LOS ANGELES (AP) – In a TV show hosted by Betty White 50 years ago, the eternal charmer flirts with James Brolin, teases Della Reese and trades with Carol Burnett.
But White seems to be thrilled in the company of real “Betty White’s Pet Set” stars, including elephants, lions and snakes. And dogs, lots of dogs.
“All I can say is that Charlie Brown is right: Happiness is a warm puppy,” says the dazzling White in one episode, stroking a pair of tiny brown cones as he quotes a character from the Peanuts comic.
She and her husband, the late host of the show Allen Ludden, produced a series of 39 episodes (originally called “The Pet Set”) that aired in 1971 and was released on Tuesday on DVD and streaming and digital platforms after the arduous restoration process.
The creation of the show was a strictly loving effort towards Emmy’s star of “Golden Girls” and “Mary Tyler Moore Show” who, at the age of 99, retained affection and compassion for animals.
“When Allen and I started our own production house so many years ago, the only show I wanted to do was‘ The Pet Set, ’” White told the Associated Press. “Allen’s offices were the most exciting in the building because we were the only guests who were at the screening, they were hairy and four-legged.”
“What a time! It’s still one of my favorite shows even 50 years later, ”White said in a statement.
White, a longtime animal welfare and conservation advocate, enjoyed the show with her husband and friends focusing on her passion for animals, said TV producer and distributor Darren Wadyko, whose company supported the re-release.
Her friends with celebrities are invited to bring their pets and get a chance to meet wild animals – sometimes on a guest accident. Reese (“Touched by an Angel”) looked sideways at White as she tried to persuade her closer to the leopard, and Jim Nabors (“Gomer Pyle”) did the same when the snake was involved.
Burnett was hesitant at first when invited to the messy task of feeding the elephant, but then the formula and mixtures flowed. “These Playtex caregivers, you can’t beat them,” she says.
White, however, was fearless, especially in encounters filmed at a training camp in Southern California that provided animals for TV and movies. At one point she saw him clinging to a 500-pound lion.
Other guests include Doris Day, Mary Tyler Moore, Burt Reynolds, Michael Landon and show host Peter Marshall, who was interviewed for a documentary about the series that is part of the DVD set.
“It’s fun to look back so many years and how beautiful we were all,” Marshall said through a laugh.
The show’s revival began when White’s longtime agent Jeff Witjas asked Wadyk if he could find episodes. After what Wadyko called an “Indiana Jones virtual expedition,” it turned out that the copies were housed at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills and at White’s home in Los Angeles.
The tapes were restored, digitized, and color-corrected, and the final version brought together the best parts of each set to create an intact version, a process that took more than six months.
The series is available on streaming platforms Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play, Fandango Now, and more platforms are expected to be added by distribution partners Darren Wadyko Media, White’s Albets Enterprises and MPI Media Group.
Wadyko, who produced “The Smartest Animals Betty White in America” in 2015, said he was eager to see her reaction to the reborn “Pet Set,” which allows for a pandemic safety.
He and Witjas plan to “give her a wonderful DVD and spend some time watching it with her. But that event hasn’t happened yet,” he said.