Nationally-Recognized, Quality Local Journalism..

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to the Mountain State’s Trusted News Source.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

One day back in 2019, as he often did, Matt Browning was watching a rerun of The Golden Girls, a wildly popular television sitcom that aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992 and centered around the lives of four older women roommates.

“I have watched ‘The Golden Girls’ since I was five when it came out. And I’m 40 now. I’m of that generation that watched this show with their grandmothers,” said Browning.

With four unlikely stars well past their expected Hollywood primes, the show secured a spot in pop culture along with such iconic shows as “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “Frasier.”

“The Golden Girls has just spiked in recent years in its popularity. There’s everything from breakfast cereals to action figures. ...I think part of it’s nostalgia. I think part of it is the fact that it’s just a good show. It holds up in a lot of ways, it’s just timeless,” he added.

Unlike most other sitcoms of the time, The Golden Girls tackled big issues.

“They dealt with issues relating to race, the AIDS crisis, gay rights, menopause, divorce, marriage, relationships, being sexually active past 50, 60 years old ... those are things we all still deal with. I don’t think a lot of shows of that era had dealt with them in that way,” said Browning.

“For that very reason the show was revolutionary and in that sense it’s as relevant today as it was in 1985. ... So they really broke ground on the topics they dealt with and the very premise of four older women who were vital and active.”

But watching the show that particular day, there was a reference to something Browning wasn’t familiar with.

“I can’t remember what it was that really brought the idea full circle but I was watching the show and something was mentioned and I was like, ‘Who was that?’ So you start to Google it, right? And I just thought, ‘There should be a book ... where you can just follow along, episode by episode, and know who these people and places are,” he said.

Well, there wasn’t anything like that.

So Browning decided to write it himself.

Thus began “The Definitive Golden Girls Cultural Reference Guide.”

The show itself, he said, is “just timeless. ... But, hence the idea for this book, if you watch the episodes, there are so many references to people and places and news events and companies that were very much of the time, right? And a lot of them have been either forgotten or if you’re a younger viewer you have no idea who these references are or what they are.”

Browning, who in his day job is the Director of Extension and Research Station Communications at West Virginia State University, had already had two other books published. “Chicks and the City,” a children’s book, was released by Headline Books in September 2020, and “Bookstore Explorer: West Virginia,” a colorful collection that features every privately owned bookstore in West Virginia, was released December 2019.

Here was a third idea starting him in the face.

“So I pitched the idea to my agent and he said, ‘That sounds really good. Write up a proposal.’ ... I wrote up a proposal, he sent it out out probably January or February of 2020, and I think we sold it in less than two months.”

Stories you might like

Lyons Press has published other pop culture books. His agent negotiated a small advance.

And then Browning got to work — here’s perhaps the most enviable part of the whole deal — watching and re-watching every episode that’s ever aired. All 180 of them over seven seasons.

“I did two complete viewings of every episode to make sure I logged every reference that I wanted to include in the book. I watched every episode twice for the sole purpose of getting the references into the book and I’m still afraid I missed some.”

The book is over 400 pages, arranged season by season with every episode listed — and an alphabetical index in the back.

“There was not an episode that I didn’t have multiple things to research,” he said.

There’s a reference in one episode to the Katzenjammer Kids, a comic strip that debuted in 1897.

“Betty White’s character, Rose, said something like, ‘Are our kids coming? And Dorothy said, ‘No, Rose, the Katzenjammer Kids are.’ And I thought, who were the Katzenjammer Kids?”

But it wasn’t all chuckles and grins.

“There was an episode where Dorothy’s son — Dorothy was [actress] Bea Arthur — he showed up announcing his engagement to a woman who was older and African American so you kind of had the dual issues there and that kind of stuff in 1987 or ’88 could be just as relevant today,” said Browning.

“There were episodes where Blanche’s gay brother comes to town, comes out to her and she struggles to accept it. There was an episode where Rose had an HIV scare after a blood transfusion.”

“The fact that we’re still dealing with issues like gay rights and racism, and still struggling with them in a lot of ways, kind of points to the timelessness of shows like that,” said Browning.

“I think it probably means we’ve come a long way but we’ve got so far yet to go.”

He suspects his cats got tired of hearing the theme song. But otherwise, “It was a great pandemic project and luckily at the time I lived alone, so I could just binge all day without annoying anyone else.”

The final manuscript was due on Dec. 31, 2020 — Browning says he was finished by Thanksgiving.

“The Definitive Golden Girls Cultural Reference Guide” comes out Sept. 15 and is available for preorder now through bookseller websites. For more information, visit mattbrowningbooks.com/.

Reach Maria Young at maria.young@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5115 or follow

@mariapyoung on Twitter.

Recommended for you