Designing Women

Caproni

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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.
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.

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.
 

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That thread from moviechat about Julia Duffy and Allison is great. Thanks for posting. Boy did she get set up for failure with that awful character. She had a deal with CBS to develop her own show after Newhart, and instead chose to do Baby Talk (ugh) and then Designing Women. Two bad decisions which really cooled off her career.
 

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I think Julia Duffy was a great addition to the show; a thorn in Julia's side without being a copy pf Suzanne. It's shame they didn't keep Jackee on, too. It sounds better than the character that Judith Ivey played.
 

Caproni

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That thread from moviechat about Julia Duffy and Allison is great. Thanks for posting. Boy did she get set up for failure with that awful character. She had a deal with CBS to develop her own show after Newhart, and instead chose to do Baby Talk (ugh) and then Designing Women. Two bad decisions which really cooled off her career.
I've only seen pieces of BABY TALK on YouTube, but it definitely was not Julia Duffy's shining hour. That show was a mess, and she probably thought she was doing good to bail. In hindsight, the kinks might've worked themselves out and the show could've possibly stabilized.

I'm sure Duffy and her agents felt she was making a good move towards DESIGNING WOMEN, especially since there was a lot of publicity surrounding Delta Burke's exit. That publicity was practically free, and for Julia Duffy to be presented as her replacement was a good way to fuel her celebrity. It was already a stable show, and drawing in its highest ratings yet, so the choice read like a good one. The issue arose when the writers and producers of DESIGNING WOMEN gave her an unsympathetic character and wrote her into a corner and out of that show's core clique. She did not "click" with the rest of the core cast, and she spent the entire season lingering to the side. That was to Duffy's discredit, and it certainly was not all her fault. Had the character been written better, I would have preferred she stayed for the seventh season.
I think Julia Duffy was a great addition to the show; a thorn in Julia's side without being a copy pf Suzanne. It's shame they didn't keep Jackee on, too. It sounds better than the character that Judith Ivey played.
I honestly think Julia Duffy worked well on the show, and there were times where she filled the bill that Delta Burke had left vacant. As aforementioned, the main issue was Duffy's Allison wasn't given the redeeming qualities that Burke's Suzanne had. Allison was brash, obnoxious, and isolated herself from the rest. Suzanne, while often vainly considering herself 'better' than the others, was always there when she was needed. Suzanne was loved, but Allison was tolerated.

I must totally disagree about Jackée staying on full-time. Her one-episode gig was enough for this viewer. I don't think she would have worked well with the show. Her style of humor would have left her in the corner as well, I fear. Judith Ivey was a solid addition, her character B.J. was given a good back story, but the writing for her season was weak overall.
 

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I got the impression that BJ (Ivey's character) was written mainly to better serve the other characters' needs rather than written as a free-standing, well-drawn character. It was as if they decided Julia, Anthony and Mary Jo were "large enough" characters to be the main draw, while Carlene and BJ were just along for the ride, providing plot devices and witty remarks but not being given their own voices...basically how Anthony started out, and how Bernice remained through the series.
I'm sure Duffy and her agents felt she was making a good move towards DESIGNING WOMEN, especially since there was a lot of publicity surrounding Delta Burke's exit. That publicity was practically free, and for Julia Duffy to be presented as her replacement was a good way to fuel her celebrity.
Perhaps you're right, but I felt quite the opposite. Anyone they brought in would be spoken of as "replacing" Delta Burke, no matter how different the character might be. Being "the replacement" when most people didn't want one creates a certain amount of resistance in the viewers' minds before the new actress even hits the stage. Hiring Julia Duffy (beloved for her role on Newhart) was probably seen as a good way of getting past that resentment, since people who liked Stephanie (her role on Newhart) would give her more of a chance. But the viewers might have been put off by Alison not possessing some of Stephanie's better qualities, and of course the effort to establish her as a thorn in Julia's side was not balanced by the sort of vulnerable charming-ness we saw in Stephanie. The producers should have given Alison at least one character (Anthony would have probably been best) to let down her guard with, someone she could interact with on a more sympathetic level and allow her to show she wasn't totally chilly and remote....and someone who could work both sides of the fence from the start to help ease her into the ensemble.
 

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I just felt that BJ was too much like Julia. We already had MaryJo as her mini-me, so to speak. Did BJ provide any conflict at all?
 

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I got the impression that BJ (Ivey's character) was written mainly to better serve the other characters' needs rather than written as a free-standing, well-drawn character. It was as if they decided Julia, Anthony and Mary Jo were "large enough" characters to be the main draw, while Carlene and BJ were just along for the ride, providing plot devices and witty remarks but not being given their own voices...basically how Anthony started out, and how Bernice remained through the series.
I've never viewed B.J. (Judith Ivey) in that light, but it does make sense. She was primarily written in to poke fun at Julia and bring forth some sass, but I'd say she was given some better thought than Allison (Julia Duffy) was given the year prior. B.J. is a likeable millionairess, and I like what Judith Ivey brought to really limited, one-note character. The episode "Love Letters", the one where she goes to her dead husband's vault, is quite lovely. She showed such sympathy and true love for a man that she had barely known.

Likewise, I can agree that, by that seventh and what they knew would be the final season, the writers and producers were more than willing to coast along the audience likability of Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Meshach Taylor. Alice Ghostley was an added bonus (they used her more than ever that final season), but Jan Hooks and Judith Ivey just seemed to be shuffled into the mix. I think a lot of that blame falls on the ever-declining writing, and the fault of the producers to be little effort into drawing stronger back-stories for Carlene and B.J. The writing was on the wall that seventh year, but even so, I think had CBS kept the show on Monday nights, it might would've came back for one more year.
Perhaps you're right, but I felt quite the opposite. Anyone they brought in would be spoken of as "replacing" Delta Burke, no matter how different the character might be. Being "the replacement" when most people didn't want one creates a certain amount of resistance in the viewers' minds before the new actress even hits the stage. Hiring Julia Duffy (beloved for her role on Newhart) was probably seen as a good way of getting past that resentment, since people who liked Stephanie (her role on Newhart) would give her more of a chance. But the viewers might have been put off by Alison not possessing some of Stephanie's better qualities, and of course the effort to establish her as a thorn in Julia's side was not balanced by the sort of vulnerable charming-ness we saw in Stephanie. The producers should have given Alison at least one character (Anthony would have probably been best) to let down her guard with, someone she could interact with on a more sympathetic level and allow her to show she wasn't totally chilly and remote....and someone who could work both sides of the fence from the start to help ease her into the ensemble.
I've always felt that Julia Duffy and her agents felt it was a good move for her to join DESIGNING WOMEN, giving all the publicity hoopla surrounding Delta Burke's exit.

I recall an interview with Linda Bloodworth-Thomason where she said that Julia Duffy was a well-liked actress, and that she was very capable of playing those "love to hate" kind of characters. There was a lot of hype for her coming in apparently, naturally riding off the publicity she had generated with her NEWHART role, which she had played for seven or eight years.

As it has been said, Julia Duffy was given no favors when it came to the writing. Her character, Allison, was not given any redeeming qualities, which was very unlike her former role, Stephanie, and Suzanne (Delta Burke) inside the DESIGNING WOMEN universe. She was all brass, and they wrote her into a corner with her Obnoxious Personality Disorder. Still, I find myself rooting for her, and always hoping that somewhere the writers were wanting to make her "work" and stay with the show. Had Allison and Anthony confided in one another (in a similar way Suzanne and Anthony had done), then Allison could have eased her way into the clique. Anthony could have eased her into the rest of the crew, and Allison could have been in the circle a few episodes into the season.

 

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I watched the interview linked below this morning. Delta Burke is interviewed by Barbara Walters in 1990, around a year or so after Delta had married television star Gerald McRaney. In the interview, Burke discusses her early life, her pageant wins, and things of that nature, but the primary discussion is geared towards DESIGNING WOMEN and Delta's issues with her co-stars and producers.

Delta speaks frankly about feeling mistreated on the set, an issue she had apparently kept hidden for over four years. The producers were hard on her about her weight, and the Thomasons were evidently quite open about their actresses being disposable. Delta says that she wishes everything would work out so she could continue with DESIGNING WOMEN because she has a contract and she's not the type to just bail on a contract. Burke also mentions how she was truly hurt that co-stars Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook had sided with the producers.

It is an interesting interview. I imagine a spectacle like this, however, only fueled the tensions on the set of the show. The producers were probably livid, and they started really edging Delta out of the circle.

 

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The production studio, Columbia, initially backed Delta Burke, after the fifth season. They brought in a new showrunner and wanted the Thomasons to focus on Evening Shade. But CBS sided with the Thomasons and Delta Burke and the new showrunner (who never produced an episode of the show) departed.

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-09-16-ca-1812-story.html
 

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The production studio, Columbia, initially backed Delta Burke, after the fifth season. They brought in a new showrunner and wanted the Thomasons to focus on Evening Shade. But CBS sided with the Thomasons and Delta Burke and the new showrunner (who never produced an episode of the show) departed.

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-09-16-ca-1812-story.html
I had never heard about this before. I wonder how DESIGNING WOMEN would have been had Delta Burke and Jean Smart stayed on? What if Delta had stayed, but Jean had exited, and Jan Hooks still been brought in.

Makes one wonder.
 

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I see the similarities to The Golden Girls but I think that's due to writers using similar female archetypes (just as the writers on Sex And The City did). I much prefer The Golden Girls and will often watch reruns. I only watched Designing Women occasionally during its initial run and have only seen a handful of episodes in reruns. I was never a fan of Julia's preachy rants - and I'm a liberal. I read that Dixie Carter disliked the liberal speeches on the show (she was a Republican) and worked out a deal that every time she had to make a speech she would get to sing on the show.

Ironically, I think one of the strongest episodes is the one where Tony Goldwyn plays a young designer who asks the team at Sugarbaker's to plan his funeral because he is dying from AIDS. "Very special episodes" are usually ham-fisted and cringe-worthy (you should see the episode of Mr. Belvedere that deals with AIDS) but this one is very effective.

Delta Burke's departure is very similar to Suzanne Somers' departure from Three's Company. Since then the casts of several series have pulled together to negotiate equal pay among them; the leads on The Big Bang Theory negotiated for equal pay and even took pay cuts so supporting cast members could be paid more. I think if the casts of Designing Women and Three's Company negotiated as teams they would have all benefited and their shows would have maintained their quality longer.

What the producers did to Julia Duffy was so unfair. I've never watched an episode of Reba before but I had one of those nights where I fall asleep in front of the TV only to wake up hours later. Reba was on and Peter Scolari guest starred as the man she was dating. At the end of the episode Reba has decided, as much as she likes him, she's going to break up. Reba and Peter are in a restaurant when she kisses him and tells him there aren't any sparks. Peter gives Reba a much more romantic kiss but, again, no sparks. The two part as friends and Reba leaves. Julia Duffy walks over, smiles at Peter and says "I felt sparks" before handing him her phone number.

I've been a fan of Jan Hooks since she appeared on a basic cable sketch show called Tush. I think they should have let her write some episodes or possibly improvise during rehearsals (though I imagine that would have been frowned upon within the structured time-frame of a weekly sitcom). I've enjoyed Judith Ivey in several movies but I was not particularly fond of her Designing Women character.

I've never enjoyed Alice Ghostley, as much as I enjoyed Bewitched, I think she was one of the weakest cast members. I think the strongest evidence that Designing Women was derivative of The Golden Girls could be made regarding Bernice who I think was very much "inspired" by Sophia.
 

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I see the similarities to The Golden Girls but I think that's due to writers using similar female archetypes (just as the writers on Sex And The City did).
The same four archetypes appear on a lot of shows, notable 227 and, with younger girls, The Facts of Life.
 

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The same four archetypes appear on a lot of shows, notable 227 and, with younger girls, The Facts of Life.
The three-women set-up was used in many classic films. Back in the silent days, there was SALLY, IRENE, AND MARY, and other films used a similar formula; A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING.
 

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I've been watching IT'S A LIVING on YouTube for a little while, and I find that show absolutely hilarious. My favorite of the seemingly revolving door of waitresses is Ann Jillian as Cassie, a sassy young woman who entertains many men. I think Ann Jillian is very funny on this show, and it has had me thinking about one thing. I wonder how Ann Jillian would have done on DESIGING WOMEN had the producers wanted to bring her in when replacements became necessary.

With some adjustments, Ann probably could have been a good addition as Allison (instead of Julia Duffy) or another Sugarbaker relative that could have filled Delta Burke's vacancy. Ann Jillian seemed to be more likable than Julia Duffy, even on a personal level, and she might have pulled off some of the writers rougher edges for Allison as a character. The writers might have wrote the Suzanne replacement differently with someone like Ann Jillian in the role.

What do you guys think?

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She definitely had a high "Q Rating" (popularity) in that period, and of course she's a very good actress. The other ladies might have been a bit put out that the producers hired someone who was arguably more famous than they were. I'd have to wait and see how convincing her accent was (a pet peeve of mine) if they had written her as Southern, and I would hope her character would be more Cassie Cranston than Mae West.

Good suggestion!
 

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She definitely had a high "Q Rating" (popularity) in that period, and of course she's a very good actress. The other ladies might have been a bit put out that the producers hired someone who was arguably more famous than they were. I'd have to wait and see how convincing her accent was (a pet peeve of mine) if they had written her as Southern, and I would hope her character would be more Cassie Cranston than Mae West.

Good suggestion!
I was thinking about Ann Jillian and what might have happened had she entered DESIGNING WOMEN in the early nineties.

I can understand where Dixie Carter and Annie Potts, who were (in my mind at least) always upstaged by Delta Burke and Jean Smart, might have been irked if the producers hired someone like Ann Jillian. I'd agree she was more popular than they were.

What's interesting is that despite Ann Jillian's stature, her television work is a little spotty. Outside of IT'S A LIVING, her other shows were pretty bad. She was definitely better than the material she was given for JENNIFER SLEPT HERE and the self-titled ANN JILLIAN series. She deserved better. Ann's a big talent, as showcased with her performance as Mae West in the 1982 television biopic.

Whether or not Ann could have effectively done a Southern accent would have been key. I honestly think she would have nailed it, and maybe she could have helped soften the blow DESIGNING WOMEN took when Delta walked, got fired, or whichever it was. Maybe Ann could have helped stabilize the show, generate buzz and good ratings, and perhaps helped the show from dying a dismal death so soon.

And I also agree that Ann's DESIGNING WOMEN character would need to be more like Cassie and not as much like Mae.

It is all wishful thinking.
 

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Ann Jillian should have been a bigger star than she was. She did two half seasons and one full season of “It’s a Living” and then had those two other bombs. The idea of her on Designing Women is an interesting one. She doesn’t have the southern accent but then neither did Julia Duffy. Honestly, Julia Duffy would have been fine if they had given Allison a few good traits. Maybe Allison could have been a savvy businesswoman, or a talented saleswoman, or even someone who could have stood up to Julia once in a while. Instead, she was just around for the others to despise. What an odd strategy for the writers.
 

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Ann Jillian should have been a bigger star than she was. She did two half seasons and one full season of “It’s a Living” and then had those two other bombs. The idea of her on Designing Women is an interesting one. She doesn’t have the southern accent but then neither did Julia Duffy. Honestly, Julia Duffy would have been fine if they had given Allison a few good traits. Maybe Allison could have been a savvy businesswoman, or a talented saleswoman, or even someone who could have stood up to Julia once in a while. Instead, she was just around for the others to despise. What an odd strategy for the writers.
Yeah, I'd agree that Ann Jillian deserved to be a bigger star. Her issue seemed to be able to find good material. She was talented, but what she was offered script-wise never utilized her to the fullest. It is ironic that she is the first cast member I think of when thinking of IT'S A LIVING, but she was only in forty-nine episodes.

Ann wouldn't have had a strong Southern accent had she did DESIGNING WOMEN, but she could have worked one our, I'm sure. Their accents weren't strong ones anyway, and I think that served the show very well.

I've repeatedly said the main issues with Allison Sugarbaker was not Julia Duffy, but instead they lazy way the character had been written. The writers seemed determined to keep Allison in her own "I'm better than you" box, and that was big mistake. They gave her hardly no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and that was bad considering Julia Duffy naturally comes off as brass and a little abrasive (watch her interviews and maybe you'll catch my drift).

Julia Duffy was given a raw deal. She was beautiful and talented, but given a lousy Delta Burke filler with flat and inconsiderate writing. There was really not a whole lot she could have done, unless she womaned up and approached the producers about making Allison nicer.
 
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