Betty White Credits Snickers for Golden Opportunities

America's Sweetheart Tells Ad Age How Super Bowl Spot Goosed Her Career

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- If Betty White seems to be suddenly omnipresent, you can thank Snickers for that.

Ever since this year's Super Bowl, when BBDO's spot for the Mars candy bar depicted Ms. White and fellow octogenarian Abe Vigoda in a particularly rough game of football, the TV legend has been in higher demand than she was in her heyday as the star of "The Mary Tyler Moore" show in the 1970s and "The Golden Girls" in the 1980s. From her supporting role in last summer's Sandra Bullock vehicle "The Proposal" to her Facebook-generated hosting gig on "Saturday Night Live" (the series' highest-rated episode in 18 months) to her recent partnership with the "Sleep Better" campaign to her new co-starring role on TV Land's first sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland," Betty White is white hot.

And it all goes back to that Super Bowl ad.

"That's what really started the little surge," the 88 (and a half, as she noted on "SNL") year-old actress told Ad Age. And despite her increasingly busy schedule, she still makes time -- and more money, as a result of her recent workload -- for her work in animal welfare and activism, from her longtime involvement with the Morris Animal Foundation and Actors For Other Animals to her ads for 1-800-Pet-Meds.

"The whole reason I work so much is so I can pay for all those animals. So to have all these opportunities is just wonderful," she said.

And there's more work to come. This fall, Ms. White will appear alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver and Kristin Bell in Disney's "You Again," and lend her voice to The Hub's remake of the 1980s cartoon "Pound Puppies." That's why TV Land President Larry Jones feels like the boomer-targeted network lucked out in landing Ms. White for her first regular role on a TV series since 1993's "Golden Girls" spinoff "The Golden Palace." The cast features TV vets Valerie Bertinelli ("One Day at a Time"), Jane Leeves ("Frasier") and Wendie Malick ("Just Shoot Me.")

"The question was always, 'Do you think we can get Betty White?'" Mr. Jones said. "Betty's at a point in her career where she can say, 'If I'm not having fun, I ain't stickin' around.' I think she had so much fun with the pilot and saw we were really serious about this that she wanted to commit to it afterward."

TV Land is also banking that Ms. White will deliver the network its biggest hit yet; the net is rolling out its largest marketing campaign in cinema, outdoor and off-channel TV in the weeks leading up to its June 16 premiere. And for advertisers who are clamoring for lighter, scripted fare as reality TV continues to populate the airwaves, "it's being welcomed with open arms in a really big way," Mr. Jones said.

It's bittersweet, however, that Ms. White is the last surviving "Golden Girl," following the passing of Rue McClanahan on June 3. Ad Age caught up with Ms. White  on  the set of "Hot in Cleveland" in Studio City, Calif. -- just a day before her former co-star's death -- to talk about her 62-plus year career, what she's looking for when pitched by advertisers and who she would campaign for as the next user-generated host of "SNL."  

Ad Age: This is your first regular role on a sitcom since "The Golden Girls" and its spinoff. What did it take for you to commit?

Ms. White: They asked me [laughs]. I had agreed to do a guest role on the pilot, so we shot it in February. And usually with pilots, maybe by May you hear if it's getting picked up or not, but they picked it up in three weeks. So they asked me if I would do more and I said I really can't because I've got a busy schedule these days. And then they started making concessions and being so sweet I would've been ashamed to say no. And it's just a terrific show. The chemistry between the girls is so great, and it got such good early reviews, it got picked up for 10 episodes. So I'm doing all 10. I'm such a sucker.  

Ms. White on the set of 'Hot in Cleveland.'
Ms. White on the set of 'Hot in Cleveland.'
Ad Age: So let's talk about how in demand you are these days. It really is a testament to how much of a hot commodity you've become all over again.

Ms. White: Oh, it's just ridiculous. But I really am having a wonderful time. Fortunately I'm blessed with good health and good energy. I might as well relax and enjoy it.  

Ad Age: So what is your energy source these days? I think a lot of people were amazed just to see you on "Saturday Night Live," in every sketch, always on, doing all sorts of things.

Ms. White: I gotta tell you, that was the scariest thing I've ever done. It was really funny stuff, but it was a challenge. I almost divorced my agent over it. I said, "No way!" He said, "You've gotta do it." And once I got there, everybody couldn't have been more supportive or more wonderful to work with. But once it was over it was, "Ahhhh!" [mimes falling off a  cliff].  

Ad Age: What was the biggest challenge being on that set with all those veteran performers like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler?

Ms. White: What worried me the most about being on the set is I can't really read cue cards. I memorize everything. Well, you can't memorize those lines because they change it so often, even on the show they change it in the middle of sketches. But the cue-card man was a genius. Wally, he made me special cards, and said, "Stick with the cards." But when I'm talking to Tina Fey you can't really do that -- you wanna look right in her eyes. And then they'd drag you backstage in a closet about as big as this chair and rip all your clothes off and somebody's putting makeup on and somebody's putting a wig on you and somebody's calling you from onstage, "Where's Betty?"  

Ad Age: You've done several ad campaigns in recent years, including 1-800-Pet-Meds, Snickers and a recent partnership with the Sleep Better campaign. What are your criteria when working with advertisers?

Ms. White: Well I've always done ads for brands I actually use -- that's how you build loyalty. I mean, Snickers -- I've been eating them for years and years. But the mini versions, so I don't feel like I'm eating the whole bar, you know? Until I eat seven or eight of them, of course.  

Ad Age: It's been really fascinating to watch how social media and Facebook have had a major role in your comeback. Is the joke you made on "Saturday Night Live" true -- did you really not know what Facebook was before the campaign?

Ms. White: Oh, I didn't have a clue! But that's just my own stupidity. But then all of a sudden all this stuff was happening as a result.  

Ad Age: So what is your daily interaction with technology? Do you have a computer or an iPhone?

Ms. White: I don't, but I have a secretary who does that stuff, and an agent who manages all my work. I get so much mail that if I click a button at 4 a.m. it terrifies me that I'll mess everything up.

  Ad Age: I wont ask what buttons you're pushing at 4 a.m.  But you know there's a campaign to get you to host the Oscars now?

Ms. White: Oh, no!  

Ad Age: "Oh no" as in you hadn't heard of the campaign?

Ms. White: "Oh, no" in every way! Like I said, I almost divorced my agent because of "Saturday Night Live," I couldn't think of doing something like that again.

  Ad Age: You have five Emmys, and Sandra Bullock just honored you with a lifetime-achievement award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. At this stage in your career, do you have any goals or milestones left to conquer?

Ms. White: Oh, heavens no. I just feel like the luckiest old broad to have been doing this for 62, almost 63 years now [knocks on wooden director's chair].  

Ad Age: Are there any comedians you admire or would like to see carry on your legacy?

Ms. White: Well, if we're talking about my generation, of course my peers and "The Golden Girls." But from the younger generation, I really think Sandra Bullock really has great comedic talent. She's just terrific. And I don't think she's hosted "Saturday Night Live." She should have a campaign!  

Ad Age: Can we count on you to start that on Facebook?

Ms. White: Oh, sure. Just tell me how to use it.  

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