Designing Congresswoman

The Clintons' best Hollywood pals Set a sitcom in Washington

Source: Time Magazine - January 9, 1995
Written by: Richard Zoglin

Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, you will recall, are the very rich television producers (Designing Women, Evening Shade) who caused a stir during the early days of the Clinton Administration on account of their close friendship with the President and his wife and their constant presence at the White House. Washington has changed considerably since then: the Thomasons have been swept out of town (or at least out of sight) and the Republicans have swept in. All of which may have sharpened the Thomasons' sense of outrage but not their satirical skills.

Women of the House, the couple's new sitcom that debuts this week on CBS, stars Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker, the character she played on Designing Women. Suzanne has come to Washington to take over the congressional seat of her late husband. The show aims to update Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: the heroine is a naive ex-beauty queen from Georgia who doesn't know the difference between columnist William Safire and Sapphire, her maid, yet in her plainspoken way possesses more wisdom than the capital's sophisticates.

Despite the setting, the Thomasons seem less interested in political satire than in replicating Designing Women. Suzanne's staff is another kaffeeklatsch of man-abused females: a spacy receptionist left by her husband (Valerie Mahaffey); a boozy press secretary fired by the Washington Post (Teri Garr); and a hard-boiled chief aide (Patricia Heaton) embittered because the Congressman whe worked for ("the man I served ...under... for 14 years") is now in prison and his wife is getting all the conjugal visits.

The political wisecracks are mostly on the level of bad Jay Leno. Suzanne appears on TV in a revealing dress, and someone comments, "I haven't seen a pair of boobs like that since Haldeman and Ehrlichman." All too often the producers - who were openly angry about the way they were treated in Washington - seem to be settling a personal score. When Suzanne, for example, wants to invite some of her show-business friends to a dinner party for the President, her stuffy aide objects: "We should be inviting people of quality and distinction - not tan, happy people from Hollyood."

The Thomasons' status as Washington insiders has not helped them unlearn years of bad sitcom habits. In one episode Suzanne is invited to spend the night in the White House. She gets so excited that she jumps up and down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom and breaks it. To repair the damage, her staff sneaks into the White House carrying a new footboard disguised as a huge painting of a naked man. By the time Jamie Farr (Corporal Max Klinger from M*A*S*H) shows up in a dress, you just want to send these tan, happy people back to Hollywood where they belong.


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