Designing Women

Discussion in 'TV Central' started by ClassyCo, Jan 27, 2018.

  1. ClassyCo

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    Owing to the success of The Golden Girls thread, I figured it would make sense to have a similarly aimed topic surrounding Designing Women.

    Any thoughts?

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  2. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    People always try to compare DW to GG (some even try to call DW a rip-off of the GG concept) simply because of the "four women" scenario, but I genuinely believe the two shows were created independently and don't have sufficient similarities to be treated that way. The two creators (Susan Harris of GG and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason of DW) had very different ideas on what they wanted to do with these shows, and the results certainly vary. LB-T created Designing Women with an eye toward spotlighting empowered, modern Southern women who were close friends and business partners despite having very different opinions on social issues and political topics. Susan Harris developed Golden Girls to examine a forgotten group of society (older women) and to show how living doesn't end after 50. DW was more topical, while GG was more universal. It also became obvious the GG cast and producers got along much better than their counterparts did on DW, which led to cast upheavals on DW that hurt the show. GG, of course, kept their core intact for the entire run.

    Taken alone, Designing Women was a fun show most of the time. When they still had Delta Burke in the cast, the four ladies worked well off one another. Beefing up the role of Anthony over time was also a great addition, because his antics with Suzanne were some of the best stuff in the series. Suzanne was one of the best sitcom characters ever, in my opinion.
    Burke became such a handful toward the end that I could understand why she had to go (quit? fired? whatever), because their mutual problems played out for all to see, as t
    he working relationship between Burke and the Thomasons seemed to break down on-screen in how they wrote Suzanne. The joke was on the Thomasons, though, because the more they tried to write Suzanne in an unfavorable light, the more viewers seemed to embrace her. The more they tried to marginalize her, the more viewers demanded to have more of her. When they went in the opposite direction--writing a powerful episode that focused on Suzanne's heartbreak over being called "fat" at her high-school reunion--Burke got an Emmy and the show got all sorts of praise it had never gotten. It was ironic that the show's success seemed to hinge on the producers and Burke working together...the one thing they could not do.


     
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  3. ClassyCo

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    I agree with almost all of what you have said. The mere fact that The Golden Girls came a year before and was highly successful, does not automatically make Designing Women a ripoff, clone, imitation, or anything of that sort. Susan Harris and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason most certainly had differing views on how they wanted their shows to be ran. I've heard in a few interviews that Harris' main objective was to entertain the audience and also show them the brighter side of life post-fifty. Bloodworth-Thomason, as it seems, always wanted the topical humor that her show almost always had.

    Designing Women was at its peak (with the original cast) when Delta Burke exited the show in 1991, and when Jean Smart quickly followed suit. (I believe it was Smart who had been recorded as having said the show wouldn't last without the original four ladies. Perhaps that's why she decided to leave that same year?) The later of additions of Jan Hooks, Julia Duffy, and Judith Ivey came with mixed blessings, and the show was certainly never the same again. It was still decent, but the writing was on the wall that the final curtain was near, especially by the time year seven rolled around.

    Yes, it seems as if the one thing that kept Designing Women afloat---Burke and the Thomasons---was the one thing that eventually tore it apart. Burke, regardless to what some may say, was certainly the series' breakout star. She defined the show, and without her, a part of its individuality was lost. Her replacements (Julia Duffy, and was then replaced by Judith Ivey) never had the same zip or humor that Burke provided, especially as she got heavier. As you have said, the audience definitely seemed to be on Burke's side, and it seems quite obvious that they were not afraid to let that be known, either.

    Comparing Designing Women and The Golden Girls as mere interchangeable situation comedies revolving around the lives of four ladies is both simplistic and lazy. Of course, both shows have that basic story on the surface, but underneath their layers are quite different. The Golden Girls, in my personal opinion, was far funnier, but it lacked strong continuity, and was far more character-driven. On the other hand, Designing Women offered better with its consistency, but could, in some spots, seem a tad dry.

    Each show has its hosts of fans that still enjoy them thoroughly, and in saying that, we should respect them each enough to judge them by their own standards, and not on a competitive list against one another. (And BTW, this thread wasn't started with the intent on debating the two shows, but as a dedication to Designing Women itself.)
     
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  4. Snarky's Ghost

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    As much as I love Julia Duffy, I do think they were correct to write her out after only one year: her character was nothing more than Stephanie the Maid all grown up and having taken on a career. But removing Jan Hooks at the same time was a mistake; I thought she was on her way to working.
     
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  5. ClassyCo

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    Although I can certainly your viewpoint, I personally liked Duffy's turn as Allison for the most part. She could have been written a little nicer, but overall I got a lot of laughs from her. And Jan Hooks stayed the final two seasons. She wasn't removed.
     
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  6. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I watched it from beginning to end, and it was very easy to enjoy on its own merits. I thought it lost its way not only because of cast turnover, but because of the increasingly preachy tone of some of its scripts. Mary Jo seemed to be the most affected by this, She had never been as "showy" as Julia or Suzanne, offering the "struggling mother of two" perspective to the stories. Hers was the "every-woman" role, while Julia and Suzanne debated political and social topics from different ends of the spectrum, with MJ often coming down one side or the other but not coming across as stridently opinionated one way or the other . As they had to write out Suzanne and bring in less-defined replacements, the show seemed to beef up MJ's participation in the topical scripts, making her seem needlessly shrill and opinionated when she had not been willing to commit to a "side" before. Annie Potts's naturally nasal delivery (not her fault) did not help in this regard--it made her sound surly and angry even when she wasn't. I did not like how her character evolved, because she came across as pissed off at the world. Mary Jo had not treated Charlene like a ditz even when Charlene DID behave like a ditz, but Mary Jo always seemed to be looking down her nose and annoyed at Jan Hooks's character Carlene, who wasn't that much worse.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
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  7. ClassyCo

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    Yes, I certainly wasn't happy with the way Mary Jo turned out in the end, either. Personally, she was never my favorite, but she was a staple that didn't end as she had started.
     
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  8. Snarky's Ghost

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    Oh? Really?? :lol: Well, that's a mint julep down my pantaloons.
     
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  9. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I think "Carlene" benefitted from being played by an improvisational comic like Hooks. Those types of performers take a character and add to them/round them out even when those additions aren't expressly written down by the writing staff. Just as Delta Burke could give Suzanne rooting value even as she said awful things, Jan Hooks took a two dimensional pinhead and gave her a lot more dimension than the writing did.

    I pitied poor Julia Duffy. Rather than the story being "DW snags a massively popular actress to play a new role," it became "DW slaps Delta Burke on the way out by replacing her with a skinny blonde." I don't know if anyone could have stepped in and made people forget Delta, even someone who was coming off a successful run on a sitcom and was well-liked in the showbiz community. But the press at the time seemed dismissive of any attempt to move forward, as if the Thomasons deserved to be punished for mistreating Delta Burke. Of course it ended up being Julia Duffy who got blamed for the way her character was written, for the disruption of the flow of the series, for not being Delta Burke. Which was insane, of course. My only problem with the writing that season was that they wrote the new dynamic as "the girls and Anthony versus Alison," a total about-face from the original "us against the world" attitude. That running gag about her supposedly having a condition called "Obnoxious Personality Disorder" or something equally ridiculous seemed like the writers reinforcing the idea that she was an outsider who would never be "permitted" into their circle. The gradual breakdown of Alison's hard exterior over the course of the season (in an effort to correct their mistake) should have been done within two or three episodes, to give Alison more of a chance to fit in, but after a while I think the producers realized they could let Duffy take all the criticism in the press, replace her "to please the critics," and keep the spotlight off themselves.

    One of the highlights of the second half of the series that I loved was Alice Ghostley's Bernice Clifton. Oh, my goodness I loved that character.
     
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  10. ClassyCo

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    Yes, I seriously doubt that anyone other than Jan Hooks could have given Carlene the dimensions she got, because it most certainly wasn't written for her that way. At the same time, the writers seemed more welling to make Carlene a part of that "inner circle" by pairing her up with Mary Jo as Charlene has always been, so that helped her.

    And as for Allison. I always seem to come to her defense because I personally liked her quite well. It does seem that the writers would have wanted her to "fit in" more than they did. They wrote themselves into a corner by giving her OPD and other off-the-wall junk. She should have patched things up with Anthony quickly and those two could have developed a similar relationship to the one he had with Suzanne. Allison was more "educated" than Suzanne, but was still mostly politically incorrect, and a bit of a ditz sometimes. The second episode of the sixth season, "A Toe in the Water", where Julia starts dating again actually seemed like a turn for the better for what I wished would have carried out. Allison responds to Julia's seemingly gay suitor the way one would assume that Suzanne would have had seen still been around. Anthony's making Allison his house slave provided for some funny moments. I only wish they would have calmed Allison down about wanting to take over Sugarbaker's (if not get rid of that entirely), and had her and Anthony come on better terms. Instead, they did the opposite. By the end of the season, as you said, with all the blamed shoved in Julia Duffy's corner, they were more than happy I'm sure to let her exit stage rear.

    I'm of the theory that the show could have went a little longer had Duffy's Allison evolved as she should have, had Judith Ivey only been brought in as a recurring character, and had it not been moved to Fridays in 1992. Of course, none of that happened and it was axed.
     
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  11. ClassyCo

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    Here are just some things I have heard about Designing Women that I figured I would share.

    In 1991, as Delta Burke was exiting the show, I have read that CBS wanted a "name" to publicize as her successor. Apparently, both Loni Anderson and Bette Midler were offered the part. Anderson evidently didn't get the salary she wanted, while I haven't heard why the Midler negotiations didn't any further. (Perhaps she wasn't interested?)

    Also, in 1992, at the end of year six, it was supposedly well-known that Julia Duffy wasn't coming back for season seven. In the season six finale actress Jackee Harry guest-starred, and evidently there was some buzz that she might have replaced Duffy. (Eventually Judith Ivey got that job, and Harry's Vanessa was never referenced again.)

    Has anyone else heard this?
     
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  12. Daniel Avery

    Daniel Avery Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I recall Vanessa, but that was different role than the one Jackee Harry played. Vanessa was played by an actress named Olivia Brown. I had watched Jackee when she played Lily Mason on Another World at the same time she was on 227 as Sandra. She would have been my preferred choice, probably more than either Anderson (who was serviceable on the sitcom Nurses in its final seasons, but nothing to write home about) or Midler. The remaining ladies (Carter, Potts) may have gotten upset if the producers hired someone as famous as Midler, whose stardom would essentially eclipse them in their own show. Loni's then-husband was Burt Reynolds, who was on the Thomasons' other hit sitcom, Evening Shade, so maybe they thought it would be "synergy" to have both Reynolds and Anderson working for them (just as Dixie Carter's husband Hal Holbrook was on ES).

    One of the running gags that I liked on DW was how every time the girls went on a road trip or vacation, it would be an unmitigated disaster. It was like they were cursed the minute they left the Atlanta city limits. Also, they seemed to take great joy in putting ultra-dignified Julia into the most undignified and/or humiliating situations, like "the day Julia mooned Atlanta" or when she got her head caught in the banister at the Governor's mansion. I loved it when Anthony would get really nervous and let out that bizarre donkey-laugh of his. Bernice's "arterial flow problem". Cindy Birdsong!! I actually used that as a screen-name on a discussion forum years ago and I was surprised at how many people would know exactly where it came from. And of course too many Suzanne-isms to list here. I recall Anthony mentioning going to church, and Suzanne asking if Anthony went to "one of those churches where they shout and roll around on the floor" (a likely reference to Pentecostal or Southern AME Churches, which I was well aware of). Anthony pointed out that he was Episcopalian, where "the only time those people would roll around on the floor is if someone dropped a golf ball." I told my minister that joke and she nearly peed herself laughing.
     
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  13. ClassyCo

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    Jackee played a character named Vanessa Chamberlain in the season six finale "Shades of Vanessa". If memory serves me correctly, she was an heir to a large hotel fortune who wanted to start her own clothing line. I personally wasn't a fan of the episode nor Jackee herself. Of the three names that were tossed around in my earlier post, I probably would have preferred Loni Anderson. I enjoyed her on WKRP in Cincinnati, and I actually think she would have fit into the ensemble well. Midler would have been too popular, and it would have been knocked off balance.

    Yes, I know the show made several references to the core clique's churches. The Sugarbakers were Baptist and Charlene was First Baptist. I don't recollect there being any mentioning of Mary Jo's faith. I would have liked it had Anthony been Pentecostal because it would have been different, and maybe even provided a humorous moment or two. (And, well, because I am Pentecostal myself.)
     
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