I got to sit down and chat with Betty White a couple of months ago.
Really. Sat right next to her at lunch in a Studio City, Calif., restaurant across the street from where her sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” is produced.
Might have been the coolest thing I’ve done on the job since I presented White with the Television Critics Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Before everybody else started giving her lifetime achievement awards.
We’re talking Betty White here. The entertainment industry is far too fond of calling minor stars “legends,” but she is a television legend who’s still going strong at 92.
Many actors quake in fear at the thought of appearing live on TV, but not White. She was, after all, doing 5 ½ hours of live television a day, six days a week, 64 years ago on a local Los Angeles TV station. So doing the fourth-season premiere of “Hot” live in November was no big deal.
“That was fun,” she said. “I think we should do the first episode of every season live.”
She’s getting her wish times two Wednesday. White will appear in live episodes of “Hot in Cleveland” (11 p.m., TV Land) and “The Soul Man” (11:30 p.m., TV Land — tape delayed in the Mountain Time Zone.)
Which came as a bit of a surprise to her when I asked her about it.
“Oh, really?” she said. “Well, why not? The wife is always the last to know.”
TV Land did get that straightened out. White is willing.
And it’s clear she loves working with Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves on “Hot in Cleveland.”
“I can’t wait to go to work in the morning,” she said. “That sounds like I’m blowing smoke, but I’m not.”
There’s an easy banter among co-stars. When Bertinelli joined us for lunch, she extended her hand to White and joked, “Hi, Betty. Such a pleasure. I’ve been a fan for a long, long time.”
“Thank you very much,” White replied. “What the hell is your name?”
Bertinelli burst out laughing.
Then she talked about how, a day earlier, she walked by White’s dressing room and saw the noted animal-lover feeding Milk-Bones to two tiger cubs.
“Real cool things come to visit Betty,” Bertinelli said. “At least we get to kind of ride her coattails and see what it’s like to be her. It’s fabulous!”
And her co-stars love working with White.
“She does set a really, really beautiful tone on the set,” Bertinelli said. “This is a woman who — every day, you choose happy.”
“It is a choice,” White said. “It beats the negative.”
“And this is what a positive attitude will get you,” Bertinelli said. “Ninety-two years of gorgeousness!”
“Oh, yes, gorgeous,” White said, rolling her eyes.
Well, we think so.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.