Telly Talk Dream Maker
I can certainly see your theory there. It's something I can imagine the writers/producers doing to kind of slap Delta Burke in the face. What they didn't realize was it wasn't really hurt Burke because, well, she was gone. It was actually hurting Julia Duffy and her chance at winning over a tough audience.I think perhaps when they wrote for Duffy, they could not help but work out some of their frustrations with Delta Burke via the writing of what was essentially Suzanne's stand-in. "Oh, see how difficult she is to work with? So prissy and overbearing, acting like she runs the place and frustrating everyone around her? [wink wink] Nobody who works with her likes her." They would never have written the others as talking about Suzanne behind her back with such disdain (because the viewers would have turned against the characters) but the other ladies could freely throw shade on Alison instead.
I adored Jan Hooks on Saturday NIght Live but think that perhaps she was more suited to improvisational comedy and sketch comedy rather than playing one, tightly-written character. Plus, they already had Alice Ghostley's Bernice for the wackier, silly lines, so they should have allowed Carlene (Hooks) to be more like Charlene had been--while prone to the occasional dumb comment/belief, be generally competent in her job and able to hold up her end of a conversation with well-read characters like Julia. I still can't recall if Carlene took over Charlene's old job as Office Manager, or if she just sat around the design house chatting about her dumb-as-dirt ex-husband Dwayne.
To clarify your memory slump: Carlene took over Charlene's vacancy as Office Manager while also spending a lot of time discussing her ex-husband Dwayne Dobber.