Designing a new sitcom for Delta Burke

July 16, 1992|By John Carman | John Carman,San Francisco Chronicle

Delta Burke can spare us the awkwardness and describe her own image in the press: "Nut bitch," she says.

Ms. Burke bounced, or got bounced, out of "Designing Women" after public squabbles with her producers. Nowadays she says she's on speaking terms only with Meshach Taylor and Jean Smart among her former colleagues.

TV Guide recently profiled her as a modern showbiz incarnation of Lucrezia Borgia. Her husband, Gerald McRaney, fared no better.

And besides, let's face it, she's fat. A PBS show recently spoofed her as a Godzilla-type monster, devouring buildings as she ballooned and galumphed through city streets.

All of which makes Ms. Burke a hot commodity.

ABC, buoyed by its Roseanne Arnold experience, has signed Ms. Burke to co-produce and star in a fall sitcom called "Delta," airing on Thursday nights. She'll play a Nashville barmaid with country-western singing aspirations.

Notoriety, Ms. Burke told a crowded gathering of TV critics in Los Angeles this week, has advantages along with its pitfalls.

"It's real hard becoming famous," she said at first. "I mean, you go into this thinking, I want to be rich and famous. Had you known, you would just go for powerful and rich."

On the other hand, "the bad press put me where I am. I mean, I wouldn't be producing if it wasn't for the bad press. Well, it's true! So you have to look at the garbage and see, you know, it makes my life miserable but it has benefited my life in some ways."

Ms. Burke brought along her veteran co-producer, Barry Kemp, and new co-star Earl Holliman, both of whom swore roundly that Ms. Burke is a perfect joy to work with, a credit to her species and a regular Mother Teresa on the set.

But it was Ms. Burke, sitting between them who worked hardest to dispel her negative image.

"I think I'm a wonderful human being," she said. "I do not pull this prima donna stuff. I've never come on a set and said, 'I'm the star of this show.' . . . I never did that."

The only bit of mischief Ms. Burke owned up to was a touch of vindication that "Designing Women" suffered in the ratings last season without her.

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