During the summer of 1991, "Designing Women" was riding high in the Nielsens with its biggest ratings ever due to all the publicity the show was receiving in the tabloids after the dismissal of Delta Burke. After much speculation about her successor, it was revealed that Julia Duffy (having recently come off a 7-season stint as spoiled Stephanie on "Newhart") would be her replacement. At the time the producers were quoted as saying "There are very few actresses who can play spoiled, stuffy characters without making you hate them...and Julia Duffy is one of those few". That statement was spot-on and viewers had their hopes as high as the Thomasons that the show would continue to enchant audiences. "Saturday Night Live" alumna Jan Hooks would be taking over for Jean Smart, who's departure was so overshadowed by Delta's, it practically slipped under everyone's radar and was hardly mentioned.
The hour-long season-premiere on September 16, 1991 titled "The Big Desk" generated such buzz it brought in viewers by the millions and was only bested by the season-premiere of lead-in "Murphy Brown". The episode was brilliantly-written to introduce the two new characters as well as send-off Jean Smart, whose promises to return for guest spots never materialized.
Thank God for Shout Factory! I was worried they would stop after Season 5 but bless their little hearts, they have come through with the Season I have been waiting for most of all. With Pam Norris still producing, the vibe is very similar to Season 5 despite the cast changes. Although some of the writing is a little weaker in spots, the delivery and comic timing of all the actresses is impeccable, and I found myself laughing out loud many times over the course of these 23 episodes.
Julia Duffy does her best with a difficult role. The writers basically painted themselves into a corner by giving cousin Allison Sugarbaker the dreaded Obnoxious Personality Disorder then expecting Duffy to win over audiences. Jan Hooks had a much easier time of it as the naive, sometimes unknowingly tactless Carlene. But if nothing else, Bernice (Alice Ghostley) gets more screen time than ever this season and begins bellowing her signature song at Anthony every opportunity she gets ("Black Man, Black Man...Wherrrrre did you come from?").
Some of the best episodes this season include "All About Odes to Atlanta" where Carlene enters a singing contest and acquires a needy groupie named Heather; "Mamed" has Anthony casting Julia as Auntie Mame in a community theatre production that features a hilarious guest spot by Gretchen Wyler; Anthony's infamous former cellmate T. Tommy Reed takes a shine to Allison when the ladies partake in a prison outreach program in "Last Tango In Atlanta"; Jackee appears as Anthony's new squeeze, sassy Vanessa Chamberlain in "Shades of Vanessa"; and "The Strange Case of Clarence (Thomas) and Anita (Hill)" though now dated--features what may be the fastest reaction to current events a scripted TV show ever managed to pull off.
I'm nitpicking and don't mean to sound like an ingrate, but to die-hard fans, the cover art looks a little odd since it features Season 1 shots of Carter and Potts mixed in with Sixth Season shots of Duffy and Hooks. But I'm so glad Shout is delivering the goods with one of my favorite seasons, I'll forgive them!
If you look at Season 6 as a whole new show and forget what Delta and Jean Smart brought to the table, you'll be surprised how much fun these episodes are. Anyone who was turned off by the topical women's issues this show preached during its earlier seasons will probably like this incarnation better since the comedy is front and center. Also, for all the hate spewed towards this season, it should be noted that more people watched these episodes of "Designing Women" than any of the ones with the original cast. The series reached at an all-time peak in the ratings during 1991-92, coming in at #6 among all programs on the air--ironic!
Kudos to Shout Factory because "The Big Desk" is presented in its original hour-long format, not split into two parts as it was in syndication. Also, some episodes featured original classic '60s songs such as "It's My Party" and "When Will I Be Loved" over the closing credits and they appear intact here. Thank you Shout Factory, you've made this DW fan VERY happy!