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Designing Women S5 E11 Extra Sugar - Behind-the-Scenes Drama for Your Mama

Updated: Jan 12

Since almost the very beginning of Sweet Tea & TV, we promised that we would eventually do a deeper dive into the offscreen drama between Delta Burke and the Thomasons. That time has come. 

The very notable absence of Delta Burke in a recent episode –  “Keep the Homefires Burning” – is the perfect opportunity for us to dig into what would ultimately lead to her departure from the series. We’ll also take this opportunity to talk about some other famous offscreen feuds between stars and their bosses.

Come on y’all, let’s get into it! 

Our sources:



Salina: Hey, Nikki.

Nikki: Hey, Salina.

Salina: Hey, everyone.

Salina: And welcome to Sweet Tea and tv and this week's edition of of Extra Sugar.

Salina: Hey, y'all.

Nikki: I have to squeeze it in.

Salina: It's good.

Nikki: It's my role.

Salina: That's fine.

Salina: You're welcome to be here doing that.

Salina: So designing women was noticeably down one woman, one very pivotal woman in season five, episode ten, keep the home fires burning.

Salina: A series high for Nikki and I.

Salina: Bernice.

Salina: Bernice, too.

Salina: And also our very own Suzanne sugar Baker, played in real life by Delta Burke.

Salina: So we weren't able to cover this last week because of our chitty chat about the crown.

Salina: But fear not, we have not forgotten.

Salina: Longtime listeners already know that in addition to talking about the show, we have also explored the lives of its stars with a few segments dedicated to Delta because, one, she became a bit of tabloid fodder during the run of designing women, so much so that it would make its way into the show's narrative in season four.

Salina: You can find that discussion back in season four, episode eleven's extra sugar, and two also because eventually offset drama would lead to Delta not returning for season six.

Salina: And this changes the entire trajectory of the show, which we feel is worth unpacking.

Salina: From what I can tell, relationships between Delta and the Thomasons as well as the cast, began to deteriorate at maybe the end of season four.

Salina: Beginning of season five, we're going to use a Grantland article.

Salina: I found that pretty much timelines what happened behind the scenes, but I do want to give them credit because I certainly did not want to look up all of these milestones nor know how to do it.

Salina: Nikki, as always, as I go through the timeline, like, if there's any questions you have, I'm just probably not going to be able to answer them, but jump on in and ask them or there's anything you want to add, I'll.

Nikki: Be sure to ask tough questions and see if we can get you flustered.

Salina: I love it.

Salina: So we're going to start on May 20 eigth, 1989, Delta and Gerald McCraney were married.

Salina: Quick reminder.

Salina: Nikki walked us through their love story back in season two, episode six.

Salina: And I do believe it is a real love story.

Salina: I mean, they still are out and about from time to time, getting some media coverage, speaking very highly and nicely about one another.

Salina: So I don't feel like we overblow that at all.

Salina: But of course, for those who don't know or may not remember, he starred on screen as her husband, the loquacious dashgoth.

Salina: The two had met in real life before, but this is where they fell in love.

Salina: It's also worth mentioning that Dixie Carter was Delta's maid of honor.

Salina: 1989 is also when people started to notice Delta's weight increasing.

Salina: But this reportedly was not a point of contention for the show.

Salina: In fact, that December is when designing women acknowledged the scrutiny and contempt she faced on in real life with the episode.

Salina: They shoot fat women, don't they?

Salina: This is also the episode she received an Emmy nomination for.

Salina: Fast forward to spring of 1990.

Salina: Delta's agent initiated a meeting with Harry Thomason.

Salina: Thomason claimed it was about, quote, the emergence of Delta as the star of the show.

Salina: The agent said it was to patch up the relationship between Burke and the Thomasons.

Salina: What's hard to track back is like this is a he said he said situation.

Salina: So it's not like I can really confirm either of these things to be know.

Salina: It's not entirely clear to me what the agent was really seeking.

Salina: If we go with Harry Thomason's story, are we talking about more screen time, more money?

Salina: What's the what?

Salina: And that I wasn't really able to find.

Salina: I've also never seen hard evidence for what made things truly escalate.

Salina: What I've seen online, and you may, season two is a long time ago.

Salina: You may have alluded to this somewhat, but that's that.

Salina: McGraney built her confidence so high that it was later seen as arrogance.

Salina: Fast forward again.

Salina: August 2, 1990.

Salina: Off screen drama hits the press when Burke was interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel.

Salina: There she said, and these are quotes.

Salina: There are a lot of things wonderful about it, but I have not wanted to be there for some time now.

Salina: It is not a good workplace, not a good environment.

Salina: It's so strange being part of something that's so wonderful and so awful at the same time.

Salina: The Thomasons then responded with a press release that said, we are all mentally exhausted from the daily trials and tribulations of Delta Burke.

Salina: In another interview, Delta claimed that the cast was forced to go on extreme diets and that Harry Thomason locked the cast in a room and screamed at them.

Salina: On November 14, 1990, a tell all interview aired with Delta and Barbara Walters without the Thomason's knowledge.

Salina: It was taped in early October.

Salina: We'll link to that full interview, but here are some things she said that stood out to me in the aftermath coverage.

Salina: She said she was, quote, not hired to be terrorized or manipulated, and she didn't know things would ever be what they were, that all of this was a great loss.

Salina: Delta spoke about how hurt she was when Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook sided with the Thomasons publicly.

Salina: She also clearly knew she was putting it all on the line.

Salina: Quote, it must have been important enough for me to say this, to risk losing my career and my good name and my money.

Salina: Quote, this is not a star trip at all.

Salina: I would like to work better with everyone, but I have to be recognized and I have to be acknowledged.

Salina: A couple of other things were happening around the same time.

Salina: Designing women's ratings were at an all time high, reaching number five the previous week.

Salina: Delta asked to be released from the show.

Salina: The Thomasons refused.

Salina: I just want to make sure I'm not going too fast.

Salina: Okay.

Salina: It's just engrossed in the story.

Salina: Fascinated.

Salina: So January 1991, Delta sued the Thomasons for being written out of an episode as punishment.

Salina: It's possible it was episode ten, since she's noticeably absent, but there are a couple of others coming that could fit.

Salina: She sued them for 55,000 or what would be about 124,000 today, as well as unspecified punitive damages and a court declaration that the defendant's actions voided her contract.

Salina: On March 28, 1991, the cast and producers met and voted on whether Delta should remain in the show for season six.

Salina: Something really critical that I didn't necessarily put my notes, but in the Grantlin article, it says delta comes in, films, her scenes, and then the cast and crew meet.

Salina: And I think you and I may have talked about this before, but I'm pretty sure it had gotten so sour that she was basically coming in, just filming her stuff and then leaving.

Salina: I think we'll see more and more of that stitched together and evident as time goes on.

Salina: I'm thinking specifically of one episode that's coming up where she starts smoking as a weight loss tool, and they basically just stick her outside the whole episode.

Nikki: Well, we definitely talked about them doing something similar, we thought, with Charlene, when did a baby.

Nikki: Yes, when she was pregnant and had her baby.

Nikki: So they had to do scenes where they could just pop her in later.

Nikki: I don't remember talking about that with Delta Burke, but yikes.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: So they voted and they voted against her coming back.

Salina: Yikes.

Salina: Yep.

Salina: The next week, Harry Thomas and asked for Burke to be released from her contract.

Salina: May 13, 1991, the season five finale of designing women aired, and it was the last time Delta Burke appeared as Suzanne Sugar Baker on designing women.

Salina: Just a little side fact.

Salina: It was also my 6th birthday.

Nikki: I was wondering if you were going to mention that.

Salina: I wasn't.

Salina: There's been a lot of deleting and adding in the notes.

Nikki: I almost threw out a reminder that they got married the day before my anniversary.

Nikki: And then you mentioned August 2, which would be seven days before my fifth birthday.

Salina: Okay, well, then I feel validated in an exact birthday mention.

Nikki: There's only 365 days in a year.

Nikki: What are the ods?

Nikki: These things are happening on important or around important days.

Salina: So a little over a month later, on June 23, Delta and Gerald McCraney renewed their vows.

Salina: Despite having been her maid of honor two years earlier, Dixie Carter was noticeably absent.

Salina: The show was canceled after two subsequent cast shakeups in its 7th season.

Salina: Anecdotally, on the whole, I can tell you that fans do not care for season six and seven.

Salina: There are a few outliers.

Salina: But on the whole, I would say one of the main comments that I see in any of the fan pages are, ooh, no, thank you.

Salina: By 1995, Delta and LBT had mended fences, and together they brought Suzanne Sugar Baker back to the small screen for women at the house.

Salina: It would last one season.

Salina: In 2002, she and Dixie Carter buried the hatchet after appearing on Dixie's show Family Law.

Salina: It was also the third time that the two women would play sisters on tv.

Salina: In 2006, everyone reunited when the Museum of Television and Radio, now known as the Paley center for Media, honored LBT.

Salina: I've seen bits and pieces of this, and I'm hoping we can watch it in full and discuss when the time comes.

Salina: So that's the end of the timeline.

Salina: Any thoughts before we move on?

Nikki: It's just also sad.

Nikki: It's just all really sad how it starts as something beautiful and morphs into something different and then all falls apart in the end, only for people to come around in the end end.

Nikki: I hope we can avoid the same fate for our podcast.

Salina: I knew you were going to say something like that.

Salina: Well, me too.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: Because especially since knowing that LBT, like, hand picked these women to be in the show and she's built these characters for them, or to imagine someone being so close to you that they're in your wedding, and then that was probably.

Nikki: The part that made me the saddest.

Salina: Yeah, I mean, that's pretty terrible.

Nikki: I have a situation like that of my own, and it's really sad.

Nikki: That's a really sad reality, because that.

Salina: Is a big day.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: And this is, like, I have to say, and this has been circling a lot for me and only completely has nothing to do with the podcast.

Salina: But you just get to this age, and it's a sink or swim time for friendships.

Salina: It just is because you either have done certain things in your life or you haven't, and you're kind of like in this place in life where this is everything or it's not.

Salina: And friend groups tend to and it is hard.

Salina: I thought that also based on something that you shared with me, we could talk about other feuds.

Salina: I just pulled a couple so that y'all know Delta.

Salina: Well, I think y'all already know this.

Salina: Delta is not the first or the last to view with her boss.

Salina: Nikki found an article about other actors who fought with their directors and were unceremoniously shown the door.

Salina: So I pulled a couple that I thought were really interesting, or at least marginally interesting.

Nikki: All relative.

Salina: Well, see you tell me how you feel.

Salina: Okay, so I feel like this one is really well known and it's much more recent example, but Megan Fox versus Michael Bay.

Salina: So she was fired from the transformer franchise after skewering director Michael Bay in a magazine interview.

Salina: Here's some of the quotes.

Salina: He's like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous madman reputation.

Salina: He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is.

Salina: So he's a nightmare to work for.

Salina: According to Deadline, Steven Spielberg told Bay to fire her over the Hitler remark.

Salina: But perhaps the wildest part in my reading was three crew members from transformers who asked to post a response to Fox on Michael Bay's website ripping her to shreds.

Salina: We can link to it, but they'll call her trailer trash and many other derogatory things.

Salina: Bay then posted that he didn't condone either her initial comments or the crew letter.

Salina: Weird, then that he let them on his website, but then went on to say he still loved working with her.

Salina: And they did work together again on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies.

Nikki: Oh, I think I missed that.

Nikki: That they worked together again.

Salina: Yeah, because she played April.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: I like this one as an example because it has similar dna to what we saw with Delta and the Thomasons.

Salina: That is, whatever was happening off screen was brought out publicly in the media with lots of they said, they said going on.

Salina: And then years later, they made up and worked together again on another project.

Salina: Two varying degrees of success.

Salina: The next one I pulled was for Joel Schumacher and Val Kilmer.

Salina: So this is another example of a he said, he said, that's pretty tough to untangle.

Salina: So much so that I tried to look into a few other sources.

Salina: It's no secret that Kilmer had a reputation for being slightly difficult.

Salina: That seems to be well corroborated.

Salina: For instance, the title of the Entertainment Weekly article I pulled from 1996 was, Val Kilmer makes enemies in Hollywood.

Salina: Yikes.

Salina: According to Schumacher, the two had, quote, a physical pushing match.

Salina: He was being irrational and ballistic with the first ad, the cameraman, the costume people.

Salina: He was badly behaved and he was rude and inappropriate.

Salina: I was forced to tell him that this would not be tolerated for one more second.

Salina: Then we had two weeks where he did not speak to me, but it was bliss.

Salina: On his absence from the subsequent Batman and Robin, Schumacher said, he sort of quit.

Salina: We sort of fired him.

Salina: It probably depends on who's telling the story.

Salina: Well, I watched the documentary Val, which was honestly was a beautiful, tortured and heartbreaking portrayal of his career done by himself.

Salina: And I would say Val Kilmer sees it differently.

Salina: He talked about being really uncomfortable in the suit.

Salina: It weighing somewhere between 70 and 90 pounds, which is crazy, by the way, and he felt more like a prop than an actor.

Salina: My read is it sounds like a scheduling conflict on Kilmer's side, who also was contracted to make the saint, gave Warner brothers the excuse they needed to release him from his dark Knight duties.

Salina: So we'll link to this article for anyone interested in learning about other Hollywood feuds, as well as an article about 15 actors fired from their own tv shows.

Salina: I just wanted to check in.

Salina: Since that was an article you found, was there anything that stood out to.

Nikki: You that I haven't read it in so long?

Salina: Totally fair.

Salina: I just didn't want to rob you of the opportunity if you felt like there was one.

Salina: I totally glossed over.

Nikki: No, I appreciate that.

Salina: Some of the other ones just got sad or they were so weird that I was like, I don't know what to do with this.

Nikki: Yeah, that's the thing that strikes me about all these situations in General.

Nikki: I think they're sad.

Nikki: I just think it's kind of sad when you don't handle things professionally and separate.

Nikki: I think it's natural for things to happen and things not to work out.

Nikki: Totally normal.

Nikki: When it gets drawn out into the media and becomes this battle of the side of the story and who's going to come out on top, it starts to get really sad because usually it seems like the actor is the one who suffers probably the most, more than the director or the producer or in some instances, like writers, the actor, they're the ones that are kind of sacrificed.

Salina: Well, they're the most visible.

Nikki: They're the most visible.

Nikki: And then also there are sort of know to Val Kilmer's point about feeling like a prop.

Nikki: There's sort of like the chess piece, and they can move them over here and put them in timeout for a little while, and the producer can kind of keep doing things in the background and no one really knows.

Nikki: So it just all gets really sad and it feels like the thread, the common thread, usually is like a too big for their britches sort of scenario.

Nikki: Anytime an actor starts to feel like they're entitled to more than they're getting, it seems like producers, those above them, get very touchy and they don't like to be questioned, and then they don't like that to be put out in the press.

Salina: There's a lot of ego in the world.

Salina: And I think this is why I get so impressed with people who stay so humble, because that's hard.

Nikki: It has to be when people are.

Salina: Telling you every day you're in an.

Nikki: Echo chamber of people telling you how amazing and special and unique and wonderful and you are one of a kind.

Nikki: Yeah.

Nikki: You start to believe that.

Salina: I think if I'm playing Batman, I'm feeling pretty special.

Nikki: Unless you're in a 90 pound suit, then you're probably feeling pretty tired.

Salina: I think that would probably kill me.

Nikki: I think it probably would.

Salina: You're petite.

Salina: Well, reading through all these different accounts, it really cements maybe the one truth in all of this.

Salina: We're never really going to know what happened in these situations, right?

Salina: Only those.

Nikki: And it kills me.

Nikki: I just want to know.

Salina: I know.

Salina: I always want to know.

Salina: The juice.

Salina: The tea I want to drink.

Salina: The juice.

Salina: I want to know.

Salina: The tea I want to nap.

Salina: All right, so only those behind closed doors really know.

Salina: And humans, honestly, are terrible and unreliable narrators, so even still, it wouldn't really matter.

Salina: Just based on my personal experience alone, there are very few cases where it's all one person or one group's fault.

Salina: It's always a little bit more complicated than that.

Salina: Whatever happened in the case of the Thomasons and Delta Burke specifically, there didn't seem to be any winners.

Salina: Delta lost her job, the Thomasons lost an essential part of the show, and viewers lost arguably the best version of designing women.

Salina: We still have 14 episodes to go before we end our run with Suzanne and some goodies with her among them.

Salina: So let's all just do what we can to enjoy those while we can.

Salina: I know we'll be doing that from our angle.

Salina: You know the drill.

Salina: Dm us, email us, or contact us from the website and find us all over the socials.

Salina: And that's this week's extra sugar.


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