Designing Women

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This article is about the television series. For the 1934 film, see Designing Women (film). For the 1957 film, see Designing Woman.
Designing Women
Designing women cast 1986 1991.jpg
The cast of Season 1–5 (1986–91): Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Alice Ghostley, Jean Smart, Annie Potts, and Meshach Taylor.
Format Sitcom
Created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Starring Dixie Carter
Annie Potts
Meshach Taylor
Delta Burke (seasons 1–5)
Jean Smart (seasons 1–6)
Jan Hooks (seasons 6–7)
Julia Duffy (season 6)
Judith Ivey (season 7)
Opening theme "Georgia on My Mind"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 163 (List of episodes)
Production
Running time 25 minutes
Production company(s) Bloodworth-Thomason
Mozark Productions
Columbia Pictures Television
Distributor Columbia Pictures Television (1991-1996)
Columbia TriStar Television (1996-2002)
Sony Pictures Television (2002-present)
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Original run September 29, 1986 (1986-09-29) – May 24, 1993 (1993-05-24)
Chronology
Followed by Women of the House

Designing Women is an American television sitcom that centered on the working and personal lives of four Southern women and one man in an interior design firm in Atlanta, Georgia. It aired on the CBS television network from September 29, 1986, until May 24, 1993. The show was created by head writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who wrote many of the episodes in the show's initial seasons. As of 2011, the series aired in syndication on the Comedy Gold and TVGN channels. As of May 17, 2014, Logo TV started airing reruns of the series.

Premise[edit]

Sisters Julia (Dixie Carter) and Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) are polar opposites. Julia is an elegant, outspoken liberal intellectual; Suzanne is a rich, flashy, often self-centered former beauty queen and Miss Georgia World. They are constantly at personal odds, but have launched Sugarbaker Designs, an interior design firm. Julia manages the company, while Suzanne is mostly a financial backer who simply hangs around and annoys everyone under the guise of being the firm's salesperson.

The pragmatic designer Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts), a recent divorcee raising two children, and the sweet-natured but somewhat naïve office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jean Smart) are initial investors and coworkers. Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor), a former prison inmate who was falsely convicted of a robbery, is the only man on the staff, and later in the series becomes a partner. Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley), an absent-minded friend of the Sugarbaker matriarch, also appears frequently.

Burke and Carter had both been members of the short-lived CBS sitcom Filthy Rich, which was written by Bloodworth-Thomason. Coincidentally, Potts and Smart guest-starred together in a 1985 episode of Lime Street, which was also created by Bloodworth-Thomason.

Although it was a traditional comedy, and often included broad physical comedy, Designing Women was very topical (particularly in episodes written by Bloodworth-Thomason herself), and featured discussions of controversial topics such as homophobia, racism, dating clergy, AIDS, hostile societal attitudes towards the overweight, and spousal abuse. The episode "Killing All the Right People" from season two (1987) directly addressed the prejudice associated with the AIDS epidemic after Bloodworth-Thomason's mother died of the disease, and the episode won two Emmy nominations.

The program became noted for the monologues delivered by Julia in indignation to other characters, a character trait that began in the second episode, when Julia verbally castigated a beauty queen who had made fun of Suzanne. That speech, which Julia ends by emphatically saying, "And that, Marjorie, just so you will know, and your children will someday know....is the night....the lights....went out.....in Georgia!" became a fan favorite. Dixie Carter, a registered Republican, disagreed with many of her character's left-of-center commentaries, and eventually made a deal with the producers that for every speech she gave, Julia would get to sing a song in a future episode.[1]

Reception[edit]

When the show debuted in CBS's Monday-night lineup in 1986, it garnered respectable ratings; however, CBS moved the show several times to other time slots. After dismal ratings in Sunday night and Thursday night time slots, CBS placed it on hiatus and was ready to cancel the show, but a viewer campaign saved the show and returned it to its Monday night slot. The show's ratings solidified, and it regularly landed in the top 20 rankings.[2] From 1989 through 1992, Designing Women and Murphy Brown (which also centered around a strong, opinionated female character) aired back-to-back, creating a very successful hour-long block for CBS, as both shows were thought to appeal to similar demographics. The show was a top 30 hit for three seasons, from 1987 to 1992.[3] However, with CBS's move of the show to Friday night in the fall of 1992, ratings plummeted and the show fell from 6th to 52nd place. The show was cancelled in May 1993.

Nielsen ratings[edit]

Season Rank Households
(in millions)
Rating
1) 1986–87 #33 14,071,100 16.1[4]
2) 1987–88 #34 13,874,760 15.5[5]
3) 1988–89 #33 13,541,920 15.2[6]
4) 1989–90 #23 14,091,300[7] 17.1
5) 1990–91 #10 15,361,500[8] 16.5
6) 1991–92 #6 15,933,300[9] 17.3[10]
7) 1992–93 #52 9,552,060

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Recipient Result
1991 BMI Film & TV Awards BMI TV Music Award Bruce Miller Won
1992 Won
1987 Casting Society of America's Artios Award Best Casting for TV, Comedy Episodic Fran Bascom Nominated
1989 Nominated
1990 Nominated
Directors Guild of America Award Outstanding Directing – Comedy Series Harry Thomason (For episode "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?") Nominated
1991 GLAAD Media Award Outstanding Comedy Episode Won
1990 Golden Globe Award Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated
1991 Nominated
1989 Los Angeles Women in Film Festival's Lilian Gish Award Excellence in TV Episodic Comedy "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" Won
1987 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Jack Shea (For episode "The Beauty Contest") Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series Cliff Chally (For episode "Oh Suzannah") Nominated
1988 Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (For episode "Killing All the Right People") Nominated
Outstanding Editing for a Series - Multi-Camera Production Roger Bondelli (For episode "Killing All the Right People") Nominated
Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series Judy Crown and Monique DeSart (For episode "I'll Be Seeing You") Won
1989 Outstanding Comedy Series Harry Thomason, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Pamela Norris, Tommy Thompson, Douglas Jackson, and David Trainer Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Meshach Taylor Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series Cliff Chally (For episode "Come On and Marry Me, Bill") Nominated
1990 Outstanding Comedy Series Harry Thomason, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Pamela Norris, Tommy Thompson, Douglas Jackson, and David Trainer Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Delta Burke Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series Harry Thomason (For episode "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?") Nominated
Outstanding Editing for a Series - Multi-camera Production Judy Burke (For episode "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century") Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series Cliff Chally (For episode "The Rowdy Girls") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy Series or a Special Larry Lasota, Anthony Constantini, Doug Gray, and Rick Himot (For episode "Tornado Watch") Nominated
1991 Outstanding Comedy Series Harry Thomason, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Pamela Norris, Tommy Thompson, Douglas Jackson, and David Trainer Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Delta Burke Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series Cliff Chally (For episode "Keep the Home Fires Burning") Nominated
1992 Outstanding Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Alice Ghostley Nominated
1990 Television Critics Association Award Outstanding Achievement in Comedy Nominated
2003 TV Land Award Most Memorable Female Guest Star in a Comedy as Herself Dolly Parton Won
Favorite Guest Performance by a Musician on a TV Show Ray Charles Nominated
1987 Viewers for Quality Television Award Best Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Writing in a Quality Comedy Series Linda Bloodworth-Thomason Won
Best Directing in a Quality Comedy Series Jack Shea Won
1988 Best Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Comedy Series Meshach Taylor Won
Best Writing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Directing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
1989 Best Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series Delta Burke Nominated
Dixie Carter Nominated
Annie Potts Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Comedy Series Meshach Taylor Won
Best Writing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Directing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
1990 Best Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series Delta Burke Nominated
Dixie Carter Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Comedy Series Meshach Taylor Won
Best Supporting Actress in a Quality Comedy Series Alice Ghostley Nominated
Best Writing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
Best Directing in a Quality Comedy Series Won
1991 Best Quality Comedy Series Nominated
Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series Delta Burke Nominated
Dixie Carter Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Comedy Series Meshach Taylor Nominated
Best Writing in a Quality Comedy Series Nominated
Best Specialty Player Alice Ghostley Won
1992 Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series Dixie Carter Nominated
1991 Writers Guild of America Award Episodic Comedy Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (For episode "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century") Nominated
1994 Young Artist Award Best Youth Actress Recurring or Regular in a TV Series Lexi Randall Nominated

Controversy[edit]

Delta Burke[edit]

In an interview during the show's fourth season,[citation needed] pivotal actress Delta Burke told reporter Barbara Walters about the tiring and unstructured filming conditions on the set of the show. She explained it took 15 to 16 hours to film a 25-minute episode, and they usually worked from 11:00 am to 2:30 the following morning. Although she did not name any specific producer, CBS executives were angered at her response.[citation needed]

Burke's interview took tabloid headlines across the nation, which soon led to an intensive argument with the producers and creators of Designing Women. Series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband, producer Harry Thomason, began intensive meetings with Burke, her husband—actor Gerald McRaney—and Burke's agent. The Thomasons claimed the testimonies about the unstructured filming schedules were false, but declined to mention the hazardous working hours Burke had made so clear in her statement.[11]

The behind-the-scene difficulties dragged on for several months. Eventually, working conditions on the set of the series became very hostile and more hectic. While Jean Smart and Annie Potts were reported to have remained neutral in the situation, Dixie Carter sided with the producers, and eventually cut off nearly all contact with Burke. The Thomasons continued to deny Burke's now more frequent and revealing statements, while Burke refused to return to work, which eventually led to her character being written out in a series of episodes in seasons four and five. Burke soon protested that producer Harry Thomason had verbally abused her in front of the entire cast and crew and would not let her leave the set until her fiancée arrived. Thomason countered that Burke had made working conditions on the set more hectic and hazardous than they had ever been before.[11]

Around the same time, tabloids also began to tackle Burke's weight gain. She reported she had gained 50 pounds since she had started on the series and the producers began to criticize her plump size. As the conflict between Burke and the Thomasons grew harsher and longer, CBS began negotiations with Burke's agent. CBS wanted Burke to drop her statements on the Thomasons, return to the series, and accept a salary reduction. Burke's agent, however, requested an increased salary, a choice over scripts for future episodes, and a perhaps spin-off series of her own once Designing Women was cancelled. The subsequent negotiations were endless, and the sides never came to an agreement.[11]

CBS eventually decided it was time to end their engagement with Burke, so she was fired from the series in the spring of 1991, which resulted in another media frenzy. Burke later worked again with the Thomasons and CBS to reprise the Suzanne Sugarbaker character for a short-lived 1994 sitcom, Women of the House, in which Suzanne's latest husband died and she won his seat in Congress.

Other cast changes[edit]

At the same time as Burke’s departure, Jean Smart had grown tired of the show and turned in her resignation to CBS. Initially, CBS tried desperately to secure Smart for another season, but she refused and left the series the same season. Nonetheless, Smart did agree to return for the sixth-season premiere to explain her character's leaving the series.

With Burke fired and Smart insistent to leave the show, CBS began searching for their replacements. The producers first signed Julia Duffy, who had just completed a seven-year run on the fellow CBS series Newhart, who would be written in as Burke's replacement. Jan Hooks, who had just completed a five-year stint on Saturday Night Live, was signed to the series as Smart's replacement. Duffy was assigned to play Allison Sugarbaker, the snobby, controlling cousin of Julia and Suzanne, and Hooks was assigned to play Carlene Dobber, the dim-witted sister of Charlene. Both characters were introduced in the sixth-season premiere episode that aired in the fall of 1991.

The one-hour sixth-season premiere episode, "The Big Desk," aired on September 16, 1991. Due to the massive tabloid headlines the series received earlier that year, the episode was watched by nearly 40 million people and earned a 20.3 rating,[11] the highest-rated episode Designing Women had ever received in its five years on the air. It was explained that Suzanne had moved to Japan and that Charlene was leaving for England with her husband and baby. Suzanne had sold her shares of Sugarbaker's to her wealthy cousin Allison, and Charlene's younger sister, Carlene, was there to take over her job after her departure. While audiences grew to like the Carlene character and her personality, fans grew not to like Allison, because of her snotty, controlling, and cruel behavior. Along with the audience dislike of Allison, reviews for the cast changes were harsh and many believed by this era in the series, the show had "jumped the shark".

Despite bashing critical reviews, the cast changes did not have a large effect on the show's viewership. In the spring of 1991, the show placed seventh in the Nielsen ratings, with an average 16.7 percentage of the audience. Before the dismissal of Burke and Smart, CBS executives had predicted the series would have entered the top five in the fall of 1991, but instead it fell out of the top 10.[11] During November and December 1991, the series routinely placed 13th in the ratings, with an average 15.9 rating. However, ratings and viewership soon improved and the sitcom ended the 1991─92 season at eighth place with a 16.9 averaged rating, 0.2% higher than its previous season. Despite the high ratings, the audience and critical dislike of Julia Duffy as Allison drew CBS to the conclusion that she needed to be replaced. After only 23 episodes, Duffy was released from her contract.

During the summer 1992 hiatus of the series, CBS hired Judith Ivey to replace Duffy on the series. Ivey debuted on the series on September 25, 1992 in the seventh-season premiere episode, entitled "Of Human Bondage". It was explained that Allison had left Sugarbaker's to invest her money into a Victoria's Secret franchise. Ivey was assigned to play Bonnie Jean "B.J." Poteet, a rich Texas widow, who won Allison's share of Sugarbaker's in a poker game by a drunken Julia. B.J. was presented as a friendly, outspoken, and strong-willed woman, who brought a down-to-Earth charm and humor to the series. Like the liberal Julia, B.J. was known for speaking her mind and converting the topic of conversations to get Julia in a liberal mood.[11]

Political views[edit]

Show creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason were strong supporters of longtime friend and then-Democratic nominee for President of the United States, Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. In one episode, Julia is stranded in the airport while attempting to attend Clinton's first inauguration. Additionally Charlene mentioned working for Clinton during his Arkansas governorship. Yet another Clintons-related joke was the introduction of the prissy character, Allison Sugarbaker, who makes it quite clear to the other "Designing Women" that she attended Wellesley College (Hillary's alma mater). One episode revolved around Julia running for commissioner, where she debates on television against a conservative candidate, to whom she eventually loses. In reality, Dixie Carter was a Republican who disagreed with the liberal views spouted by her onscreen character. She reached an agreement with the producers in which she was allowed to sing a song for every liberal "speech" her character made on the series.

Julia also expresses her admiration for former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, and is very upset in the episode, "Miss Trial", when her service for jury duty prevents her from attending a dinner with the Carters, who, like her, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. She is later very flattered to discover the Carters have sent her flowers and rushes off to meet them for coffee.

Cancellation[edit]

The introduction of Judith Ivey on the series received a better reception than Julia Duffy's debut had a year earlier, but despite the likable change, ratings soon plummeted due to a network decision to move the sitcom to Friday nights at 9:30. Only a few weeks into the show's seventh season on the "Friday night death slot", despite receiving no competition from the other networks, the series had drastically slipped from eighth to 52nd place in the Nielsen ratings.

Designing Women was unexpectedly cancelled in the spring of 1993, due to declining ratings and diminishing network interest.[11] Only Dixie Carter and Annie Potts remained for the show's entire run and appeared in all of the show's episodes. In total, the series aired seven seasons and 163 episodes.

Annie Potts announced in the spring of 1993,[citation needed] before the series was canceled, that she would leave the show after the seventh season, because the producers dropped her character's proposed pregnancy storyline at the last minute. However, since the seventh season was the show's last, there was no need to announce Potts's declining to return for an eighth season.

Cast and characters[edit]

Main cast[edit]

Cast of 1986–91: (from left, clockwise) Dixie Carter as Julia, Delta Burke as Suzanne, Alice Ghostley as Bernice, Jean Smart as Charlene, Annie Potts as Mary Jo, and Meshach Taylor as Anthony

Julia Sugarbaker[edit]

Played by Dixie Carter; seasons 1─7, 163 episodes

Julia, an attractive middle-aged woman, is the head of Sugarbaker and Associates. Julia can best be described as a left-liberal feminist with a very outspoken point of view. She is very quick to speak her mind, sometimes without knowing all the facts involved. Julia can be personified as a bold, independent, self-confident, no-nonsense, Southern woman. Her rapid-fire speeches and passionate beliefs earned her the nickname "The Terminator". She often quarrels with her sister Suzanne, and later with her cousin Allison. Despite her disagreements with Suzanne, she often stands up for her against people who insult her. Early on in the series, she disagrees with her son, Payne, who dates an older woman. She was married to Hayden McElroy for several years, who died after suffering several heart attacks. Julia has a romantic relationship with Reese Watson, also a widower, who is also known for putting her in her place. As the series progressed, Julia becomes a softer person. Carter is one of only two cast members to appear in all the episodes of the series.

Mary Jo Shively[edit]

Played by Annie Potts; seasons 1─7, 162 episodes

Mary Jo, a short redhead, is the main designer of Sugarbaker's. At the beginning of the series, the newly divorced Mary Jo is very shy and easily intimidated. However, after her divorce from Ted Shively before the show began, she slowly becomes more independent of others. Mary Jo is the mother of two children, Claudia and Quinton. With a sarcastic sense of humor, she often pokes fun at the personal life stories told by Suzanne and later Allison. She grows to have a strong personality like Julia, and even supports a safe sex campaign at her daughter's school. Initially, it took Mary Jo a long time to start dating again after her divorce. Eventually, Suzanne sets her up with J.D. Shackelford, a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves. She often portrays a false persona of herself to impress old friends and clients. Throughout the course of the series, despite her off-again-on-again romance with J.D., Mary Jo is mostly unlucky in love. She sometimes goes to the extreme to impress a man, sometimes men in whom she does not have much interest. Several times over the course of the series, Mary Jo expresses feelings and actions signaling she is going through a mid-life crisis. Potts appeared in all but one episode.

Suzanne Sugarbaker[edit]

Played by Delta Burke; seasons 1─5, 120 episodes

Suzanne is the often self-centered, somewhat silent partner of Sugarbaker's. She is a beautiful, dark-haired ex-beauty queen, who often denies her real age. Among her previous titles, she won the 1975 Miss Georgia World contest in Atlanta and was a contestant in the Miss America Pagent in either 1975 or 1976 as stated in the second-season episode "High Rollers" during a trip she, Charlene, and Anthony take to Atlantic City (Burke herself had been a contestant in the 1974 paegent). She is a divorcee with three previous husbands; two of them being Dash Goff, a Southern writer, who was her first and one true love, and another being Jack Dent, who played for the Atlanta Braves and the third is J. Benton Stonesifer (unknown occupation). She has a Hispanic maid named Consuela, who is often mentioned, but never seen on the series. Consuela's wild and crazy antics are usually revealed by Suzanne such as being into voodoo and her violent outbursts. Suzanne often shows disinterest in Anthony, but considers him one of her best friends and is often able to con him into doing things for her such as guarding her house during a rash of neighborhood robberies and teaching Consuela how to drive. Suzanne and Anthony eventually play foils to one another as the series progresses and find themselves in increasingly bizarre and comical situations such as in the season-four episode "Foreign Affairs", when Suzanne convinces Anthony to dress up as Consuela to fool immigration and gain citizenship status so she will not be deported. Suzanne also has a fascination with guns, owning several of them leading to a comical episode during season four when she accidentally shoots Anthony in the leg after mistaking him for a burglar the day before he is to graduate from college. In season one, she tried to adopt a foreign girl named Li Sing. Early on in the series, she gets a pet pig she names Noelle, which she treats a human being, by dressing her up, driving her around in her car, and taking her to the local Dairy Queen. Noelle, however, soon runs away from her and never returns. In season four, Suzanne begins a battle with her weight after making an appearance at her class reunion. She misses a handful of episodes throughout seasons four and five, before leaving the series in the first episode of season six. Suzanne leaves Atlanta to take a job in Japan and sells her part of Sugarbaker's to her wealthy cousin Allison. Had Burke continued with the series past season five, the Thomasons had stated a storyline involving Suzanne and Anthony eloping was to be in the works.

Charlene Frazier Stillfield[edit]

Played by Jean Smart; seasons 1─5, season 6 (guest star), 120 episodes

Charlene is the office manager of Sugarbaker's. Sweet-natured, but often naïve, she is a tall blonde from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Charlene reportedly never meets a stranger and is known for searching for the good in everyone. She remains in steady friendships with all of her coworkers, though her naïveté often results in quarrels with Julia and Suzanne. Charlene is very practical, but a dreamer. She dreamt as a child of being a preacher and is a long-running fan of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Dolly Parton. Though often guided by her psychic adviser, Charlene often finds herself in trouble while looking for a respectable man to date. She is often the target of con men. She has a short-lived romance with Shadow, a secret government agent, before romancing Mason Dudd, an overweight entrepreneur, who leaves her for Japan. Charlene meets her soul mate in widowed Air Force Colonel Bill Stillfield, whom she eventually marries. She gives birth to their daughter, Olivia, early in season four. In a dream, she was visited by singer/actress Dolly Parton as Olivia's Guardian Movie Star, who confirmed to Charlene the gender and name of her child. When Bill is reassigned to England in early season six, Charlene turns over her job at Sugarbaker's to her sister, Carlene Dobber.

Anthony Bouvier[edit]

Played by Meshach Taylor; seasons 1─2 (recurring), seasons 3─7 (starring), 145 episodes

Anthony is the deliveryman of Sugarbaker's, who later becomes a partner of the design firm. Before coming to work at the Sugarbaker's, he had been raised by his grandmother, Dondi, after his mother, who was a drug addict, abandoned him. Anthony was unknowingly involved in a robbery of a local convenience store, which gets him sent to prison. He often discusses his "unfortunate incarceration", most of the time to explain his feelings and out of fear. His cellmate, T. Tommy Reed, often bullied him, but later returns as a changed man who wants to make Anthony his business partner. Anthony becomes involved in several tasks over the run of the series in an effort to improve his life. By the seventh season, Anthony is working hard to complete law school. Nonetheless, he soon takes a trip to Las Vegas after his fiancée dumped him. There, he wakes up to find he has married an alluring showgirl named Etienne Toussaint. By the end of the series, he has completed law school.

Carlene Dobber[edit]

Played by Jan Hooks; seasons 6─7, 45 episodes

Carlene is the younger sister of Charlene. Like her older sister, she is very naïve and somewhat annoying. She initially came to Atlanta to start over after her divorce, but ends up replacing her sister at Sugarbaker's. In most ways, Carlene is still a down-to-earth country girl, who never learns the ways of a larger city. Carlene married Dwayne Dobber shortly after high school, though she once romanced a boy named Lyle. She becomes good friends with Mary Jo, but is very much disliked by Allison, because of her backwoods, country ways. Carlene often dreams of becoming a singer and can often be seen fiddling with her guitar. However, most of her songs leave much to be desired. Despite her lack in songwriting ability, her song about Atlanta does make the finals in a local contest. Over time, she becomes more accustomed to the big city, but often refers her new life experiences to her old life experiences in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

Allison Sugarbaker[edit]

Played by Julia Duffy; season 6, 23 episodes

Allison is the petite, blonde cousin of Julia and Suzanne, the daughter of their uncle, Frank Sugarbaker. She arrives in Atlanta in season six, after buying Suzanne's part of Sugarbaker's. Initially, Allison was thought to be a silent partner of the design firm, but shows up and wants to take over Sugarbaker's, claiming she has the controlling interest of the company. She immediately starts to alienate her coworkers by creating new policies and forcing them to follow them. She moves into Suzanne's old house, though Anthony had been renting it. Allison's parents were very cold to her as a child, which could perhaps explain her baring behavior. At the time she arrived in Atlanta, she was reported to have seen just one man naked. Throughout her time on the show, Allison is very unlucky in love. Despite her determination to improve Sugarbaker's, Allison does not become close with her fellow workers. At the end of the season, she leaves Atlanta and starts to invest her money in a Victoria's Secret franchise.

Bonnie Jean "B.J." Poteet[edit]

Played by Judith Ivey; season 7, 22 episodes

A native of Texas, Bonnie Jean, nicknamed "B.J.", is a wealthy widow who invests all of her money into Sugarbaker's. B.J., a recovering alcoholic, brings a down-to-Earth charm and humor to the series. Despite her fortune, simple things amuse her the most. B.J. finds enjoyment in annoying her coworkers, especially Julia. She often changes the topic of the conversation to get Julia in a liberal mood. B.J. formerly worked as a court reporter in Houston, but also worked as an exotic dancer when she was out of work. She was married to contractor James Poteet, who left his successful business, Poteet Industries, to her after he died. While B.J. knows nothing about designing, she often uses her company to bring fresh business into Sugarbaker's. Like the outspoken Julia, B.J. often likes to give her personal opinions on topics and to be specifically heard. Despite getting amusement at the failure or the letdowns of her co-workers, B.J. does become accepted at Sugarbaker's.

Recurring cast[edit]

Bernice Clifton[edit]

Played by Alice Ghostley; seasons 1─7 (recurring), 44 episodes

Bernice is the absent-minded friend of Julia and Suzanne's mother, Perky, who brings her to meet her daughters and friends one Thanksgiving. When Perky unexpectedly moves to Japan, the Sugarbakers become the overseer of Bernice, at the request of their mother. Bernice was married to Louis Clifton for many years, who worked in a circus as a young man, billed as the "Dancing Fool". In season four, she fights off her carefree niece, Phyllis McGuire, who wants to place her in a sanitarium. As never having any children, Bernice often thinks of Anthony and the four ladies as her own. She has a humorous relationship with Suzanne, who nicknamed her "the little fruitcake". Bernice often believes several men have "the hots for her". though this is always proved to be false. By the final season, she makes more frequent appearances.

Additional recurring cast[edit]

  • Attorney Reese Watson (played by Hal Holbrook; seasons 1─5, 9 episodes)―Reese is Julia's boyfriend, a successful lawyer, and Dixie Carter's real-life husband.
  • J.D. Shackelford (played by Richard Gilliland; seasons 1─5, 13 episodes)―He is Mary Jo's on-again-off-again boyfriend and the real-life husband of Jean Smart.
  • Colonel Bill Stillfield (played by Douglas Barr; seasons 2─5, 12 episodes)―Colonel Stillfield is an Air Force Colonel from an old-money family, and Charlene's boyfriend and later husband.
  • Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph; season 7, 6 episodes)―Anthony's wife, who worked as a Las Vegas showgirl, which is where he met her.
  • Claudia Marie Shively (played by Priscilla Weems; seasons 1─4, 9 episodes)―She is Mary Jo's teenage daughter, who often gives her trouble.
  • Quinton "Quint" Shively (played by Brian Lando; seasons 1─4, 7 episodes)―He is Mary Jo's grade school-aged son.
  • Dr. Theodore "Ted" Shively (played by Scott Bakula; seasons 1─3, 5 episodes)―Ted is Mary Jo's ex-husband, who works as a gynecologist.
  • Payne McElroy (played by George Newbern; seasons 1─2, 4, and 6; 3 episodes)―He is Julia's college-aged son.
  • Vanessa Hargraves (played by Olivia Brown; season 4, 5 episodes)―She is Anthony's on-again, off-again girlfriend before his character marries Etienne.

Notable guest stars[edit]

Over the course of its seven seasons, Designing Women had a series of guest stars, including former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Tony Goldwyn, Dale Raoul, Jackée Harry, Mary Ann Mobley, and many others. Sherman Hemsley, Della Reese, Kim Zimmer, Wendie Jo Sperber, Louise Latham, Mariann Aalda, Leann Hunley, and Lloyd Bochner also guest starred.

One of the most notable guest stars of the series was singer/actress Dolly Parton, in the January 1, 1990, one-hour episode "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century". She played Charlene's "Guardian Movie Star", who gives her advice and tells her the gender of her child in a legendary dream sequence. As reported in press releases, Parton herself requested that she guest star in the episode, simply because she was a long-time fan of the sitcom.

Production information[edit]

Main crew[edit]

Directors[edit]

Writers[edit]

Exterior filming locations[edit]

The exterior of the house seen in the series as the location of the Sugarbaker design firm is the Villa Marre, a Victorian mansion located in the historic Quapaw Quarter district in Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, the exterior of the home of Suzanne Sugarbaker seen in the series is the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, also in the Quapaw Quarter. Both homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Opening credits[edit]

During the first two seasons, photos of the four principals were shown along with groupings of items that depicted their characters (Suzanne's beauty crown and pageant clippings, Julia's elegant Wedgwood tea set and a photo of her son, etc.). Music was an instrumental of "Georgia on My Mind", performed by Doc Severinsen. During this time, Meshach Taylor was not credited as a regular cast member, only appearing in the closing credits of episodes in which he appeared. Seasons three, four and five also featured a recording of "Georgia on My Mind", though a jazzier version than the previous recording. Glitzy head shots of the actors were used, with Meshach Taylor appearing as a regular cast member.

Season six (the first season without Burke and Smart) featured the cast members, elegantly dressed, gathered around a piano, as Ray Charles performed "Georgia on My Mind". During season seven, the opening sequence was eliminated (in keeping with the trend beginning in the early 1990s, in which sitcom opening credits were either abbreviated or eliminated entirely), with just a few instrumental bars of "Georgia on My Mind" playing, as "Designing Women" and the names of the actors quickly scrolled across the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the first scene. The episode tiles were also no longer displayed on-screen.

Episodes[edit]

DVD releases[edit]

Shout! Factory has released all seven seasons of Designing Women on DVD in Region 1.[12]

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 22 May 26, 2009
The Complete Second Season 22 August 11, 2009
The Complete Third Season 22 March 2, 2010
The Complete Fourth Season 29 September 14, 2010
The Complete Fifth Season 24 December 6, 2011
The Complete Sixth Season 23 April 3, 2012
The Complete Seventh and Final Season 22 July 17, 2012

On September 2, 2003, Sony Pictures released The Best of Designing Women, a single-disc DVD featuring five episodes ranging between seasons one through four: "Designing Women (Pilot)", "Killing All the Right People", "Reservations for Eight", "Big Haas and Little Falsie" and "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?".

On September 28, 2010, Shout Factory released Designing Women, Volume 1, a single-disc DVD featuring seven episodes from the first season: "Designing Women (Pilot)", "A Big Affair", "Design House", "I Do, I Don't", "New Year's Daze", "Monette", "And Justice for Paul". Further selected episode volumes have yet to be announced.

On June 5, 2012, Shout Factory released Designing Women – 20 Timeless Episodes, aimed for casual fans to enjoy the series without buying full season sets. The 2-disc DVD set included the following episodes, ranging from seasons one through five: Disc 1 - "Designing Women (pilot)", "New Year's Daze", "Monette", "Oh Suzannah", "Ted Remarries", "Killing All the Right People", "Heart Attacks", "Return of Ray Don", "Big Haas & Little Falsie", "The Wilderness Experience". Disc 2 - "The Naked Truth", "Stand & Fight", "Nightmare from Hee Haw", "Julia Gets Her Head Caught in a Fence", "Julia & Suzanne's Big Adventure", "Foreign Affairs", "A Blast from the Past", "And Now, Here's Bernice", "This is Art?" and "The Pride of the Sugarbakers".

Reruns[edit]

CBS ran reruns of the show in their daytime lineup at 10:00 a.m. (EST) from April 1991 - June 1992. Subsequently, Designing Women aired on the Lifetime cable network for over a decade. Despite its popularity, the show left the network on August 4, 2006. A 90-minute retrospective special, The Designing Women Reunion, aired on Lifetime on July 28, 2003, reuniting Burke, Potts, Smart, Carter and Taylor in which they shared memories from their time on the series, and also featured interviews with the Thomasons and various writers. Actors Alice Ghostley, Hal Holbrook, Gerald McRaney, and Richard Gilliland also took part in the special.

The series also aired on Nick at Nite beginning October 2, 2006; however, it quickly left and later appeared on its sister network TV Land, airing at various late-night and morning times occasionally until the network lost the rights to air the show in 2008. The series also aired on ION Television in 2007, Monday through Thursday at 7:00 & 7:30 pm ET.[13]

The program crrently airs on the Comedy Gold (formerly TV Land Canada) in one-hour blocks every day at 11 am and 5 pm EST. TV Guide Network also began airing a one-hour block weekdays at 11 am EST in October 2011 and currently airs a 2-hour block, weekdays from 3:00 pm (EST & PST) to 5:00 pm (EST & PST).

As of May 2014 reruns air on the LOGO network.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "'Designing Women’ actress Dixie Carter dies at 70; had roots in West Tennessee". The Commercial Appeal.Com. April 10, 2010. Retrieved April 11, 2010. 
  2. ^ VIRGINIA ROHAN (April 14, 2002). "'Once & Again' won't be back". North Jersey Media Group. Archived from the original on June 10, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earle, "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Shows 1946–present," 7th edition
  4. ^ "List of seasons top rated TV shows 1986-1987". AP News Archive. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "List of season top rated TV shows 1987-1988". AP News Archive. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "List of seasons top TV shows 1988-1989". AP News Archive. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  7. ^ "TV ratings: 1989-1990". Classic TV Hits. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  8. ^ "TV ratings: 1990-91". Classic TV Hits. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "TV ratings: 1991-92". Classic TV Hits. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Seasons Top Rated Shows for 1991-1992". AP News Archive. Retrieved 12 August 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Carter, Bill (November 4, 1991). "Television Gets on the Bandwagon Of the Thomas-Hill Contretemps". New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2008. 
  12. ^ Designing Women: The Final Season: Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, David Trainer: Movies & TV. Amazon.com. Retrieved on April 21, 2012.
  13. ^ ION Television July: Designing Women and Who's the Boss? Join Line-Up; Still Standing Joins Atlanta TBS; Network Notes. Sitcomsonline.com (June 8, 2007). Retrieved on April 21, 2012.