If fans thought the departure of prickly Delta Burke last year would end all scuttlebutt about Designing Women, they were wrong. In fact, as the CBS series heads to the finish of its best season ever, rumors abound. Put them all together and you’ve got the lead-in to a soap opera: Will pregnant Annie Potts leave the show? Will Julia Duffy’s character be written out? Will the gregarious Jackée, who makes a guest appearance in the comedy’s cliff-hanger, return next season as a regular? Will executive producer Linda Bloodworth- Thomason, 44, a friend of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, turn her attention from scripting to speech writing? Will Designing Women, the top 5 show, make this sixth season its last? And finally — is the talk all drapery and no drywall?
Heck, yes, if you ask Bloodworth-Thomason, who passes off at least two of the rumors — Potts’ departure and the show’s demise — as gamesmanship. “CBS is negotiating with Columbia [the show’s studio], and they can’t agree on a licensing fee, so each of them plants things in the press to their advantage.” Yes, Bloodworth-Thomason says, Potts and the show will be back.
Still, Designing has had a shaky transition since the well-publicized departure of the pesky Suzanne (Burke) and homey Charlene (Jean Smart). Viewers have complained that the addition of Carlene (Jan Hooks), and especially Allison (Julia Duffy), have made for a less-than-Georgia- peachy mix. ”We’ve received a lot of negative mail about the show,” says Dorothy Swanson, president of Viewers for Quality Television, a Virginia-based consumer group that spearheaded a letter-writing campaign to keep Designing afloat in its first season. ”I don’t get the feeling that these characters were developed as fully as the original four.”
Bloodworth-Thomason will admit that Duffy, whose character has ”obnoxious personality disorder,” as diagnosed in one episode, might not be back: ”I think there’s a chance that this isn’t working. If it doesn’t, it’s not Julia’s fault, it’s ours. She’s acted her heart out.” But the producer is already promising ”more depth and a lot more levels” for Hooks’ Carlene, and she hopes Jean Smart will return for some episodes.
Bloodworth-Thomason also hopes Jackée will reappear in the fall. The flamboyant actress is currently under contract to CBS’ struggling sitcom Royal Family, which returns April 8. In Designing‘s season finale, her character, the four-times-divorced Vanessa, becomes engaged to Anthony (Meshach Taylor). Beyond that, Jackée will only say of her role in the year-ender, ”I’m not dead. I don’t die in a plane crash.”
Meanwhile, TV and real-life politics meld in the Thomason household. The prolific producer (who, along with husband and partner Harry Thomason, 51, is also responsible for CBS’ hit Evening Shade) is at work on a half-hour romantic comedy set in Washington, D.C. ”Hopefully,” she says, ”it will coincide with a new President.” The Thomasons produced a New Hampshire campaign ad but have not — as rumored — written material for fellow Arkansans and friends Bill and Hillary Clinton. (Clinton’s brother, Roger, is a production assistant on Designing Women, and Bloodworth-Thomason credits Hillary with thinking up Evening Shade‘s title.)
”I have to say that Bush and Quayle gave me a lot better material,” says Bloodworth-Thomason, who is known for the zinging political repartee in her scripts. ”But for Bill Clinton as President, I’m willing to sacrifice the quality of comedy on the shows.”