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Designing Women aired from September 1986 until May 1993 on CBS.
Like The Golden Girls, Designing Women was a sitcom in which all of the stars were female. It centered on the four outspoken women who ran Sugarbakers , a recently opened interior decorating business in Atlanta, which they operated out of an attractive suburban home that served as both office and showplace for their work. The founder, guiding force and most sharp-tongued of the four was widowed Julia Sugarbaker ( Dixie Carter). She was bright, classy , and had great taste and good connections. Her younger sister Suzanne ( Delta Burke), was sexy, flashy, and prone to use her physical charms to mask a limited knowledge of decorating. A former beauty contest winner , she flirted with any and all attractive, successful, and/or wealthy men-and was collecting alimony from three ex-husbands. Their two partners were Mary Jo ( Annie Potts), a recent divorcee with a teenaged daughter, Claudia ( Priscilla Weems), and a young son Quinton ( Brian Lando); and Charlene ( Jean Smart), the firm's business manager who had never been married but was not averse to the prospect if the right man came along. There was plenty of good-natured bitchiness and, by the standards of network TV , a lot of sexual innuendo. Helping them with the heavy work was their deliveryman-handyman , Anthony ( Meshach Taylor), a cheerful balack ex-con. Reese ( played by Ms. Carter's real life husband , Hal Holbrook) was Julia's boyfriend and JD ( played by Ms. Smart's husband Richard Gilliland -they had met on the Designing Women set ) was dating Mary Jo. In another much-publicized romance, Delta Burke fell in love with Gerald McRaney on the set of Designing Women and eventually married him; McRaney had been hired to appear as Dash Goff, the second of Suzanne's ex-husbands.
The critics loved Designing Women, and so did its loyal audience. They howled when CBS moved the show all over the schedule following initial ratings success on Monday nights, and then canceled it in the spring of 1987. Viewer protests ( encouraged by the network's own publicity) prompted the programmers to reconsider and Designing Women was saved from the Nielsen axe.
Once it became firmly entrenched on Monday evenings that fall, Designing Women flourished as part of a strong CBS Monday comedy lineup. Additions to the cast were Bernice Clifton ( Alice Ghostley), a lovable eccentric older woman who became friendly with all the partners at Sugarbakers, and Air Force Captain Bill Stillfield ( Doug Barr), Charlene's new boyfriend. In April 1989 Charlene and Bill were married, and the following January , they had a baby girl, Olivia ( Ms. Smart had a baby in real life). Suzanne's biggest crisis occurred when her pet pig, Noel, ran away in the fall of 1989. In the last original episode of the 1989-1990 season , Anthony, who had been going to night school, graduated from college and the following season he became a partner in Sugarbakers. In March of 1991 Julia suffered a major emotional trauma when her longtime boyfriend Reese, died suddenly from a heart attack.
Although the ratings were fine, a behind-the-scenes situation created problems on the set of Designing Women. Star Delta Burke had over the years, put on considerable weight, which the producers felt made it difficult for her to maintain her sexy on-screen image. They wanted her to lose weight and when she didn't , an acrimonious feud developed, which was grist for the supermarket and TV tabloids. There were numerous attempts to patch things up but none succeeded, and she was dropped from the show at the end of the 1990-1991 season. In the story line, Suzanne moved to Japan and sold her share of the business to her cousin Allison ( Julia Duffy), an obnoxious, pushy young woman who had failed to find success in New York and had returned to Atlanta. Also added to the cast was Charlene's naive , newly divorced kid sister, Carlene ( Jan Hooks), who arrived to help care for Olivia and who stayed in Atlanta when Charlene moved to England where her husband was stationed ( Jean Smart had left the show).
When Allison pulled out her money to buy a Victorian Secret franchise at the start of the 1991-1992 season, the financially strapped firm took in a new partner , eccentric wealthy widow, B.J. Poteet ( Judith Ivey). It was B.J.'s infusion of cash that kept Sugarbakers from going bankrupt. Later that fall Anthony, while on a trip to Las Vegas to forget his broken engagement, woke up in his hotel room to find out he had married beautiful Folies-Bergere showgirl Etienne Toussant ( Sheryl Lee Ralph).
The series executive-producers were the husband-and-wife team of Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason; Bloodworth had previously worked with Burke and Carter on the 1982 sitcom Filthy Rich.
A Review from The New York Times
'DESIGNING WOMEN,' A CBS COMEDY
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 29, 1986
HAVING allowed ''Dallas'' to inform its fans, in what has to be the most arrogant plot development ever, that all of last season was merely Victoria Principal's dream, CBS is now turning its attention to imitations. Like NBC's ''Golden Girls,'' the new series ''Designing Women,'' tonight at 9:30, features four women with wisecracks to spare. Although they don't live together in Florida, these women spend most of their time working together in a Victorian-type house in Atlanta. They are in the business of interior decorating.
The show was created by, and this evening's premiere written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who also shares the executive-producer credit with her husband, Harry Thomason. The fictitious firm of Sugarbaker & Associates is headed by Julia Sugarbaker, a glamorous widow who is far from ready to become a blue-haired little old lady. Dixie Carter plays Julia as a graduate of the Beatrice Arthur-Elaine Stritch school of dripping sarcasm. Julia's three partners are her man-hungry sister Suzanne (Delta Burke), whose alimony checks are filed alphabetically; the recently divorced Mary Jo (Annie Potts), who refused alimony, thinking capital punishment would be more appropriate, and dizzy but shrewd Charlene (Jean Smart), whose latest boyfriend is named Shadow and, for some unexplained reason, is walking around with a bullet hole in his pants.
This, then, is the basic mix, no less promising than any other in a season that continues to give white, middle-class parents to all sorts of minority children. Tonight, Suzanne discovers that her gynecologist is retiring. ''Let him go,'' advises Julia, ''he's paid his dues.'' As it happens, Mary Jo's former husband is a gynecologist. Suzanne visits his office and promptly returns with the news that they have fallen in love. Julia observes: ''If sex were fast food, there'd be an arch over your bed.''
Directed by Ellen Chase Falcon, the half-hour skips by breezily enough even though the one-liners droop occasionally. Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason is no Susan Harris, whose crackling humor keeps ''The Golden Girls'' popping steadily from week to week. On the other hand, ''Designing Women'' has a first-rate cast. Ms. Carter has fun with Julia, needling her when necessary (after a particularly dramatic speech she moans that ''I've really got to get back into summer theater''), and not afraid to let her behave as what she calls, in her Bette Davis mode, ''one of those broad-shouldered broads'' who growled their way through old black-and-white movies. Julia's big moment comes in a restaurant when she witheringly tells off a friendly good-old-boy who barges into the women's conversation.
Now, it's all a matter of figuring out where ''Designing Women'' goes from here. Mary Jo's first husband, a major character this evening, isn't even mentioned in next week's episode, which revolves around not interior design but beauty pageants. And sure enough, Julia gets another scene in which she witheringly tells off another icky character. Already the show looks like four terrific actresses in search of a workable sitcom.
An Article From USA TOADAY
'Women' cast courts romance by design
March 28, 1988
By Matt Roush
Tonight's episode of CBS' Designing Women ( 8:30 EST/PST), the last new one of the season is typical of this sitcom: sharp-tongued and romantic.
With these women, the romance comes naturally.
" There's a lot of loving going on on our set," understates Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the show's creator, writer and -with husband Harry Thomason-executive producer.
The Thomasons' affectionate working relationship has proved contageous.
Dixie Carter's ( Julia) real-life husband Hal Holbrook, occasionally guest stars as her beau, Reese Watson.
Jean Smart ( Charlene) met her husband, Richard Gilliland, last season when he began appearing as the boyfriend of Annie Potts ( Mary Jo).
Delta Burke ( Suzanne) has just announced her engagement to Simon & Simon's Gerald McRaney, who has twice appeared as one of Suzanne's ex-husbands.
" Delta says we look like these frustrated women pent up on a soundstage," says Bloodworth-Thomason." " I cast someone and voila! True love."
Tonight's episode finds all the women and their on-and-off camera mates together again, stuck by an avalanche in a cabin, where they re-enact the battle of the sexes.
" It's pretty amazing and intense," says Burke. " As soon as you've rehearsed a scene, you've got Jean shooting out to Richard, I run to Mac. And " Annie-the only one whose husband isn't involved on the show-" she just looks at us all and rolls her eyes."
As Charlene, Smart's very serious love interest is played by Doug Barr. " Richard teases me all the time. It doesn't thrill him, seeing me hugging and kissing somebody else. Once Richard made the mistake of coming to the show's taping, and our warm-up guy wouldn't let up on him having to watch Doug and I kiss."
They'll just have to get used to it. " I have very high hopes for Jean and Doug," says Bloodworth-Thomason. " I would be very surprised if we got through next season without Jean in a wedding dress."
The other characters probably will stay single-a fate Burke thought would be her own ultimate destiny. " I spent most of my life so career-oriented that I didn't think I could ever have the type of permanent relationship I wanted. Last year, when Richard and Jean got together, I was always saying, 'Could you guys please stop that?' They were so mushy-mushy it made me sick. But now I'm more disgusting than they were."
At a photo session late last week, Burke happily showed off her 4-carat diamond engagement ring to her co-stars.
Suzanne Sugarbaker would be proud.
An Article From The New York Times
The Birth Rate Is Rising Sharply As Networks Court Baby Boomers
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: January 1, 1990
Know any unemployed adorable babies? Rush them over to central casting. Prime-time television has become obsessed with pregnant women and childbirth scenarios. In recent months, the phenomenon has been prominent on ABC's ''Thirtysomething,'' NBC's ''L.A. Law'' and ''Cheers,'' and CBS's ''Beauty and the Beast,'' in which, heaven help us, Mom was killed in the delivery room and the newborn was kidnapped. Parenthood, it seems, can have its downside.
A new year, new babies - especially at CBS. Tonight at 9:30, Charlene (Jean Smart) of ''Designing Women'' will become a mother in a special hourlong edition of the sitcom. Next Monday at 10, Stephanie (Julia Duffy) of ''Newhart'' goes into labor. Doing breathing exercises in the wings is Christine (Markie Post) of NBC's ''Night Court,'' getting ready for delivery during the February sweeps.
Why the electronic boomlet? In part, it reflects rising births in the nation at large as more career women in their 30's decide to beat the biological clock. The actresses in ''Designing Women'' and ''Newhart'' had their real-life pregnancies written into the scripts. And a new emphasis on ''natural'' has apparently made it fashionable for obviously pregnant women, for a long time either banished or elaborately disguised, to display themselves proudly before the cameras. Even in television's news sector, Jane Pauley of NBC's ''Today'' established spirited precedents in 1983 and 1986 for pregnant anchors, followed more recently by NBC's Maria Shriver and Mary Alice Williams.
And, hardly least, babies these days are proving to be big box office. Consider, just to skim the top money-makers: ''Three Men and a Baby,'' ''Parenthood'' and ''Look Who's Talking,'' which has Bruce Willis providing the infant's voice. Just recently, CBS boosted its lackluster ratings with a 1956 Christmas episode of ''I Love Lucy'' that contained flashbacks to Lucille Ball when she was getting ready for the birth of Little Ricky. The actual birth episode, in 1953, pulled in 85 percent of the television audience. The revival finished No. 6 in last week's ratings, better than any new CBS series has been able to muster in the last couple of years.
There are pitfalls. Pregnancy has a curious habit of making script writers silly or, worse, tasteless. There was, for instance, the grotesquely elaborate miscarriage fantasy devised for Maddie (Cybill Shepherd) in ''Moonlighting,'' imposed recklessly late in her pregnancy. Tonight's ''Designing Women,'' written by the series creator, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and directed by the producer, Harry Thomason, turns out to be a mess, careering between soppy sentimentality and truly repulsive vulgarity. The sassy gang from Atlanta - Julia (Dixie Carter), Suzanne (Delta Burke), Mary Jo (Annie Potts), Anthony (Meshach Taylor), not to mention Charlene - deserved far better than this.
Not content with the childbirth angle, the show takes off on several tangents that are not only incompatible but downright questionable. Appearing to Charlene in a dream, Dolly Parton, in a slinky sequined gown and signature wig, grows mushily silly about the baby that is due, rattling on about how the child will be ''the best friend you ever had.'' Then Anthony's blind date for New Year's Eve turns out to be a sex-crazed bombshell, Vanessa (Olivia Brown), who seems to have escaped from the old Eddie Murphy sketch in which he hawks a book titled ''How to Be a Ho.'' Black women, all women, everywhere have good reason to protest.
Outside the delivery room at the hospital, Vanessa dances and sings like a pathetic aspirant in a Tina Turner lookalike contest. She phones out an order for doughnuts, pretzels and condoms. When her request for Demerol pills is ignored by the nurses, she begins snorting from a tank of oxygen. No doubt to compensate for this insensitive caricature, the scene then shifts to the dying 102-year-old Minnie Belle Ward, a grand black woman who has raised a family, it is pointedly noted, without ever going on welfare. Ronald Reagan would no doubt be misty-eyed. At any rate, Minnie is played with great dignity by the great Beah Richards. Meanwhile, on this odd roller coaster, Charlene and her new baby are almost reduced to afterthoughts.
Next Monday's ''Newhart'' wisely sticks to familiar comedy business as Stephanie and Michael (Peter Scolari), the decade's ultimate yuppies, prepare to become what they insist will be ''absolutely wonderful parents.'' He wants to take a 15-man video crew from his Vermont television station to record the event. She is appalled, explaining that ''there is a slim chance I won't look wonderful in labor.'' Dick (Bob Newhart) remains impassively aghast. Stephanie, going into contractions or, as she calls them, twingees: ''I need comforting thoughts.'' Dick: ''Well, uh, hang in there.''
Wielding his own camcorder to get reactions from everybody he can pin down, Michael brags that ''my prime-time pumpkin is moments away from producing a spinoff.'' As labor begins in earnest, Stephanie asks what they learned in baby class. Michael: ''That most of the other parents drive cheap domestic cars.'' Safe, comfortable, very funny - that's the ''Newhart'' way at its very best.
CBS, however, can't resist some cross-advertising. The half-hour ends with stars from others of the network's series - Angela Lansbury (''Murder, She Wrote''), Patrick Duffy (''Dallas''), Gerald McRaney (''Major Dad'') and, yes, Ms. Smart (''Designing Women) - in brief appearances, supposedly looking into the camcorder and declaring that Michael and Stephanie will indeed make wonderful parents. Mr. Newhart agrees, albeit reluctantly and adding plaintively, ''Can I go now?'' A good many viewers might be saying the same thing as television's baby boom threatens to turn into a gurgle glut. Programmers may soon be experiencing their own twingees.
BOIL LOTS OF WATER - DESIGNING WOMEN, directed by Harry Thomason; script by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason; created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason; produced by Bloodworth/Thomason Mozark Productions in association with Columbia Pictures Television; Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, executive producers. On CBS, at 9:30 P.M. today.
WITH: Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, Jean Smart and Meshach Taylor.
NEWHART, directed by Michael Lessac; script by Mark Egan, Mark Solomon and Bob Bendetson; produced by M.T.M.; Mark Egan and Mark Solomon, executive producers. On CBS, at 10 P.M. today.
WITH: Bob Newhart, Mary Frann, Peter Scolari, Julia Duffy and Tom Poston.
An Article From Entertainment Weekly
WHAT HAS 10 LEGS 30,000,000 VIEWERS 2 NEW FACES AND A SOUTHERN ACCENT?
DESIGNING WOMEN LIFE IS NOW SWEETER AT SUGARBAKERS.
By Mark Harris
Mark Harris is a writer and former executive editor of EWIt's impossible not to notice the difference. On the same Sugarbaker sofa where Delta Burke sat in repose for five years, as comically immobile and forbidding as a bewigged Aztec totem, Julia Duffy now lies-no, lolls-her sneakered, size 5 feet barely reaching the coffee table. It's the day after the sixth-season premiere of CBS' Designing Women, and if Duffy looks both exhausted and elated, she's not the only one. With Burke and costar Jean Smart (Charlene Stillfield) departing, and Duffy and Jan Hooks filling similar roles as the caustic nemesis and country naif of the Sugarbaker interior- design firm, the previous night's show was the most pivotal in Designing Women's long run. But now, word of the episode's Nielsen ratings-the highest in the show's history-has ricocheted through dressing rooms and offices, and the relief is palpable. ''It's alleviated a lot of pressure,'' says Hooks, who watched her first appearance as Carlene Dobber the night before with the help of ''comfort food'' (meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green peas) and a tumbler of vodka. Duffy, a seven-year veteran of Newhart known for her unflappability, acknowledges some unease of her own. Even Annie Potts, who by now knows the character of single mom Mary Jo Shively so well that she doesn't always bother to watch her performance, made sure she was in front of her TV on Monday night. ''I thought it was pretty important,'' she says. ''It's almost not a continuation of the old show. It's a new show.'' Therein lies the excitement and terror. When Designing Women made its debut in 1986, it brought strong women, richly brewed Southern conversation, and an effortlessly balanced comic ensemble to a prime-time lineup almost bereft of intelligent sitcoms. After the show was almost canceled twice in its first season, its survival became a rallying point for quality-starved viewers, who waged a successful letter-writing campaign to save it. When the show became a top 10 hit last season, their efforts-and the persistence of its witty, prolific creator, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason-were vindicated. But the success of this new, radically altered version is far from assured. In her elegantly appointed office (even the window glass is discreetly monogrammed) near the set of her other series, the year-old Evening Shade, Bloodworth-Thomason shares in the buoyant mood of the morning after. She has already received a congratulatory call from CBS president Howard Stringer, who drawled into her answering machine in a passable imitation of her soft Missouri accent, ''Ah just luuuve that show Designin' Women!'' The series is important to CBS' fortunes, and so is Bloodworth-Thomason, whose five-series deal with the network could net her and her husband, producer-director Harry Thomason, $50 million. But at the moment, she's mostly pleased for Designing Women's cast. ''They needed to find out they weren't all going to die on Tuesday morning,'' she says. Indeed, the stars approached premiere night like hypochondriacs awaiting test results. ''The ratings proved we were paranoid for nothing,'' says Meshach Taylor, who plays Sugarbaker partner Anthony Bouvier. ''But I did think we might lose some viewers because of the situation we've been through.'' The situation. The feud. Delta Burke. Visitors to the Designing Women set are warned not to mention it. The actors, when they must, refer to it diplomatically, euphemistically, obliquely, exhaustedly. They wish it away, and yet it looms, conspicuous by the very curtain of discretion that covers it. ''We have had it,'' says Potts, a note of genuine annoyance roughening her warm twang. ''This has now gotten more press than the plight of the Kurds.'' She's right. For a time in the summer of 1990, after Burke told a reporter that Designing Women was ''not a good workplace,'' she and the Thomasons were embroiled in one of the most clamorous battles in TV history, complete with accusations of cruelty, countercharges of unprofessionalism, flurries of faxes, Burke's tearful confessions to Barbara Walters, and unabating headlines. ''People continue to talk about this as if there was yelling and screaming,'' says Bloodworth-Thomason. ''But (Burke) and I never exchanged even the slightest cross word. I never even said anything as harsh as 'Gee, do you think you could try a little harder to be on time?''' Nonetheless, she admits ''there was tension.'' At one point, Designing Women's writers decided to free up the outspoken yet demure Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) by killing off her beau, played by Carter's husband, Hal Holbrook. Holbrook, says a source at the show, offered to have his character die in an air crash-if a certain other cast member were also aboard. (The writers gave him a heart attack instead.)
Though Burke's salvos persisted through last season, the Thomasons fell silent, largely because Columbia Pictures Television, which owns Designing Women, offered them a deal: If they stopped talking to the press about Burke for one year, they could then decide her fate. But in June, when the Thomasons decided not to renew Burke's contract, Columbia tried to remove them as Designing Women's producers, hiring Anything But Love veteran Janis Hirsch to take over. What ensued was still more head butting; when the dust settled, Burke and Hirsch were out, and the Thomasons were back in control. "CBS backed us," says Bloodworth-Thomason. * But the problems were hardly over. Burke's dismissal left one void, and the amicable departure of Jean Smart, who wanted to pursue other projects and spend more time with her husband and 2-year-old son, left another. Ironically, the producers found their Burke replacement in an actress engaged in her own contractual hassle: Julia Duffy, who was doing time on the critically assailed ABC sitcom Baby Talk. "I had asked to be released from my contract very, very early," says Duffy. "I was very unhappy." The week she was freed, she got a call from Bloodworth-Thomason, who wanted her to play Allison, a Sugarbaker cousin who left the South, failed spectacularly in the North, and would return to Atlanta arrogant and unbowed to buy out Suzanne's share of the business (Burke's character, viewers learned, had departed for Japan). "I'd been thinking about (Duffy) all season," says Bloodworth- Thomason. "There are very few actresses who can supply that vain, selfish, whiny voice and be likable. Julia does it winningly, because she's so tiny and wields such a big stick verbally." Bloodworth-Thomason was less familiar with Hooks, the five-year veteran of NBC's Saturday Night Live who had wearied of SNL's punishing schedule. "I never got into the rhythm of being live," says Hooks. "My body reacted as if I were being attacked by a wild animal." Last Christmas, she sent out a video reel of her best sketches-Tammy Faye Bakker, Bette Davis, Sally Jessy Raphael. Six months later, she came home one night to find her answering machine clogged with calls from her agent. The next day, she flew to L.A. to meet with the Thomasons about playing Charlene's younger sister, the uncultured, newly divorced Carlene. "When she said she was from Decatur, Ga., I kissed her," says Bloodworth- Thomason. "You can't buy that accent, and to have someone that talented who can sound like that is money in the bank." On July 29, Hooks and Duffy arrived for their first day of rehearsal. "Dixie and Meshach and I know that set so well that the directors don't have to say anything," says Potts. "Jan and Julia had to come into an established rhythm." Duffy, whose brash character had the hardest work in the season opener, says, "I read the script, and I thought, oh, Allison comes on so strong; I hope people will accept her." Hooks worried about restraining her own performance. "On Saturday Night Live, I only had seven minutes to prove myself, so I did it hard and fast. In my weirdest nightmare, I thought, what if I do something so over-the-top, so wrong?" Nerves were still taut the night a studio audience trooped in to watch the season's first, 41 2-hour taping. Hooks couldn't calm down until the second scene. And Duffy, whose entrance was delayed, had to wait behind the Sugarbaker front door for more than an hour. Even Bloodworth-Thomason was uncharacteristically cautious: After taping was completed, she excised several jokes about Delta Burke's character, fearing that they would be perceived as potshots. (The sharpest one, however, remained-it was Potts' igloo-cool delivery of the line, "Yeah, I'll miss her too.")
If Burke and Smart still seem present in spirit, it may be because Duffy's acid-etched snob and Hooks' sunshiny yokel are very close to Suzanne and Charlene. "I didn't do anything innovative or original," says Bloodworth- Thomason bluntly. "Jan and Julia bring their own personalities to these voices, but they're essentially the same voices." But differences are emerging. Hooks' Carlene, says Bloodworth-Thomason, "hasn't been exposed to the sophistication of her sister. She's a female Woody Harrelson, more naive, wider-eyed, hickier than Charlene." And Duffy has replaced Suzanne's oblivious bullying with an urbane self-centeredness better suited to her style. "Did you ever walk into a room and feel that people were not appropriately impressed?" Duffy says, laughing. "That's Allison. She honestly doesn't understand why she isn't a success." And, says Bloodworth- Thomason, Allison's stridency is already being softened: "The more you see her, the more you'll like her and accept her belligerent ways." Designing Women's veterans are also affected by the changes. "We're still fiddling around with our fledgling ensemble," says Dixie Carter. "We aren't totally rock solid yet." In one scene being rehearsed, Julia Sugarbaker stands back while Allison bangs on a front door. "Should Julia knock? Or Allison?" wonders Carter. "Is it strange for Julia to stand aside? We're still discovering that." This season, that kind of exploration has been conducted without conflict. A year ago, at the height of Designing Women's on-set woes, Bloodworth- Thomason said: "Our family is no different than any other family, except that our disagreement has been aired in the public spotlight." Today the "family" seems a lot less dysfunctional. In a dressing room adorned with photos of her two daughters and a delicate, ornate wooden desk that could | belong to Julia Sugarbaker, Carter reflects on the changes. Like the other actors, she says nothing harsh about Burke, but her point is hard to miss. "We love the relaxation that we have this year. We all feel free to suggest things to one another-for instance, 'Why don't you take this line?' All of the people who are here this year are for the show," she says, "which makes for a very focused, clear-minded approach to the work."
Hooks, sitting in her still sparsely furnished dressing room, says, "I feel like I'm home. I've jumped from a pool of testosterone to a pool of estrogen. There's no more male place than Saturday Night Live, and not only is this a woman's place, it's a Southern woman's place." So it's no surprise that production is tailored to the needs of working women. "In the world of acting, this is a desk job," says Potts, "a clock- punching kind of job. I can be home to tuck my son in every night but one." That theme is echoed by the other actors. Ask Duffy about life on the set, and she'll eagerly discuss the play space for her two children, Kerri, 5, and Danny, 2, who dart delightedly through a game of hide-and-seek in a corridor. Taylor's daughters, Yasmin, 5, and Esme, 3, are occasional visitors to the set. And when Dixie Carter interrupts our interview, it's to conduct an animated phone conversation with her younger daughter, Mary Dixie, a senior at Harvard. But Potts, Carter, and Taylor also remember Designing Women's shaky start, when it was so disdained by CBS that Bloodworth-Thomason disgustedly dubbed the show "the plantation owner's illegitimate child." This season, she will concentrate on Evening Shade and turn over most of her Designing Women duties to producer-writer Pamela Norris, a former Saturday Night Live staffer who wrote many of Women's scripts last year. But whether audiences will accept this new ensemble is still in question. Several intriguing plot lines may keep people watching. This season, Mary Jo will have a baby by artificial insemination. "We're going to look into Julia Sugarbaker's romantic life," says Bloodworth-Thomason. "She incorporates femininity and power in such an attractive way." Hooks says she'd "like to see Carlene get into some real trouble," and Duffy hopes "Allison will become a fool for love. That's so much fun to play." But something else may be in store for her. "At some point, Allison, being a yuppie, will have to consider adopting a child if she cannot find a man," says Bloodworth-Thomason. "She's very competitive. She'd be like that woman in Texas who tried to kill the cheerleader's mom." One episode viewers won't see is a long-planned finale in which Burke's Suzanne was to elope with Anthony. "Now I don't know what we'll do (when the series ends)," says Bloodworth-Thomason. That leads to the obvious question: How much life is left in the show? "We have the following, we have the talent, and the new energy here will take us to another level," says Taylor. "I don't think we're on our last legs," concurs Carter. "If we nurture our show, we have a long life ahead of us." Only Annie Potts seems to hedge. "I don't know," she says softly. "Maybe I'll want to go on another six years, but I don't know how I'll feel about working after next year." Why? "I'll give you a scoop here." She hesitates warily, then, with a what-the-hell smile, delivers the latest off-camera plot twist in a series that has had its share: "I'm pregnant." We may not have seen the last Designing Women headlines after all.
DIXIE CARTER "Julia Sugarbaker gets away with what she does because when she delivers one of her tirades, she's provoked, but she's not an angry woman. We give our messages with lots of honey, lots of giggles and laughs."
ANNIE POTTS "It's pretty much work as usual this season, and it's going just fine. It's not like we're trying to break these new girls in. This isn't exactly their first rodeo."
JULIA DUFFY "What writers do is very solitary, and what actors do is very collaborative. And it's frustrating and hurtful to an actor when writers won't listen. There's no wall between writers and actors here."
JAN HOOKS "It is a little hairy to find yourself under such close scrutiny and not be able to find your way without people watching every move. I don't know what a regular week is.I haven't had one."
MESHACH TAYLOR "Inevitably, people are replaced in a show. That doesn't mean the show goes down the tubes. Jean and Delta weren't born here; they had lives before, and they have lives now. Meanwhile, it's exciting to work with new people."
Posted Oct 04, 1991 | Published in issue #86 Oct 04, 1991 |
An Article from The New York Times
Television Gets on the Bandwagon Of the Thomas-Hill Contretemps
By BILL CARTER
Published: November 4, 1991
Given the national fascination with the televised hearings on the confirmation of Judge Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, it was inevitable that entertainment television would jump to include material taken from the headlines. The shows that depend on headlines for satire, such as "Saturday Night Live" and "In Living Color" were on the case immediately, of course; "Saturday Night Live" had a sketch based on the Senate hearings. Several series also began considering some kind of examination of sexual harassment in the workplace, though the issue has been well covered in the past.
The producers of the CBS drama "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," are considering such a plot line. Other shows may only make some fleeting reference to the Thomas case. NBC's "A Different World" may include one small plot element that would touch on the case. CBS's "Murphy Brown" plans to follow its standard policy of commenting comically, though pointedly, on stories in the news.
For example, in a coming episode a character will tell Murphy, "If your intuition was anywhere near as good as you think it is, Clarence Thomas would now be working in a Burger King."
But at least two network series plan much more ambitious stories arising directly from the testimony of Judge Thomas and Anita F. Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One is a likely source: the CBS comedy "Designing Women," which often comments on issues involving women. The other is a less likely forum: the ABC comedy "Dinosaurs," which has been considered mainly as a show for children.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the creator and chief writer of "Designing Women," wrote and produced an episode focusing on the Thomas hearings last week. It will be broadcast tonight at 9:30 -- an amazing turnaround time in a business where there is often a gap of six to eight weeks between the time an episode is shot and when it turns up on the air.
"I felt a show like "Designing Women" could not help but comment on this issue," Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason said. "I'm no different from a lot of professional women. I was glued to the set for the hearings. And I felt it was another case of the old-boy network sending us women packing."
Tonight's episode is essentially a commentary by the show's characters on the hearings as they are watching them on television. Mary Jo, the character played by Annie Potts, whom Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason has written as an emerging feminist, consistently expresses her rage and frustration at the way Professor Hill is treated by the Senate committee.
She is countered by Julia Duffy, who has replaced Delta Burke as an abrasive foil for the other characters. Her character, Allison, sides with Judge Thomas and the Republicans on the committee.
"I think we present both sides fairly," Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason said. But she added, "There's no question that I favor Mary Jo's position." She called the script "a valentine to all the women who felt Anita Hill was treated unfairly." Checking With Executives
Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason said she did have to run the idea of the Thomas-Hill episode past executives at CBS. "I don't think they had any real problem," she said. "Though this script does contain language I don't think we'll be using in any other script. But that was the language that was on television for three days. CBS was just a little nervous about our doing this, but they were supportive. I just called them and told them and they said, 'Well . . . O.K.' "
"Dinosaurs," the ABC series that anthropomorphizes a blue-collar family of prehistoric creatures, makes a foray into satire with an episode, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 18, that essentially replays the charges made in the Thomas-Hill dispute in a dinosaur context.
As explained by the show's executive producer, Michael Jacobs, the episode will examine what happens when a female brontosaurus named Monica, who proves she can do a job knocking down trees as well or better than the male dinosaurs, finds herself fending off the interests of a male foreman named Harris.
The foreman, a bachelor, is so good with the lady dinosaurs that he is known as "Sexual Harris." The episode will include many other overt references to the hearings. A panel of executives from the tree-destruction company is called on to decide the dispute and they will, Mr. Jacobs said, "probably remind some people of certain U.S. senators."
In addition, the mother and daughter in the main dinosaur household will appear as character witnesses for Monica, while Harris's workmates will testify that he couldn't possibly be guilty of sexual harassment "because no one who bowls as well as he does could have done such things."
Mr. Jacobs contended that children watching "Dinosaurs" may get none of the sexual references -- and probably shouldn't. He said his show has tried from the beginning to work on two levels, introducing jokes only adults can appreciate mixed in with the material intended to appeal to younger viewers. He added that the subplot in this episode would deal with the dinosaur daughter facing harassment from boy dinosaurs at school because she wants to be an astronomer.
Mr. Jacobs said it was likely to be clear that his show also favored the woman's position in its story. "There will be a realization that perhaps the female is equal to the male," he said.
As for his network's concerns, Mr. Jacobs said that ABC was fully aware of what he was doing and that he expected no real problems. "The only thing they would not want is for us to go so far that they'd have to add a disclaimer: The opinions expressed are not necessarily the opinions of the management."
An Article From USA TODAY On The Designing Women Finale Published On May 24, 1993.
'Women': A faded belle retires
In the final analysis ...the season is ending just in time.
So many farewells-some fond, some not. If prime time loses many more touchstones, as networks fill the gap with an endless non-variety of sitcoms, TV threatens to become as bleak a place as the movies.
Tonight, Designing Women (**, CBS, 9 ET/PT) closes shop, the last old-timer to do so this spring. Its one-hour finale is not a pretty specticle.
This sitcom, which once luxuriated in the language of the South and the brassy opinions of its stylish heroines, has divolved into crude and vulger sketch comedy that reduces its stars to mannered cartoons.
A series of loud and silly Gone With the Wind spoofs highlights this last show, which is more comfortable in the world of bimbo jokes ( female and male variety). The period parody was better done on The Carol Burnett Show, although Anthony's ( Meshach Taylor) revisions resentment of the Mammy-Pappy-Prissy milieu is funny and long overdue.
As the women deliver their punch lines with all the subtlety of a boxing match, this show once worth fighting for ends with a fiddle-dee-don't.
An Article About The Designing Women Reunion
Designing Women stars reunite, reminisce
It was something so unique says star Annie Potts of the show
Updated: 3:45 p.m. ET Nov. 2, 2006
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The setting was California, but Georgia was on the minds of virtually all at the Museum of Television & Radio, as Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Annie Potts and Delta Burke the original stars of the sitcom Designing Women gathered for a tribute to the show.
Well, every few years we talk about getting together for lunch or something, and it never seems to work out. So this is nice, said Smart.
It's thrilling, added Carter. It's so exciting, being asked to come out.
Airing on CBS from 1986-93, Designing Women followed the full lives of four Atlanta interior designers. Thanks to reruns, the show has rarely left the airwaves.
Well, it was really funny, noted Smart. And I've said this in every interview and it never seems to end up in print, but [show creator] Linda Bloodworth was writing for sitcoms what no one else was doing anything like... And I'm not sure if she ever got the credit for it that she deserved. She was pretty amazing and ahead of her time.
While prime-time sudsers like Dallas and Dynasty were dishing and dicing for ratings supremacy, Designing Women built an audience by tackling such topics as sexism, ageism, body image and AIDS. And it never forgot that Women was a key part of its grand design.
It was something so unique, because there had never been anything quite like it, said Potts. We had Lucy and Ethel [on TV previously], but we never had that exponentially expanded, smart, attractive women who read newspapers and had passions about things and loved each other and stood by each other. So, I'm thrilled to be here and I'm not at all surprised to be here.
Creator Bloodworth, who was in attendance, was honored as one of 50 women in the museum's She Made It: Women Creating Television and Radio initiative.
Both Smart and Burke left the series two seasons before the series was canceled. Burke, who had gained weight as the series progressed, was fired, with producers alleging she was let go for creating discord on the set. But, on this night, the svelte-looking actress had nothing but fond memories of the gig.
It was women supporting each other and loving each other and not trying to tear each other apart and being vindictive or manipulative, she recalled. And we just had a lot of aspects that were weird, anyway. But it worked.
All the principals went on to other successes: Carter on the hit series Family Law and as a cabaret queen, Burke to Broadway in Thoroughly Modern Millie and in the upcoming live-action The Year Without a Santa Claus and Potts in the Lifetime series Any Day Now. Smart earned a Tony nomination (for The Man Who Came to Dinner ), garnered two Emmys for guest appearances on Frasier and this year earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of the president's wife on 24.
Despite those successes, Smart said she wasn't sure Designing Women had improved the landscape for women in television. I don't know. Television kind of historically was kind of a good medium for women. That's actually, unfortunately, changed.
The cast got together for a 2003 reunion special for Lifetime, but this event marked its first time together in public since Smart and Burke left the cast. A reunion show and even a Broadway musical of the series have been rumored, but none of the actors would confirm anything. For the moment, fans will have to be satisfied with a Best of Designing Women DVD from Columbia TriStar and reruns on Nick at Nite.
Another Article On The Reunion From USA TODAY
They have designs on TV feuds
By William Keck, USA TODAY
BEVERLY HILLS It's practically a tradition: Hot TV shows make for hot behind-the-scenes scandals.
There's the Grey's Anatomy dust-up and the Desperate Housewives photo shoot, which followed legendary clashes on Moonlighting, Laverne & Shirley, Three's Company and more. And one of the most bitter TV feuds happened on the set of the 1986-93 comedy Designing Women.
It just so happens that on Sunday, Designing star Dixie Carter became the newest desperate housewife, playing Bree's wicked mother-in-law.
She wasn't the wicked one more than a decade ago, however. She instead found herself forced to choose sides between close friend and co-star Delta Burke and show creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
But that's all water under the bridge. The cast, including Carter, Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart, reunited at the Museum of Television and Radio recently to salute Bloodworth-Thomason. And they can all playfully joke about the things that once set them off. (Burke deadpans at one point: "I'm older now and on a lot of medication.")
There's no question these veterans have a unique perspective on on-set tension. They give some advice to current casts:
Ignore the tabloids.
The tabs fueled the Designing feud. Burke thought the assault in the media about her weight was coming from fellow cast members. ("It did not," clarifies Bloodworth-Thomason.)
But headlines such as "Delta Bulk" were impossible for Burke to avoid, and she was hurt and confused. "I thought it was very personal," says Burke, 50, who now has a recurring role on Boston Legal.
Bloodworth-Thomason, 59, says female casts have to be particularly diligent about avoiding tabloid tales. "Tabloids always want women to feud," she says. "You shouldn't even pay attention."
Keep a handle on your handlers.
Bloodworth-Thomason says that while there were "some certain misunderstandings on the set, we're also polite and nice."
So much of the dirty work, including Burke's firing, was left to the players' reps.
Smart, who will return as the former first lady on the next 24, believes actors today may unnecessarily bury themselves beneath too many handlers.
"I didn't have an agent until after I left Designing Women," she says. "And I didn't have a publicist or a manager. You have to be your own mature person. ... If a serious problem develops, you go to the producers and explain how you're feeling."
Do routine reality checks.
Potts, 54, who appeared last year in Law & Order: SVU, believes long hours can prove treacherous to even the closest of casts. "It's very exhausting," Potts says. "You rarely see the sun."
Then there's the onset of fame. Being more than a decade older than her Designing co-stars gave Carter, 67, a more mature perspective. "I saw it for what it was; I was not confused by it," she says.
Potts agrees. "You've got to keep it in perspective and tell yourself, 'Hey, this is just a TV show.' "
We may not have seen the last of the designing women. Show creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is scripting a Broadway reunion she hopes will premiere in 2008.
"It'll be the goodbye we never got to do," says Bloodworth-Thomason, who plans to make all the women except Charlene single again. Co-star Meshach Taylor (Anthony) also will be invited to participate, but 80-year-old Alice Ghostley (Bernice) apparently is too frail.
But not all four main characters are on board yet.
"The toughest scheduling part has been Jean (Smart, who plays Charlene) with her role on 24," says Bloodworth- Thomason, adding with a wink, "Not that we hope she gets killed."
Here's Alice Ghostley's Obituary from The New York Times
Alice Ghostley, Comic TV and Stage Actress, Is Dead
By STUART LAVIETES
Published: September 22, 2007
Alice Ghostley, a Tony Award-winning actress who became known to television viewers for her roles as dizzy sidekicks on Bewitched and Designing Women, died yesterday at her home in Studio City, Calif. Her age was usually given as 81.
The cause was cancer, said a longtime friend, the actress Kaye Ballard, who said that she was actually about two years older.
Ms. Ghostley made more than 90 television appearances in a career that spanned six decades. She was a regular on the situation comedy Bewitched from 1966 through 1972, playing Esmeralda, a shy, bumbling witch whose spells never worked, who caused unintentional havoc whenever she sneezed and who turned invisible when she became nervous.
From 1986 through 1993, she played a more-than-usually wacky neighbor, Bernice Clifton, on the hit show Designing Women. In one episode, plastic surgery gone awry gives her a pig's nose, which she wears with aplomb, then with mounting embarrassment until it is repaired. She also appeared in Evening Shade, Love, American Style and Mayberry R.F.D. .
While essentially a comic actress, she won a Tony for best supporting actress in 1965 for her performance in a drama, The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, by Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun. Ms. Ghostley played the conventional sister of the show's star, Rita Moreno.
Ms. Ghostley also received a Tony nomination in 1963 for her performance in The Beauty Part, a fantasy by S. J. Perelman.
Alice Margaret Ghostley was born in Eve, Mo. She first attracted notice in New Faces of 1952, one in a series of Broadway revues staged by the producer Leonard Sillman; that edition helped start the careers of Paul Lynde, Eartha Kitt and Carol Lawrence. Ms. Ghostley;s big moment was her rendering of the song The Boston Beguine, a sendup of proper Bostonians.
She is survived by her sister, Gladys. Her husband, the actor Felice Orlandi, died in 2003.
Ms. Ghostley appeared in 30 films, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Graduate. While she never won an Oscar, she did accept one, standing in for her friend and fellow New Faces alumna Maggie Smith in 1970, who was named best actress for her starring role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Here is Dixie Carter's Obituary from The New York Times
Dixie Carter, TV Actress, Dies at 70
By ANITA GATES
Published: April 11, 2010
Dixie Carter, an actress who gave strong, opinionated Southern women a good name in the television series Designing Women in the 1980s and 1990s and later had success as a cabaret singer, died on Saturday in Houston. She was 70 and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Her death was announced by her husband, the actor Hal Holbrook, who said that the cause was complications of endometrial cancer.
In Designing Women, which ran for seven seasons on CBS, Ms. Carter's character, Julia Sugarbaker, led what began as an all-woman interior design business in Atlanta and specialized in sarcasm. If sex were fast food, there'd be an arch over your bed, she once snapped at her sister Suzanne (played by Delta Burke). Yet when Julia went into a theatrical tirade, which was often, it usually was to serve some higher social or political principle.
For some time before, Ms. Carter had been a familiar face on television. She played the sophisticated office colleague of two naive young women in a 1977-78 series, On Our Own ; the snooty wife of a plantation owner in Filthy Rich in 1982-83; and the vibrant new stepmother of Gary Coleman in the penultimate season of Diff'rent Strokes in 1984-85. She received her first and only Emmy nomination in 2007 for a recurring role as Marcia Cross's scary mother-in-law on ABC's Desperate Housewives.
Dixie Virginia Carter was born on May 25, 1939, in McLemoresville, Tenn., a small town roughly halfway between Memphis and Nashville. She was one of three children of Halbert Leroy Carter, a grocery and department store owner, and his wife, Virginia. She attended the University of Tennessee and Southwestern at Memphis and graduated from Memphis State.
She said that after hearing a broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera at age 4 she immediately decided that she would move to New York to become an opera singer. She made her professional acting debut as Julie Jordan in a 1960 production of Carousel in Memphis and moved to New York in 1963.
That same year she played Perdita in a Joseph Papp production of The Winter's Tale in Central Park. She then joined the Music Theater of Lincoln Center, which under the leadership of Richard Rodgers specialized in reviving classic musicals. Yet Ms. Carter never rose above understudy and left in 1966 to join the revues at the Upstairs at the Downstairs nightclub. Lily Tomlin and Madeline Kahn were among the other performers.
She made her Broadway debut in 1974 in a short-lived musical, Sextet, for which she was singled out by critics, and she appeared in a 1976 revival of Pal Joey. In 1997 she received favorable reviews after replacing Zoe Caldwell as Maria Callas in Terence McNally's Master Class. Her final Broadway appearance was in 2004, as Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie.
She said that it was her cabaret career, which began in the 1980s, that brought her the greatest creative satisfaction. To me, there's no feeling as gorgeous as the feeling of singing, she told Stephen Holden of The New York Times in 1984. It's like flying.
Six years later, when Ms. Carter was appearing at Cafe Carlyle, Mr. Holden described her as one of the most vivid and endearing performers in a field already crowded with idiosyncratic personalities.
In 1967, Ms. Carter married Arthur L. Carter, a New York investment banker who later became the owner and publisher of The New York Observer. They had two daughters. Ms. Carter left show business for eight years after her marriage. She later said that during that period, she gradually lost confidence in her talents to the point at which she was afraid to sing.
Eventually I lost the idea that I could have a career," she said. "I thought I was too old."
She and Mr. Carter divorced in 1977, and that same year she married the actor George Hearn. That marriage lasted only two years. In 1984 she married Mr. Holbrook, whom she had met doing a 1980 television film, The Killing of Randy Webster.
She made relatively few feature films, and her last screen appearance was in That Evening Sun, released last year. She played the wife of an elderly Southern farmer (Mr. Holbrook) who was fighting for his property.
In addition to Mr. Holbrook, she is survived by her daughters, Ginna Carter of Los Angeles and Mary Dixie Carter of Brooklyn; a sister, Melba Helen Heath, of San Anselmo, Calif.; and several nieces and nephews.
Although Ms. Carter long ago moved to California for her television career, she and Mr. Holbrook also kept a home in McLemoresville. In 1999, she told The Palm Beach Post that she treasured the courtesy and kindness she found in Tennessee, a welcome contrast to the backstabbing and sniping of Hollywood.
Of course in the South we talk about people too, she said. But if you end your comments with Bless her heart, you're off the hook.
Here is Meshach Taylor's Obituary from CNN
Meshach Taylor of 'Designing Women' dead at 67
By Joe Sutton and Ben Brumfield, CNN
Updated 11:39 AM ET, Mon June 30, 2014
Another familiar Hollywood face bid farewell late Saturday -- actor Meshach Taylor. He died at age 67 at his Los Angeles area home, his agent Dede Binder said.
Many may remember him from "Designing Women," where he played assistant Anthony Bouvier.
Taylor had fought a terminal illness and faded markedly in recent days. His wife, children, grandchildren and mother surrounded him as he passed away, Binder said.
"It is with love and gratitude that we sorrowfully announce that our darling, amazingly brilliant and dynamic, Meshach, the incredible father, husband, son and friend has begun his grand transition," the family said in a statement.
Taylor made his screen debut in the 1978 movie "Damien: Omen II." He has appeared regularly in television dramas since, including the series "In the Heat of the Night," "Hannah Montana," and "All of Us," according to his profile on the Internet Movie Database.
Most recently, he appeared in two episodes of Criminal Minds. The last one ran in January this year.
During the run of "Designing Women," Taylor's co-star Dixie Carter described him as "a good man who is confident and strong. He's absolutely grounded," according to a profile in People.
"The eldest of three children of two former college professors, Taylor, a precocious child, first learned acting technique as a survival skill. 'The kids called me the Professor, and I got beat up a lot,' he says. 'So I dummied up until I got into the 11th grade,'" the profile read.
"Even when he didn't have any money, he always had style. He was on the cutting edge of men's colognes, and he was always buying yachting magazines and GQ," actor Joe Mantegna told the magazine.
To watch some clips from Designing Women go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=designing+women
For a Website dedicated to Designing Women go to http://www.designingwomenonline.com/
For Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20130406172014/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/design.html
For some Designing Women-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/designing-women
For a Review of Designing Women go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080215232539/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/designing.htm
� Date: Sat December 4, 2004 � Filesize: 57.1kb � Dimensions: 383 x 480 �
Keywords: Designing Women: Christmas Cast Photo (Links Updated 7/16/18)