At the start of tonight's "Barbara Walters Special" (10 o'clock, Channel 13--WJZ), Walters portentously announces that "Designing Women" star Delta Burke "breaks her silence" on a number of weighty issues.
Burke has been called many things by her harshest critics, who also happen to be her producers and one of her co-stars, but "silent" is not one of them.
In fact, it has been the refusal of the former Miss Florida to be either quiescent or acquiescent that has embroiled her in the nastiest war of words this side of the Persian Gulf.
The interview, which Burke granted without informing producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason ("I was afraid to tell them"), can only be considered an escalation of the war.
This is not "Entertainment Tonight." When you go on a "Barbara Walters Special" you are taking your case to the highest court in TV land.
Burke lobs a few incendiary rhetorical bombs into the Bloodworth-Thomason camp ("I'm not hired to be terrorized or manipulated"), then extends an olive branch ("I would like to come to some type of truce") a shrewd tactical maneuver worthy of her husband, Gerald McRaney, who's not a Marine but plays one on "Major Dad."
Much of what Burke says will be familiar to those who have followed the intramural spat that was triggered last summer by an interview in which Burke said the "Designing Women" set was "not a happy workplace."
But Walters pulls it all together and choreographs it as only she can, with the walking tour of the couple's elegant home ("Tara in Pasadena," she calls it) and the pro forma tears at the end when Burke dabs her eyes and says, "I would like to say to Linda and Harry that I thank them for the good times. I have always given them credit for what they did that was wonderful, and I just wanted the same credit back."
(According to an ABC publicist, this is the first time in 58 Walters specials that two celebrities have cried on the same show sort of a high-water mark for Walters. The other crier is Shirley MacLaine.)
Before giving the producers credit, however, Delta gives them considerable hell, prompting Walters to gravely inform the audience that "Delta is aware that her dramatic statements tonight on this program may well decide the future of her career."
It's clear that Walters sees the Burke interview (taped Oct. 7 and 8) as the crown jewel of the show. It's the longest of the three interviews and the last up. To get to Delta you have to sit through MacLaine and Mel Gibson first (no one's definition of hardship duty).
Walters' instincts are acute, as usual. The session with Burke is kitschy, confessional, celebrity thumb-sucking melodrama at its finest.
When a tearful Delta says, "I don't know that we could ever be what we were, ever. And that's a great loss. All of this is a great loss," it's easy to forget she's talking about the future of a television sitcom.
While the horror-on-the-set stories are mostly rehashes how Harry Thomason locked Burke and her co-stars in a room and screamed at them, etc. there is one eye-opening nugget.
Burke says that at age 4 she was molested by a playmate's
brother. "I learned not to trust men very much and felt that my only value was in my sexuality or what I looked like."