Empty Nest star Dinah Manoff who played angsty Carol on The Golden Girls spinoff is quietly making a comeback. Now she's Evelyn Rayburn, a purse-clutching Jewish mom on Fox Family's charming new dramedy, State of Grace (airing Mondays at 9 pm/ET), which debuted last week to nifty ratings.
Set in 1965 North Carolina, the series concerns a Jewish family's ties with a wealthy Southern brood via the friendship of two little girls. And while Manoff's alter ego is a fish out of water, the actress feels quite at home. "There are so few roles for Jewish women on TV," she tells TV Guide Online. "I've spent my career trying to pass as a non-Jew, because in order to work you have to be more generic American. But this speaks to my heart about people I know."
Especially refreshing, Manoff says, is not being "consigned to repeat behavior" a sitcom trap she fell into on Empty Nest. "Though playing Carol was a lot of fun," she smiles, "I wasn't living in the healthier parts of myself. So I would really have to shake her off after a day's work, since I'm a more grounded person than desperate, self-obsessed Carol ever was."
The Nester's feathers were really ruffled when co-star Kristy McNichol who played Carol's sparring sis, Barbara left the show to fight manic depression. "I love Kristy," Manoff says. "I felt very protective of her and I didn't feel there was any scandal in it. There were medical reasons why she left. It was a shame for us because we missed her and the show suffered for it. Without her as a foil, it never really sparked for me again."
Today, Manoff still misses TV dad Richard Mulligan
, who died of cancer last year. "Richard was a very, very private man," she recalls. "So I felt very privileged to have shared seven years of intimate time, working closely with him. He was the most gracious professional and a great man."