INSTITUTE, WV (LOOTPRESS) – While many were at home binge-watching “Tiger King,” “Cheer” or “The Mandalorian” during the COVID-induced stay-at-home era of 2020, West Virginia State University (WVSU) alumnus Matt Browning was binging a TV show from a different era.
A lifelong fan of the popular 1980’s sitcom “The Golden Girls,” Browning had just learned that Lyons Press, a division of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc., had accepted his book proposal for what would become “The Definitive Golden Girls Cultural Reference Guide.”
“If you watch ‘The Golden Girls,’ in a lot of ways it’s timeless,” Browning said. “It’s like ‘I Love Lucy’ – it’ll be around forever. But, if you pay attention to the humor, a lot of it consists of dated references to things that were current in the 1980s. They were constantly mentioning entertainers, TV shows and movies, politics, and just current events from that era. Even brand names of companies that may not exist anymore.”
As newer generations discover the show, or even older generations, some questions of ‘who are they talking about?’ and ‘why is the audience laughing at that reference?’ may come up. Rather than having to Google the references, Browning said he thought a book containing them all would be nice. Enter: “The Definitive Golden Girls Cultural Reference Guide.”
“Very shortly after I signed the book contract, the world shut down. COVID happened,” he said. “Not that there is a silver lining to a world-wide pandemic, but it did put me in the house for an extended period of time where I could just watch ‘Golden Girls.’”
Browning would joke with his friends that he had managed to turn watching “Golden Girls” into a job. He sat down with a legal pad and pen, turned on Hulu and started with the Pilot. He would watch the show and write down every pop culture reference he heard, with a timestamp for the frame it’s mentioned.
Seven seasons, 180 episodes, and two full legal pads later, he was ready to do more research and begin writing that book. Just to be sure he didn’t miss anything, he re-watched the entire seven season run of the show.
“I knew there would be a lot of references, but I did not know how many there would be and I did not know every episode would have multiple things I needed to research,” he said. “I wanted to be very thorough.”
Structured by episode, the book is a mere 400 pages and includes an index for the references and an index for episode titles. Each reference offers dialogue from the episode for context.
While the references add humor to the show, the writing, the chemistry among the cast, and the issues dealt with on the small screen make it entertaining even nearly 40 years after it aired, Browning said.
“They dealt with racism, gay rights, AIDS, divorce and health concerns that women in their 50s and 60s are facing. These are things that are still relevant, despite all of the references,” he said.
The appeal of “The Golden Girls” characters of Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, and Rose’s universe will not soon go away. Many consider it classic television.
“I was 5 when it debuted and I watched those shows with my mom and my grandma, which I think a lot of people of my generation who are still fans of it now did,” he said.
Long before his book hit bookstore shelves nationwide, Browning began his career at WVSU where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications in 2004. When he started his classes at State, he discovered a job opening for an office assistant within the Extension Service. He applied, interviewed, and got the job.
“I did that during the day and took night classes,” he said.
In 2006, the Extension Service created its own Communications Department and he was hired as a Communications Specialist. In 2009, he obtained a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University. In 2012, he was promoted to Director of Communications for Research and Public Service. He left his job at the university in 2021 when he accepted a new role as Senior Public Affairs Specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
After several appearances in North Carolina earlier in the summer of 2022, Browning will head to Maryland and Delaware on Saturday, July 9 for the stops on his book tour. This summer and fall will bring more stops across West Virginia, culminating at the West Virginia Book Festival in October.
His next project is a potential TV pilot and more books related to his “Bookstore Explorer” brand building from a book he self-published showcasing stories of independent bookstores across West Virginia. The first episode is already on his YouTube page.
Read the full feature story on Matt Browning here.
To keep up with Browning and his book tour, visit mattbrowningbooks.com.