‘The Golden Girls’: A Backdoor Pilot Is the Show’s Lowest-Rated Episode

It’s pretty uncommon for shows with a massive fandom to have exceptionally low-rated episodes. The Golden Girls is an exception. The show has a loyal following of fans decades after it went off the air. While those fans love most of the show’s episodes, one appears to be nearly universally despised. The season 2 episode is so hated that it seems to pull down the series rating average, and it was actually a failed backdoor pilot.

Almost all ‘The Golden Girls’ fans hate one season 2 episode 

If there is one episode that nearly all fans of The Golden Girls despise, it’s The season 2 episode, “Empty Nests.” The episode received just 3.6 out of 10 stars on IMDb. It is the lowest-rated episode of the series by a rather large margin. 

Cast of 'The Golden Girls': (l-r) Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund, Bea Arthur as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak
Blanche Devereaux, Rose Nylund, and Dorothy Zbornak | Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

How wide of a margin? The next lowest-rated episode is the season 3 episode, “Mr. Terrfic,” the episode has a low but still respectable 6.2 out of 10 stars. Fans who dislike the episode cite its darker-than-average premise as the reason for their distaste. In the episode, Rose Nylund attempts to talk a tv show host out of suicide after his network fires him. 

‘The Golden Girls’ episode, “Empty Nests,” is a failed backdoor pilot 

The episode “Empty Nests” is the original backdoor pilot for the series, Empty Nest. The backdoor pilot was so dispised that the entire series was retooled after it aired. The initial pilot featured a husband and wife duo who are suffering from empty nest syndrome after their daughters move out. The actual series that later aired featured a widowed pediatrician and his two daughters. While the series that eventually aired was a success, the backdoor pilot was a complete failure. 

It was so bad that Rita Moreno, the actor who portrayed Renee Corliss in the failed pilot, said it was her most embarrassing project. During an interview with Emmy TV Legends, she recalled that the show’s creator was ill during the week of filming and left the show’s writers to do any rewrites. She said that by the time they got to filming, the production team had changed the script and her character so many times that she couldn’t even remember her first line. 

What was ‘Empty Nest’ Actually About? 

The backdoor pilot might have been a failure, but the reworked series that eventually aired succeeded. The show, which ran for seven seasons, followed the life of Harry Weston and his quirky family. Harry was a pediatrician whose two adult daughters moved back into his house after the family’s matriarch died. The two siblings bickered and fought for the attention of their father. The series also heavily featured the family dog, Dreyfus, Harry’s medical practice staff, and his eternally single neighbor, Charley Dietz. 

The cast of 'Empty Nest' and Sophia Petrillo
The cast of ‘Empty Nest’ | Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank

While the backdoor pilot was an absolute disaster, Empty Nest’s connection to The Golden Girls was still heavily featured. Season 1 of the show established that Harry and his daughters were the neighbors of Blanche Devereaux and her roommates. Harry’s dog was also occasionally mentioned on The Golden Girls.