I can't believe next month is September. I know it sounds like a cliché, but where does the time go? Next month kids will go back to school, and new television shows will debut. One show will be missing: 12 Miles of Bad Road, created and written by Linda Bloodworth Thomason. Although I haven't seen the show yet, I wish I could, because I know it would be good because of its creator and writer.
Linda Bloodworth Thomason is probably most famous because she is friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton; so much so she helped make a documentary about Bill for the 1992 Democratic Convention, (called "The Man from Hope") and her husband Bill Thomason also did a documentary on how he felt Clinton was treated unfairly. Yet I believe her writing has been overlooked, and it shouldn't be.
Linda Bloodworth Thomason is a Poplar Bluff girl. She grew up in one of those small towns that John Mellancamp sang about, where there was a main street and everyone knew your name. When she graduated from high school, she knew a couple of things: She was going to college and get a degree in English, and she knew when she made enough money, someday she was going to do something for the Poplar Bluff girls to help them in their lives.
After graduating from University of Missouri-Columbia, she moved to Los Angeles and taught English in a Watts neighborhood, then branched out writing for several newspapers, and tried out writing for television with actress Mary Kay Place. She wrote for MASH, Rhoda, and the TV version of Paper Moon. Soon she was creating her own television series, one called Filthy Rich, a takeoff of Dallas, and Lime Street, a show starring Robert Wagner and in the pilot Samantha Smith (Smith died shortly afterwards in a plane crash). Although it had sharp writing and critics loved the shows, they weren't considered hits. That soon changed with a little show called Designing Women.
The concept of Designing Women was simple: Four southern women worked in a design firm. Okay, they hardly did any work, but that did not matter. These women loved to talk. And talk. And talk. Did I mention they liked to talk? Because they loved to talk. Give them a topic, and they would talk about it. They talked about relationships, clothes, dating, politics, family, life, nothing was off limits. The women also was based on the familiar friendship quartet:
Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) A strong willed woman, she approached everything with passion and you didn't want to make her mad, because trust me, she would let you have it.
Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke) Julia's younger sister, a former beauty queen who was capable of saying outrageous things.
Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) A divorcee, she always had a sarcastic remark and raising two kids on her own.
Charlene Frazer (Jean Smart) Naïve and sweet, Charlene was always seeing the best in people and like Bloodworth- Thomason, never forgot she came from Poplar Bluff Missouri.
Although the show wasn't a hit right away, DW attracted a loyal following. The show tackled topics like weight, fair wages, equal rights, writing, and AIDS. The latter topic was a personal one for Bloodworth-Thomason; her mother Claudia died from AIDS in 1986 after getting it from a blood transfusion when the show first started. Somehow, Bloodworth-Thomason managed to write funny scripts while her mother was dying in another room. If that isn't bravery, I don't know what is.
Bloodworth-Thomason managed to write over a hundred episodes of DW, not done since Paul Henning wrote The Beverly Hillbillies. She also created a new show called Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning, and Ossie Davis to show life in a small town. It was nominated for seven Emmies its first year, winning one for Burt Reynolds as Best Actor.
She went on and created Hearts Afire, starring John Ritter and Markie Post as two Washington D.C. speechwriters in love. The show also had this actor called Billy Bob Thornton. Nobody could believe this guy's name. Billy Bob Thornton! What kind of name is that?
When her friend Bill Clinton ran for President, she put all her energies in getting him elected. It would soon come at a cost. Because she was known as a "Friend of Bill" many conservatives attacked her and her writing. It didn't help much that Bloodworth-Thomason and DW star Delta Burke were also feuding and Burke leaving the show. In 1992 there were three Linda Bloodworth-Thomason shows on the air, with three in development. In 1998, there was none.
Down but not out, she kept writing. She wrote a TV show called Emeril which starred Emeril Lagasse in a sitcom. As you can guess, her writing couldn't save this one. So she wrote a novel called Liberating Paris, a funny touching book about six friends in Paris, Arkansas. It has all of Bloodworth Thomason's trademarks: People who loved to talk, politics, and a way to show how a person can make another person's life better, as with Milan Lanier.
Milan was a beautiful girl who also had a sad father suffering from schizophrenia. The family was poor, so sometimes she would stare at Sidney Garfinkle's store window to see him changing the clothes of a mannequin she named Karen. She knew Karen wouldn't have children, no sir, Karen was a career girl. Milan asked Mr. Garfinkle when the mannequins would be changed. He gave her a calendar, and a job modeling clothes, helping her save money for college. After a misunderstanding with her father, she couldn't go back to the store. However, Mr. Garfinkle sent her a dress from Paris France for her graduation and signed it "A Paris original, like the girl. Sidney Garfinkle." Because of this contact, Milan bloomed and she became surer of herself. That's the beauty of Bloodworth Thomason's writing; she shows how one person could change another person's life, and how both of them are the better for it.
Bloodworth-Thomason soon created another TV show called 12 Miles of Bad Road, starring Lily Tomlin, Gary Cole and her former writing partner, Mary Kay Place. The show was set to debut on HBO, but HBO shelved it, saying there were problems. This made TV critics cry foul, for many of them said it was the best pilot they saw in years. However, Bloodworth-Thomason is still going strong, still looking for a home for the new show.
She also did something else: She kept her promise and helped the girls in Poplar Bluff. She formed a non-profit called The Claudia Foundation, named after her mother. The Claudia Foundation has helped girls go to college and they are known as "Claudia Girls." She has also given "Designing Women" scholarships from the residuals she gets from the reruns of DW. She opens her grandparents' home every Christmas for children to see Santa and performances by choirs and local musicians.
I really do hope 12 miles finds a home soon, we need Bloodworth-Thomason's voice on the air. Let's face it, there's not that many great women characters out there in TVLand. The other day I caught a show showing the day in the life of working at the Playboy Club, and how one girl just loved being a bunny because of the ears. I wonder what Julia Sugarbaker would say about that.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries