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PBS documentary explores Betty White’s 80-year career

Trailblazing legend.

That’s one way to describe Betty White, who has navigated a successful career in film and TV.

Betty White in the “Golden Girls” era.

The actress is the subject of the documentary “Betty White: First Lady of Television,” which airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1.

The show follows White’s journey as an industry pioneer.

She was the first woman to produce a national TV show, the first woman to star in a sitcom, the first producer to hire a female director and the first woman to receive an Emmy nomination.

“I was there from the beginning, so I just did the job,” White says of her early career in TV. “And thankfully, I kept getting invited to do more.”

The film traces White’s remarkable 80-year career, from her early days in radio to her first TV series as co-host of a live, 5½-hour, six-day-a-week variety show.

She produced and starred in the pioneering sitcom “Life With Elizabeth” and was a popular TV personality throughout the ’50s and ’60s. A rabid game player in real life, White was a much sought-after game show contestant. It was during an appearance on “Password” that she met the man who would become her husband and the love of her life, Allen Ludden.

Betty White enjoying an off-camera moment on an early version of “The Betty White Show.”

During the 1970s, White won two Emmys for her role as the man-hungry “Happy Homemaker” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She earned another Emmy in the mid-’80s for her role as Rose on “The Golden Girls.”

She made history when she hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2010 at age 88 – and won yet another Emmy. Although she continues to attain roles and accolades, Betty’s true love is animals; she has been a passionate animal advocate throughout her career.

“Well, I’m still going, so I don’t have a lot of time to look back,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the career that I’ve had in a business I love.”

White says she feels lucky to have played so many wonderful characters during her career.

“I’m the luckiest broad on two feet,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like work when you love what you do. I’m very grateful to have gotten to work in a business that I absolutely love for so long.”

When it comes to picking projects, White says it’s about the writing.

“The writing is so important,” she says. “If it isn’t on the page, it won’t be on the screen. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best writers in the business.”