Belled

Welcome to our First Anniversary Edition of Belled!

With DWFC reaching its one year anniversary, we thought it only fitting to really celebrate with something extraordinary. But things don't always go exactly as planned, so we had to make a choice between putting this issue out exactly on the anniversary date, or making sure we had something really special on our hands. We chose the latter, and we know you won't be disappointed.

Those who've been with us throughout the entire first year have seen a few subtle changes in the past months. Features have become more in depth and often offer a behind-the-scenes perspective, and though we will continue to take great strides in honoring Designing Women, we also take pride in presenting strong material directed toward the cast's current activities and related projects.

So for this anniversary edition of "Belled," we are honored and excited to present our first cast interview as we take some time to catch up with Meshach Taylor.

Plus, beginning with this issue, the "What Ever Happened to...?" section of the newsletter will begin rotating its character updates with updates and reader feedback on previous features. We begin by presenting follow-up information on last September's feature "How Great Thou Art."

And Hot Off the Press: Jean Smart makes her awaited return to Craig T. Nelson's series, The District, in this season's most anticipated wedding, plus Delta finds herself nominated for an award.

Have fun!! We hope to hear from everyone on this issue!!


Meshach Taylor

Catching Up With Meshach Taylor

A DWFC Exclusive Interview
by John Paul Murphy

The last three years have been one hell of a ride. As I sat making last minute preparations for my conversation with Meshach, I had to marvel at what has become of the little website, Designing Women Tribute. Well, I guess it isn't so little anymore. And now, as we celebrate the first anniversary of DWFC and "Belled," I was reminded of preparations for this edition. We've done a lot of features on the ladies of Designing Women, so when Amie asked me what I'd like to see in the anniversary issue, my answer didn't take any thought;

"I want to talk to Meshach Taylor."

As a matter of fact, I was so determined to spend an issue catching up with Meshach that we held off on doing any sort of feature on his recent series run on the hit game show classic To Tell The Truth.

The game show favorite, which has had a long television history with a variety of celebrity hosts and panelists, returned to the air in September of last year. In its latest incarnation from Pearson Television, Meshach joins Paula Poundstone and a series of guest celebrity panelists who ask questions of three contestants all claiming to be the same individual in hopes of determining who is telling the truth and who is lying. Following the question and answer session, each panelist votes for the contestant whom he/she thinks is really the person each contestant claims to be, with each wrong guess worth money to all three contestants. Serving as host is John O'Hurley (Seinfeld), who inherits the seat once held by the legendary Bud Collyer and since kept warm by a variety of entertainers including Alex Trebek (Jeopardy).

But the fact that I was now dialing up Meshach Taylor for a scheduled talk about his new show reminded me just how big DWT and DWFC have actually become -- a fact that Meshach and others involved in Designing Women are finding delightfully amusing as well.

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JOHN PAUL--So, I know you're working on To Tell the Truth right now. How did that come about? I'm kind of impressed that that show is actually back.

MESHACH TAYLOR--Well, yes. It was on the air for 20 years. When Pearson (Television) decided to resurrect it, they tried to do it in a different vein. If you've seen the old episodes, if you remember them, it wasn't of comedic interest. They didn't give you a lot of time to ad lib. It was pretty cut and dried. Now we get to ad lib and have a lot of fun. It's like hanging out in your living room with friends. It's that much fun, and we seem to be that comfortable doing it. And I don't exactly know why, but Paula and I had this instant thing where we got along with each other and we kind of got each other's sense of humor -- and it actually made itself apparent in the pilot episode. I just had enjoyed myself doing the game that day and didn't think much of it. I really didn't think it was going to come back, but then they called me and said we were doing 175 episodes. It's great. I work every other weekend.

JP--(laughing) That's really it?! Wow.

Taylor, O'Hurley and PoundstoneMESHACH--Yeah! Just on the weekend! I do ten shows on the weekend. I do five on Saturday and I do five on Sunday -- all in one block, and then I have the next weekend off, and I go back the following week. It's like going to a friend's house on the weekend, and getting paid for it! It's just really wisecracking. We have nobody who writes anything for us at all. No writers at all. Nothing is scripted for Paula and I. The only person who has a script is John O'Hurley -- and he really would rather not have one, but he's got to because he's the straight guy on the show. So he has to keep it really focused in the right direction when we start to kind of go off a little bit, and he has to be able to bring it back on track. It really is very interesting -- the dynamics of doing something like this, because there really is a very very definite pattern that you have to follow in order to make it work properly even though you get to improvise a little within that pattern. It's fun, and it makes it kind of fun working with Paula, and now Brooke Burns who was on Baywatch.

JP--Is she a regular on the show now?

MESHACH--Yeah, she's going to be a regular starting next season in the fourth chair -- in the 'Pretty Girl Chair' as Paula calls it.

JP--So the third chair will still be somebody rotating?

MESHACH--Yes, in the third chair somebody will still be rotating -- and will generally be a guy comic.

JP--You can tell watching that John O'Hurley would love to ham it up more.

MESHACH--Oh yeah!

JP--You've done a couple independent films recently, and it's been hard for me to dig up any information on that. Have they been released at all on video?

MESHACH--They've been going to festivals or will be soon. When I was in New York, I was doing Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, and that was with Toni Braxton, which was also a great experience. I auditioned for all these [independent films], you know, because you just want to keep your chops together as far as like dramatic pieces. I really didn't care what it was because it was a turn I wanted to take on film, and I wanted to show myself later on what I did and what I could change about my camera angle from a producer's point of view, from an actor's point of view, from a directors point of view -- just the opportunity to be working in that because I was already on Broadway, which is an entirely different experience in itself. So I just decided I would do a project if I liked it, regardless of who was doing it. I worked with a couple of first time directors just out of film school, and the projects -- one of them I did with a bunch of my friends from Chicago -- Jacks or Better, and that one is doing film festivals. The other one -- I don't know what the title ended up being or anything like that, supposedly it's going to be doing film festivals soon. What happened with that one is there's this psychiatrist in New York who had a script, and it was actually pretty funny. It's about a Mafia boss who has a kid who's next in line as far as like inheriting the family business -- and he's gay, and he doesn't want anybody to know about it. So it's a comedy. It was fun! It was a first time director, first time screenwriter -- who's not a professional but has a great sense of humor and kind of an unusual way of looking at things because of the fact that he is a psychiatrist. I think he also raised his funds for it; he had about a million and a half dollars, so it was a low budget film.

JP--It's nice to reach a point in your career when you can do projects that you actually want to do.

MESHACH--It was with Tovah Feldshuh and Tony Lo Bianco and a few other people who are very well known, and a lot of New York actors that just want a turn on tape. That's why the whole independent film thing I think is doing so well on the East Coast is because you can get people who are seasoned to do your film just based on the fact they want to work in that genre.

JP--There was something I heard at one point about you developing some sort of Internet television.

MESHACH--Yeah, well actually that's what I'm doing now. We're trying to develop content for the Internet. Also, I'm developing another travel show for syndication.

JP--I don't know if you're aware of this, but a couple of your old Designing Women costars have been unabashedly talking about doing a reunion show.

MESHACH--I hadn't heard anything about it. You know, that would be fun. That would be really fun. That would be nice to be able to get together with them.

JP--Where do you think you would see Anthony at this point? Where would you like to see him?

MESHACH--Now that's interesting, I would really have to think about that. I wasn't expecting that at all.

JP--I know you said you missed Anthony.

MESHACH--Well I do. I miss that character. I miss the situations he got himself into. I miss his vulnerability. That's what's so nice about playing that character -- he really did care for these people so much he was very vulnerable because of his feelings, especially Suzanne and the situations she would always involve him in.

Suzanne and AnthonyJP--Its funny you should mention Suzanne. We were just putting together what we thought were some of the most romantic moments on the series, and actually we did choose the scene with Anthony and Suzanne in the hotel room (episode: "Stranded"). It's not the most obvious romantic scene, but there's something about it that sparked that relationship that carried on through the rest of the series. And I know at one point they had wanted to put the two of you together when the series ended.

MESHACH--(chuckling) Yeah.

JP--I just didn't know if they did a reunion, if they might try to do that.

Meshach really had to laugh at that.

MESHACH--That would be funny.

JP--"Belled" did a feature focusing on one of the prime Anthony episodes, and that was "Tyrone." We felt that was one of your strongest episodes where you got to do a lot of emotional material.

MESHACH--Yeah that was nice. I enjoyed that one. I got Emmy nominated for that.

JP--Was that the one? You were great in that one, and we've been wanting to feature you for quite a while. We get requests for information on you all the time.

MESHACH--Well my whole thing is really attached to To Tell the Truth right now, other than, like I said, developing the travel show for syndication. You know that I already had one on the Travel Channel, and I really liked doing it. This time I get to do it the way I want to do it. I'm developing that, and also parts of that will go on the Internet as well. Basically I'm just focusing on doing what I like to do. I did a talk show pilot for Vegas that didn't make it, so then I just said "Let me reevaluate what I want to do right now." I really kind of wanted to do that as opposed to acting. I wanted to take a break from that actually.

JP--Well, when you do have these independent films and other projects, it's fun for us to dish that information out. We're actually trying to lean the focus away from Designing Women itself. I mean, there are people who actually think you're all still doing Designing Women.

MESHACH-- I know! Well like you said, there is a whole new fan base.

JP--We've got twelve year olds who email us every day!

MESHACH--That's kind of interesting because when I'm trying to get somewhere on [this particular airline], whenever I would fly I run into these little kids who know and watch Designing Women.

JP--Isn't that funny?

MESHACH--It is funny.

JP--And they're very passionate. It's just amazing.

MESHACH--It is amazing. Do people ask about Alice Ghostley?

JP--You know what, they do.

MESHACH--She was wonderful, and the character (Bernice) was just great. I mean, I have been walking down the street in New York City and had someone go by and sing (and Meshach sings) "Black Man, Black Man" out the window of a car, you know. It seriously is funny the places that I hear that.

Meshach TaylorJP--You know some of the stuff they put you through on that show you had to have a really good sense of humor.

MESHACH--The thing is now, we actually used America's obsession with racism to get some of our best comedy.

JP--And you did a great job with that because you really could have been offended by some of that.

MESHACH--Yeah, but it was always a tightrope, but there's a lot of humor in America's obsession with racism because it's so absurd. And because it's so absurd, its great fodder for comic material -- and being able to look at it and know that. Sometimes people from the South who've had a more liberal experience are very adept at that sort of thing. And they're very adept at it because and they've seen both sides of it and know how ridiculous it is, and so they're able to poke fun at it and also come up with things that are sometimes very private that everybody isn't privy to. Things like the 'cat that they let out of the bag' about peoples' attitudes. It was an interesting time.

JP--One of the things that we've been talking about was the issues. Here it is fifteen years after the show premiered, and some of those issues are still relevant now. And you would think that we would be past some of that. It's all still so current.

MESHACH--That's how important I think some of those issues were -- the ones that [Linda Bloodworth-Thomason] attacked in the show. They're so deeply imbedded in our society that it takes a long time, and it takes a lot of pointing it out to people to make a change.

"To Tell The Truth" press information and photos supplied by Pearson Television.



Jean Smart Makes a Dramatic Return to 'The District'


The District Promo shot

A mystery developed during the "Pilot" episode of Craig T. Nelson's CBS series, The District, last October; Who is this ex-wife of his he's desperately trying to meet up with while she's in town for the day?

At every turn, Nelson's deliciously eccentric character Jack Mannion*, the newly appointed police chief of Washington, D.C., was prevented from meeting up with Sherry because of his job -- the very reason their marriage broke up in the first place. There were written phone messages from her during the episode and plenty of background offered by Mannion, but by the time he rushed for his last chance to meet up with her before she had to leave, he witnessed an accident en route and was the only police official in the vicinity. Consequently, he not only missed his last opportunity to see her that visit, he also solidified her reason for having divorced him. To make matters more interesting, the very reason he was so consumed with work was because he was called upon to shape up the D.C. District Police force which was seemingly lazy. And if Mannion had any doubt about that prior to this day, he surely knew it now that he had to do regular patrol duty when no other patrols arrived for the emergency call -- and suffer the personal consequences by not even being able to notify Sherry of his absence.

Craig T. NelsonThe development was written and delivered so well that it was hard not to lock into the show (which overall I highly recommend) and this particular peripheral storyline. In the last scene especially, Craig T. Nelson delivered a wonderfully revealing look at the personal side of his quirky but tough and always surprising Jack Mannion when he left a voice mail for Sherry, apologizing for having missed her and telling her that he's working on himself and will do everything he can to be the husband she deserves again. That's all he wants.

Well, that did it for this viewer! I was hooked and haven't missed a single episode! Due to Nelson's portrayal of Mannion, Sherry was completely present in this episode without ever once speaking a line or being shown on screen or even in a picture on Mannion's desk! I couldn't wait to find out who she was -- and it was clear she'd have to show up at some point after that build up!

By the time we learned that Jean Smart would be making a guest appearance on the show, the previews had already aired and there was no sight of her as I told John Paul -- only highlights about a local drug ring. I remember us joking about how Jean was probably the PTA housewife who turned out in the end to be the drug ring queen, especially considering the vast and surprising range of mentally imbalanced characters she's portrayed pre- and post-DW. The fact is, because the Sherry character had taken on such a mythical quality by this point in the series, I had secretly hoped several weeks before that they'd keep her offscreen because I was afraid miscasting would ruin the effect. So not once did it occur to me that the part of Sherry was even open for casting. I've never been more delighted to be proven wrong!

Jean was Sherry!

Two months after the "Pilot" aired, Sherry was back in D.C. and dining with her ex-husband, Jack. It was as clear from her perspective as it had been from his that she adored him and still loved him -- and it takes an actress of Jean's caliber to bring that across so quickly after two months of development prior to her involvement. But even though Jack made it to meet her this time, their was a catch in their "reunion." Sherry finally broke the news to Jack that she was in D.C. to tell him something before he heard it elsewhere: she was engaged. In fact, she had been living with her fiance for some time. Jack didn't take the news well, and it only made him more determined that he and Sherry were meant to be together. He was convinced she came to D.C. to tell him so that he could stop the wedding in a full-blown "If there's anyone here who feels..." matrimonial event. For the last two and a half months since that episode ("Pot Scrubbers"), Mannion's been working himself up to this event -- much to the chagrin of the few who work closest with him at the district. Oh, yes! He's one determined -- and let's not forget eccentric -- man! Anything can happen at this wedding!

On February 24 (Sat.), Jean Smart makes her second guest appearance in the first season of The District. According to CBS, In the episode, "A Southern Town," Mannion makes plans to attend his ex-wife's wedding with mixed emotions. The question is: will he let the wedding happen? Rumor has it that the wedding will not happen, and with Jean scheduled to make two more appearances this season, expect things to really heat up.

-- Amie Martin

The District airs on CBS, Saturdays at 10pm EST.

Photos by Tony Esparza, courtesy of CBS Publicity

* Jack Mannion is based on the real-life crime cleaner, Jack Maple (though he has never been hired to clean up D.C.).


Delta Receives a TV Guide Award Nomination for 'DAG'


Delta Burke and David Alan Grier "Belled" would like to congratulate Delta Burke and David Alan Grier on their TV Guide Award Nominations for Actress and Actor of the Year in a New Series for their roles as First Lady Judith Whitman and Agent Jerome Daggett on the NBC comedy DAG.

More information on their characters and performances on the series can be found in the "Belled" Archives DAG series preview in Issue #9 and our exclusive report from an episode taping in Issue #11.

TV Guide Award winners will be determined via ballots that were published in the January issues of TV Guide and online at www.tvguide.com. The awards will be presented February 24th at the Shrine Expo Center in Los Angeles and taped for airing March 7th on FOX.

Good luck, Delta!! Too bad there isn't a crown.

For those who have only seen DAG once or twice, we highly recommend revisiting the series. The last several episodes and Delta's character have become consistently funnier, and there are a few surprises in store as we reach the end of the season. All new shows need a lot of support from the fans, so take a moment to drop NBC a note to tell them how much you love the show and would like to see it back next season. Just go to NBC Viewer Feedback and choose DAG from the 'TV Issue' drop-down menu and Positive from the 'Type of Message' drop-down menu. Every Email counts and represents hundreds of viewers, so be sure to let them know how you feel!

Photo by Paul Drinkwater and courtesy of NBC Publicity



...Women In the Ministry

An Update on the Feature "How Great Thou Art"

Throughout the DWFC's first year, we received requests from many of you for a feature on the episode, "How Great Thou Art." As most of you know, that feature went to press in Issue #010 and was really the first in-depth/behind the scenes feature of "Belled" against which the online publication has been measured ever since. Prior to publication, we were contacted by Linda Hicks, the Chair of the Public Relations and Communications Committee of the Baptist Women in Ministry who told us, "I was a fan of Designing Women when it was on the air, and was especially moved by the 'How Great Thou Art' episode. I remember being both surprised and gratified that a television program would speak to this issue so eloquently."

We thought it would be interesting to update you on the response of the Baptist Women in Ministry after the release of the feature in "Belled":

Dixie Carter from How Great Thou Art"What a masterful job [the DWFC has] done with Designing Women's 'How Great Thou Art' episode! I am sending it to the rest of our Baptist Women in Ministry Board of Directors and Public Relations and Communications Committee members -- confident that they will be as pleased as I with the outcome of your efforts. Thank you for this beautiful word of encouragement for ALL women in ministry ... and those who would be." -- Linda Hicks

Interestingly, within the month of our Feature, the Baptist Convention met and voted (as was suspected) against allowing women in the ministry, and Robin Loucks (one of the editors of the Designing Women Cookbook) contacted us immediately when she read the news that President Jimmy Carter had cut ties with his Baptist denomination as a result. President Carter, a southern Baptist Sunday School teacher since he was 18 years old, denounced the Baptist Convention for being "too rigid":

"This has been a very difficult time for me. My grandfather, my father and I have always been Southern Baptists, and for 21 years, since the first political division took place in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have maintained that relationship. I feel I can no longer do that."

The final straw? The denominational statement adopted by The Convention, prohibiting women from being pastors, requiring a wife's submission to her husband, and eliminating the interpretation of biblical text outside of The Convention:

"I'm familiar with the verses they have quoted about wives being subjucated to their husbands. In my opinion, this is a distortion of the meaning of Scripture. ... I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God. I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church."

Those are President Jimmy Carter's words from last October -- just a few weeks after we featured the episode which begged the same question by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason 12 years earlier!

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!

**Sources: Cnn.com
Associated Press
The Carter Center


Meshach & Anthony

(49) What was the name of Meshach's program on the Travel Channel?

(50) What is the name of the independent film that Meshach didn't know the finished title for?

(51) In which DW episode did Bernice start singing "Black Man, Black Man" to Anthony?

(52) In which DW episode did Suzanne actually tell Anthony that she loved him?

* Answers will appear in the next issue.


Trivia Answers from Issue #12

(45) Which of the DW characters enrolled in a gourmet cooking class to expand her culinary skills?

Julia in episode "That's What Friends Are For."

(46) What dishes did Julia fix for her son Payne that had been his favorites as a child?

Beanie Weenies and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

(47) Which dish did B.J. say was the cornerstone of Southern Church Lady Quisine?

Five Can Casserole -- you mix together five cans of whatever is in your cupboard and glue it all together with a bunch of Velveeta.

(48) What did the Sugarbakers team feast on in lieu of cooking up Suzanne's pig for Christmas?

Raccoon