The press-release warfare between actress Delta Burke and the producers of "Designing Women" intensified Monday even as production began on the CBS sitcom's fourth season.
In the latest barrage, executive producers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason released 12 pages of statements from co-star Dixie Carter and other people connected with the show rebutting Burke's claims last week that the producers were unsupportive and abusive to her.
The producers solicited the public comments--not for any financial or ratings reasons, Thomason told The Times, but because "basically, the only thing you're left with is reputation," and he felt that Burke's statements were an attempt to "damage our reputation, and we have a good reputation and we protect it at all costs."
Jill Bowman, director of current programming at CBS, said that Burke had been suspended with pay from "Designing Women" for one week last October.
Bowman said that CBS and Columbia Pictures Television, which produces the series, had agreed with the action "in the hope that Delta would realize that a problem existed with her professional conduct at work." (A Columbia spokesman said that the studio declined comment.)
Burke's publicist, Annett Wolf, responded that the suspension comment was "an outright lie," because a suspension would have had to be put in writing and that never happened. Wolf didn't recall the specifics but acknowledged that Burke "was given a couple days off"; suspension, however, was never mentioned, she said.
The "Designing Women" cast was assembled late Monday morning for the usual read-through of the week's script, and then was to begin rehearsals for filming on Thursday night. Thomason said that the reading went off without incident.
The unusually high-profile squabble between actress and producers started when Burke, who plays the spunky Suzanne and was the only one of the four women leads to be nominated for an Emmy, told the TV critic of the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel that she hasn't wanted to be on the show "for some time" because of the way she was being treated.
The producers issued a counterstatement about what they described as her unprofessional behavior, and Burke came back refuting that.
The statements supporting the producers were made by Pamela Norris, co-executive producer; producer-director David Trainer, who has directed 44 episodes of the series; line producers Douglas Jackson and Tommy Thompson; director (three episodes) Iris Dugow; costume designer Clifford Chally; assistant directors William Cosentino and Les Banda, and editor Judy Burke. Most of the comments dealt with specifics of alleged tardiness and productions delays caused by Burke, as well as endorsements of Bloodworth-Thomason and Thomason.
In her statement, co-star Dixie Carter, who plays Suzanne's sister on the show, expressed support for series creator Bloodworth-Thomason, who, she said, has never said "an unkind, aggressive, combative or intentionally hurtful thing to anybody that I know" and has been "an unswervingly loving and loyal friend."