The setting was California, but Georgia was on the minds of virtually all at the Museum of Television & Radio, as Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, Annie Potts and Delta Burke — the original stars of the sitcom “Designing Women” — gathered for a tribute to the show.
“Well, every few years we talk about getting together for lunch or something, and it never seems to work out. So this is nice,” said Smart.
“It’s thrilling,” added Carter. “It’s so exciting, being asked to come out.”
Airing on CBS from 1986-93, “Designing Women” followed the full lives of four Atlanta interior designers. Thanks to reruns, the show has rarely left the airwaves.
“Well, it was really funny,” noted Smart. “And I’ve said this in every interview and it never seems to end up in print, but [show creator] Linda Bloodworth was writing for sitcoms what no one else was doing anything like... And I’m not sure if she ever got the credit for it that she deserved. She was pretty amazing and ahead of her time.”
While prime-time sudsers like “Dallas” and “Dynasty” were dishing and dicing for ratings supremacy, “Designing Women” built an audience by tackling such topics as sexism, ageism, body image and AIDS. And it never forgot that “Women” was a key part of its grand design.
“It was something so unique, because there had never been anything quite like it,” said Potts. “We had Lucy and Ethel [on TV previously], but we never had that exponentially expanded, smart, attractive women who read newspapers and had passions about things and loved each other and stood by each other. So, I’m thrilled to be here and I’m not at all surprised to be here.”
Creator Bloodworth, who was in attendance, was honored as one of 50 women in the museum’s “She Made It: Women Creating Television and Radio” initiative.
Both Smart and Burke left the series two seasons before the series was canceled. Burke, who had gained weight as the series progressed, was fired, with producers alleging she was let go for creating discord on the set. But, on this night, the svelte-looking actress had nothing but fond memories of the gig.
“It was women supporting each other and loving each other and not trying to tear each other apart and being vindictive or manipulative,” she recalled. “And we just had a lot of aspects that were weird, anyway. But it worked.”
All the principals went on to other successes: Carter on the hit series “Family Law” and as a cabaret queen, Burke to Broadway in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and in the upcoming live-action “The Year Without a Santa Claus” and Potts in the Lifetime series “Any Day Now.” Smart earned a Tony nomination (for “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), garnered two Emmys for guest appearances on “Frasier” and this year earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of the president’s wife on “24.”
Despite those successes, Smart said she wasn’t sure “Designing Women” had improved the landscape for women in television. “I don’t know. Television kind of historically was kind of a good medium for women. That’s actually, unfortunately, changed.”
The cast got together for a 2003 reunion special for Lifetime, but this event marked its first time together in public since Smart and Burke left the cast. A reunion show and even a Broadway musical of the series have been rumored, but none of the actors would confirm anything. For the moment, fans will have to be satisfied with a “Best of ‘Designing Women’ DVD from Columbia TriStar and reruns on Nick at Nite.