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CBS’ Pregnant Pauses : Television: ‘Designing Women’s’ Annie Potts is pregnant but can’t show it, while the pregnancy on ‘Murphy Brown’ is pretend.

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Annie Potts is pregnant but Mary Jo Shively, the character she portrays on “Designing Women,” is not, so the cast and crew of the hit CBS comedy have been going to great lengths to disguise the normally petite actress’s rather obvious condition.

As the season has progressed, those efforts were not always successful and actually provided the show with an added comic touch. Potts, whose baby is due in May, is usually shown behind a desk or with a jacket or a purse in front of her, or is simply shown in head-and-shoulder close-ups.

Ironically, while the pregnant Potts portrays a character who is not pregnant, the show that precedes hers on Monday night, “Murphy Brown,” features Candice Bergen, who is not expecting, playing someone who is.

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“She’s over there on Stage 2 at Warner Bros. with a big pregnancy pad on,” Potts said in a recent appearance on “The Dennis Miller Show.” “And I’m on Stage 26 hiding behind the furniture.”

That situation led to some uncomfortable coincidences for the two productions.

In a recent “Murphy Brown,” the character of Miles Silverberg asked the anchorwoman to conduct her interviews sitting behind a desk, in order to hide her figure. Murphy rebelled, calling the idea degrading. She was then confronted with a clause buried in her contract requiring her to maintain her appearance.

That theme may have resonated with “Designing Women” fans. Besides calling to mind Potts’ situation, it may have reminded them of the accusations that former star Delta Burke made in her public quarrels with “Designing Women” producers in seasons past, when the former beauty queen claimed that she was harassed and mistreated on the set, partly because of her weight gain. Executive producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason denied the charges.

The episode of “Designing Women” that had been scheduled to follow “Murphy Brown” that night was pulled at the last minute and held until the following week while CBS substituted a rerun featuring a slim Potts. Production and network officials said the swap was made to save new episodes for broadcast in the May ratings sweeps.

Diane English, creator and co-executive producer of “Murphy Brown,” said that the fictional anchorwoman’s dilemma had nothing to do with Burke or Potts. “I had no idea she (Potts) was pregnant,” English said. “Our episode focused more on the Diane Sawyer hair issue than Murphy’s pregnancy.”

She was referring to the flap within ABC News over Sawyer’s new haircut last December.

Potts, who declined to be interviewed for this article, elsewhere has expressed unhappiness that her pregnancy was not worked into “Designing Women.”

“Our show being a show mostly about women’s issues, I would think that they would take the bone and run with it,” she said in her appearance on “Dennis Miller.” “Part of it has to do with ‘Murphy Brown.’ They didn’t want all the women on Monday night having a baby.”

At one point last season it appeared that “Designing Women” viewers were being prepared for Potts’ pregnancy by a story line in which the single Mary Jo was determined to have a baby and decided to try artificial insemination. That plot was subsequently dropped.

“The sperm bank was a good story for one episode,” Bloodworth-Thomason said. “But I didn’t want us to be married to that sperm bank.”

Potts said that the question of whether it would be wholesome for her character was also raised. “You can’t be America’s Sweetheart anymore when you’re knocked up,” she quipped.

Bloodworth-Thomason denied that that was a consideration. “A pregnant woman could wear a bikini on television and that would be fine with me,” she said. “I think it’s totally wholesome.”

She said that the decision not to make Mary Jo pregnant was based on a number of considerations, including the fact that “Murphy Brown” was dealing with pregnancy and that “Designing Women” had already gone through a pregnancy story line with the character of Charlene (Jean Smart).

“We had already explored those issues,” Bloodworth-Thomason said. “If Jean Smart had not had a baby, I think we would have run with it.”

“Designing Women” has finished taping for the season, and Potts missed the last two episodes on doctor’s orders, a spokesperson said.

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