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12 Perfectly Arranged Facts About Designing Women

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Determined to use television as a tool for social change, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason developed Designing Women partly with the purpose of creating a television series that featured intelligent women who were both sassy and sympathetic and who expressed differing views on women’s issues and other topics of discussion that came across her soapbox. Almost 30 years after its initial debut, here are some facts about the Emmy Award-winning series.

1. NONE OF THE LEAD ACTRESSES HAD TO AUDITION FOR THEIR ROLES.

When Linda Bloodworth-Thomason decided to create a show about four intelligent, sassy Southern women, she had Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Jean Smart, and Annie Potts in mind from the start. She’d previously worked with Burke and Carter on a short-lived series called Filthy Rich, and Smart and Potts had guest-starred together on an episode of the Robert Wagner series Lime Street. Of the four, only Jean Smart was not a native Southerner; she was born and raised in Seattle.

2. ANTHONY BOUVIER WAS NOT INTENDED TO BE A REGULAR CHARACTER.

Anthony Bouvier was originally supposed to make a one-time appearance in the sixth episode of season one. The script for the episode wasn’t yet complete when Meshach Taylor auditioned, so instead he was instructed to improvise with the other cast members. The producers were so impressed with the chemistry between Taylor and the four female stars that Anthony became a recurring character, and then a series regular. Taylor was the first cast member to be nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the show.

3. A LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN SAVED THE SHOW FROM CANCELLATION.

Midway through season one, CBS moved Designing Women from its Monday night time slot to Thursday, directly opposite NBC’s Night Court. The show plummeted to number 65 in the Nielsen ratings and was put on hiatus, which was network code for “this is close to being cancelled.” Executive producer Harry Thomason contacted a grassroots organization called Viewers for Quality Television (VQT) to enlist the assistance of their membership. A letter-writing campaign was launched, with viewers encouraged to write letters of protest to CBS president Bud Grant as well as to major TV journalists and critics. All told, CBS received an estimated 50,000 letters in support of Designing Women. The series’ stars appeared on an episode of Entertainment Tonight to discuss the campaign and encourage viewers to support them. Obviously, the strategy paid off; the show was not only renewed, it was also moved back to Monday nights.

4. DIXIE CARTER HAD SOME “DESIGN” WORK OF HER OWN DONE AFTER THE FIRST SEASON.

Dixie Carter was 47 years old when Designing Women debuted in 1986. Keen-eyed fans probably noticed a slight difference in Julia Sugarbaker’s appearance between seasons one and two. That’s because after Carter watched the screening of the pilot episode she thought, “If this turns out to be my first big success, after all these years of performing, I couldn't bear to be identified as ‘the older one.’”

5. SADLY, “KILLING ALL THE RIGHT PEOPLE” WAS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE.

The title of the Emmy-nominated season two episode was inspired by an actual quote series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason overheard in a hospital corridor. In late 1986 her mother was dying of AIDS following a contaminated blood transfusion, and Thomason kept a vigil at her bedside while simultaneously writing the early scripts for Designing Women. She was indignant at the ignorance of many of the medical personnel (some nurses refused to touch the AIDS patients and instead placed their medication in a bucket and kicked it into their rooms) and it saddened her that so many of the patients were dying alone in their rooms with even family members afraid to get too close. She put pen to paper when she heard a woman in the hallway confiding to a companion, “If you ask me, this disease has one thing going for it. It’s killing all the right people.”

6. DIXIE CARTER FELT UNEASY DELIVERING MANY OF HER FAMOUS RANTS.

Julia Sugarbaker was a staunch liberal who never hesitated to launch into one of her trademark Terminator Tirades if someone got her dander up. Dixie Carter, however, was a registered Republican who sometimes felt a little uncomfortable with Julia’s politics. She reached a compromise with Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason: for every instance where Julia was required to spout off on a Thomason pet topic, Carter (who’d had years of professional vocal training) would get to sing a song in a later episode.

7. ANNIE POTTS HAD TO HIDE HER PREGNANCY.

The actress was in a family way during season six but the producers decided that they didn't want her character, Mary Jo, to be a single mom. So Annie had to spend much of that season hidden behind furniture or oversized shirts. There was a brief attempt at a pregnancy plot—with Mary Jo longing for a baby and visiting a sperm bank—but the writers had already gone the motherhood route not too long before with Charlene. Besides, Murphy Brown (which aired in the time slot just prior to Designing Women on Monday nights) was raising all sorts of hackles with her impending maternity, and the Thomasons didn’t want to seem like they were hopping aboard the single motherhood bandwagon as an attempt to leech off of some of Candice Bergen’s publicity.

8. JULIA SUGARBAKER AND REESE WATSON WERE MARRIED IN REAL LIFE.

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Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook were married in 1984, the third time down the aisle for both. He turned down the role of Julia’s beau, attorney Reese Watson, several times until Bloodworth-Thomason asked him, “Do you really want some other man making love to your wife on television?"

9. SUZANNE SUGARBAKER AND DASH GOFF WERE ALSO MARRIED … EVENTUALLY.

Gerald McRaney edged out John Ritter to win the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s first ex-husband, writer Dash Goff. There was an immediate attraction between the actors when they first met at a publicists’ lunch in 1987, which only strengthened when he was cast on the show. One scene called for the pair to kiss, and the two were inseparable afterward. They were married in 1989 in an elaborate ceremony in front of 400 guests, with Dixie Carter serving as Burke’s matron of honor.

10. CHARLENE AND BILL WERE NOT A REAL-LIFE COUPLE, BUT CHARLENE AND J.D. WERE.

Richard Gilliland was cast in a recurring role as Mary Jo’s boyfriend, J.D. Shackleford, in season one. But it was Jean Smart who sat across from Gilliland during the first table read and decided that she needed to get to know him better. “I asked Delta to find out if he was married,” Smart recalled to Ladies Home Journal in 1990. “Naturally, Delta walked up to him and blurted, ‘Jean wants to know if you're married.’” Smart invited him to her dressing room to help her with a crossword puzzle, and in June 1987 the couple tied the knot (in the garden of Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter’s Brentwood home).

Even though they were now married in real life, on TV Gilliland was still paired with Annie Potts' Mary Jo, and Smart's Charlene eventually married Air Force Colonel Bill Stillfield (played by Douglas Barr). All four of the men appeared with their onscreen better halves in just one episode, season two’s “Reservations for Eight.”

11. DELTA BURKE CLAIMED THAT SHE WAS BEING TERRORIZED ON THE SET.

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In 1990, Delta Burke appeared on a Barbara Walters special without alerting the Designing Women producers. During the interview she stated that the set was not a happy one, and accused the Thomasons of “terrorizing” and “manipulating” her. She claimed that Harry Thomason once locked her and her co-stars in a room and screamed at them (no other cast member corroborated this story). She also expressed her sadness that her friend Dixie Carter had sided with the producers.

Burke started showing up late or not at all during season five and the cast was forced to learn two versions of each script—one with Suzanne, and one without Suzanne. At the end of the season, Harry Thomason asked the cast to vote on whether or not they’d like to continue working with Burke. The result of the vote was that Burke was released from her contract.

12. 227’S JACKÉE HARRY WAS CONSIDERED AS A REPLACEMENT FOR BURKE.

Season six started out with two new cast members, since Jean Smart had decided that she’d had enough of the sitcom format and work schedule and wanted to spend some time at home with her infant son. Julia Duffy (Newhart) was cast as Allison Sugarbaker and Jan Hooks (Saturday Night Live) was brought in as Charlene’s sister (and replacement) Carlene.

Bloodworth-Thomason stated to TV Guide at the time that, “There are only a handful of actresses who can pull off being whiny and petulant and self-centered and still be liked by the audience, and Julia Duffy has that quality.” Unfortunately, the writers tried too hard to make Allison different from Suzanne, and they never quite got the “likeable” part of her character down pat. Duffy’s contract was not renewed at the end of the season.

Jackée Harry made a guest appearance as Anthony’s fiancée in the season six cliffhanger finale, with the plan that her character would buy into Sugarbaker’s and become a series regular. But it was decided that her personality was too over-the-top and that idea was scrapped.

Additional sources:
Close-Ups: Conversations with Our TV Favorites by Eddie Lucas, Pub. by BearManor Media

Trying to Get to Heaven by Dixie Carter

Delta Style by Delta Burke

Entertainment Tonight Presents The Real Designing Women (2000 TV Special)
 
"Delta Burkes Escalates Was with Designing Women Brass on Weighty Issues," Baltimore Sun, November 14. 1990

"Burke at the Top, Trying to Change," Orlando Sentinel, August 2, 1990

"Delta Burke Bad-Mouths Bosses—Again," Sun Sentinel, November 14, 1990

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy
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Judge Judith Sheindlin was 54 years old when her namesake TV show premiered on September 16, 1996. Two years later the diminutive (5’1”) adjudicator was trouncing the powerhouse Oprah Winfrey Show in the Nielsen ratings. Today, she is one of the highest paid TV celebrities, earning $47 million per year—which she will continue to do through 2020, thanks to a new extended contract.

Fervent fans are familiar with Judge Judy’s more outrageous cases, like The Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer, but they might not know some of these fun facts about both the show and the woman behind it, who turns 75 years old today.

1. THAT GRUFF, NO-NONSENSE STYLE OF JURISPRUDENCE IS NOT AN ACT.

Judge Judy spent a little over 20 years in New York City’s family court system, where she earned a reputation early in her career for being blunt, impatient, and tough-talking. “I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow,” was one of her oft-repeated “Judyisms” at that time. She also frequently warned attorneys appearing before her: "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives ... circumcision being the first." 60 Minutes filmed her in action as part of a 1993 profile, and while her hair color and eyebrows have softened since then, her impatient rants and verbal smackdowns haven’t changed a bit.

2. SHE BEGAN WEARING HER TRADEMARK LACE COLLAR AS SOON AS SHE WAS APPOINTED AS A JUDGE.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Judith Sheindlin to the bench in 1982, and to celebrate she and her husband Jerry—both civil servants at the time—took a $399 package trip to Greece for two weeks. While passing by a row of street kiosks with various locally made crafts for sale, she impulsively purchased a white lace collar from a vendor. She explained to her husband that male judges wore stiff-collared white dress shirts and colorful neckties that peeped out of the top of their robes, so that they had a nice colorful “buffer” between the austere black gown and their face. Female judges, however, had nothing but neck peeping out of their robes and the unforgiving black color revealed every minute of sleep deprivation as well as any skin tone irregularities. The white lace collar, she decided, would not only perk up her face but would also be a bit disarming for litigants—she could picture them thinking “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly!”

3. DESPITE THOSE NEW YORK CITY SCENES ON THE COMMERCIAL BUMPERS, JUDGE JUDY IS TAPED IN CALIFORNIA.

Sheindlin spends 52 days per year taping her show. She flies to California via private jet every other Monday and hears cases on Tuesday and Wednesday (occasionally Thursday if there are production delays). One full week’s worth of shows are filmed each day. Many viewers, however, are fooled into thinking Judy is holding court in her native New York, thanks to the scenic Manhattan footage in between station breaks and the New York state flag behind her chair. That is, until something oh-so-unique to the west coast—like an earthquake—occurs on-camera. (Note that in the clip below, Judge Judy quickly ducks beneath her bench once the room begins to tremble.)

4. SHE IS BRIEFED ON THE CASES BEFORE SHE ARRIVES ON THE SET.

Judge Sheindlin does not go to the studio unprepared; producers FedEx the sworn statements and relevant information on each upcoming case to her home (Naples, Florida in the winter; Greenwich, Connecticut in the spring and summer) and she familiarizes herself with enough details to have some background, but not enough so that the case doesn’t appear “fresh” when she questions the litigants during filming.

5. THE CASES REALLY ARE REAL.

The production company has a staff of 60-plus researchers across the country who spend their days poring over lawsuits filed in local small claims courts. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they are able to photocopy cases that they think might make for interesting television and those copies are forwarded to the show’s producers. Any cases that make it to the next stage (about three percent) involve contacting the litigants involved and asking them if they’d like to forego their civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles, an $850 appearance fee, and a per diem of $40 (as of 2012). An added incentive is that any judgments awarded are paid by the show, not by the plaintiff or defendant. The best cases, according to the executive producer, are those that involve litigants with a prior relationship—mother/daughter, father/son, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Such cases engage the audience because it’s an emotional tie that’s been broken (the recurring plot on many soap operas).

6. THE AUDIENCE, HOWEVER, IS NOT SO REAL.

Regular viewers will note that the same faces seem to pop up in the audience regularly. Those folks in the spectator seats are paid extras (often aspiring actors) who earn $8 per hour to sit and look attentive. Prospective audience members apply for the limited amount of seats by emailing their contact information along with a clear headshot to one of Judge Judy’s production coordinators (sorry, we cannot provide that info). If chosen, the spectator must dress appropriately (business casual or better) and arrive promptly for the 8:30 a.m. call time. Audience members must pass through metal detectors on their way in and are not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronic devices with them, and food, drinks and chewing gum are also verboten. Spectators are rearranged after each case so it’s not as obvious that it’s the same group of people, and the most attractive folks are always seated in the front row (it’s Hollywood, after all). The audience is instructed to talk animatedly amongst themselves in between each case so that Officer Byrd’s “Order in the court!” admonition has more impact. Bad behavior is grounds for immediate expulsion (in front of 10 million viewers, as Judge Judy likes to remind us).

7. JUDGE JUDY DRESSES CASUALLY FOR THE JOB.

Sheindlin has been known to publicly chastise litigants who come to her courtroom in skimpy clothing or “beach attire,” but behind that bench and under that robe she is usually sporting jeans and a tank top or T-shirt.

8. OFFICER BYRD IS A REAL BAILIFF.

Brooklyn native Petri Hawkins Byrd earned his B.Sc. degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989 and started working in the Brooklyn Family Court system. He first worked with Judge Sheindlin when he transferred to the Manhattan Family Court. “We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “She was just hilarious.” Byrd relocated to San Mateo, California in 1990 to work as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal and a few years later he read an item in Liz Smith’s gossip column about Sheindlin’s upcoming TV show. He sent his old colleague a congratulatory letter and added, “If you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”

9. DESPITE HIS SOMETIMES IMPOSING COURTROOM DEMEANOR, OFFICER BYRD IS ALSO A VERY FUNNY GUY.

He is a talented impressionist, but his sense of humor almost cost him his job—or so he thought at the time. Once, back when he was working with the feisty Judge Sheindlin in New York, he donned her robe and reading glasses to entertain his co-workers with a barrage of Judyisms. Of course, as always seems to happen when one mocks the boss in the workplace, he was caught in the act.

10. THE OCCASIONAL CELEBRITY RELIES ON JUDGE JUDY’S BRAND OF JUSTICE.

Depending upon your own definition of “celebrity”, of course. Actress Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) appeared on the show in 1996 as the plaintiff, suing her plastic surgeon for a leaky breast implant that was impeding her acting career. One year later, former Sex Pistol John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) appeared as a defendant when drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to support Lydon on a solo tour, sued the singer for lost wages and an assault. Despite Lydon’s occasional bad courtroom behavior, the decision was made in his favor.

11. THE STAR ORIGINALLY DIDN’T WANT THE SHOW NAMED AFTER HER.

Sheindlin first envisioned calling her show Hot Bench, a term used frequently in the appellate court, but the producers wisely advised her that the term was meaningless to TV viewers who didn’t work in the legal system. Her next thought was Judy Justice, since she’d overheard her court officers warning deadbeat parents who were delinquent in child support payments that they were in for a load of "Judy Justice" if they weren’t prepared to cough up some money. In retrospect, Sheindlin realized the wisdom in calling the show Judge Judy: She couldn’t be easily replaced, as the various judges had been on The People’s Court. However, after 19 years on the air, she still does not refer to herself by that sobriquet; whether introducing herself to someone or advertising her show in a promotional clip, she is always either “Judge Sheindlin” or “Judge Judy Sheindlin.”

12. JUDGE SHEINDLIN INHERITED HER SENSE OF HUMOR FROM HER FATHER.

Murray Blum, Judy’s beloved father, was a dentist whose office was in the family home. In those days—before sedation dentistry was an option—a dentist’s best tool to distract nervous patients was the gift of gab, and Murray became a master storyteller out of necessity. Years of listening to her father at the dinner table and at family gatherings taught Judy how to deliver a punchline. One evening outside of a hotel in Hollywood, Sheindlin was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Lorna Berle. She told the judge that her husband Milton was a huge fan and asked if she would mind talking to him for a moment. The elderly comic slowly emerged from a limo and Judy greeted him by singing the theme song to Texaco Star Theater, her favorite TV show as a child. Milton Berle complimented her in return, saying “Kid, you’ve got great comic timing.”

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