packaged the show with other sitcoms, including a Golden Girls sequel called The Golden Palace it had pried away from NBC, on Friday evenings, up against ABC's TGIF juggernauts. Bob failed to make a dent in the Nielsen's ratings in its first season, so the network completely retooled it in year two. The comic book setting was gone (as, too, was Marvel's tie-in comic book series, Mad-Dog) as Bob went to work for a greeting card company run by Betty White. Now that is a superhero team-up. Alas, if they had only started with that premise. Retooling never works. Confused audiences led to a short life.
Every day, starting at 8PM | 7C
Five female cops in San Francisco face all the challenges that the job entails while also striving for a work-life balance that allows for romance, family, motherhood and friendship. Unlike most cop shows, this one puts extra emphasis on the human side of being a police officer.
Shirley Wallace on 'Maybe This Time'
Like Sue Ann Nivens, Shirley Wallace was a flirty man-magnet. Here, however, she was heading a household with three generations of women, including her daughter (Marie Osmond) and granddaughter (Ashley Johnson of Growing Pains). Cool! Another Betty White sitcom with centering around strong women! So what did the network do? Add Dane Cook to play a quarterback. [Shakes fist] Neeeetwoooorks!