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story.lead_photo.caption TV icon Betty White is shown in a recent photo and as rising young star in the early 1950s. AETN will air the special Betty White: First Lady of Television at 7 p.m. today.

I don't mind admitting that even though I'm a veteran, professional, unflappable television critic, I got a little fanboy-ish when I met TV icon Betty White on a 2007 press tour in Los Angeles.

Maybe I embarrassed myself gushing. I hope not. But I was, after all, in the presence of a living legend.

White was participating in a panel session for the PBS series Pioneers of Television. She sat on stage and traded quips and memories with several other notables -- Dick Cavett, Ed McMahon, Tony Orlando and Tim Conway. Not a bad lineup.

Later, at the evening PBS social event, I got to chat up White and Conway for five or six minutes and found both to be thoroughly delightful.

At the venerable age of 85, White was still razor sharp with that trademark twinkle in her eye. Well, she's 96 now and shows no signs of slowing down.

See for yourself when PBS and AETN air Betty White: First Lady of Television at 7 p.m. today.

The 90-minute special, five years in the making, was produced by the same team behind the Pioneers series. They note that White's 80 years in the biz is officially the longest career in the history of television.

In a news release, PBS spokesman Jerry Liwanag said, "Betty White has created some of the most memorable characters in television history. This special reveals that she's been a groundbreaking pioneer since her earliest days in the fledgling medium -- both in front of and behind the camera. Her talent and creativity are timeless, transcending generations and cementing her legacy with each passing decade. She's truly one of a kind."

Co-director Steven J. Boettcher added, "The goal of the film from the beginning was to highlight the universal appeal that is Betty White."

Universal appeal, indeed.

What was your favorite role? Was it the man-hungry "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)? Maybe it was good-hearted, naive Rose Nylund from The Golden Girls (1985-1992). Or perhaps it was as the outspoken widow Elka Ostrovsky from TV Land's Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015).

Those are just three of the characters White has created in a career that began in radio shortly after she graduated from Beverly Hills High in 1939. She transitioned to TV as co-host of Hollywood on Television (1949-1953), a live daily talk/variety show that was spun-off into a nationally syndicated sitcom, Life With Elizabeth (1953-55).

A popular guest star on game shows in the '50s and '60s, White met her future husband, Allen Ludden, during a 1961 appearance on Password. They were married from 1963 until his death in 1981. She never remarried.

White has won five Emmys over the years -- two for her role as Sue Ann, another for Rose, a fourth as a guest star on The John Larroquette Show and a fifth for hosting Saturday Night Live in 2010.

There was also a Daytime Emmy for hosting the short-lived NBC game show Just Men! in 1983.

Granted exclusive access, the producers of Betty White: First Lady of Television capture her incomparable comedic timing along with personal and intimate moments at home.

In addition to a clip of animal lover White hugging a 900-pound grizzly bear, the special features comments from friends and co-stars, including Valerie Bertinelli, Georgia Engel, Tina Fey, Valerie Harper, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gavin MacLeod, Carl Reiner, Ryan Reynolds, Tom Sullivan, Alex Trebek and more.

Betty White: First Lady of Television is guaranteed to make you smile and, for me at least, maybe gush just a bit one more time.

Anglophile alert. From birthin' more royal babies to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it's been a busy year over in England. Catch up on it all with The Story of the Royals from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday on ABC. Part 2 follows at the same time on Thursday.

This is sort of a sequel to last year's The Story of Diana and will showcase the key figures who represent four generations of the crown: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George.

ABC says, "Through its many loves, losses, extravagances, challenges and charms, the British royal family has grown into a 21st-century monarchy, and the special will illustrate that evolution as well as examine the American obsession behind all things royal."

Are you obsessed? Then own it. I know a woman who named her cats Kate and Pippa. Top that.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Style on 08/21/2018

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