White, Saget remembered as 'two of the most loved entertainment icons’

Betty White and Bob Saget. Photos: The Associated Press
By Mitchell Shapiro

Betty White and Bob Saget. Photos: The Associated Press

White, Saget remembered as 'two of the most loved entertainment icons’

By Mitchell Shapiro
School of Communication professor Mitchell Shapiro, an expert on the history of television, memorializes Betty White and Bob Saget, two of TV’s iconic stars who passed away within 10 days of each other.

On Dec. 31, 2021, Betty White passed away 17 days shy of her 100th birthday. While much of America was still reeling from, and mourning her passing, 10 days later, on Jan. 9, 2022, Bob Saget, one of America’s favorite TV dads, died suddenly at age 65.

Both stars were universally loved by audiences. White primarily for her pioneering television career spanning more than eight decades, and Saget for his portrayal of one of the best loved TV dads of all time. Messages of love and respect flowed from all quarters including the entertainment world and from co-workers, fans, and political leaders. 

White’s television career began in 1949 at KCAL in Los Angeles, where along with Al Jarvis, she co-hosted “Hollywood on Television.” This daily talk/variety show which ran until 1953 was broadcast live for 5 ½ hours every weekday. (However, if we want to be technical, her television career started in 1939—two months prior to TV’s public debut at the New York World’s Fair—with experimental TV broadcasts in a makeshift studio at a local Packard auto dealership in Los Angeles. The signal was transmitted from an upper floor to the first floor of the building.) 

In 1952, while still co-hosting “Hollywood on Television,” she began starring in and producing the situation comedy, “Life with Elizabeth,” a local program broadcast to Los Angeles and then syndicated nationally from 1953 to 1955. In addition, she starred in her own live variety show, “The Betty White Show,” from 1952 to 1954. A couple of years later, she then starred in two other shows, “Date with the Angels,” on ABC during the 1957–58 season and a second “Betty White Show” in 1958. A third “Betty White Show” appeared in 1977. 

Met the love of her life

White’s television career continued through the 1960s as she was a frequent guest on talk shows and a contestant on many different game shows. It was on one of these game shows, “Password,” where she met its host, Allen Ludden. The two fell madly in love and married in 1963—a marriage which would last until his death in 1981. Although White had two brief earlier marriages, it was Ludden who she proclaimed as “the true love of her life.” 

In 1973, White’s sitcom career was revived as she joined “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as a regular supporting character. In the 1980s, after “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she joined “Mama’s Family” as a recurring character. 

Her biggest role came with the 1985 NBC series “The Golden Girls.” This series was undoubtedly her biggest success. The program perennially ranked among Nielsen’s top 10 series in audience size and garnered 46 major Emmy nominations, winning eight. 

White appeared in many other TV series as a guest star. In 2010, she became the oldest person to host an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” This was followed shortly thereafter with her joining the cast of “Hot in Cleveland”—her last regular television scripted role. 

Began as a stand-up comedian

Saget started his entertainment career as a stand-up comedian. His act consisted of extremely adult, racy material. While this wasn’t for all audiences, it was well-received by the audiences in comedy clubs. He was contacted by ABC and asked to audition for the role of Danny Tanner, the father in a very wholesome family sitcom, “Full House” (1987–95). He was taken aback by this opportunity given the nature of this role and the total opposite reputation he had gained from his stand-up career. Nevertheless, he got the role. While most of America was unaware of his reputation for adult material, this new role established him as “America’s most loved dad” and a second career began. 

His role on “Full House” and his comedic quickness led him to be offered the job as original host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” in 1989. Like White, Saget was doing simultaneous double-duty starring/hosting in multiple shows—with success in each of them. Saget reprised his “Full House” role in the Netflix series “Fuller House” (2016–20). 

In between, Saget also provided the voice of Ted Mosely’s narration in “How I Met Your Mother.” And he also hosted game shows and directed feature films. 

Both White and Saget were also well-known for their outside activities for social causes. White was a lifelong supporter of many different animal rights crusades, as well as being an early advocate and defender for racial opportunities and LGBTQ rights. Saget was a board member and the leading spokesperson for the Scleroderma Research Foundation—a disease that afflicted and ultimately took the life of his sister. 

White and Saget were two of the most loved entertainment icons who left their mark on audiences. They were a real loss to the world, and both will be remembered for a long time.

Mitchell Shapiro is a professor in the University of Miami School of Communication.