A Few Recent Words from LINDA BLOODWORTH-THOMASON
on "The Designing Women Fan Club":
"So many thanks for all of your hard work on behalf of Designing Women. I was surprised, after all this time, there are people out there that are still such fans of DW. Really, we are most indebted to you and want you to know how very grateful we are to all of you for your enduring interest and appreciation." ~ Linda Bloodworth-Thomason
Well, fellow fans, this is the big issue that we've been teasing you about for a while. As you can probably tell from the message above, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason has been in touch and has expressed excitement in what we are doing here, and we will continue to be in communication with her office. So, please respond and give us feedback on the newsletters and on the website -- she and the cast are paying attention (thanks to those of you who already give us feedback -- and please don't stop now!). We want to forward a big email to Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's office from everyone in the next couple of weeks. Please email us with whatever is in your heart about the show, but also regarding the Fan Club and the website.
Submissions must be sent to us at Belled@topthat.net by May 5, 2000.
Ms. Thomason is already very moved by the fan appreciation for the show, and we think this will really excite her and give us the opportunity to give a little something back to her for giving us Designing Women. But please keep in mind that this newsletter, the DWFC, and Designing Women Tribute are not officially involved with the show or Mozark Productions at this point. We will be forwarding her the feedback to show the fan support and encourage her future participation in the fan club.
Also, due to all the big announcements, we've changed the order of this particular newsletter . . .
We're starting this edition with HOT OFF THE PRESS in order to announce all of the huge news; plus, we have another awesome classic article in honor of the re-launching of the website. You'll love this one, and we saved it specifically for this issue.
It's a "Designing Women" Weekend
This is a jam-packed issue of "Belled," DW fans! In this section alone, we cover four "Hot off the Press" announcements:
(1) "Entertainment This Week" airs its DW Retrospective
(2) "Designing Women" Tribute celebrates a major facelift
(3) Dixie's 'Cabaret' goes official
(4) Jean Smart gets some 'Smart Stuff!'
* * * * * * * * *
"ENTERTAINMENT THIS WEEK" AIRS ITS DW RETROSPECTIVE
As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Entertainment This Week (Entertainment Tonight/ET's weekend edition) is airing its 60-minute Designing Women episode this weekend, April 22-23. Each week, ET examines a classic TV show with its history, backstage coverage, cast interviews through the years, and clips and trivia from the series.
ET producers for this segment told us that they were able to get new interviews with the entire cast (there was no mention of Jan Hooks or Judith Ivey -- so we'll see), plus fan favorites Alice Ghostley, Hal Holbrook and Richard Gilliland. In one segment, there are clips from each interview where everyone talks very openly about the tensions on the set that led up to Delta's dismissal and the cast changes. Delta herself discusses the weight gain and how it affected her life. In addition, ET explores what each of the cast members has done since Designing Women. The DWFC was even contacted for pictures for the trivia questions, so this should be a fun and informative hour.
Following the ET episode, we would like to send out an additional newsletter with any fan reactions, so we would love to hear from all of you. Keep in mind that any actor bashing or finger pointing will not be included. (Some of these submissions may also be sent to Linda Bloodworth-Thomason per the announcement in the Introduction of this newsletter.) The deadline for fan reaction submissions is May 5, 2000. Please send submissions to Belled@topthat.net.
So, check your local listings and set your VCR's! And in conjunction with the ET retrospective, we also have the following big announcements . . . . .
* * * * * * * * *
"DESIGNING WOMEN" TRIBUTE CELEBRATES A MAJOR FACELIFT!!
It's a celebration!! Finally -- after weeks and weeks of teasing and dropping hints, Designing Women Tribute (now affectionately dubbed 'DWT') is officially re-launched on a new server with a whole new look! Well, it's officially re-launched for DWFC members ONLY today. Throughout this Designing Women Weekend, we'll be fine-tuning the site and finishing the few pages that aren't done. Also, a "glitch" or two can probably be expected, so if you find any, we're depending on y'all to email us and let us know before we re-launch on the World Wide Web.
With all of this in mind, we will soon be officially announcing both the website and the Designing Women Fan Club (DWFC) across the 'Net. Things are gonna get better and better!
Since the DWFC launched in January of this year, we've received many emails thanking us and asking us how this all came about; but, even prior to that, John Paul often received email of appreciation from DW fans for his DW Tribute Page which also inquired as to how this all came about. Since we're announcing a whole NEW DWT and DWFC, we thought we'd also address these questions in this newsletter.
Designing Women Tribute began as John Paul's simple episode guide on the Web for Women of the House (WotH). After being seen by fellow WotH fan, Jon Acello, the two decided it would be fun to do a whole website. Knowing that WotH was not well-known, they decided to launch it as the sister site to a new Designing Women page. Not having been done on the 'Net anywhere, a DW site was in desperate need. Jon was actually wrapped up in another project, but he helped gather information for John Paul to build the new site. The Designing Women Tribute Page launched in May of '98 with a mere episode guide and character profiles.
Since then, the fan support and information has been pouring in!! Thanks to a suggestion from Sean and some other fans (plus a huge contribution from Beth) we started a fan favorite quotes page; Marcia dug up history and took pics of the Villa Marre for us, and Kristen started an initial mailing list to get the fans together. And how could we not mention Scott Cornwell, who graciously supplied us with tons of pictures and all those wonderful episode summaries from Columbia Tri-star?! The site became so huge with fan involvement that it drew attention from all over the 'Net, and it started to split at the seams!!
Then Amie (The Cabaret) and Marina, web designers for Top That! Cyber Concepts, got into the act. Amie joined John Paul in his project to launch a fan club and newsletter for DW, and Top That! is behind DWT's new and more refined look!! Everyone wanted to maintain the soft romantic feel of the original website that did justice to the show while also giving the site a more modern edge. We all think you're going to love it as much as we do.
In addition to the overhaul, several new sections have been added or beefed up. Most of you have seen the old website, so here is just a preview of the new sections:
SERIES HISTORY: A season by season breakdown of the show, including background on the casting, awards and nominations earned by the show, and original promotional material.
ARTICLES & REVIEWS: Classic DW articles and reviews(to be posted AFTER they appear in 'Belled' -- we don't want to spoil any surprises!).
LINDA BLOODWORTH-THOMASON Biographical and career information for the Creator/Writer/Executive Producer of the show.
EPISODE SUMMARIES: A section continuing our in-depth look at each episode on a revolving basis, centering around the original episode summary from Columbia Tri-Star with additional facts and corrections, pictures from the episode, and classic quotes and scenes. This section rotates continuously with different episodes. In honor of the re-launch, we're starting by re-examining the pilot episode!
ONLINE FAN CLUB (DWFC):If you haven't already, sign up for the fan club behind this newsletter. Once you visit the page for the DWFC, you'll see the advantages for actually being a member. Also, please tell us what you'd like to see in this section in the future. We'd love to post your photos with the stars!
FAN FICTION: This is your chance to write your own Designing Women episode or scene. This is a test section, so let's see what kind of fan fiction we get to fill it.
Just an FYI -- The character profiles are much more detailed than before, so be sure to check them out. Also, the Women of the House section is not completely finished, but it will be very shortly. Please continue to check back. (We'll include an announcement in the next newsletter, as well.) There may also be a page here and there that will say "Currently Being Built" as we get the site fine-tuned over this weekend.
In addition to the site changes, DWT now has a guestbook, so PLEASE sign it and tell us what you think; you never know who might read it besides us!
Well, we won't keep you in suspense any longer, so here is the link. Be sure to reset your bookmarks, and don't forget to finish reading this newsletter first!!
* * * * * * * * *
'THE CABARET' GOES OFFICIAL!!
As most of you probably know by now, Dixie Carter has proclaimed "The Cabaret" (the website honoring her vast career as an actor/singer/author) her Official Website. Amie is now working with Ms. Carter and her staff to re-design what was only a few months ago a "test site" for "Top That!" in order to bring you never-before-seen pictures, as well as behind the scenes coverage of events (past, present, and future), not to mention advance notice of her cabaret performance schedule and general appearance news. If you haven't done so already, please visit "The Cabaret," but also note that the re-design is in progress and the new site won't be launched for another few weeks. (On that note, Dixie Carter fans who would like to help out with the site in terms of transcripts and general information should email Amie at Amie@topthat.net.)
Please visit The Cabaret's current cyber home at: http://www.topthat.net/Cabaret
* * * * * * * * *
JEAN SMART GETS SOME 'SMART STUFF'
We're now officially launching a new site to honor Jean Smart and give updates on her career. Though she is probably the most versatile and active of the DW alumni, Jean Smart did not have any Internet coverage, so we fixed that!! Many of you may not even know the broad spectrum of characters Jean has played since DW, including a mentally-handicapped mother fighting to keep her children, a chilling serial killer, a hysterical pill-popping nympho . . . . . you name it, she has played it, and played it WELL.
So, be sure to check out the new site aptly named "Smart Stuff" to see Jean Smart's past credits, plus sign up for information on her continued activities and projects. Her publicists will be working with us to supply you with the most updated information on Jean's career including film, theater, interviews, and magazine appearances. [NOTE: This site is brand new and you're being given a sneak peek, so please be patient as it's updated over the next week or two.]
Visit "Smart Stuff" at: http://www.topthat.net/JeanSmart/
'Designing Women' on Tube
A Classic 'Designing Women' Article
Source: People Weekly - April 20, 1987
Written by: Fred Bernstein
Reported by: Lois Armstrong and David Hutchings
Photographs by: Mark Sennet/Onyx
"Pulling itself out of the ratings waste heap, Designing Women becomes TV's trashy new smash."
There was hype involved, true, but it was significant nonetheless. On Jan. 8 CBS Entertainment President Bud Grant ceremoniously displayed a white flag in his Los Angeles office. It was an unprecedented act of surrender, signaling to the world that Designing Women would no longer be treated like a pariah. Having removed the show earlier, CBS was now capitulating to the demands of hard-core fans and resurrecting the sitcom.
Perhaps Grant shouldn't be taken too much to task. Since it started last September, the series -- about the four feisty partners of an Atlanta interior design firm -- has inspired a love-hate response in reviewers and viewers, not to mention network execs. Created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and starring Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Delta Burke and Annie Potts, Designing Women set itself up as a bawdy tour of the New South. Its heroines weren't Scarlett O'Hara or Blanche DuBois but raucous women specializing in earthy humor. Within weeks the show had attracted a devoted audience that cherished such lines as, "If sex were fast food, there'd be an arch over your bed." Or, "Of course men still appreciate virginity. All of my husbands did." But Designing Women also had its share of detractors, people just as passionately put off by its Introduction to Gynecology approach.
Apparently CBS never knew which side it was on. Airing on Monday nights, the show did respectably in the ratings, consistently landing in the Top 20s and 30s. But in December, as part of a programming gambit, Designing Women was moved to Thursday, where it faced kiss-of-death competition from NBC's Night Court. Within two weeks the ratings dropped from No. 20 to No. 63. The show was yanked and put on hiatus -- which is usually a prelude to cancellation. "We knew we were doomed," says Dixie Carter. "But what made it so painful was that this was one show that didn't deserve to go down the tubes."
The show's partisans agreed. Included among them were Viewers for Quality Television, a nearly 1,000-strong media watchdog group, many of whose members had forced CBS to put Cagney & Lacey back on the air in 1984. A similar campaign was started to save Designing Women. Besides planning to petition advertisers, the Viewers and other supporters mobilized 50,000 fans to write letters to CBS -- almost five times the number of those who petitioned for Cagney. Relenting, Bud Grant rescheduled the show. Now Designing's cult is steadily swelling, its ratings are approaching the Top 10 and its followers are betting that the show will be back next season. "Believe me," says production manager Tommy Thompson, "the network doesn't want to incur the wrath of these women again."
Indeed, the ladies of Designing Women are not to be messed with. The senior member is Dixie Carter, 46, who plays Julia Sugarbaker, a flamboyant, widowed mother hen with a marked intolerance for fools. "Julia's a lot like me," says Carter, a native of McLemoresville, Tenn. (pop. 311). "She prides herself tremendously on her intellect. She wants everyone to know that she is not a Southern daffodil."
Carter and her character may share temperaments, but not romantic histories; Carter's is much stormier. After moving to New York and working as an actress, she wed Arthur Carter, a financier, and had two daughters. "I was never an aggressive career woman until I hit 40," says Dixie. "My life was about being a mother. My biology had a hold of me. Everything else I did was less fulfilling."
The marriage ended in 1977 when Dixie discovered that her husband found other women more attractive. Going back to acting, Carter remembers being "very fragile emotionally. I was a 35-year-old woman who hadn't worked in eight years." But she landed a part on The Edge of Night and, in December 1977, a new husband, actor George (La Cage aux Folles) Hearn. That marriage lasted 11 months. "He was wild and would get real jealous," says Carter. "Maybe someday we'll be able to talk again."
She's faring better with Spouse No. 3, Hal Holbrook, whom she wed in 1984. Designing Women keeps the couple close, since Holbrook frequently appears on the show as her boyfriend. "He wants my career as if it was his own," Dixie says. "He's getting that kind of pleasure out of it." In turn, she seems to be getting a special glow from the relationship. "Dixie may be the oldest in the cast," says Jean Smart, "but she acts like she's the youngest."
Jean, on the other hand, may be the smartest, but she acts the dumbest. She plays Charlene, the chatty office manager whose moments of shrewdness seem to emerge in spite of intellectual impediments. "Her character is kind of dippy, but Jean herself is very articulate," says actor Richard Gilliland. Forgive him for being biased. Hired to play Annie Pott's boyfriend on the show, Gilliland one day ventured into Jean's trailer to help her with a crossword puzzle. Now they're planning to fill in that eight-letter word for wedlock -- marriage. Jean and Richard, who are both in their 30s, will get hitched in June.
Born in Seattle -- she's the only non-Southerner in the bunch -- Smart began acting in high school and has appeared in Piaf, Single Bars, Single Women and Protocol. She tends to be nonchalant about her career, so much so that she doesn't even have a publicist. Says Smart: "When people congratulate me, I show them the ring. They're talking about the series, but I say, 'Let's get our priorities straight. I got a man.'"
"Jean's the actress, I'm the movie star," says Delta Burke, 30, poking fun at her glamour-puss image. She gets to do that a lot as Suzanne, the man-hungry sexpot who files her alimony checks alphabetically. Of the four co-stars, Burke is the one most given to self-parody. She's also probably the most insecure. The Orlando native worries about her looks, although she won nearly a dozen beauty contests, including Miss Florida, by age 18. Unlike her thrice-divorced character, Delta has never married and rarely dates. She probably worked hardest to save the show, drumming up support by hitting the talk show circuit. "The show is Delta's life," explains Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. "Dixie has Hal and her daughters, Jean has Richard, Annie has a child. Delta has a dog and this. She has the most at stake."
"She's like a good neighbor," Burke says of Annie Potts. "If you need help or you're down, she's there. She's very together, which I admire because I'm not like that." The twice-married Potts, 34, spends as much time as she can at home with her husband of six years, aspiring director Scott Senecha, 39, and their son, Clay, 6. Annie was asked if she wanted Clay to play her son in the series, but she declined. "There's a time to be a child," she says, "and a time to be grown-up and work. Besides, I have enough to worry about with just my lines."
Acting and singing since age 12, Kentucky-bred Potts showed determination early. After breaking both her legs in a car crash, she continued working as a nightclub singer -- sitting down. Since then her credits have included King of the Gypsies, Ghostbusters and Pretty in Pink. "I always felt Annie had been treated as an eccentric, offbeat person in film," says Bloodworth-Thomason. "I wanted her to be grounded, strong, and the anchor the other women would relate to. Annie's probably closer to this character in real life than any other part she's played."
Designing Women's troubles only added to the terrible test of courage endured by Bloodworth-Thomason. She had to keep turning out comedy scripts while her mother lay dying in Linda's Los Angeles home. Her mother's death, from AIDS through a blood transfusion, came on Nov. 24 and was followed exactly a month later by the death of her mother-in-law from breast cancer. Linda, 40, kept going, she says, simply by "putting my left foot in front of my right foot. Nothing mysterious. You just survive because you survive."
By creating Designing Women, Bloodworth-Thomason was exploring her heritage. She was born in Poplar Bluff, Mo., where her family fled after her grandfather, an Arkansas attorney opposed to racism, was shot and wounded by the Ku Klux Klan. After majoring in English at the University of Missouri, Linda moved to L.A., where she taught English in a Watts high school by day and wrote scripts by night. Her first outing for M*A*S*H, in 1974, won her an Emmy nomination. Four years later she met Harry Thomason on the Columbia lot. Their romance took an unusual twist when he was producing ABC's The Fall Guy, which was competing with her CBS Dallas spoof, Filthy Rich. "Our shows went against each other and mine killed hers," says Harry. "So she married the competition."
Wed in 1983, they formed a production company and have put Lime Street (the ill-fated Samantha Smith series) and Designing Women on the air. The special appeal of Women according to Linda, is that "the characters are uninhibited and determined. If this weren't 1987, I think we would probably have started a dance hall out West. That's the kind of women we have here. Miss Dixie, Miss Delta... I think the boys going West would have all stopped in."
...Suzanne, Julia, and Crew
"Julia and Suzanne are now living together in the Sugarbaker house, because Suzanne did not like Japan or the cars over there so she moved back. (At this point, we don't know what happened to Suzanne's house after Allison left and Anthony moved out.) I think that right now, Julia and Suzanne would be sitting on the veranda -- just in the midst of twilight. Julia sits there so elegant and refined, while across the veranda sits Suzanne, with her dress fluffed and spread over a cushion-lined wicker loveseat. Each lady sits, dreaming . . . . . Suzanne dreams about times long ago, before Sherman marched through Georgia and when being the belle of the county was everything. Julia dreams of times when their mother used to take them to the Beaumont Driving Club -- when being a Southern lady meant having grace and charm.
"Julia and Suzanne still work with Mary Jo, and, yes, Charlene came home from England to raise Olivia in a place she loved. Anthony and the showgirl are still married, now with two children, a daughter and a son. Carlene and B.J still work at Sugarbakers -- B.J. still has her house and money and Steadman, her butler. Allison visits every once in a while, though not often. Julia's son, Payne, still lives in New York with his wife and their child. They come to see 'Grandma' Julia (and they still haven't found another word for that). Mary Jo is still single and looking for her "perfect man." And who can forget Bernice? She still lives at Leisure Land and wears a push-up bra all the time (she claims that it helps her arterial flow problem, helping her to better control herself). All the ladies are aging belles, as Dash Goff, the writer once said . . . 'Thanks for the comfort'! And in the words of Julia Sugarbaker . . . 'That's the night the lights went out in GEORGIA!'
"THANKS FOR THE SHERRY!"." (submitted by Beverly)
Don't forget to Email "Belled" with reader feedback and to tell us where you think the "Designing Women" characters would be today for future issues!
from Behind the Scenes
(17) Which episode did Linda Bloodworth-Thomason dedicate to the memory of her mother and mother-in-law?
(18) Which Designing Women character did she name after her mother?
(19) In which episode can Delta Burke's real life mother be seen?
(20) What was the name of the production company formed by Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason?
* Answers will appear in the next issue.
Trivia Answers from Issue #4
(13) Besides the camera, what else does Tyrone heist?
Baseball cards, lottery tickets, and several nudie magazines.
(14) According to the news report, what kind of car does Julia drive?
A 1987 grey Lincoln Towne Car
(15) What gift does Tyrone bring the ladies when he first visits Sugarbakers?
An air freshener that sticks on the wall.
(16) In the issue of the "Informer" tabloid that Charlene is reading, whom does it say Jackie Onassis is planning to marry?
Tony Danza, which even Charlene finds highly suspicious.