Belled

Hey, Designing Women fans!!

We've been working hard for some time now to prepare for this latest installment of "Belled," and we hope it's worth the wait. It is, admittedly, the most bold edition so far, and we hope that in the tradition of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, DW, and the cast, it will encourage some discussion and debate and generate some feedback which we can include in future issues.

This issue of "Belled" coincides with the release of the new "Women of the House" website. For those of you who visited the old site and were expecting a clone of it -- think again!! The new site is a true-to-life tribute to the show in the form of a political magazine featuring Congresswoman Sugarbaker and her staff. Be sure to thoroughly check out the features, including articles on Suzanne, members of her staff, the secrets and scandals behind her administration, and even excerpts from her infamous diary entries.

In addition, DWT is currently featuring the Women of the House pilot episode, "Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington" in the Episodes Summaries section.

Also in this edition, we highlight Eve Ensler's consciousness-raising hit play, The Vagina Monologues, which featured appearances by both Annie Potts and Judith Ivey. We have transcripts of some of Annie's dialogue, plus reactions from one of our own DWFC members who was lucky enough to witness Annie's performance and meet her backstage.


Examining 'Women of the House'

Women of the House cast

** Be sure to visit both the brand new Women of the House Magazine website and DWT's Episode Feature of its Pilot "Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington" which include more information and quotes.

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President Clinton experienced an extraordinary amount of flack regarding his relationship with Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason during the early part of his administration. Despite the Thomasons integral importance in Clinton's campaign, critics were all over him for having his "Hollywood" friends (whom they didn't consider or accept as members of Washington's political circuit) around the White House and at political functions. As a result, the Thomasons were swept out of the political public eye.

Not appreciating the attitude of the Washington and political regime, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason came up with an idea for a new sitcom featuring the character that made such a splash on her hit, Designing Women -- Suzanne Sugarbaker. But Delta Burke's dismissal from Designing Women, and the year-long press war proceding it, had put an end to the friendship between the two women and made for one of the most publicized feuds in television history.

No one could have been more surprised than Delta Burke by Linda's proposal to work together again, but the gesture proved to heal years of hurt and anger between them, and "Suzanne" was on her way to Congress.

Suzanne and Emerson

The premise of the new show was Suzanne's assumption of her late husband's seat in the House of Representatives until an election could be held to officially replace him. In addition to Burke, the show featured Teri Garr and the delightful Patricia Heaton (Room For Two and Everybody Loves Raymond) as Suzanne's A-Team. The fourth player in this quartet of ladies -- modeled after Designing Women's ensemble format -- was apparently a huge dilemma. At one point it was announced that L.A. Law's Kathleen Wilhoite was to round out the cast, but she was then replaced by Julie Hagerty. Hagerty, however, wasn't available for the initial tapings, so Valerie Mahaffey was convinced to fill-in for a few episodes as flighty receptionist, Jennifer Malone. Hagerty eventually took over the role, but the chemistry wasn't there as it was with Mahaffey, and Hagerty quit after two episodes.

The Malone character was then replaced with Generation-X intern, Veda Walkman (a tongue-in-cheek play at her generation evident in her last name even) -- played by the younger Lisa Rieffel (Empty Nest). Rieffel's character made a wonderful addition to the cast, but by that point the series was already scarred. Initial plans for the show also included having Susan Powter appear as Suzanne's nemesis, but she wasn't able to make her appearance until the final episode filmed.

Casting was only part of the problem though. The press was all over the series because it was viewed as retaliation for the Thomasons' treatment in Washington. What was expected to be a political satire written by a television powerhouse got labeled "a low-class Designing Women." The series was criticized for its relative lack of traditional political humor and its weak attempt at portraying the flamboyant Sugarbaker as a representative for the "little people."

Suzanne and Dash Goff

It fell flat with audiences for a completely different reason. In general, the viewers WERE expecting that Designing Women connection, at least subconsciously. Despite the years of comments from DW fans claiming that they missed Suzanne, she wasn't the same to them without the incredible chemistry of the Designing Women ensemble. Fans salivated over comments (2 references in the series as a whole) regarding sister "Julia" and longed for appearances by the DW cast. Ironically, both Dash Goff and Anthony Bouvier did appear on the show, but most viewers were no longer watching and thus not aware of their appearances at that point.

But was the show really that awful? Take away the negative press and all the expectations, and Women of the House was a very cleverly written piece of television. The political debates on the show between the characters were definitely written in a down-and-dirty format, complete with pot-shots and personal digs, but isn't that the way many people are? In an admittedly vast generalization, political discussions among the average persons often become debates about their personal views on insipid things and the politicians' lack of urgency on the big issues. Average people don't generally stand around in tuxedos with their champagne discussing politics with a stone face and unimpassioned demeanor. The point of the show was to remind the nation and the Washington players that they are not there to represent the elite; they represent all Americans. But the other point was to have fun, and the critics seemed to forget that this WAS a sitcom, not a political forum.

Natty and Sissy

And the dialogue was priceless. Teri Garr as Sissy Emerson, in particular, voiced many of Linda's political views, and her delivery was so artful and creative that she almost stole the show from Burke. Garr even admitted that she was excited about this series because she could leave the weight of its success on Delta's shoulders while relishing in the thrill of making Newt Gingrich jokes and spewing forth outrageous commentary. On the flip side, Patricia Heaton played the conservative role of Natalie Hollingsworth which set the show up for fun, sparring scenes between the characters, thus presenting issues in such a way that they could easily be viewed from both ends of the personal and political spectrums.

Hard-core Designing Women fans did take issue with the continuity inconsistencies between Suzanne's characterization on Designing Women and on Women of the House -- which is still what they remember most about the show. For instance, Suzanne was suddenly given a developmentally-challenged brother in Jonathan Banks (who also played Elden in DW's "101 Ways to Decorate a Gas Station") with never any mention of "Clayton Sugarbaker" who was featured as Julia and Suzanne's brother in the DW episode, "Oh, Brother." Additionally, viewers learned that Suzanne also had a lifelong mammy -- which rocked Suzanne's long and memorable history with Consuela on DW.

Suzanne and staff reviewing films

Then everything came to a head with the episode "Women In Film." Bloodworth-Thomason wrote this episode to express her concern over the degradation of women in the film and television industry. Several premiere actresses contributed commentary for the show in the form of testimonies (appearing as themselves) before the committee on which Representative Sugarbaker was serving. In addition, the characters' hysterical reviews of mainstream films were dead-on. The problem came with a crucial one-minute montage at the episode's end that featured clips of women being brutally beaten, raped, and murdered on film. The Thomasons went to war with CBS censors to get the episode aired in its entirety, putting them again in the headlines. The series ended up being pulled from the network schedule -- the remainder of the episodes running in a block on Lifetime called An Evening of Women of the House, with Delta Burke popping in between episodes as the hostess.

Many Designing Women fans would love to see this series again -- many never saw it in the first place!! Lifetime has aired a couple of episodes on occasional election days, but never the series in its entirety (which could easily run on a one-day marathon). We would like to encourage everyone -- and we mean EVERYONE -- to write a quick note to Lifetime and beg for them to air the full run of Women of the House this election year. Actually, it would be extremely cool and inspirational if everyone could get five of their friends to write, as well. The more requests Lifetime gets, the more likely they are to bow to pressure. After all, it saved Designing Women!

Let Lifetime know here: Lifetime Feedback



Judith Ivey and Annie Potts Take the Stage to Bring a Previously "Private" Discussion Public

** This article may include content questionable to some readers. While we make no apology for that, no offense is intended.*

Vagina Monologues Playbill Earlier this year, both Judith Ivey and Annie Potts joined the growing number of female celebrities performing in Eve Ensler's risk-taking, consciousness-raising, award winning, and celebrated play, The Vagina Monologues. The play is an adaptation of Ensler's book which is a compilation of 200 interviews with women of mixed age, race, and social backgrounds opening up and talking about what is generally still considered such a taboo topic: their vaginas.

Eve Ensler

There we've said it and typed it, and you read it. Vagina. The ability to do just that is actually perhaps the main goal Ms. Ensler, the performers, and world-wide audiences of the play hope to attain. In her "Playwright's Comments," Ensler explains her personal quest to shatter the taboo: "I say it because I believe that what we don't say we don't see, acknowledge, or remember. What we don't say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths. I say it because I want to someday feel comfortable saying it, and not ashamed and guilty."

While the play has been a huge and growing success over the last few years -- with hundreds of celebrities including Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Wilson, Winona Ryder, and, of course DW's Annie Potts and Judith Ivey participating -- it still has a long journey ahead to attain its goal of replacing the fear of punishment or retribution, shame, and guilt women often feel when saying the word "vagina," let alone celebrating it. Ensler explains further in her "Playwright's Comments" that, "I have read the statistics, and bad things happening to women's vaginas everywhere: 500,000 women are raped every year in the United States; 100 million women have been genitally mutilated worldwide; and the list goes on and on. I say 'vagina' because I want these bad things to stop. I know they will not stop until we acknowledge that they're going on, and the only way to make that possible is to enable women to talk without fear of punishment or retribution."

Still, even in venues selling the performance, the word is often censored in every form of communication -- in newspaper ads, on the tickets themselves, banners outside the theatre, and on box-office phone machines -- shortening the title to say only Monologues or V. Monologues. Why, since "vagina" isn't a pornographic word, but actually a medical term? And, this question is precisely what Ensler and the celebrities involved hope everyone will begin asking and discussing until eventually the question no longer has to be asked.

Annie Potts

DWFC member, Elana Bernal, was fortunate enough to see two of Annie Potts' performances in NYC when she appeared with Gina Gershon and Viola Davis in The Vagina Monologues from April 4-16. While Eve Ensler began performing the piece as a one-woman show off-off-Broadway three years ago, it is now generally performed by three women who take turns performing various monologues. The stage is generally sparsely set, leaving the performer an open space in which to take on each character with only the occasional simple props and costuming; it is an extremely character-driven experience, and with the varying "characters," the atmosphere also varies between that of a discussion group, a therapy session, and a pajama party and is infused with intimacy ranging from the most dramatic to the most humorous.

Potts performed the following monologues during her performances in April: "The Flood" in which an older woman talks about Andy Lefkov, "Vagina Friendly Cities" in which she passionately spells out perhaps the most taboo of euphemisms for vagina, and "My Vagina, My Village" about a Bosnian woman who is repeatedly raped. According to Elana, "She also did 'info' snippets . . . the best of which is she informed the audience that the clitoris has more than twice the amount of nerve endings than a penis and added 'Why want a handgun when you have a semi-automatic!' She also told a joke not part of the monologues to break up (as the actors said) the 'vagina monotony.' [The] joke [she chose to tell] was this: 'Man walks into a car dealership, saleman says, 'Thinkin' 'bout buying a car?,' man replies, 'No, I'm thinkin' 'bout pussy, but I am gonna buy a car.'"

Annie Potts and Elana Bernal

Elana continues to report on her attendance of Potts' performance: "The small venue allowed for the actors to come out and talk to the audience. She was wonderful! She obviously seemed a bit tired -- go figure right after that kinda play! -- but she was nice enough to autograph things for everybody who asked and take a picture with me! :) On both nights I went, there wasn't an empty seat in the theatre which had 11 rows, with no more than 20 seats a row. It was very intimate.

"She seemed very happy on stage, all dressed in black -- t-shirt and leggings with no shoes or socks on a barstool (all three [performers] were on a barstool with cue cards as back ups for the monologues). At the end they play "Unpretty," and they all took a bow on stage. On Saturday night, the night she was the most into the play versus Wednesday, she threw a peace sign up to the audience as she walked off stage."

We can't thank Elana enough for her contribution and participation in this edition of HOT OFF THE PRESS, and we once again urge other DWFC members to contact us with your experiences, ideas, or submissions for articles (this includes for supporting and well-known guest cast members). Also, Elana is excited to talk to any of you who would like more details about the performances (there are many more anecdotes that were not included here), so she'd like you all to please feel free to email her at emb157@psu.edu for more specifics.

Additionally, Annie Potts was also one of the many celebrities to participate in Eve Ensler's third "V-Day" (we're not shortening the name here -- it's actually named that as a "play" on the abbreviation for Valentine's Day) in a sold out benefit on February 16 of this year at LA's Wiltern Theatre in which the many celebrities did one monologue each, and Potts performed the Q&A section with Rita Wilson, asking and answering such question as:

ANNIE: If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?
RITA: a leather jacket, silk stockings, mink
ANNIE: a pink boa, a male tuxedo, jeans, something form fitting
RITA: emeralds, an evening gown, sequins
ANNIE: Armani only . . .

RITA: If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?
ANNIE: slow down
RITA: Is that you?
ANNIE: feed me
RITA: I want

As we mentioned, Judith Ivey also participated in The Vagina Monologues this year. She appeared with Diahann Caroll and Marisa Tomei in NYC from May 16-28. We apologize for not having more details on her performance and ask that if anyone is able to contribute a first-hand account (as we were fortunate enough to have for Annie Potts), please email us and we can include it in a future issue or supplement.

For more information on The Vagina Monologues, the playwright, additional performers, and current and future performances, please visit The Vagina Monologues.



...Suzanne

"Today Suzanne is appearing on QVC or some other shopping network promoting her own line of beauty products, wigs, 'How To Catch Rich Old Men' self-help books, and video pointers for girls interested in the pageant scene. I imagine that she would have trained Noel to do a sort of runway walk and would remark, 'If a pig can do it, so can you.'" (submitted by Becky)

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 Women of the House

(25) In addition to the sub-committee monitoring violence against women in film and on television, which other committee was Suzanne forced to sit on?

(26) Which recurring guest star from Designing Women made a brief appearance as a mover in the pilot episode of Women of the House?

(27) What song do Suzanne and her daughter, Desiree, lip-sink and perform to when they are feeling down??

(28) Speaking of Desiree, how old was she supposed to be?

* Answers will appear in the next issue.

Answers from Issue #006

(21) Which series was Delta contracted to that, coupled with CBS's reluctance to re-team her with Dixie, almost cost her the part of Suzanne?

HBO's "First and 10"

(22) What TV series that Linda Bloodworth was involved in first paired Jean Smart and Annie Potts together and brought them to Linda's mind when she created Designing Women?

"Lime Street," starring Robert Wagner and the late Samantha Smith

(23) A band led by the brother of what public figure provided music on the Designing Women set between takes?

The band was led by President Clinton's brother, Roger.

(24) Which of Delta's co-stars was Matron of Honor at Delta and Gerald McRaney's "royal" wedding?

Delta's Matron of Honor was none other than Dixie Carter.