Atlanta, GA, 1986
As the series starts, main character Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) is introduced as an elegant, outspoken liberal intellectual middle-age widow. Her younger sister, Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke), is a thrice-divorced, rich, flashy, often self-centered, former Miss Georgia World. They are constantly at personal odds, but have launched Sugarbaker and Associates Designs, an interior design firm. Julia manages the company, while Suzanne is mostly a financial backer who simply hangs around and annoys everyone under the guise of being the firm's salesperson. However, she does bring in new customers on a regular basis through breakfast, lunch and dinner appointments.
The pragmatic designer Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts), a recent divorcee raising two children, and the sweet-natured but somewhat naïve office manager Charlene Frazier (later Stillfield) (Jean Smart) are initial investors and coworkers. Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor), a former prison inmate who was falsely convicted of a robbery, is the only man on the staff, and later in the series becomes a partner. Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley), an absent-minded friend of the Sugarbaker matriarch, also appears frequently.
Carter and Burke had both been members of the cast of the CBS sitcom Filthy Rich, which was written by Bloodworth-Thomason. Coincidentally, Potts and Smart guest-starred together in a 1985 episode of Lime Street, which was also created by Bloodworth-Thomason.
Although it was a traditional comedy, and often included broad physical comedy, Designing Women was very relevant (particularly in episodes written by Bloodworth-Thomason herself), and featured discussions of controversial topics such as homophobia, racism, dating clergy, AIDS, hostile societal attitudes towards the overweight, and spousal abuse. The episode "Killing All the Right People" from season two (1987) directly addressed the prejudice associated with the AIDS epidemic after Bloodworth-Thomason's mother died of the disease, and the episode won two Emmy nominations.
The program became noted for the monologues delivered by Julia in indignation to other characters, a character trait that began in the second episode, when Julia verbally castigated a beauty queen who had made fun of Suzanne. That speech, which Julia ends by emphatically saying, "And that, Marjorie, just so you will know, and your children will someday know....is the night....the lights....went out.....in Georgia!" became a fan favorite. Dixie Carter, a registered Republican, disagreed with many of her character's left-of-center commentaries, and eventually made a deal with the producers that for every speech she gave, Julia would get to sing a song in a future episode.Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker
Annie Potts as Mary Jo Shively
Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker
Jean Smart as Charlene Frazier-Stillfield
Meshach Taylor as Anthony Bouvier
Julia Duffy as Allison Sugarbaker
Jan Hooks as Carlene Frazier-Dobber
Judith Ivey as Bonnie Jean "BJ" Poteet
Played by Dixie Carter; seasons 1─7, 163 episodes
Julia, an attractive, elegant middle-aged woman, is the president and owner of Sugarbaker and Associates Design Firm, located at her own victorian house. Julia can best be described as a feminist who often espouses liberal point of view. She is very quick to speak her mind, sometimes without knowing all the facts involved. Julia can be personified as a bold, independent, self-confident, no-nonsense, Southern woman who loves defends her old and sweet South. Her rapid-fire speeches and passionate beliefs earned her the nickname "The Terminator". She often quarrels with her sister Suzanne. Despite her disagreements with Suzanne, she often stands up for her against people who insult her. Early on in the series, she disagrees with her son, Payne, who dates an older woman. She was married to Hayden McElroy for several years, who died prior to the show's premier (in the 1986 debut episode, Hayden's death is described as having happened a year before, in 1985) after suffering several heart attacks. Julia has a romantic relationship with Reese Watson, also a widower, who is also known for putting her in her place. After Reese's untimely death during the fifth season, Julia tentatively begins dating again, eventually beginning a relationship with symphony conductor Phillip Russell Stuart during the show's final season. As the series progressed, Julia becomes a softer person. Though the most logical and sensible member of the group, Julia is occasionally convinced by the others to try something uncharacteristically silly (such as sticking her head through the banisters of the staircase in the Governor's Mansion), usually with disastrous results, but often, Julia was the one to convince the others to change their minds when they want to do something that can't be the right thing to do, or the most logical idea to do it. Carter is the only cast member to appear in all the episodes of the series (Potts was absent for only one). Alltough Delta Burke was the one who appears at first in the intro's credits during its first five seasons, Carter's character has been the indicated as the main character of the show's plot during all seven seasons, what made Dixie Carter the main actress of the show.
Played by Annie Potts; seasons 1─7, 162 episodes
Mary Jo, a short redhead, is the main designer of Sugarbaker's. At the beginning of the series, the newly divorced Mary Jo is very shy, easily intimidated, and somewhat lacking in self-esteem. However, as the series progresses, she slowly becomes more independent and resourceful. Mary Jo is the mother of two children, Claudia and Quinton. With a sarcastic, and often self-deprecating sense of humor, she often pokes fun at the personal life stories told by Suzanne and later Allison. Somewhat inspired by Julia, she becomes more self-confident and also a bit more opinionated, and even supports a safe sex campaign at her daughter's school. Initially, it took Mary Jo a long time to start dating again after her divorce. Eventually, Suzanne sets her up with J.D. Shackelford, a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves, whom she sporadically dates through the show's first season. She often portrays a false persona of herself to impress old friends and clients. Throughout the course of the series, despite her off-again-on-again romance with J.D., Mary Jo is mostly unlucky in love. She sometimes goes to the extreme to impress a man, sometimes men in whom she does not have much interest. Several times over the course of the series, Mary Jo expresses feelings and actions signaling she is going through a mid-life crisis. Potts appeared in all but one episode.
Played by Delta Burke; seasons 1─5, 118 episodes
Suzanne, Julia's younger sister, is the often self-centered, somewhat silent partner of Sugarbaker's. She is a rich, flashy, beautiful dark-haired ex-beauty queen, who often denies her real age. Among her previous titles, she won the 1976 Miss Georgia World contest in Atlanta and was a contestant in the Miss America Pageant in either 1975 or 1976 as stated in the second-season episode "High Rollers" during a trip she, Charlene, and Anthony take to Atlantic City (Burke herself had been a contestant in the 1974 pageant). She is a divorcee with three previous husbands; two of them being Dash Goff(Gerald McRaney), a Southern writer, who was her first and one true love, and another being Jack Dent, who played for the Atlanta Braves and the third is J. Benton Stonecipher (unknown occupation). She has a Hispanic maid named Consuela. Though never herself appearing on-camera, Consuela's wild and crazy antics are usually revealed by Suzanne such as being into voodoo and her violent outbursts. Suzanne often shows disinterest in Anthony, but considers him one of her best friends and is often able to con him into doing things for her such as guarding her house during a rash of neighborhood robberies and teaching Consuela how to drive. Suzanne and Anthony eventually play foils to one another as the series progresses and find themselves in increasingly bizarre and comical situations such as in the season-four episode "Foreign Affairs", when Suzanne convinces Anthony to dress up as Consuela to fool immigration and gain citizenship status so she will not be deported. Suzanne also has a fascination with guns, owning several of them leading to a comical episode during season four when she accidentally shoots Anthony in the leg after mistaking him for a burglar the day before he is to graduate from college. In season one, she tried to adopt a foreign girl named Li Sing. Early on in the series, she gets a pet pig she names Noelle, which she treats as a human being, dressing her up, driving her around in her car, and taking her to the local Dairy Queen. Noelle, however, eventually runs away from her and never returns. In season four, Suzanne begins a battle with her weight after making an appearance at her class reunion. She misses a handful of episodes throughout seasons four and five, before leaving the series in the first episode of season six. Suzanne leaves Atlanta to take a job in Japan and sells her part of Sugarbaker's to her wealthy cousin Allison. Had Burke continued with the series past season five, the Thomasons had stated a storyline involving Suzanne and Anthony eloping was to be in the works.
Played by Jean Smart; seasons 1─5, season 6 (guest star), 120 episodes
Charlene is the office manager of Sugarbaker's. Sweet-natured, but often naïve, she is a tall blonde from Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Charlene reportedly never meets a stranger and is known for searching for the good in everyone. She remains in steady friendships with all of her coworkers, though her naïveté often results in quarrels with Julia and Suzanne. Charlene is very practical, but a dreamer. She dreamt as a child of being a preacher and is a long-running fan of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Dolly Parton. Though often guided by her psychic adviser, Charlene often finds herself in trouble while looking for a respectable man to date. She is often the target of con men. She has a short-lived romance with Shadow, a secret government agent, before romancing Mason Dudd, an overweight entrepreneur, who leaves her for Japan. Charlene meets her soul mate in widowed Air Force Colonel Bill Stillfield, whom she eventually marries. She gives birth to their daughter, Olivia, early in season four. In a dream, she was visited by entertainer Dolly Parton as Olivia's Guardian Movie Star, who confirmed to Charlene the gender and name of her child. When Bill is reassigned to England in early season six, Charlene turns over her job at Sugarbaker's to her sister, Carlene Dobber.
Played by Meshach Taylor; seasons 1─2 (recurring), seasons 3─7 (starring), 152 episodes
Anthony is the deliveryman of Sugarbaker's, who later becomes a partner of the design firm. Before coming to work at the Sugarbaker's, he had been raised by his grandmother, Dondi, after his mother, who was a drug addict, abandoned him. In the episode, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", Anthony meets his biological father for the first time on his 30th birthday after the ladies hire a private investigator to find him. He was unknowingly involved in a robbery of a local convenience store, which gets him sent to prison. (The details behind his conviction and imprisonment are not made known—to the other characters or the audience—until fairly late in the series.) Anthony often discusses his "unfortunate incarceration", most of the time to explain his feelings and out of fear. His cellmate, T. Tommy Reed, often bullied him, but later returns as a changed man who wants to make Anthony his business partner. Anthony becomes involved in several tasks over the run of the series in an effort to improve his life. By the seventh season, Anthony is working hard to complete law school. Nonetheless, he soon takes a trip to Las Vegas after his fiancée dumped him. There, he wakes up to find he has married an alluring showgirl named Etienne Toussaint. By the end of the series, he has completed law school.
Played by Julia Duffy; season 6, 23 episodes
Allison is Julia and Suzanne's cousin, who sweeps into Sugarbaker's at the beginning of the sixth season. Having purchased Suzanne's shares, Allison makes her petite but bossy and overbearing presence felt declaring that she has the controlling interest in the business. She also takes up residence in Suzanne's house, claiming that she holds the lease and plots to drive Anthony out of the house, despite the fact that he has been renting it. Her uncanny ability to alienate all those around her can be attributed to her Obnoxious Personality Disorder, and she enjoys an antagonistic relationship with Julia, Anthony and Mary Jo. Allison sometimes does demonstrate some self-awareness in admitting that she finds it difficult to form relationships with others. Initially presenting herself as a corporate dynamo who attended Wellesley College and was a friend of Marla Maples, it turns out that Allison has been fired from every job she has had, most notably working as a seeing-eye person for a wealthy blind lady in New York, who fired Allison after she found out that she had dyed her hair a horrible colour. Having testified against her former boss, Barry Bensfield (played by Julia Duffy's husband Jerry Lacy), which led to his imprisonment for insider trading, Allison is the victim of a revenge plot, when Barry arrives at Sugarbaker's asking her to marry him, only to leave her jilted. Allison does have her moments during her time at Sugarbaker's - paying for Carlene to go to college, dancing with a convict during a prison riot, dating Mary Jo's brother, bonding with girl scouts over manicures and pedicures, and she even once gets Julia to admit that some of her insights are correct. Despite this, Allison never really becomes one of the group. In the first episode of the seventh season, it is explained that Allison has left Atlanta, having taken her money out of Sugarbaker's to invest in a Victoria's Secret franchise.
Played by Jan Hooks; seasons 6─7, 45 episodes
Carlene is Charlene's younger sister, who has moved to Atlanta for a fresh start after divorcing her husband Dwayne in Missouri. Carlene takes over the office duties at Sugarbaker's when Charlene moves to England. Lacking the worldliness of her sister, Carlene is a country girl at heart, with an almost childlike innocent way of looking at the world. Mary Jo strikes up a close sisterly friendship with Carlene, while Allison funds Carlene's college studies. When not imagining that she is the star of "the sitcom of her life", Carlene is also an aspiring songwriter and is often seen strumming on her guitar, but shows more enthusiasm than actual talent.
Played by Judith Ivey; season 7, 22 episodes
Bonnie Jean, or B.J., meets the girls at Sugarbaker's at the beginning of the seventh season when she calls to hire them to decorate her house just as Julia decides to go out of business. A warm-hearted Texan widow, B.J. was married to millionaire James Poteet and inherited his business, Poteet Industries, when he died of a heart attack. Despite winning Julia's shares of Sugarbaker's in a poker game, B.J. Offers Julia a chance to win her shares back in a BlackJack game. After realizing that B.J. let her win, Julia offers her a chance to buy in to the business, saying that they need someone "with some air in her hair". B.J.'s willingness to invest in Sugarbaker's provides a much needed financial lifeline to the business after Allison's departure. Despite her millions, B.J. is a down-to-earth lady who is always tickled by life and by the people around her. She enjoys pushing other people's buttons, most notably Julia's liberal leanings, but always knows how to defuse a situation with her own brand of good-natured humor.
Played by Alice Ghostley; seasons 1─7 (recurring), 48 episodes
Bernice is the absent-minded friend of Julia and Suzanne's mother, Perky, who brings her to join her daughters and friends for Thanksgiving during the first season. Bernice has an "arterial flow problem above the neck" as Perky describes, which causes her to make off-handed and outlandish comments from time-to-time. When Perky unexpectedly moves to Japan, the Sugarbakers become the overseer of Bernice, at the request of their mother. Bernice was married to Louis Clifton for many years, who had worked in a circus as a young man, billed as the "Dancing Fool". In season four, she fights off her carefree niece, Phyllis McGuire, who wants to place her in a sanitarium. Having never had her own children, Bernice often thinks of Anthony and the four ladies as her own. She has a humorous relationship with Suzanne, who nicknamed her "the little fruitcake". Bernice often believes several men have "the hots for her". though this is always proved to be false. By the final season, she makes more frequent appearances.Attorney Reese Watson (played by Hal Holbrook; seasons 1─5, 9 episodes)―Reese is Julia's boyfriend, a successful lawyer, and Dixie Carter's real-life husband. The character dies during the fifth season. (The character's death was necessitated by Holbrook's request to leave the show in 1990 to allow him to star in Evening Shade.)
J.D. Shackelford (played by Richard Gilliland; seasons 1─5, 13 episodes)―He is Mary Jo's on-again-off-again boyfriend and the real-life husband of Jean Smart.
Colonel Bill Stillfield (played by Douglas Barr; seasons 2─5, 12 episodes)―Colonel Stillfield is an Air Force Colonel from an old-money family, and Charlene's boyfriend and later husband.
Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph; season 7, 6 episodes)―Anthony's wife, who worked as a Las Vegas showgirl, which is where he met her.
Claudia Marie Shively (played by Priscilla Weems; seasons 1─4, 9 episodes)―She is Mary Jo's teenage daughter, who Mary Jo spent a great deal of time educating about safe sex.
Quinton "Quint" Shively (played by Brian Lando; seasons 1─6, 7 episodes)―He is Mary Jo's grade school-aged son.
Dr. Theodore "Ted" Shively (played by Scott Bakula; seasons 1─3, 5 episodes)―Ted is Mary Jo's ex-husband, who works as a gynecologist.
Payne McElroy (played by George Newbern; seasons 1─2, 4, and 6; 4 episodes)―He is Julia's college-aged son.
Vanessa Hargraves (played by Olivia Brown; season 4, 5 episodes)―She is Anthony's on-again, off-again girlfriend before his character marries Etienne.
Dash Goff (played by Gerald McRaney; season 2, 2 episodes)―Dash Goff is a successful author and one of Suzanne's ex-husbands, having married her, by his own confession, specifically so that he could suffer enough to be a writer; Gerald McRaney, who acted out the role, is the real-life husband of Delta Burke. (The two first met when shooting "Dash Goff, The Writer," the episode in which the character of Dash Goff first appeared; before this, Burke herself had never married and rarely went on dates.) The character makes another appearance on Burke's short-lived 1994 sitcom spin-off, Women of the House.
Over the course of its seven seasons, Designing Women had a series of guest stars, including Tony Goldwyn, Dale Raoul, Jackée Harry, Mary Ann Mobley, and many others. Sherman Hemsley, Della Reese, Kim Zimmer, Marla Maples, Wendie Jo Sperber, Louise Latham, Mariann Aalda, Leann Hunley, Lewis Grizzard and Lloyd Bochner also guest starred.
One of the most notable guest stars of the series was entertainer Dolly Parton, in the January 1, 1990, one-hour episode "The First Day of the Last Decade of the Entire Twentieth Century". She played Charlene's "Guardian Movie Star", who gives her advice and tells her the gender of her child in a legendary dream sequence. As reported in press releases, Parton herself requested that she guest star in the episode, simply because she was a long-time fan of the sitcom.David Trainer (63 episodes, 1987–91)
David Steinberg (37 episodes, 1987–93)
Harry Thomason (19 episodes, 1987–91)
Jack Shea (14 episodes, 1986–88)
Iris Dugow (5 episodes, 1989–91)
Barnet Kellman (4 episodes, 1987)
Hal Holbrook (4 episodes, 1988–90)
Matthew Diamond (3 episodes, 1987–88)
Dwayne Hickman (3 episodes, 1989–90)
Ellen Falcon (2 episodes, 1986–90)
Charles Frank (2 episodes, 1991–92)
Roberta Sherry Scelza (2 episodes, 1991–92)
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (73 episodes, 1986–92)
Pamela Norris (29 episodes, 1989–91)
Mark Alton Brown (17 episodes, 1990–93)
Dee LaDuke (17 episodes, 1990–93)
Cassandra Clark (7 episodes, 1989–91)
Deborah Pearl (7 episodes, 1989–91)
The exterior of the house seen in the series as the location of the Sugarbakers design, a normal house with a front door with only two windows on both sides of the door, is located in the historic Quapaw Quarter district in Little Rock, Arkansas. Additionally, the home of Suzanne Sugarbaker seen in the series is the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, also in the Quapaw Quarter. Both homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the show debuted in CBS's Monday-night lineup in 1986, it garnered respectable ratings; however, CBS moved the show several times to other time slots. After dismal ratings in Sunday night and Thursday night time slots, CBS placed it on hiatus and was ready to cancel the show, but a viewer campaign saved the show and returned it to its Monday night slot. The show's ratings solidified, and it regularly landed in the top 20 rankings. From 1989 through 1992, Designing Women and Murphy Brown (which also centered around a strong, opinionated female character) aired back-to-back, creating a very successful hour-long block for CBS, as both shows were thought to appeal to similar demographics. The show was a top 30 hit for three seasons, from 1989 to 1992, which 1989-1992 seasons made it the show the most successful of the time and helped CBS which struggled in the ratings around the late '80s. However, with CBS's move of the show to Friday night in the fall of 1992, ratings plummeted and the show fell from 6th to 67th place. The show was cancelled in May 1993.
In an interview with Barbara Walters during the show's fourth season, Delta Burke described tiring and unstructured filming conditions on the set of the show. She explained that it took 15 to 16 hours to film a 25-minute episode, and that they usually worked from 11:00 am to 2:30 the following morning. Although she did not name any specific producer, CBS executives were angered at her response.
Burke's interview took tabloid headlines across the nation, which soon led to an intensive argument with the producers and creators of Designing Women. Series creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband, producer Harry Thomason, began intensive meetings with Burke, her husband—actor Gerald McRaney—and Burke's agent. The Thomasons claimed the testimonies about the unstructured filming schedules were false, but declined to address the hazardous working hours Burke had made so clear in her statement.
The behind-the-scene difficulties dragged on for several months. Eventually, working conditions on the set became very hostile and more hectic. While Smart and Potts were reported to have remained neutral, Dixie Carter sided with the producers, and eventually cut off nearly all contact with Burke. The Thomasons continued to deny Burke's now more frequent and revealing statements, while Burke refused to return to work, which eventually led to her character being written out in a series of episodes in seasons four and five. Burke soon protested that producer Harry Thomason had verbally abused her in front of the entire cast and crew and would not let her leave the set until her fiancé arrived. Thomason countered that Burke had made working conditions on the set more hectic and hazardous than they had ever been before.
Around the same time, tabloids also began to tackle Burke's weight gain. She alleged that she had gained 50 pounds since she had started on the series, and that producers began to criticize her plump size. As the conflict between Burke and the Thomasons grew harsher and longer, CBS began negotiations with Burke's agent. CBS wanted Burke to drop her statements on the Thomasons, return to the series, and accept a salary reduction. Burke's agent, however, requested an increased salary, a choice over scripts for future episodes, and a perhaps spin-off series of her own once Designing Women was cancelled. The subsequent negotiations were endless, and the sides never came to an agreement.
CBS eventually decided it was time to end their engagement with Burke, so she was fired from the series in the spring of 1991, which resulted in another media frenzy. Burke later worked again with the Thomasons and CBS to reprise the Suzanne Sugarbaker character for a short-lived 1994 sitcom, Women of the House, in which Suzanne's latest husband died and she won his seat in Congress.
At the same time as Burke’s departure, Jean Smart had grown tired of the show and turned in her resignation to CBS. Initially, CBS tried desperately to secure Smart for another season, but she refused and left the series the same season. Nonetheless, Smart did agree to return for the sixth-season premiere to explain her character's departure from the series.
With Burke fired and Smart insistent on leaving the show, CBS began searching for their replacements. The producers first signed Julia Duffy, who had just completed a seven-year run on the fellow CBS series Newhart, who would be written in as Burke's replacement, cousin Allison Sugarbaker. Jan Hooks, who had just completed a five-year stint on Saturday Night Live, was signed to the series as Carlene, the dim-witted sister of Charlene. Both characters were introduced in the sixth-season premiere episode that aired in the fall of 1991.
The one-hour sixth-season premiere episode, "The Big Desk," aired on September 16, 1991. Due to the massive tabloid headlines the series received earlier that year, the episode was watched by nearly 40 million people and earned a 20.3 rating, the highest-rated episode Designing Women had ever received in its five years on the air. It was explained that Suzanne had moved to Japan to live with her mother and that Carlene was staying. Suzanne had sold her shares of Sugarbaker's to Allison, and Carlene was there to take over Charlene's job after her departure. Audiences grew to like the Carlene character and her personality. Along with the audience dislike of Allison, reviews for the cast changes were harsh and many believed by this era in the series, the show had "jumped the shark".
Despite bashing critical reviews, the cast changes did not have a large effect on the show's viewership. In the spring of 1991, the show placed seventh in the Nielsen ratings, with an average 16.7 percentage of the audience. Before the departure of Burke and Smart, CBS executives had predicted the series would have entered the top five in the fall of 1991, but instead it fell out of the top 10. During November and December 1991, the series routinely placed 13th in the ratings, with an average 15.9 rating. However, ratings and viewership soon improved and the sitcom ended the 1991─92 season at eighth place with a 16.9 averaged rating, 0.2% higher than its previous season.
During the summer 1992 hiatus of the series, CBS fired Duffy from the series. Judith Ivey debuted on the series on September 25, 1992 in the seventh-season premiere episode, entitled "Of Human Bondage". It was explained that Allison left Sugarbaker's to invest her money into a Victoria's Secret franchise. Ivey was assigned to play BJ Poteet, a rich Texas widow, who won a share of Sugarbaker's in a poker game by a drunken Julia. She was presented as a friendly, outspoken, and strong-willed woman, who brought a down-to-Earth charm and humor to the series. Like the liberal Julia, BJ was known for speaking her mind and converting the topic of conversations to get Julia in a liberal mood.
Show creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason were strong supporters of longtime friend and then-Democratic nominee for President of the United States, Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. In one episode, Julia is stranded in the airport while attempting to attend Clinton's first inauguration. Additionally Charlene mentioned working for Clinton during his Arkansas governorship. Yet another Clintons-related joke was the introduction of the prissy character, Allison Sugarbaker, who makes it quite clear to the other "Designing Women" that she attended Wellesley College (Hillary's alma mater). One episode revolved around Julia running for commissioner, where she debates on television against a conservative candidate, to whom she eventually loses. In reality, Dixie Carter was a Republican who disagreed with some of the liberal views spouted by her onscreen character, although she did become a Clinton supporter. She reached an agreement with the producers in which she was allowed to sing a song for every liberal "speech" her character made on the series.
Julia also expresses her admiration for former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, and is very upset in the episode, "Miss Trial", when her service for jury duty prevents her from attending a dinner with the Carters, who, like her, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. She is later very flattered to discover the Carters have sent her flowers and rushes off to meet them for coffee.
The introduction of Judith Ivey on the series received a better reception than Julia Duffy's debut had a year earlier, but despite the likable change, ratings soon plummeted due to a network decision to move the sitcom to Friday nights at 9:00. Only a few weeks into the show's seventh season on the "Friday night death slot", despite receiving no competition from the other networks, the series had drastically slipped from 6th to 67th place in the Nielsen ratings.
Designing Women was unexpectedly cancelled in the spring of 1993, due to declining ratings and diminishing network interest. The hour-long final episode, "Gone with a Whim", aired on Monday, May 24. Only Dixie Carter and Annie Potts remained for the show's entire run. Carter appeared in all the show's episodes, while Potts appeared in all but one. In total, the series aired seven seasons and 163 episodes.
Shout! Factory has released all seven seasons of Designing Women on DVD in Region 1.
On September 2, 2003, Sony Pictures released The Best of Designing Women, a single-disc DVD featuring five episodes ranging between seasons one through four: "Designing Women (Pilot)" (season 1), "Killing All the Right People" (season 2), "Reservations for Eight" (season 2), "Big Haas and Little Falsie" (season 3) and "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" (season 4).
On September 28, 2010, Shout Factory released Designing Women, Volume 1, a single-disc DVD featuring seven episodes from the first season: "Designing Women (Pilot)", "A Big Affair", "Design House", "I Do, I Don't", "New Year's Daze", "Monette", "And Justice for Paul". Further selected episode volumes have yet to be announced.
On June 5, 2012, Shout Factory released Designing Women – 20 Timeless Episodes, aimed for casual fans to enjoy the series without buying full season sets. The 2-disc DVD set included the following episodes, ranging from seasons one through five: Disc 1 - "Designing Women (pilot)" (season 1), "New Year's Daze" (season 1), "Monette" (season 1), "Oh Suzannah" (season 1), "Ted Remarries" (season 2), "Killing All the Right People" (season 2), "Heart Attacks" (season 2), "Return of Ray Don" (season 2), "Big Haas & Little Falsie" (season 3), "The Wilderness Experience" (season 3). Disc 2 - "The Naked Truth" (season 3), "Stand & Fight" (season 3), "Nightmare from Hee Haw" (season 3), "Julia Gets Her Head Caught in a Fence" (season 4), "Julia & Suzanne's Big Adventure" (season 4), "Foreign Affairs" (season 4), "A Blast from the Past" (season 5), "And Now, Here's Bernice" (season 5), "This is Art?" (season 5) and "The Pride of the Sugarbakers" (season 5).
CBS ran reruns of the show in their daytime lineup at 10:00 a.m. (EST) from April 1991 - June 1992. Subsequently, Designing Women aired on the Lifetime cable network for over a decade. Despite its popularity, the show left the network on August 4, 2006. A 90-minute retrospective special, The Designing Women Reunion, aired on Lifetime on July 28, 2003, reuniting Burke, Potts, Smart, Carter and Taylor in which they shared memories from their time on the series, and also featured interviews with the Thomasons and various writers. Actors Alice Ghostley, Hal Holbrook, Gerald McRaney, and Richard Gilliland also took part in the special.
The series also aired on Nick at Nite beginning October 2, 2006; however, it quickly left and later appeared on its sister network TV Land, airing at various late-night and morning times occasionally until the network lost the rights to air the show in 2008. The series also aired on ION Television in 2007, Monday through Thursday at 7:00 & 7:30 pm ET.
The program currently airs on the Comedy Gold (formerly TV Land Canada) in one-hour blocks every day at 11 am and 5 pm EST. TV Guide Network also began airing a one-hour block weekdays at 11 am EST in October 2011 and currently airs a 2-hour block, weekdays from 3:00 pm (EST & PST) to 5:00 pm (EST & PST).
As of May 2014 reruns air on the LOGO network.