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Can Betty White make it 'Hot in Cleveland'?

June 16, 2010 |  2:28 pm

Hot_in_cleveland_betty_white Betty White was all over the tube this week promoting her new sitcom "Hot in Cleveland," which debuts on TV Land on Wednesday night. This first foray into an original sitcom for the cable net earned respectable reviews from the likes of the New York Times -- "This is not perhaps the most daring or avant-garde comedy on television, but there is nothing shameful about 'Hot in Cleveland.' It’s actually kind of fun" -- and the Los Angeles Times -- "Like the women in it, the show is solid and professional and holds together well."

That White is red-hot is evidenced by her top billing on the TV Land website above nominal stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick. While Bertinelli won two Golden Globes for "One Day at a Time" in the early 1980s and Leeves and Malick reaped one and two Emmy noms for "Frasier" and "Just Shoot Me," respectively, in the 1990s, it is White who is the awards darling of the group.

Though White has made memorable appearances in movies as of late, most notably as Sandra Bullock's sassy grandmother in last year's smash hit "The Proposal," her connection with television dates to an appearance on an experimental Los Angeles channel in 1939. Since then, White has conquered every aspect of the medium, including hosting five hours of live TV per day in the 1950s and guesting on countless game shows in the 1960s -- such as "Password," where she met her husband, host Allen Ludden -- and starring in classic sitcoms of the 1970s ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show") and 1980s ("The Golden Girls"). More recently, White has cornered the market on crazy-as-a-fox guest roles.

Along the way, White won four of her 16 prime-time Emmy bids as well as a daytime Emmy for hosting the game show "Just Men!" and even a local one for her first sitcom, "Life With Elizabeth." White took home her first prime-time Emmy in 1975 for her supporting work on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and got a matching bookend award the following year. She was the first of the "Golden Girls" to win an Emmy prevailing as lead actress for the first season of the smash hit in 1986 and earning a nomination in each of the remaining six years. White talks eloquently about both those hits -- as well as her self-titled misfire that came in between and the flop follow-up "The Golden Palace" -- in a fascinating interview with the TV academy (below).

Betty White won the last of her four prime-time Emmys in 1996 for playing an exaggerated version of herself on "The John Larroquette Show." The veteran scene-stealer also contended in the guest comedy actress category for appearances on "Suddenly Susan" in 1997 (Carol Burnett won Emmy no. 7 for "Mad About You") and "Yes, Dear" in 2003 (Christina Applegate won for "Friends").

Her heralded appearance last month hosting "Saturday Night Live" could land White with her 17th Emmy nomination. When the Emmy Awards eliminated the individual performance in a variety series category last year, "SNL" hosts became eligible to contend in the guest-acting races. Emmy darling Tina Fey and Justin Timberlake both won for their stellar turns at the helm of this late-night staple. White, nominated for her over-the-top appearance as Crazy Witch Lady on "My Name is Earl," was one of those felled by Fey.

White could also contend for her guest spot on the first season finale of the hit laffer "The Middle" as the less-than-kindly librarian who stands between Brick (Atticus Shaffer) and promotion to third grade. Women of a certain age have dominated this Emmy race as of late. Playing a little old lady with a twist on "Malcolm in the Middle" won Cloris Leachman the last two of her eight awards in 2002 and 2006. Kathryn Joosten won the guest actress Emmy twice -- in 2005 and 2008 -- for her role as the buddinsky Mrs. McCluskey on "Desperate Housewives," while Elaine Stritch won in 2007 for playing Alec Baldwin's big bad mama on "30 Rock."

Photo: Betty White in "Hot in Cleveland." Credit: TV Land

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