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Designing Women - The Complete First Season



DVD Release Date: May 26, 2009 (Shout! Factory)
MSRP: $44.99
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 21
Running Time: 535 minutes
Runtime of Special Features: 44 minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; Closed-captioned
Special Features: Designing Women: A Reunion (sponsored by The Paley Center for Media in 2006)


What do you get when you get four sassy Southern women working together as interior decorators in Atlanta? You get Designing Women, the hit late 80s/early 90s CBS sitcom starring Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart. And now, the very first season of that hit sitcom is available on DVD for the very first time from Shout! Factory!

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason approached CBS about doing a TV series starring these four actresses in the mid-80s, but there was one minor problem: she had no clue what to do with them. She just knew that she wanted a TV series with her own talented cast and went from there. Eventually, CBS executives viewed the pilot episode, a series about women running an interior decorating business, and proceeded with caution, but went ahead and green-lighted the series anyway. The ratings weren’t great--in fact, they were terrible, bad enough to get the series moved to nine different timeslots in the final season and eventually led to an early cancellation of the series. But the series was given a second chance at the last minute and eventually became a television hit among fans everywhere.

The series aired for seven seasons on CBS and became one of the most popular series to ever air on CBS. It later aired in syndication on local stations and for over a decade on the cable network Lifetime, where it has gained an even larger fanbase. The series talked about every issue that you could imagine, and never steered away from controversial issues, such as AIDS, prostitution, domestic abuse, breast cancer, and more. An episode in one of the later seasons even focused on Delta Burke’s personal issues of dealing with her weight gain, through her character of Suzanne Sugarbaker.

And that is the story of how four talented actresses came together to create one of the greatest and most well-known television series in the history of television.

Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

The first season honestly starts out a little weak, but it picks up as the season goes along. In the pilot episode, we find that Suzanne has a new boyfriend that happens to be a gynecologist. Oh, and he also happens to be Mary Jo’s ex-husband. In “A Big Affair,” Charlene dates a client to get a job (against her better judgment, due to the fact that he is overweight), but she finds that a little extra weight may just mean more to love. Julia’s son, Payne, makes his first appearance in “Julia’s Son,” and he is bringing his new girlfriend, whom Julia is certain to not approve of. Suzanne is overlooking a very important project in “Design House” when it suddenly goes up in flames.

Julia’s mother comes to visit in “Perky’s Visit,” where Meshach Taylor and Alice Ghostley both make their first appearances (both intended to be one-time roles). Mary Jo’s daughter is having a slumber party in “Slumber Party,” so who else would make better chaperones than her co-workers? In “New Year’s Daze,” Charlene is waiting on a visitor to come to see her on New Year’s Eve once he is “out,” but she fails to mention to her co-workers that she means once he gets out of prison--and finds out at the last minute that he hasn’t been released by finishing his time or parole either!

Mary Jo’s relationship with J.D. is taking a backseat to her personal life in the double-length episode “Old Spouses Never Die,” but in the meantime, Charlene has found a lump in her breast. Charlene’s old friend has a new job these days, but it is also the oldest profession out there in “Monette.” The girls need to find cheap furniture for a cheap client in “And Justice for Paul,” but they soon realize that when one of Anthony says something is a “steal,” it literally is a “steal.” Charlene’s family comes to visit just as she may be hitting it big as a country music singer in “Nashville Bound.”

Suzanne becomes a foster mother in “Oh, Suzannah,” but how will she react when her half-hearted good-will gesture turns into a true bond with her foster child? The girls have to deal with a hopelessly dysfunctional couple in “Seams from a Marriage.” One of Suzanne’s ex-husbands writes a book where she finds out quite a few things she’d rather not know in “Grand Slam, Thank You Ma’am.”


I genuinely appreciate the fact that Shout! Factory is sticking to the slim cases on the packaging for many products, although they are using other styles that aren’t so great as well. This set uses the slim cases, however, and there are two double slim cases, each holding two discs. The cover art has a pink color scheme with all four of the women and the house at the bottom of the box. Inside, the slim case for the first two discs has a snapshot of Mary Jo and Suzanne, while the slim case for the other two discs has a snapshot of Charlene and Julia. The back of each slim case lists all of the episodes and the original airdates. Inside, the disc cover art contains a photo of each of the cast members on each disc, with Suzanne on Disc 1, Julia on Disc 2, Mary Jo on Disc 3, and Charlene on Disc 4. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-6, Disc 2 contains episodes 7-11, Disc 3 contains episodes 12-16 (note: episode 12 is a double-length episode), and Disc 4 contains episodes 17-21.

Oh, and there is one very nice thing that Shout! Factory included in this set: an episode booklet. This is no ordinary booklet either. When you first open the booklet, you get a seven page introduction to the series from the series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. This is a very interesting read that talks about many aspects of the series, particularly the first season. Once you get past this, there is an episode listing, with original airdates, writing credits, directing credits, guest stars, and descriptions for each of the episodes contained on the set. It is one of the nicest booklets that I have seen on a series.

Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus are very nice and professional looking without many frills, which is a good thing. The main menu has the opening theme song playing with videos from the episodes contained on the set, with the house at the bottom of the screen. You are given options of Play All and Episodes, as well as Bonus Feature on Disc 4. Once you select Episodes, you are given a list of episodes, where you, well, select the episode. The episode plays immediately once you have selected an episode. There are no scene selection menus, but there are chapters placed at all of the appropriate places in each of the episodes.

Video and Audio Quality:

This is a great set, but the video and audio quality definitely has a tendency to be, well, sub-par at times. Some of the problems are nit-picky issues, but others are not quite so nit-picky. The biggest problems can be seen in the very early episodes, where the episodes look very rough. In the very early episodes, the picture quality is very dark and looks very aged--almost like some late 70s made-for-TV film. There is a slight bit of grain and debris on the episodes too, which I was somewhat surprised to see although the episodes have appeared in the same condition in syndication as well. As the season progresses, we see the episodes “brighten up,” but at times, the video quality becomes a bit oversaturated. Still, I don’t think most people will find any real problems beyond the first disc or two. The audio quality is atrocious on the first episode, being very low and garbled (again, this has always been a problem with this particular episode), but progressively becomes better as the season progresses. Each episode on the set is closed-captioned (something that we do not always see with Shout! Factory).

Fans can breathe a sigh of relief to know that each and every episode on this set appears to be unedited. In fact, many appear to be prints from the original broadcast airings, as they contain the original Columbia Pictures Television logos with the Coca-Cola Television byline on them. Of course, don’t be surprised to see a few Columbia-Tristar logos in there as well, because there are some of those too, but those episodes appear to be unedited as well. Runtimes are as follows:

Disc 1:
Designing Women (24:01)
The Beauty Contest (23:13)
A Big Affair (23:13)
Julia’s Son (23:11)
Mary Jo’s First Date (23:11)
Design House (23:39)

Disc 2:
Perky’s Visit (23:35)
I Do, I Don’t (23:12)
The IT Men (23:29)
The Slumber Party (23:12)
New Year’s Daze (24:00)

Disc 3:
Old Spouses Never Die (47:35)
Monette (24:18)
And Justice For Paul (24:12)
Reese’s Friend (23:17)
Nashville Bound (23:12)

Disc 4:
Oh, Suzannah (23:13)
Mary Jo’s Dad Dates Charlene (23:13)
Seams from a Marriage (23:37)
Grand Slam, Thank You Ma’am (23:13)
Bachelor Suite (23:35)

Special Features:

I was kind of hoping for a plethora of special features on this set, but we only got one. But the good news is that it is at least a good special feature. “Designing Women: A Reunion” (43:50). This is a 2006 reunion that was put together at The Paley Center for Media where all of the original cast members (Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart) get together with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason on stage to discuss the series, particularly the rocky start to the series. Fans are certain to find a lot of great information in this unscripted and unrehearsed chat with the actresses. A lot of what we see is unedited in the sense that it is taken from just one part of the interview, but there is much more to the interview and you can view the entire panel interview in person at The Paley Center for Media in either New York City or Beverly Hills.

Final Comments:

I am generally impressed with the episodes on this set and love the series, although I do wish that the episodes were of better quality. Still, I feel that Shout! Factory did the best that they possibly could with this set given the episode quality, and I highly doubt that Sony (the company that had unofficially announced that they would be releasing the series several years ago, and also released a “Best of” DVD a few years ago) would have done much better with it. They wouldn’t have even given us any special features.

I don’t believe that fans will be disappointed with this set, and will certainly want to buy it. Additionally, fans of quality “adult” sitcoms will want this set as well. Fans of The Golden Girls are sure to love this series, and there are plenty of those fans out there. So why not get a little taste of southern comfort (not the liquor, get those thoughts out of your head) today with The Complete First Season of Designing Women? It is always relaxing and tranquil to have Georgia on your mind.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 1.5/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by skees53 on 06/02/09

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