Designing Women and Women Of The House

Designing Women (1986-1993)
Women Of The House (1995)
Type: Spin Off

   Women Of The House has to be one of the most unlikely spin offs of all time and I'm sorta sad it tanked when it went on the air. The reason I say this was an unlikely spin off is because its star Delta Burke had originally left Designing Women not to do a spin off but because of a nasty public feud between herself and the show's producers.

   Designing women had been a sitcom about a group of female interior decorators working at a firm called Sugarbakers. Julia Sugarbaker was the firm's owner and ran the business out of her own home. Mary Jo and Charlene were the other two "designing women" who worked for Sugarbakers. Also on staff was their delivery man Anthony, a black ex-con who was in fact just a regular guy working on his college degree. Delta Burke played Suzanne Sugarbaker. Suzanne didn't actually work for Sugarbakers but was Julia's sister and was just always around.

   In point of fact, work was a word Suzanne was not all that familiar with. She was a former beauty contest champion who had since married very well... several times. Suzanne did not have to worry about money in the least. She was, to put it plainly, a spoiled, pampered and opinionated beauty. But she was also deep down a truly good person.

   As the series wore on though Delta Burke went from a thin beauty to... well... to not so thin. This didn't need to be a huge deal from a story point of view: heavier girls can have that diva attitude too. But it did become an issue in the media. Delta's weight was a big deal in the tabloids and the pressure of the media scrutiny soon had an impact on the show. From the point of view of a casual viewer it's hard to know what actually happened behind the scenes next. Delta accused the producers of Designing Women of not being sensitive to her weight and her situation. Then the producers got angry with her for that claiming that that wasn't true and that she was the problem. And then it just quickly ballooned into huge public fight from there. But as to what really happened, it's hard to say. Delta said the producers acted in such and such way and they say they didn't and blame it on her. Given that none of us were actually there and that we are going all on second hand information, we can't really say where it all started or who was right or wrong. All that matters is that it did happen.

   Suzanne was written off the show as having moved to Japan. It had earlier been established that Julia and Suzanne's mother had moved to Japan so it was explained that Suzanne had moved off to be with her.

   Suzanne was never successfully replaced as one character then another was brought in an attempt to fill her shoes. Julia Duffy, who had previously played the spoiled rich brat sort of character on Newhart, tried and failed playing Allison Sugarbaker, a cousin of Suzanne and Julia from New York who pumped some of her money into the firm. She was then followed by Judith Ivey playing B.J. Poteet. With B.J. they wisely didn't try to bring in another Suzanne but opted for a new type of character altogether. B.J. was a woman with lots of money who enjoyed throwing it around. With Julia's business in trouble when Allison pulled out of the business, B.J. bought in to Sugarbakers to keep it afloat. She was rich like Suzanne but also much more down to Earth.

   With Delta off the show, her absence hurting the show and all the bad blood between them it would seem that the relationship between Delta and producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason was shattered.

   But no! Miracle of miracles, you'd be wrong! Only in Hollywood. Delta and the producers reconciled. My guess would be that once all the media craziness died down, both sides were able to discover how the other side really felt and thought without all the media reports and gossip muddying and distorting things (I could be wrong but that would be my guess). In the end they made peace and Delta's Suzanne Sugarbaker returned to TV in a sitcom called Women Of The House.

   Women Of The House found Suzanne now the widow of a U.S. Senator and being asked to step in and finish off her husband's term in office. It was a chance for Thomason and Bloodworth-Thomason to not only bring back the one of a kind Suzanne but also to create a show where they could do some good political satire. The show centered on Suzanne and the women on her staff. For such a short lived show, there was a pretty big turnover on who exactly those women were. The character of Jennifer Malone was played by two different women and then replaced altogether. And the show only had like 12 or 14 episodes! Also in the cast was Suzanne and Julia's adult retarded brother Jim - surprising since he wasn't ever mentioned on Designing Women. He was sort of the Anti-Chuck (On Happy Days the Cunnighams started off with a son named Chuck who ceased to exist after a couple seasons as opposed to Jim who just "popped" into existence out of nowhere).

   By the time the show hit the air, Designing Women had already been gone for some time. A spin off really needs a solid current hit to spin off from to gather public interest in it and to hit the ground running. It's also possible that the producers' feud with Delta may have soured people on wanting to give it a look. You hear enough gossipy junk about "Delta and the Thomasons hate each other and smacked each other with hammers and blah blah blah..." and eventually whenever you hear those names together you go into annoyed mode and ignore the rest. And those repeated cast changes couldn't have helped. For whatever reason, the showed disappeared quickly.

   The one last thing worth noting about Women Of The House is that there was an episode of the show that was made that caused a huge fight with CBS. It was an episode dealing with the way women are treated in films and television and specifically with violence towards women in the media. It featured tons of cameos by famous women and ended with a montage of scenes of violence towards women taken from TV and the movies. CBS wanted the final montage cut, the producers stuck to their guns and, wa la, controversy. Once the series was canceled, the Lifetime Cable Network - home to all women's series both long and short lived - aired several episodes of Women Of The House that never got to air on CBS before its cancellation including the controversial episode.

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