The Golden Girls

The Real Reason The Golden Girls Kitchen Table Only Had Three Chairs

Airing for seven seasons after debuting in 1985, the iconic sitcom “The Golden Girls” starred the memorable quartet of Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and Betty White in one of TV’s most fondly recalled, and endlessly syndicated series. Chronicling the shared ups and downs of four mature but young-at-heart friends sharing their lives together in Miami, the characterizations featured a delightful range of personalities dealing with the entry into their golden years, from self-confident and brassy to matriarchal and tender.

As a series rooted squarely in the entertainment conventions of the TV situation comedy, the show followed the well-worn sitcom visual format of a straight-on shot framing a kitchen, living room, or other familiar space within a home or apartment. One of the most popular setups for “The Golden Girls” found the women sitting around a kitchen table. But observant viewers will have noticed something interesting, considering four women lived in the house: there were never more than three chairs at the table. So, while the cast often featured four women talking and joking together, what was the real reason “The Golden Girls” kitchen table had only three chairs?

Three chairs solved a key camera-angle question

Veteran TV viewers won’t find it surprising that the sets where their favorite shows are filmed or taped often seem curiously similar. From Jerry’s apartment on “Seinfeld” to the place shared by Sheldon and Leonard on “The Big Bang Theory,” the image is one of a single room with front-facing chairs or couches along with tables or countertops. Likewise, much of the action in “The Golden Girls” took place in a comparably simple kitchen layout, with a central table and chairs. But, why only three chairs? And why are the chairs placed where they are?

The reason lies in the logistics of camera placement vis a vis blocking out actor positions and movement for this kind of TV show. If a chair was placed at the table with its back to the audience, and an actor sat there, well, you see where we’re going with this, right? No audience wants to spend time looking at the back of their favorite character’s head. And no actor wants to spend time facing away from their friend the camera. According to the book “Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai” by Jim Colucci, assistant art director John Shaffner revealed they decided to always keep one of the women doing something else — if all four were in the scene — whether it be making tea or standing to the side.

And that’s why you’ll never see more than three of the “Girls” seated at the table — just a bit of Sitcom Staging 101.


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