When four strong, sassy and sexy Southern women running a fledgling interior decorating firm hit the television airwaves as Designing Women in 1986, they brought a new kind of Southern spirit to American television. Smart, ambitious and outspoken they embodied the new Southern woman. The much-married, alimony-rich beauty queen Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) uses her feminine wiles to attract business for the firm - and future ex-husbands for herself. Her sophisticated sister, Julia (Dixie Carter), is nobodys fool and runs the operation and her own life with a guarded graciousness. Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) is the sweet-natured, recently-divorced mother trying to make her own way in the world as a decorator for the first time. Small-town gal Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart) is the naÃ¯ve, overly-trusting bad-guy magnet who runs the office. They are all devoted to the business. They are each devoted to the other. Designing Women was a gift to American television that ran for seven seasons and continues winning fans to this day in reruns all around the world. All 21 episodes from Season 1 finally arrive on DVD.
* Designing Women: A Reunion sponsored by The Paley Center for Media in 2006.
The mark of a great sitcom is whether the jokes and tone stand up to time, despite any outdated hairstyles and fashion. Designing Women is a great sitcom. The first season--which aired during 1986-1987--capitalizes on the leading ladies' charm and chemistry. Sure, the clothes may give away the era, but the dialogue is consistently whip-smart and funny. Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) owns an Atlanta interior design firm. She is a proper, well-mannered lady, but if you get on her bad side, watch out: Her words cut through like a knife, as evidenced in an episode where a clueless man thinks Julia and her friends might be flattered by his unwanted attention. Julia's sister Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) is the polar opposite of her feminist sister. A former beauty queen, Suzanne has been married and divorced more than a handful of times. Though shallow and blunt, Suzanne also has a heart of gold when it comes to things that really matter--like friends and family. Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) is their petite, red-headed colleague. Divorced from a doctor who she put through med school, Mary Jo isn't sure how to navigate life as a single mom. Then there's Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart), whom Suzanne once referred to as a "big old donkey girl." NaÃ¯ve and hopeful, Charlene sees the good in everyone--even Suzanne. The beauty of Designing Women is that while somes of the plotlines revolve around each character's insecurity, the writers also tap into what the women really want--even if they aren't aware of it. For instance, Suzanne volunteers to foster a child whose adoptive parents can't take her for a month. Never mind that this isn't the way foster parents or adoption works. The way Suzanne fusses over the little girl--even allowing Li Sing to wear one of her prized tiaras to bed--is as touching as it is funny. Meanwhile, Julia has a difficult time watching her 19-year-old son engage in a romance with a woman her own age. This season also tackles sexual harassment, racism, and cancer. There are some ridiculous premises--such as Charlene's being involved with a possible escaped criminal and Suzanne being worried that her maid cast a voodoo spell over her. But overall, Designing Women still manages to make viewers laugh, think, and even cry a bit. --Jae-Ha Kim