Welcome "Belled" Readers!

For our third installment in our multi-issue celebration of Designing Women's 15th Anniversary, we spoke with the creator of Designing Women, Linda Bloodworth, about her new series and why she believes DW Fans especially will love it. In addition, "Belled" and Linda Bloodworth present a special Emeril contest exclusive to our readers!

And speaking of contests, congratulations to James White, the winner of our "What Ever Happened to...?" Contest. We're proud to present his winning entry, "What Ever Happened to Tova of Biloxi" in this issue and are sure you'll enjoy it as much as we did!

Live with Linda Bloodworth
A Belled Exclusive

The 'Designing Women' creator speaks out about
why DW fans will love her new show 'Emeril'

Emeril Lagasse, Linda Bloodworth and Harry Thomason A phone call from Linda Bloodworth is always an honor, but being granted her first personal interview for her new show is an even greater honor. And what better time than during our Designing Women 15th Anniversary celebration?

It's a crazy busy time for Linda and her husband, Designing Women co-creator Harry Thomason, who are both co-producing their latest series Emeril. Series star Emeril Lagasse himself has been on a promotional whirlwind. During the one week he had off from taping Emeril, he appeared on The View, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, Today, and he generally spends his weekends in NYC blitzing the show, not to mention filming 15 episodes of his cooking show which films on the East Coast . "I don't know what the guy's running on," laughs Linda.

Lagasse's schedule aside, getting Emeril to the small screen this season has not been easy. Although the series was always intended to center around the popular television chef, there was some retooling of the original format, even since "Belled" first previewed the series in July. The family aspect of the show, including a regular role for James Lafferty as Emeril's son, has been toned down in favor of office shenanigans. And the eleventh hour addition of Robert Urich to the cast served as additional fodder for the already brutal critics.

But despite these challenges, Linda Bloodworth's faith in Emeril is unscathed, and the show's initial outings have shown a lot of promise with viewers.

LINDA: Cock-eyed optimist that I am, I actually think we're going to do okay on Emeril. You know we've been very savaged by the critics because Emeril is not an actor, but I know what we have in the can -- I can pretty well judge that -- and we have some great shows in the can. I just think we're going to be okay. The public seems to be liking it. [On] the NBC website for all their new shows, we're the only one that's just filled with positive comments. And the others have not faired so well, so I'm feeling positive about it.

I think people are really going to start to get more interested. With all that's going on in the world, it's been a weird way to premiere a show. But y'know, even being probably the most savaged new show with one hand tied behind us at the very least, we -- within two weeks -- are within 2/10 of a point of Dharma & Greg. So that's pretty good! And ABC is already thinking of retooling their Tuesday night, and they were laughing at us before the season started.

The people at ABC weren't the only ones laughing at them; critics had serious doubts about Emeril -- a chef -- making it as an actor. But again, Linda is confident that Emeril will make the transition smoothly.

LINDA: Emeril is in the process of learning to act, the way Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Ray Romano and a lot of people have done. But I just think he's terrific. He's such a tremendous personality. I think there are probably moments when you can tell Emeril is learning this craft, but I also think we have a pretty strong cast around him.

The characters themselves are also strong, sometimes even abrasively so in the first couple of episodes. Emeril's power-mouth staff certainly has an edge, but we will also soon see some of the vulnerability and multiple facets that have made Linda's past characters so endearing to the audience.

Lisa Ann Walter, Emeril Lagasse, Sherri Shepherd & Robert UrichLINDA: I think that when you see the episodes we have [coming up]-- I mean we kind of started out with our kick-ass shows, but we've done some episodes where characters are very vulnerable, and I think people will get attached to them.

[In] the show that we shot last week, Cassandra (Lisa Ann Walters) had too much on her plate being a single working mom, and too many things going wrong in her life. Even at the little coffee shop where she goes to get her breakfast -- her credit card was refused. And she ends up quitting Emeril and going to work for a very mean woman, so Emeril had to go rescue her. But it was a nice show about her vulnerability and how even she is not impenetrable when it comes to just feeling overwhelmed in the workplace.

Linda's history when it comes to developing strong characters goes without saying. But aside from the humor, she often sets out to send a message through her characters. Designing Women and Evening Shade were two of Linda's biggest hits, and both sent strong messages about the characterization of different facets of Southerners, as well as women. Others, like Women of the House, admits Linda, may have missed the mark with audiences.

LINDA: You know, I'm really proud of the first 13 episodes of Evening Shade, and some of the ones after that I think were good, but I left Evening Shade after the first 13 episodes, and it kind of went a different direction. It's not just because I wasn't there because I think the writers made a valiant effort, but the first 13 shows were just terrific, and we were the best new show of the year -- basically across the board. It was wonderful because I wanted it to be a show about hicks that would turn out to surprise people because they were smart and educated and funny and audacious, well-read and interesting. And I think we pulled that off.

I don't think anyone watched Women of the House. That was kind of a mistake because that was me trying to answer Washington. I really should have just written on Op-ed piece [laughing] and not involved an entire cast and an entire network. Y'know, there was a lot of stuff in Women of the House that the public's not interested in hearing about. They're not interested in hearing me tell off the Washington press core, and so I realized later that was a good lesson for me not to get so personally invested. I mean, I think it's fine for issues like domestic violence, but the Washington press core being told off is not an American problem. I think the public went, "Huh?"

Having learned from that experience, Linda is banking on the fun atmosphere and banter of Emeril -- along with the charm and unending charisma of its leading man -- to be the forefront of the series, while she sneaks some of her traditional issues in through a wealth of supporting characters.

LINDA: Emeril is a personality, and just sort of a life force really. If you haven't seen him on the Food Channel, he's very charismatic and very different. I think of him as kind of this flustery Jackie Gleason persona. And he's kind of a simple man, who loves food, who gets great joy out of life, and he's saddled with all of these people around him who actually are much more complicated than he is, and they're always getting him into a lot of trouble because of their very extenuating-circumstances lives. Mainly it's the three [female characters], and I think because we have a number of writers on this show that we're writing the show like -- we are going to do some Designing Women stuff on the show.

One of the critics said, "Linda's stuck in the 80's because she's revisiting all the Designing Women stuff." And y'know, I don't have to do that. We didn't do that on Evening Shade. I made this choice to do this because I don't think feminism is a fad. I think it's a lifetime commitment. Show me what's been fixed and I'll stop talking about it -- nobody has fixed it. On Designing Women we did gays, and women in the ministry, domestic violence, date rape, pornography, and all this stuff. And you know what? I don't think it's a bit better today. I don't think any one of the issues we've discussed has really been alleviated -- and in some cases it's even worse. So, yeah, we're going to keep talking about it.

Lisa Ann Walter as CassandraNow we don't do that many issues yet, but we've got the missiles in place -- we've got the women in place. And the reason I like these women a lot is that they are lower socioeconomic "designing women." They're much more sexually liberated. Although they may laugh at the girls on Sex in the City, they like it. They watch it, it's just that they think they're too obsessed with sex. In fact, next Tuesday, we talk about the girls in Sex in the City. And I'm not putting down Sex in the City because I love that show, but come on -- get a Newsweek or something once in a while.

And these women talk about each week whatever is bugging them. Now because the name of the show is Emeril, we probably will not do it to the extent that we did on Designing Women, but I think their problems are more interesting because they don't have a lot of money, none of them are married, none of them are even dating anybody in particular. They're much more at the struggling level of life than having arrived. But they're going to have a lot of the same sentimentality and sentiment that the women on Designing Women had -- and particularly the Lisa Ann Walter character. She's kind of the Julia on this show, but she's a lower socioeconomic class Julia, but she's also got a lot to say. Lisa Ann has her own nightclub act, and she and I've discussed a lot of the material that she does, and we're in agreement on a lot of social issues and plan to put a lot of that on the show.

Linda insists that Designing Women fans will grow to love Emeril as well, also adding that Robert Urich's character carries a voice that may be pleasantly familiar to her fans.

Robert UrichLINDA: I just think that if people stick with it and they liked Designing Women, they'll like this show. Y'know in a way, although this may not be readily recognizable, Bob Urich is really Suzanne Sugarbaker. I mean, I'm not trying to do that Suzanne character exactly again, but Bob Urich is the one who comes in and says the totally politically incorrect thing. Like last week somebody said, "You seem to have a gambling problem, you need to address that." And he said, "Everything's a disease now. Do we have to gather together in a church basement and hold hands now every time somebody wants to play blackjack?" And that's pure Suzanne.

He's the one who questions political correctness, racial correctness -- y'know he gets mad at Melva (the Sherri Shepherd character) in the show next week because he says she's African American. And she says, "We've gone back to Black." And he said, "Well, nobody told me. I practiced African American for months -- I've been going around saying African American." And she says, "Well, we're black now -- again." And he says, "Y'know I've been a white boy all my life, and I don't get to choose, and you shouldn't either." He goes into this whole thing about "you people need to make up your mind." Only Suzanne could say that! So almost every week now he's got a Suzanne-like speech. And it's fun because he's a male, but he's got the same attitude.

And I really think that if you liked Designing Women, you'll really grow to like this show. I'm writing a lot of this show, and so is Pam Norris, and we were the writers on Designing Women. We plan on making them more and more alike -- y'know, with the sensibility of Designing Women, they aren't going to be the same characters of course.

I'll tell you something I love that's in the Halloween show we just did. We did a whole run which I thought was so Designing Womenish about how serial killers get these really powerful names like Son of Sam and Zodiac Killer, and how it's so absurd to be rewarding these men. Why don't we call them what they really are? And then we proceed to list what they really are, which is like the bed-wetting-can't get it up for anybody-mama's boy killers. And then how they would just immediately get flushed out and call the newspapers and say, "That's not me! How dare you call me that!" Y'know, they get rewarded for their crime by achieving this tremendous masculine, virile notoriety. So I think that's a run you won't hear on any other show, and we just have to do more and more because that's the kind of stuff we did on Designing Women.

Bottom line? If you haven't seen the show yet, it's time to check it out. And for those who have, Linda is hoping you'll be back to see the characters develop and have some fun.

Emeril LagasseLINDA: Just to start out, we're trying to do a lot of great food, and a really kinda body-rockish show that's a warm place to go on Tuesday nights.

And "Belled" would like to get in on the fun too, so we've come up with a TRIVIA CONTEST for which Linda has graciously donated autographed prizes! Tune into Emeril this Tuesday, October 16, and answer the following question from Linda:

What dish does Nora (Emeril's wife) want for dessert for her special birthday?

Everyone who emails us the correct answer by midnight Pacific Time the night of the broadcast will be entered in a drawing to win one of three Emeril scripts autographed by the cast. In addition, the first name drawn will also receive a set of Emeril Lagasse cookbooks autographed by the chef himself! The drawing will take place at the live taping of Emeril this coming Friday and will be announced in our next edition.

So tune in to Emeril this Tuesday, October 16 at 8:00pm ET/PT on NBC to find out the answer, and email us your entry at

-- Emeril tapes before a live studio audience. If you're in the Los Angeles area and would like to attend the show, please visit to reserve your free tickets.

Linda Bloodworth, Mozark Productions
NBC Publicity
Photo Credits: Chris Haston, NBC Publicity

...Tova of Biloxi

Contest Winning Entry

"Tova of Biloxi has dropped the Biloxi part and is now simply 'Tova.' After Charlene moved to England, and she lost her best client, Tova moved out to Hollywood to join the personal staff of Shirley MacLaine. Tova informed Shirley that in another life she had dated St. Patrick of Ireland -- and that she needed more fiber. After gaining fame with Shirley, Tova received an offer to join up with Miss Cleo. However, unlike Cleo, Tova could sense the impending Missouri lawsuit and wisely backed out. In the past few months, she has returned to Atlanta and has gone into the entertainment business. She has a cabaret show where she goes out into the audience and sings the members' futures to them." (submitted by James White)

Congratulations to James and all the other terrific entries! Watch for them in future editions, and don't forget to Email "Belled" and to tell us where you think the "Designing Women" characters would be today for future issues!

(81) On last week's Emeril, which character made reference to a potential Designing Women reunion?

(82) What recurring role did Sherri Shepherd (Melva) have on Everybody Loves Raymond?

(83) What other Linda Bloodworth show not mentioned here aired back-to-back with Women of the House on CBS Wednesdays?

(84) Which of Linda's series did Alice Ghostley (Bernice, DW) make a guest appearance on following Designing Women?

* Answers will appear in the next issue.

Trivia Answers from Issue #20

(77) What television series starring Robert Wagner (Lyle) also brought two future Designing Women together in guest roles which subsequently inspired Linda Bloodworth-Thomason to write a show featuring the actresses? Who were the DW actresses?

Annie Potts and Jean Smart both appeared on Robert Wagner's series "Lime Street"

(78) What current Emmy-nominated series featured Emily Proctor (Tiffany) this past season as another surprise twist?

"The West Wing"

(79) What current Emmy-nominated series co-stars Jorja Fox (Liz) in another criminal justice role?

"C.S.I." (Crime Scene Investigation)

(80) What film about a classic television series starred Jennifer Elise Cox (Corrine) as another young adult frustrated by living in the shadow of one of her older female relatives? Which of her Forever Fabulous co-stars also appeared in the film and in what role?

Jennifer Elise Cox played Jan Brady in "The Brady Bunch Movie," which also featured Jean Smart as the Brady's drunken, lusty neighbor.