1 9 8 6 – 1 9 9 3 (USA)
163 x 30 minute episodes
This late 80s CBS sitcom told the story of the two Sugarbaker sisters – Suzanne (Delta Burke) who was sex-mad and dumb, and Julia (Dixie Carter) who was a liberal professional. Together they operated an interior decorating firm – unsurprisingly called Sugarbakers – out of their attractive suburban home at 1521 Sycamore Street in Atlanta, Georgia.
Their employees were divorced single mother Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) – the firm’s buyer who had an (unseen) dog named Brownie – and Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jan Hooks), the firm’s business manager. To help pay the bills, Charlene had a second job as a salesgirl for Kemper Cosmetics.
The firm’s heavy work was done by hired help and ex-convict (he was arrested during a liquor store holdup and served time in Cell Block D at Atlanta State Prison) Anthony Bouvier (Meschach Taylor), who later became a partner in the firm.
There were several cast changes, the most important being the departure of Suzanne. Former Miss Florida Delta Burke went to fat and was given her marching orders – somewhat tarnishing the show’s image as a feminist sitcom beacon.
She was replaced by Julia Duffy as Cousin Allison Sugarbaker. Allison sobbed at everything and suffered from what she called “OPD” (Obnoxious Personality Disorder).
Duffy lasted a single season, to be replaced by Judith Ivey as B.J. (Bonnie Jean) Poteet, an eccentric wealthy Texan widow and recovering alcoholic whose ready cash kept the firm from bankruptcy, and who eventually became part-owner of Sugarbakers.
As Ivey joined the cast, so Annie Potts left.
By the end of the 1992 season, only Dixie Carter and Meschach Taylor were left from the original cast, and the show was clearly floundering in its attempt to restore the original balance of characters, even shifting the centre of the humour away from the Sugarbaker belles to Bouvier and wacky client Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley).
In the final season, Anthony married a beautiful showgirl named Etienne Toussant, who worked at the Tropicana Resort and Casino and liked to be called “ET”. She referred to Anthony as “Tony – ’cause he’s my Tiger.”
Designing Women was cancelled in May 1993. A short-lived spin-off, Women Of The House, aired in 1991.
Delta Burke died on 10 April 2010 of Endometrial cancer. She was 70.
Mary Jo Shively
Charlene Frazier Stillfield