Designing Women

Designing Women Information

Designing Women is an American television sitcom that centered on the working and personal lives of four Southern women and one man in an interior design firm in Atlanta, Georgia. It aired on the CBS television network from September 29, 1986 until May 24, 1993. The show was created by head writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who wrote many of the episodes in the show's initial seasons. As of 2011, the series currently airs in syndication on the Comedy Gold and TV Guide Network channels.


Sisters Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) and Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) are polar opposites. Julia is an elegant, outspoken liberal intellectual; Suzanne is a rich, flashy, often self-centered former beauty queen and Miss Georgia World. They are constantly at personal odds but have launched Sugarbaker Designs, an interior design firm. Julia manages the company while Suzanne is mostly a financial backer who simply hangs around and annoys everyone under the guise of being the firm's salesperson.

The pragmatic designer Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts), a recent divorcee raising two children, and the sweet-natured but somewhat nave office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jean Smart) are initial investors and co-workers. Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor), a former prison inmate who was falsely convicted of a robbery, is the only man on the staff and later in the series becomes a partner. Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley), an absent-minded friend of the Sugarbaker matriarch, also appears frequently.


Main cast

Recurring cast

  • Alice Ghostley as Bernice Clifton (A Sugarbaker family friend)
  • Hal Holbrook as Atty. Reese Watson (Julia's boyfriend, Seasons 1"5)
  • Richard Gilliland as James Dean "J.D." Shackelford (Mary Jo's on-again off-again boyfriend, Seasons 1"5 and real-life husband of Jean Smart)
  • Douglas Barr as Colonel William "Bill" Stillfield (Charlene's boyfriend and later husband, Seasons 2"5)
  • Sheryl Lee Ralph as Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier (Anthony's wife, Season 7)
  • Priscilla Weems as Claudia Marie Shively (Mary Jo's daughter)
  • Brian Lando as Quinton "Quint" Shively (Mary Jo's son)
  • Scott Bakula as Dr. Theodore "Ted" Shively (Mary Jo's ex-husband, Seasons 1"3)
  • George Newbern as Payne McElroy (Julia's son, Seasons 1"2; 4; 6)
  • Olivia Brown as Vanessa Hargraves (Anthony's on-again off-again girlfriend, Season 4)
  • Michael Goldfinger as Rusty (The Sugarbakers' electrician)
  • Lexi Randall as Randa Oliver (a child of wealthy clients of the Sugarbaker's that was unexpectedly left in Julia's care when the parents left on vacation )

Notable guest stars

  • Tony Goldwyn guest-starred as Kendall Dobbs in the episode "Killing All the Right People."
  • Sherman Hemsley and Della Reese portrayed the Toussaints (Anthony's in-laws) in a 1993 episode.
  • Gerald McRaney appeared as Suzanne's ex-husband, novelist Dash Goff. McRaney and Burke married in 1989.
  • Dolly Parton guest starred as herself, appearing in Charlene's dream as her Guardian Movie Star, in a double episode that aired January 1, 1990, entitled "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century."
  • Dale Raoul played "Lady" June Randolph in the Season 3 episode "The Junies."
  • Kim Zimmer played Charlene's cousin Mavis Madling, who was a victim of spousal abuse in the episode "The Rowdy Girls."

Cast departures

The show changed premise in seasons six and seven, when Delta Burke's character of Suzanne moved to Japan and sold her part of the design business to her wealthy cousin Allison Sugarbaker (Julia Duffy). At the same time, Jean Smart chose to leave the show and was replaced by Jan Hooks as Carlene Dobber, Charlene's sister fresh off the bus from Poplar Bluff; Smart's character, Charlene, moved to England where her husband was stationed and her sister, Carlene, took over her job. The character of Carlene was very similar to Charlene; however, Allison was a prim and proper conservative who provided a bossy foil to the liberal Julia. Despite series-high ratings, the changes were critically panned and many felt that at that point the series had "jumped the shark". The Allison character was unpopular with audiences and Duffy was let go at the end of the season.

Annie Potts announced in 1993 that she would leave the show after the seventh season, due to the fact that the producers dropped her character's proposed pregnancy storyline at the last minute; however, this turned out to be the show's last season, so there was no need for her character to be replaced.

The final season featured Judith Ivey as Bonnie Jean "B.J." Poteet, a rich Texas widow who invested some of her millions in the business. B.J. was presented as a friendly, outspoken and strong-willed woman with a zest for life and, unlike the other cast members, was completely capable of standing up to Julia. However, these replacements could not stop the ratings slide which caused CBS to cancel the series in 1993. CBS's decision during the 1992"93 season to move the show from its previously successful Monday night time slot, following Murphy Brown, to Friday nights was also said to play a role in the ratings decline. The series received no formal finale, concluding with an hour-long episode in which the principal characters, while redecorating a plantation house, envision what their lives would have been like if they had been characters in Gone with the Wind, and simultaneously thwart a wealthy adversary of B.J's and an illegal leveraged buyout of her company.

Ratings, timeline and cancellation

The show was a reunion of sorts for several members of the cast and crew. Burke and Carter had both been members of the short-lived CBS sitcom Filthy Rich, which was written by Bloodworth-Thomason. Meanwhile, Potts and Smart had guest-starred together in a 1985 episode of Lime Street, which was also created by Bloodworth-Thomason.

When the show debuted in CBS's Monday night lineup in 1986, it garnered respectable ratings; however, CBS moved the show several times to other time slots. After dismal ratings in a Sunday night and a Thursday night time slot, CBS placed it on hiatus and was ready to cancel the show, but a viewer campaign saved the show and returned it to its Monday night slot. The show's ratings solidified, and it regularly landed in the top 20 rankings. From 1989 through 1992, Designing Women and Murphy Brown (which also centered around a strong, opinionated female character) aired back-to-back, creating a very successful hour-long block for CBS, as both shows were thought to appeal to similar demographics. The show was a top 30 hit for three seasons, from 1989"1992. However, with CBS's move of the show to Friday night in the fall of 1992, ratings plummeted and the show fell from 6th place to 52nd place. The show was cancelled in May 1993.

The series' theme song was the Georgia state song "Georgia on My Mind". During the first five seasons, the theme was performed as an instrumental, including a version by trumpeter Doc Severinsen for Seasons 1 and 2. For the sixth season it was performed vocally by Ray Charles, whose 1960 rendition of the song was the most commercially successful and is perhaps the best known. The song was dropped in the seventh season and the credits rolled over the actual episode instead, following the industry trend at the time.

The exterior of the house seen in the series as the location of the Sugarbaker design firm is the Villa Marre, a Victorian mansion located in the historic Quapaw Quarter district in Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, the exterior of the home of Suzanne Sugarbaker seen in the series is the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, also in the Quapaw Quarter. Both homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nielsen ratings

Season Ratings Rank Households
1986"1987 No. 31 14,071,400

1987"1988 No. 33 13,874,760

1988"1989 No. 33 13,541,920

1989"1990 # 23 14,091,300
1990"1991 # 11 15,361,500
1991"1992 # 6 15,933,300
1992"1993 No. 52 9,552,060

Main Crew

Main Directors

David Trainer (63 episodes, 1987"1991) David Steinberg (37 episodes, 1987"1993) Harry Thomason (19 episodes, 1987"1991) Jack Shea (14 episodes, 1986"1988) Iris Dugow (5 episodes, 1989"1991) Barnet Kellman (4 episodes, 1987) Hal Holbrook (4 episodes, 1988"1990) Matthew Diamond (3 episodes, 1987"1988) Dwayne Hickman (3 episodes, 1989"1990) Ellen Falcon (2 episodes, 1986"1990) Charles Frank (2 episodes, 1991"1992) Roberta Sherry Scelza (2 episodes, 1991"1992)


Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (73 episodes, 1986"1992) Pamela Norris (29 episodes, 1989"1991) Mark Alton Brown (17 episodes, 1990"1993) Dee LaDuke (17 episodes, 1990"1993) Cassandra Clark (7 episodes, 1989"1991) Deborah Pearl (7 episodes, 1989"1991) Paul Clay

Framework and content

The plot played the four principal characters against each other, and frequent visitors Anthony (in initial seasons; he later became a regular cast member) and Bernice, as they dealt with professional or personal crises.

Although it was a traditional comedy, and often included broad physical comedy, Designing Women was very topical (particularly in episodes written by Bloodworth-Thomason herself), and featured discussions of controversial topics such as homophobia, racism, dating clergy, AIDS, hostile societal attitudes towards the overweight, and spousal abuse. The episode "Killing All the Right People" from Season two (1987) directly addressed the prejudice associated with the AIDS epidemic after Bloodworth-Thomason's mother died of the disease, and the episode won two Emmy nominations.

The program became noted for the monologues delivered by Julia in indignation to other characters, a character trait that began in the second episode, when Julia verbally castigated a beauty queen who had made fun of Suzanne. That speech, which Julia ends by emphatically saying, "And that, Marjorie, just so you will know, and your children will someday the night....the lights....went Georgia!" became a fan favorite. Dixie Carter, a registered Republican, disagreed with many of her character's left-of-center commentaries, and eventually made a deal with the producers that for every speech she gave, Julia would get to sing a song in a future episode.

There was great controversy surrounding the show in 1991 because of the abrupt dismissal of Burke, a pivotal part of the series. Burke was fired, and alleged that her dismissal was due to her having gained a substantial amount of weight, while producers maintained that Burke was let go due to her "argumentative" behavior and for creating discord on the set. The ensuing squabbling was covered amply in the tabloid press, but despite that, the show reached its pinnacle of popularity that year (the year-end Nielsen ratings ranked Designing Women as the #6 show). It fell out of the top twenty next year and the show concluded its seven-year run.

Delta Burke reunited with the Thomasons and CBS to reprise the Suzanne Sugarbaker character for a short-lived 1994 sitcom, Women of the House, in which Suzanne's latest husband died and she won his seat in Congress.


Main article: List of Designing Women episodes

DVD releases

Shout! Factory has released all seven seasons of Designing Women on DVD in Region 1.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 22 May 26, 2009
The Complete Second Season 22 August 11, 2009
The Complete Third Season 22 March 2, 2010
The Complete Fourth Season 29 September 14, 2010
The Complete Fifth Season 24 December 6, 2011
The Complete Sixth Season 23 April 3, 2012
The Final Season 22 July 17, 2012
On September 2, 2003, Sony Pictures released The Best of Designing Women, a single-disc DVD featuring five episodes ranging between seasons one through four: "Designing Women (Pilot)", "Killing All the Right People", "Reservations for Eight", "Big Haas and Little Falsie" and "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?".

On September 28, 2010, Shout Factory released Designing Women, Volume 1, a single-disc DVD featuring seven episodes from the first season: "Designing Women (Pilot)", "A Big Affair", "Design House", "I Do, I Don't", "New Year's Daze", "Monette", "And Justice for Paul". Further selected episode volumes have yet to be announced.

On June 5, 2012, Shout Factory released Designing Women " 20 Timeless Episodes, aimed for casual fans to enjoy the series without buying full season sets. The 2-disc DVD set included the following episodes: Disc 1 - "Designing Women", "New Year's Daze", "Monette", "Oh Suzannah", "Ted Remarries", "Killing All the Right People", "Heart Attacks", "Return of Ray Don", "Big Haas & Little Falsie", "The Wilderness Experience". Disc 2 - "The Naked Truth", "Stand & Fight", "Nightmare from Hee Haw", "Julia Gets Her Head Caught in a Fence", "Julia & Suzanne's Big Adventure", "Foreign Affairs", "A Blast from the Past", "And Now, Here's Bernice", "This is Art?" and "The Pride of the Sugarbakers".

Political views

Show creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason were strong supporters of longtime friend and then-Democratic nominee for President of the United States, Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. In one episode, Julia is stranded in the airport while attempting to attend Clinton's first inauguration. Additionally Charlene mentioned working for Clinton during his Arkansas governorship. Yet another Clintons-related joke was the introduction of the prissy character, Allison Sugarbaker, who makes it quite clear to the other "Designing Women" that she attended Wellesley College (Hillary's alma mater). One episode revolved around Julia running for commissioner, where she debates on television against a conservative candidate, to whom she eventually loses. In reality, Dixie Carter was a Republican who disagreed with the liberal views spouted by her onscreen character. She reached an agreement with the producers in which she was allowed to sing a song for every liberal "speech" her character made on the series.

Julia also expresses her admiration for former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, and is very upset in the episode, Miss Trial, when her service for jury duty prevents her from attending a dinner with the Carters, who like her volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. She is later very flattered to discover that the Carters have sent her flowers and rushes off to meet them for coffee.

Other appearances

  • From 1991 to 1992, CBS aired reruns of Designing Women on its late night schedule at 3 am (EST).
  • Designing Women was rerun on the Lifetime cable network for over a decade. Despite its popularity, the show left the network on August 4, 2006.
  • A 90-minute retrospective special, The Designing Women Reunion, aired on Lifetime on July 28, 2003, reuniting Burke, Potts, Smart, Carter and Taylor in which they shared memories from their time on the series, and also featured interviews with the Thomasons and various writers. Actors Alice Ghostley, Hal Holbrook, Gerald McRaney, and Richard Gilliland also took part in the special.
  • The series started on October 2, 2006 on Nick at Nite, however it quickly left and later appeared on its sister network TV Land, airing at various late-night and morning times occasionally until the network lost the rights to air the show in 2008.
  • The series also aired on ION Television in 2007, Mon-Thurs at 7:00 & 7:30 pm ET.
  • Burke did a guest spot on two episodes of Annie Potts' subsequent series Any Day Now in 1998 and 1999 on the Lifetime cable network.
  • Burke and Carter reconciled and later reunited when Burke guest starred on Carter's subsequent series Family Law in 2002.
  • In an episode of 30 Rock, protagonist Liz Lemon stays up for days doing the work of her employees while watching a Designing Women marathon. Eventually she tells them to do their own work, ending her rant at them with '...and if you do not do as I say you will never alter drapes in Atlanta again, because you do not cross a Sugarbaker Woman... I'm so tired' before bursting into tears and falling asleep.
  • Currently airing on the Comedy Gold (formerly TV Land Canada) in one-hour blocks every day at 11 am and 5 pm EST.
  • TV Guide Network also began airing a one-hour block weekdays at 11 am EST in October 2011 and currently airs a 2-hour block, weekdays from 3:00 pm (EST & PST) to 5:00 pm (EST & PST).


  • A number of changes to Julia Sugarbaker's house were seen over the years. During the pilot, the entry foyer had a closet and the main stairway was separate; in subsequent episodes, the closet was eliminated, and the stairway opened up onto the foyer. The pilot had a fireplace/woodstove near Mary Jo's desk and after the pilot it disappeared. The door behind the kitchenette to the left of the set was sometimes described as leading only to a store room, and at other times, was said to lead to the storeroom, as well as Julia's kitchen and dining room. (The dining room was shown in a couple of episodes.)
  • During the pilot, Julia, Suzanne and Charlene addressed Mary Jo as "Jo", but for the rest of the series, they called her "Mary Jo".
  • Sugarbaker was Julia's maiden name (as it was also Suzanne's name), though she was often incorrectly addressed as "Mrs. Sugarbaker". Her married name was McElroy (she was widowed"?in a few instances, she is heard to refer to her late husband Hayden McElroy).

Opening credits

  • During the first two seasons, photos of the four principals were shown along with groupings of items that depicted their characters (Suzanne's beauty crown and pageant clippings, Julia's elegant Wedgwood tea set and a photo of her son; a photo of Mary Jo's children, and her interior design sketches; Charlene's adding machine, her cat and a publicity photo of Elvis). Music was an instrumental of "Georgia on My Mind", performed by Doc Severinsen. (Meshach Taylor was not credited as a regular cast member, only appearing in the closing credits of episodes in which he appeared.)
  • Seasons three, four and five also featured a recording of "Georgia on My Mind", though a jazzier version than the previous recording. Glitzy head shots of the actors were used, with Meshach Taylor appearing as a regular cast member.
  • Season six (the first season without Burke and Smart) featured the cast members, elegantly dressed, gathered around a piano, as Ray Charles performed "Georgia on My Mind".
  • During season seven, the opening credits were eliminated (in keeping with the trend beginning in the early 1990s, in which sitcom opening credits were either abbreviated or eliminated entirely), with just a few bars of "Georgia on My Mind" playing, as "Designing Women" and the names of the actors quickly scrolled across the bottom of the screen at the beginning of the first scene. The episode names were also no longer displayed on-screen

Designing Women's Houses

The Sugarbaker's Design interior decorating firm was operated out of Julia Sugarbaker's attractive suburban home at 1521 Sycamore Street in Atlanta, Georgia. Although the TV series was based in Georgia, the exterior shots of the Sugarbaker home were actually photographs of the Villa Marre, a private home located at 1321 Scott Street in Little Rock, Arkansas. Built in 1881 by Angelo Marre and his wife Jennie Marre, the Victorian home with touches of Italian architectural style passed through the possession of a few more owners until it finally fell into disrepair in the 1960s. It was renovated and then given to the Quapaw Quarter Association in 1979 by James W. Strawn, Jr. It was sold in 2002 to private owners for residential use. In 2011 it was sold to a local businessman for use as offices and an event center.

A few blocks away from the Villa Marre is the Arkansas Governor's Mansion (former home of Bill & Hillary Clinton) located at 1800 Center Street (at 18th and Spring Street). The exterior of this Georgian Colonial style building (finished in 1950) served as Suzanne Sugarbaker's residence during the early episodes of the program.

Awards and nominations

Primetime Emmy Awards

  • 1989 Nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series
  • 1989 Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Meshach Taylor)
  • 1990 Nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series
  • 1990 Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Delta Burke)
  • 1991 Nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series
  • 1991 Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Delta Burke)
  • 1992 Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alice Ghostly)
Golden Globe Awards

  • 1989 Nomination for Best Musical or Comedy Series
  • 1990 Nomination for Best Musical or Comedy Series


This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Designing_Women" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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