Looking at the TV landscape these days, it's amazing how things have changed in the last few decades. "Golden Girls" and "Designing Women" were massive hits for their networks, as audiences loved following the misadventures of these groups of women. Today, if someone mentioned the "Golden Girls" concept, people would look at them as if they're speaking another language - the only reason why former "Golden Girl" Betty White is back on TV is because her foul humor has made her into the cute concept of foul-mouthed older woman.
Interestingly, despite the push by networks to capture the "all-important" 18-34 audience over the last couple of decades, it's CBS (the former network of "Designing Women" and the one that targets older audiences most) that's been the most successful in recent years.
As for "Designing Women" (which was smartly paired on the schedule with "Murphy Brown" for a good portion of its run), the series ran between 1986-1993, and while it had years (early on and the last season) that weren't quite as successful, "Women" still managed a pretty strong, consistent audience, which grew nicely until 1992. The series still remains fondly remembered and is occasionally referenced in shows these days, such as a recent episode of "30 Rock" (Tina Fey's character, in a sleep-deprived daze, yelling at co-workers that "...you do not cross a Sugarbaker woman!")
"Women" focused on sisters Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) and Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke). The two sisters couldn't be more different - Julia remained largely sweet and fairly soft-spoken, while Suzanne is a rich, over-the-top and egotistical former beauty queen. This could have been a completely unlikable character, but Burke's performance gives it some depth and dimension, creating a much Yet, the two sisters came together to start an interior design firm. They're joined by Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) and office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield (Jean Smart), as well as the cast's only male, Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor). Alice Ghostley is also terrific as goofy family friend Bernice Clifton.
"Designing Women" was not only a delight, but mostly consistent. Sweet, sassy and funny, the series also managed to tackle serious topics at times (such as AIDS), and do so in a soulful, memorable and often heartbreaking fashion - which is a credit to the skill of the cast and writing.
However, in the sixth season of the series, everything changed, and that was largely it for the series - while not unenjoyable, it's an example of a series that wasn't broken, but changes didn't work and alienated audiences. The series got stronger ratings as people probably tuned in to see the changes, but critically it was a disappointment and the show's move to Friday nights in Season 7 caused ratings to tumble.
This time around, Burke and Smart exit stage left, and they are replaced by Carlene (Charlene's sister, played by Jan Hooks) and Julia Duffy joins as Allison, Suzanne's cousin. It's not that Duffy and Hooks aren't talented actresses, but neither are as good a fit and while audiences definitely tuned in for season 6, many tuned out for the final season.
While fans of the series have a lesser view of this final season, there are still some highlights to be found throughout, with some of the best episodes this season including "Last Tango In Atlanta", which manages to mine an unexpected amount of comedy out of a prison riot ("I can't believe you standin' in the middle of a prison riot, sayin' 'Where y'all goin'?'"), as the girls talk amongst themselves in a locked room while chaos goes on in the background. "Real, Scary Men", "Carlene's Apartment" and "I Enjoy Being a Girl" also deliver the laughs, as well. After not seeing "Designing Women" for years, it was really a joy to see the series again after all these years. The show holds up surprisingly well (even these lesser, later episodes), as the densely-packed humor is still witty, fast and gets laughs consistently.
• Season 6
119 601 16/Sep/91 The Big Desk (1)
120 602 16/Sep/91 The Big Desk (2)
-Sugarbaker cousin Allison tries to take charge.
121 603 23/Sep/91 A Toe in the Water
- Julia thinks she's ready to start dating again, but Allison disagrees.
122 604 30/Sep/91 Dwayne's World
- Mary Jo tries to take Carlene under her wing when her ex comes to town.
123 605 07/Oct/91 Marriage Most Foul
-When Allison's ex-convict husband is released, she fears he'll come for revenge.
124 606 14/Oct/91 Picking a Winner
- Mary Jo turns to a sperm bank to get pregnant.
125 607 21/Oct/91 Last Tango in Atlanta
- The women help at an outreach program at Anthony's former prison and get stuck in a room during a prison riot.
126 608 04/Nov/91 The Strange Case of Clarence and Anita
- The Sugarbaker women take sides in the Clarence Thomas vs. Anita Hill debate.
127 609 11/Nov/91 Just Say Doe
- When Mary Jo's womanizing brother falls for Allison and takes her on a trip, the other women tag along secretly.
128 610 18/Nov/91 Julia and Rusty, Sittin' in a Tree
- Julia is pressured into a second date with Rusty.
129 611 02/Dec/91 Julia and Mary Jo Get Stuck Under a Bed
- Sugarbakers enter a design contest, but worry that their designs are going to be copied.
130 612 09/Dec/91 Real, Scary Men
- When their van breaks down, the women become unwelcome guests at a men's club where Anthony is trying to get an account.
131 613 16/Dec/91 Tales Out of School
- Anthony sees an opportunity when his law professor is attracted to Carlene.
132 614 06/Jan/92 Driving My Mama Back Home
- Julia and Mary Jo take Mary Jo's mother back home via overnight bus.
133 615 13/Jan/92 Payne Comes Home
- After marital problems, Payne comes home.
134 616 20/Jan/92 Carlene's Apartment
- Carlene invites everyone to her apartment for a sleepover, but everyone ends up leaving over the night.
135 617 03/Feb/92 Mamed
- A tough-talking Broadway has-been goes after Julia after she steals a role in a community theater production - but on opening night, Julia is too drunk to perform.
136 618 24/Feb/92 A Scene From a Mall
- Julia protests when Anthony is harassed by security guards at the mall.
137 619 02/Mar/92 All About Odes to Atlanta
- Carlene enters a jingle contests and convinces Mary Jo and Julia the chance to perform it.
138 620 09/Mar/92 I Enjoy Being a Girl
- On an overnight girl scout trip, Carlene's leadership abilities are called into question.
139 621 23/Mar/92 L.A. Story
- Allison invests in a Hollywood film and brings everyone to director Charles Nelson Reilly's home.
140 622 27/Apr/92 A Little Night Music
- Julia strolls down memory lane while awaiting medical tests.
141 623 04/May/92 Shades of Vanessa
- The girls use Anthony as "date bait" to win a contract.
VIDEO: Shout Factory presents "Designing" in 1.33:1 full-frame. Image quality is perfectly acceptable, given the age of the series. While never sharp, the picture doesn't appear fuzzy or hazy - it's mostly crisp and passably detailed. Some slight wear on the presentation is seen on a couple of occasions, but nothing too distracting. Colors look bright and warm, with fine saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The audio is offered in stereo, and it's perfectly fine - dialogue remains clear and natural throughout most of the running time, and music sounded well-recorded.
Final Thoughts: "Designing Women"'s sixth season sees changes taking place, but while it initially lead to higher ratings, they were critically panned and by the next season, fans left with the change in time period. Still, while this season is a step down for the show, there's still some very funny episodes. Recommended for fans.