Live with Linda Bloodworth
The 'Designing Women' creator speaks out about
A Belled Exclusive
why DW fans will love her new show 'Emeril'
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
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
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.
LINDA: 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
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.
Now 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
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.
LINDA: 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
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.
LINDA: 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
What dish does Nora (Emeril's wife) want for dessert for her special
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 Belled@topthat.net.
-- Emeril tapes before a live studio audience. If you're in the Los Angeles
area and would like to attend the show, please visit http://www.tvtickets.com/ to reserve your free tickets.
Linda Bloodworth, Mozark Productions
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.