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Today we wish a very happy 25th anniversary to the classic and cherished sitcom “Designing Women” used to bother the heck out of me that this delicious sitcom about four Southern women who ran an interior design agency in Atlanta didn’t get the recognition of other shows of its era.

But now, I’m just grateful that those of us who love and appreciate Designing Women can enjoy it in all its glory on DVD.

It was 25 years ago today that the show made its debut on CBS.

It starred the late Dixie Carter as elegant, outspoken liberal intellectual Julia Sugarbaker, Delta Burke as rich, flashy, often self-centered former beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker, Jean Smart as the sweet-natured but somewhat naïve office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield, and Annie Potts as pragmatic designer Mary Jo Shively, a recent divorcee raising two children.

Created by head writer Linda Bloodworth Thomason, the show ran for seven seasons (Burke and Smart were not in the cast for the final two years).

In all, there were 163 episodes made with Meshach Taylor a part of the cast for the duration and the late Alice Ghostley a recurring character.

By season 5, there was onset friction between Burke and Thomason which led to her breakout character being written out after season 5. The show was never as magical again – especially as the firing came at the same time Smart left. Their replacements, Jan Hooks (two seasons) Julia Duffy (one season), and Judith Ivey (one season) were terrific but the original quartet had cast quite a shadow.

Burke and Carter had been close personal friends but became estranged for many years following the tumult of season five.  But, thankfully, the two women mended fences and reunited with Smart and Potts for a reunion special.

Then in 2006, the most remarkable thing happened for a rabid Designing Women fan like me: Not only was I invited to the Museum of Television and Radio’s Designing Women event where the four stars were again reuniting, I also got to interview Miss Carter and Miss Thomason for my old paper the Los Angeles Daily News.

I could not BELIEVE it when Dixie and I started doing lines from the show together on the phone. Dixie did the classic: “And thaaaaaat, is when.The lights. Went out. In Georgia!” And, of course, her lines from the first show when she tells off the man called “Ray Don” and later tells her sister Suzanne (Burke) “If sex were fast food you’d have golden arches over your bed.” Dixie told me she loved doing Julia’s famous speeches but after they were filmed “I’d have to drop all that information as soon as we drive off the lot in order to clear the brain for next week’s script!”

One thing the show had from the very beginning was gay fans. “We were told right away that gay bars all over the country were showing the show and bars in Atlanta and L.A. would do the “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” speech,” Dixie said.

Among the most memorable episodes were Killing All the Right People in which the women were asked to design the funeral home for a friend dying of AIDS. It was based on Bloodsworth-Thomason’s mother who was infected with AIDS after a blood transfusion and died in November 1986, shortly after the show was launched. A client overhears the women talking to the friend (Tony Goldwyn) and she blurts out that AIDS is God’s punishment and added, “This disease has one thing going for it, it’s killing all the right people.” At that point, Julia throws her out but not before saying, “If God were handing out diseases for sinning then you’d be at the free clinic ALL THE TIME!”

Linda remembered being honored at the Pacific Design Center by a gay organization for the AIDS episode and when she walked onto the stage she remembers, “I left like Liza. It was a sea of gay people and it was one of the nicest nights of my life. People were so grateful for that show and for what Dixie had said.”

Anyway, that night at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, Bloodworth-Thomason saw to it that I was seated in the second row – directly behind Carter and Burke! To watch them giggle with Smart and Potts as they watched a screening of the pilot together was an experience I will treasure forever.

Below are some classic scenes to enjoy on this special anniversary:


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2 Remarks

  1. September 26th, 2011 at 7:43 am
    Chandler In Las Vegas says:

    And Jean Smart continues her steam roller career with a great character on Harry’s Law. What a complex actress!

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you Greg for this hilarious clips of Designing Women. You made me laugh (and cry) today!

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