Readers are for redesigning 'Women'


THE MINUS-DELTA factor seems to have done in "Designing Women" among readers responding to a recent informal poll on this season's cast changes on the CBS Monday night sitcom. Most do not even remotely approve.

Only four of more than 100 correspondents thought the arrival of Jan Hooks and Julia Duffy in place of Delta Burke and Jean Smart has left the show equally enjoyable.

A clear majority are deeply upset with the changes, and many say they have stopped watching the show.

"There's nothing left but the memory of how sharp, on the mark and irresistibly funny the show used to be," wrote Gwen Owens of Baltimore, for example.

"The show has gotten so bad I just turn the TV off and wash my hair between 'Murphy Brown' and 'Northern Exposure,' " wrote reader Rosemary Hall.

"Now we don't even wait to hear the intro music -- our TV gets switched off," agreed Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Hadley of Street.

"Life is not the same," echoed S. Arnold of Glen Burnie.

And Pat Perkins of Sykesville told an ironic story to illustrate the depth of her distress:

"This is only the second time I have written anyone regarding a television show. The first was to protest the removal of 'Designing Women' [temporarily] way back when it had just begun. The second is now to say it would be wise to junk it!"

What happened?

Viewers will recall that a season of off-camera turmoil involving Burke, with much discussion of her weight problems, led to her departure as character Suzanne Sugarbaker. And Smart (Charlene) coincidentally left the show after having a baby.

Replacing them this fall were former "Newhart" maid Duffy, as an arrogant Sugarbaker cousin, Allison, and one-time "Saturday Night Live" regular Hooks, as Charlene's dumb sister, Carlene.

The move has been acceptable to only a few Media Monitor correspondents.

"I love 'Designing Women' just the way it is. Yes, Delta was great, but the addition of Julia Duffy, Jan Hooks and the character Bernice [Alice Ghostly] make it just as funny," contended Karen Offutt of Baltimore.

"Great show! Duffy is not as funny as Delta Burke, but she's so arrogant it's interesting," said Elizabeth Bennett of Relay.

"Remember 'M*A*S*H?' We got to like Harry Morgan after he replaced McLean Stevenson. Same for "Cheers" after Shelley Long left," noted reader "JWM" of Baltimore.

But most correspondents detailed their dislike of the new scenario, including some who teed off on the public controversy over Burke's relative bulk.

"Fat or thin, Delta Burke was the show," asserted M. Lockerman of Baltimore, and Nancy Quinn of Baltimore noted, "Too bad some people are so biased toward overweight people."

The original column requesting opinions on "Designing Women" noted the show remains in the Nielsen ratings Top 10 of the year.

But a number of TV-savvy readers noted the series' protected position on the schedule between highly rated "Murphy Brown" and "Northern Exposure," including Carol Young of Odenton, who said, "if 'Designing Women' was anywhere else on the tube . . . it would no longer be on TV!"

Katie Rich of Ruxton even sent in a cartoon of a mouse reading the newspaper while ignoring the TV, and had the character saying, "Being much too lazy to change the channel, one may opt for reading time."

In fairness, the character played by Duffy seems to be the least liked addition. A handful of viewers said nice things about Hooks, while several said they didn't like Duffy to begin with in her somewhat similar role on "Newhart."

Several writers, such as Joan Lancos of Columbia, also noted it is not just cast changes that have hurt the show.

"I really enjoyed the interplay of characters and the way issues were addressed [in previous seasons]. Now, we have a group of very angry women complaining about everything. It's as if the group has permanent PMS," Ms. Lancos said.

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