- The Washington Times - Friday, May 22, 2009

“Designing Women,” the award-winning sitcom about four feisty Southern belles who run an interior decorating firm, finally will be released on DVD Tuesday, and fans — many of them young women who were barely old enough to talk when the show debuted in the mid-1980s — are celebrating its characters as their feminist inspirations.

“People have been e-mailing me daily about the release for years. People have been clamoring for it,” says John Paul Murphy, who started an online “Designing Women” fan club, designingwomenonline.com, and has gotten to know the show’s cast members and producers.

Mr. Murphy explains that there have been feverish anticipation and fan lobbying campaigns for the DVD release because of the show’s sporadic syndication on cable television. Since the CBS series ended in 1993, reruns aired on the Lifetime Network until 2006 before being bounced between Nick at Nite and TV Land.

The show’s release on DVD, courtesy of Shout! Factory, cannot come early enough for some like Lauren Cagle, 22, who started her own Facebook group Designing Women Diehards while a college student.

“I started watching the show when I was about 14. I noticed there were not many Facebook groups for fans at the time I got to college, but I knew a lot of people my age loved the show.”

Within months of the group’s creation, Mrs. Cagle says, she had thousands of members. She credits the popularity of the show, which debuted in 1986, among her peers with “the way they talked about women’s issues in a humorous way.”

Other groups dedicated to the show, such as Designing Women Made Me a Feminist” and We Want Designing Women on DVD, abound on social-networking sites.

Mrs. Cagle and Mr. Murphy compare the intense solidarity among “Designing” devotees to a cult following. Mrs. Cagle says she and other members of her group plan to have DVD-watching parties next week.

Like the wildly popular “Sex and the City,” “Designing Women” centers around the lives of four main characters with distinctive personalities, but unlike the Manhattan-based followers of Carrie Bradshaw, the women of “Designing Women” live in Atlanta, giving the show a uniquely Southern flair.

The small home-design company, Sugarbaker’s, is run by Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker, portrayed by Dixie Carter and Delta Burke, raven-haired sisters who affectionately jab each other with sugarcoated insults. The sweet-but-tough-as-nails Mary Jo Shively is brought to life by Annie Potts, and Jean Smart rounds out the main cast as naive office manager Charlene Frazier.

The show’s creator and producer, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, known for her liberal political leanings and close friendship with former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, says in material accompanying the DVD release that the characters she created were antebellum pioneers made to counter East and West Coast stereotypes of Southern women as “a long line of oversexed romance-novel queens, ignorant country bumpkins and good-hearted whores.”

“‘DW’ was a strange, exotic offering that seemed to puzzle execs. The women themselves were all over 30 (a definite network liability). They had opinions on almost everything (cardinal rule: females must be vulnerable), and they never apologized for any of them,” she wrote.

Mr. Murphy says men, too, are drawn to the series and are excited finally to see the DVD release because “the humor and dialogue were so smart. You’d be surprised at the number of guys who love the show because it portrayed women as very intelligent. Not all men want to see bimbos.”

The show’s awareness of tricky social issues is part of its endearing legacy for fans.

“They targeted a lot of issues that are still relevant today. People are still talking about women in the ministry, AIDS and gay rights,” Mr. Murphy says.

Although only the first season will be released Tuesday; the second season is set for release in August. Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason writes that seeing the characters back on the screen is worth the wait and is sure to stir up nostalgia.

“I believe that they live on in the occasional imaginings and reveries of all who were seduced by them. Something will remind us — perhaps the click of a Sugarbaker stiletto or an overheard honeyed cadence — and we’re off and running again, picturing them in that place and missing them like a long-lost love.”

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