Hey DW fans! Welcome to this Presidential edition of "Belled." As Election Day draws near, "Belled" would like to celebrate in its own way by bringing you a first-hand look at television's latest fictional First Lady -- played by none other than our own Delta Burke -- and just in time for the premiere of DAG!
Hot on the heels of our DAG Feature comes a preview of a very special, heartfelt endeavor by two incredible ladies to preserve the Sugarbaker House -- with a HUGE and very exciting project!!
So, on to the good stuff!!
And the Vote Goes to . . . . . The 'First Lady'
Recently, my friend Terra Knudson and I had the occasion to watch a taping of Delta Burke's new show, DAG. Having both worked on sets before as actors, we didn't think this experience would be much different. We were wrong.
We were fortunate to be seated directly in front of the First Lady's White House office set and in the front of the general audience next to Delta's mother and a family friend. Sitting there, waiting for the evening to begin, I found my excitement growing considerably as I stopped to truly consider what a unique opportunity this was -- to see Delta work up close and in person. As the minutes passed, I began to feel my adrenaline pumping and my nerves betraying me.
The stage lights eventually dimmed, and I was surprised to hear my friend suddenly whisper: "She's stunning!" I turned my head slightly to the left to see Delta standing in the shadow of the far center of the soundstage, peeking out at the guests assembled for the taping.
I was in that moment . . . star struck.
The lights quickly shifted again as they decided to treat us to a sneak peek at the "Pilot" episode before the evening's taping. The description of our previous report of the show's premise in Issue #009's "Hot Off the Press" pales in comparison to the actual viewing experience of the Pilot which incorporates some on-location footage and action shots not seen on standard sitcoms. David Alan Grier as Agent Jerome "Dag" Daggett is an impeccably animated and gifted performer who impressed this viewer so much that I'd watch DAG even if Ms. Burke were not a member of the cast!
It doesn't take viewers long to agree with the characters that the President (guest star David Rasche, Sledge Hammer!) is nothing less than a "jackass" and that it is, in fact, his wife who is beloved amongst the American people. This fact is made painfully clear to the President when he whispers to his wife "They really love me" in front of an adoring and wildly applauding crowd, and she whispers back: "No, they love me. You're just standing next to me." She waves goodbye to the crowd and walks away, leaving the President still standing in front of the crowd -- but with only a single person now cheering and applauding for him alone. The assassination attempt immediately follows this humiliation, and the duplicitous President reassigns the bullet-dodging Dag to the detail of "protecting" his wife, the First Lady.
First Lady Judith Whitman (Delta Burke) is clearly brilliant and more capable than her husband is. Yet, as much as the public adores her, her husband has ostracized her and made sure that his staff (including Dag up to this point) keeps the First Lady as far away from his "office" and goings on as possible. This results in an interesting dynamic in the First Lady who is at once ingenious, but offbeat; strong, but needy; and self-serving, but remarkably compassionate and astute. Particularly well written and delivered is a scene late in the Pilot between Dag and the First Lady where he attempts to clarify his position as a federal agent and her protector -- not the errand boy she's been treating him as.
Judith stands silent as Dag states his position, then walks slowly to a picture on the table in her office and quietly relates the story behind this early picture of she and her husband. Dag assumes she's completely ignoring his concerns and is engaging in a tete-a-tete with herself as she sadly reminisces about a time when she wrote her husband's speeches and when their marriage was -- if not an equal partnership -- one wherein she did most of the important work and her husband knew he needed her. But somewhere along the line, she concludes, he shut her out of everything they had worked toward. "It's hard to be the one taken for granted, isn't it?"
In that moment, Dag not only understands a whole new level of the woman whose protection he is now in charge of, but also a definition of his service as protector he hadn't previously considered. In this one scene, the writers add dimensions to both main characters and their relationship, giving this series many avenues of exploration in the future -- for which these sensitive and well-tuned performances of Grier and Burke will be pivotal.
All in all, the viewing of the Pilot met with a genuinely enthusiastic response from those of us on the set, but it was only the beginning of the evening. After all, we still had an actual episode to watch tape. The premise of this 7th episode (airing next year) is Dag's attempt to "protect" the First Lady by keeping her politically incorrect habit -- smoking -- a secret, while he simultaneously aids in the mission to help her quit.
As the cast was introduced and stepped back on the set, the crowd erupted when Delta took her place, and she reciprocated with a glowing smile and her thanks for the welcome. The power of her persona is undeniable. This was really the first opportunity we had to see her in full light and she truly stands in a league all her own in terms of presence without seeming to purposely affect it. Where Suzanne Sugarbaker is blaring and charmingly melodramatic, Delta Burke is soft spoken and gracefully glamorous; where Suzanne consciously works at her star power, Delta Burke just . . . is. "I never realized how much she's like a young Elizabeth Taylor," my friend whispers to me. Knowing my friend as I do and still surprised at my own reaction, I can't help but marvel at Delta Burke's ability to render us both so in awe just by walking on stage. But there we were. In awe.
Needless to say, being at an actual taping offers many perks, only one of which is the privilege of watching a particular character 100% of the time versus the significant less amount of camera time the character gets in the episode itself. What I consider the greatest value of such a position, however, is the opportunity to watch an actor work in between takes. Delta is extremely prepared and professional in this situation. The occasional use of a sterling silver prop to check her hair and makeup and the casting off of her several inch high heels only render her more appealing from an observer's perspective. After all, throughout the taping a large portion of the audience had wondered aloud amongst ourselves how she could stand to work in such high heels for hours. So, when she started to take them off later in the evening between takes and at one time even beckoned softly to her mother in the audience, "Mama, rub my feet?", we all smiled and applauded for her.
Such times also give guests the opportunity to see the cast interact not only with each other and the crew, but with the audience as well. During scenes not involving her character, Delta was often sitting at her character's desk, preparing for her next scene. At other times, she would join other cast and crew in front of one of the monitors to watch a scene being taped. Otherwise, she would come over and talk to her mother and the audience, in general. As Terra explains, "It was refreshing to see such a jovial attitude on the set itself. There was no apparent separation of cast and crew, and all seemed to have a strong rapport. Cast and crew alike were very thoughtful and gracious to the audience and took the extra mile to make us feel welcome. Often on sets I have felt the very distinct line between production and audience, but in this case there was a mutual respect that was refreshing. Delta and David, in particular, were not only a pleasure to watch work, but were open and playful with us, as well."
While David often came to the front of the audience to talk with us between takes and to joke around in signature David Alan Grier fashion (this man is not only a first-rate actor well-deserving of top billing in this series, but a ball of continuous energy and spontaneity unlike anything I've ever seen), he also spent much of his time working with his castmates on alternate ways of delivering lines and employing action to make their delivery stronger -- all offered in the most sincere way of participating in a group project and received with the utmost appreciation and humor. He and Delta, however, worked much more as equal teammates and their mutual respect and friendly rapport were evident. We were extremely impressed by how they complement each other as actors and work so comfortably and enjoyably together -- after all, this was only the 7th episode, and they seemed as though they'd been working together for years!
The entire cast is strong, although even with the recast of Susan Cole, there seems to be some development and/or cuts in terms of supporting characters and peripheral storylines they could make as the series continues to develop. A particular audience favorite for supporting cast was Judith's Chief of Staff, Sullivan Pope, portrayed by Paul F. Tompkins [Tompkins first appears in the series in the second episode, "Meet Sullivan Pope"]. Lauren Tom as Ginger Chin also managed to make us laugh through repeated takes.
More than others in the cast, both Grier and Burke experimented with their delivery in different takes -- a sign of their experience and comfort-level and daring. What a treat it was to watch Delta perform the smoking of Judith's last cigarette several entirely different times, or to hear her distinctly different versions of "Daaa-aaa-ggggg" as Judith bellows in withdrawal-induced desperation for her reformed smoker/cheerleader across the White House halls. Terra and I both agree that while scenes are often re-shot because they don't work (and a few in this episode involving the supporting characters, admittedly, were re-shot for that purpose), in the case of Burke and Grier, Thompson, Tom, and guest star Stephen Root, scenes were re-shot more for performance variation.
Of course, there's also the case of the "blooper" gone bad -- an instance where a rehearsal or take results in such laughter, whether by humor or sheer exhaustion and punchiness, that a "clean" take is near impossible. In this episode, it was Delta's. Apparently, in rehearsal, she had stated the line, "After all, look what Betty Ford did with that alchie thing," but named Betty White instead of Ford. Consequently, every time she tried to 'tape' the scene, she struggled over the line despite some rewriting of it, thinking of Betty White and their laughter during rehearsal. Interestingly, in what I'm fairly sure will be the aired scene, Judith adopts a slight southern twang many of you might find reminiscent of another Burke character close to all of our hearts.
Watching Delta work, I couldn't help but smile in the simple respect that she's back doing one of the many things she loves and of which she's so deserving. I also couldn't help but feel proud for her when, somewhat randomly, a male voice in the back of the audience yelled "looking great, Delta!" and she smiled, put her hands together and warmly said thanks as she bowed in gratitude. Watching her gracious reception of the compliment, everyone in the audience -- and on the set -- applauded and cheered for her even more and she continued to turn the applause back on all of us in return, thanking us. I was surprised to feel a tear sneak up on me, listening to the applause for her and watching her receive and return it. I think I expected Delta to be more like Suzanne in real life, but she isn't. Or, if she is, she's more akin to the Suzanne who stood up before her high school class to face her new image, or the Suzanne who shared her fears of superficiality with Anthony. Yes, perhaps if you take those very real and vulnerable aspects of Suzanne, add the self-assured and compassionate side of her we were privy to in times of crisis, and then imagine the presence, stunning beauty, and elegance of young Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace and put them all together, you'll have some idea of what Delta Burke radiates in person. But only some idea.
She's Delta. And although we all have an impression of her from years of watching her character performances, the personal experience and privilege of seeing her and watching her work in person allowed for the opportunity to set aside any previous media-influenced image and catch a glipmse of a true talent, a true professional, and a true lady.
Make sure to catch the premiere of DAG on Tuesday November 14th
-- immediately following Frasier on NBC.
-- DAG is produced by NBC Studios and the executive producers are Eileen Conn and Andrew Gordon (both from NBC's Just Shoot Me and Mad About You) and Jack Burditt (Just Married).
-- Early episodes of the series include guest appearances by Robin
Givens (Forgive or Forget, Head of the Class), who plays Agent
Daggett's ex-wife (she previously co-starred with Grier in the feature film Boomerang), and Survivor finalist Susan Hawk who plays -- aptly enough -- a tough, no-nonsense drill instructor at a survival camp Dag must attend. Additionally, in the third episode entitled "Losing Judith," wrestling champ "The Rock" guest stars as himself when he shadows Dag as research for his next film in which he stars as a Secret Service agent.
Upcoming episode spoilers from NBC Studios
-- Photos by Chris Haston and Paul Drinkwater
Coming just in time for your holiday shopping:
A DWFC Exclusive Report
The 'Designing Women' Cookbook
As many of you know, Julia Sugarbaker's residence and the storefront
of Sugarbaker & Associates on Designing Women is, in actuality, the
Villa Marre (pronounced mar-EE) in Little Rock, AK. The Villa is the
only Victorian House Museum in Little Rock's historic district, the
Quawpaw Quarter, and in a heartfelt effort by two long time residents to aid in its preservation, Robin Loucks and Karol Zoeller bring us the Designing Women Cookbook.
The goal is for the cookbook to raise $100,000 over the next few years for the Villa Marre Endowment Fund. And as editors of the book, Robin and Karol have combined not only their passion for historic preservation and restoration, but their culinary skills, as well. Both of them noted cooks with years of service in the Quapaw Quarter Association and Villa Marre Endowment Fund, the ladies' passion, skill, and enthusiasm are not only
evident, but catching. The first edition of the cookbook boasts over 700 recipes contributed by friends of the Villa and lovers of Designing Women -- including a recipe submitted personally by creators and executive producers, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, along with a personal picture and exclusive cast photos.
Initial interest in the cookbook by distributors has been phenomenal! And, as this issue of "Belled" goes to press, the book is being prepped for delivery to Little Rock for initial online sales. "We are so excited it's funny," relates Robin, pictured here (left) cooking with Karol in the Villa Marre's kitchen. "Two middle aged ladies chortling and giggling like teenagers. Also jumping up and down. The book [proof] really looks good. When it arrived, my husband, Harry, was so excited he sat down with it and we had to practically go to the mat for me to wrest it away!"
The DWFC is not only honored to be a part of the Designing Women Cookbook, but we can honestly say that this is only the beginning. There's much more news to come in our next Feature Presentation of "Belled" as the finishing touches are being put on the cookbook's website where you can place your orders. In the meantime, we'd like to encourage everyone to be among the first to purchase a First Edition copy of the Designing Women Cookbook in support of the Villa/Sugarbaker House -- and own a collector's item related to the classic series!
So keep an eye out for ordering information in the upcoming holiday edition of "Belled," and remember, DWFC members -- you heard it here first!
...Allison, Reggie Mac
"Allison went into business with Reggie Mac Dawson -- the two planning to open a vacation resort in the Canary Islands. But when she arrived there, Reggie Mac absconded with her portion of the money. She keeps writing to Julia and Suzanne for money to purchase a plane ticket back home, but the envelopes with her address somehow keep getting misplaced. In the meantime, Bernice has made a much more successful investment -- in a troupe of Chippendale-like dancers." (submitted by Clifton)
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!
(41) Speaking of First Ladies, whom did Julia suggest that Nancy Reagan was dressed like at her husband's first Presidential inauguration?
(42) With which President did Suzanne once stand in the White House Rose Garden?
(43) One of Charlene's prize possessions is a letter to her from which President, who was also a hero to her?
(44) Which member of the Sugarbaker's team voted for Ross Perot for President?
* Answers will appear in the next issue.
Answers from Issue #010
(37) When Julia was a young girl and her mother held a recital for her at the library, she got nervous, causing her throat to clutch up and make her sound like which celebrity?
PeeWee Herman, whom Charlene was surprised that Julia even knew of.
(38) Which version of the Bible does Bernice say was translated by a male chauvinist?
The King James Version
(39) To keep her confidence up at beauty pageants, what did Suzanne used to call her competition behind their backs?
She called each one "A DOG!!"
(40) Reverend Nunn's office, though slightly redecorated, belonged to someone else in another season two episode. Which one was it?
It belonged to Matthew Jarvis in the episode "There's Some Black People Coming to Dinner."