Having produced such hit TV shows as “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade,” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband Harry Thomason became one of Hollywood’s most prolific husband-and-wife teams during the ’90s.
The two also are among the staunchest defenders of President Clinton, a longtime family friend from Arkansas. Bloodworth-Thomason produced “The Man from Hope,” a portrait of Clinton that was shown at the 1992 Democratic convention. During the early days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the couple stayed at the White House to plot strategy.
Bloodworth-Thomason began her L.A. years in the ’70s teaching high school in Watts and selling ads for the Wall Street Journal. She eventually started writing scripts for shows like “One Day at a Time” and “M*A*S*H” and went on to develop a series about four Southern belles, “Designing Women.” A hallmark of the show was the feminist issues raised each week, issues close to the heart of Bloodworth-Thomason.
Now the TV producer has joined forces with the Feminist Majority to battle the Taliban’s policies in Afghanistan, where women cannot leave their homes unless escorted by male relatives, are not allowed to read, and must wear a head- to-toe shroud in public. Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband are producing a media event in Hollywood on March 29 to raise awareness about the Taliban.
Question: Like Bill Clinton, you were investigated by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. What was that like?
Answer: I am a fairly well-behaved person. I come from a lawyer-activist family. My grandfather and four uncles and my dad and my brother, all my cousins were lawyers. My grandfather, who was involved in civil rights, was shot by the Ku Klux Klan. We kept a shotgun to guard the family. I was raised in an arena filled with feisty rhetoric and fighting about issues. Washington was not too threatening to me.
Q: So what was it like seeing your friends, the Clintons, investigated by Starr?
A: I don’t like to see my friends under attack. But I have total confidence they will triumph and prevail. They are very sturdy people who believe in what they are doing. They’re not dead until they are dead and even then, you better get an air-tight crypt.
Q: You and your husband were a hot media couple a few years back, but things seem to have cooled since then. What happened?
A: We had three shows on the air and “Designing Women” ran its course. We just wanted a couple of years off and we did. We are ready to get back into the game, but we had been going 12 years without a break, without a week off. And then you couple that with the president’s campaign in 1992 and then in 1996, we needed a break. Harry ran both presidential conventions and was the chairman of the inauguration.
Q: Did helping the Clintons and being scrutinized by Starr hurt your ability to concentrate on producing TV shows?
A: Not at all. It was one of the greatest times of my life. If it hurt me, I’ll find out later. Your talent is what you hope others will see. As for Ken Starr, I think about him the way I think about the mailman. He hasn’t slowed us down. I wanted to unwind.
Q: So what’s up with your writing career?
A: I’m writing a novel about six best friends who turn 40 in a little town called Paris. There is a birth and a death and an affair and a wedding. It’s a little like “Terms of Endearment.” I hope it is going to be made into a movie. I’m planning on having it done by September. Right now, I’m halfway through it and I know how it ends.
Q: How about TV?
A: I am going to pitch a TV series to CBS about a bunch of people at a second-rate health spa in L.A.
Q: One of your other involvements is this fight against the Taliban. What’s your motivation there?
A: I don’t believe in sitting around on a bunch of panels yacking about the plight of women. I was shocked that 11.5 million women in Afghanistan are being exterminated, for all practicality, and no one was noticing. We want to send a message that other women will not look away while the lives of their sisters are being destroyed in the name of culture and religion. We’ve reached a point where American woman can care about other women around the globe.
Q: Back to TV you had two hits in the early ’90s, “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade.” How has TV changed since then?
A: There are a lot of people in charge of selecting TV shows who are not sensitive to the creative process. The standards have gone down on what is funny. Overall, the networks are on the decline. It’s going to be every person for him or herself. But I regret the loss of a national life when everybody was talking about the same thing. We got the last glimpse of this with “Seinfeld.” There was a closeness of American culture. Now there is so much diversity that the only time we come together is at the Super Bowl.
Q: How do you write?
A: I am fast. I wrote 100 scripts for “Designing Women” and I don’t want to do that again. But when I write, I write on yellow legal paper with a Bic pen.
Q: How do you and your husband share your TV work?
A: We don’t overlap. I write and cast and edit. He loves to direct and run the show. He’s the one who takes all the bad phone calls, battles with the network and holds everybody’s hand all the things I don’t enjoy.
Q: What is it about working on a theatrical film project that is so attractive, as opposed to TV?
A: I like the lifestyle. You have time. In TV, I might have to write 50 pages of a script, and it is all due on Monday morning. That’s a daunting task. I want the leisure to work on something for a few months.
Q: But TV was such a topical format for you, especially for issues on women.
A: TV used to be that way with shows like “Maude,” and “Murphy Brown” and “Designing Women.” TV has abandoned that legacy. I think now there is a place for that in features.
Q: What was your schedule like when you had three shows on the air?
A: It was 24 hours a day for 12 years. That is a long time to go without a break. After you go for a boat ride or a picnic, you start to remember there is a life out there and you want that again.
Q: Do you think a show like “Designing Women” could get on the air today?
A: No way would they want a show about four mouthy Southern women and an African American who was just out of prison and was their delivery guy. Political correctness of today wouldn’t allow it.
Q: What are network programmers looking for in prime time now?
A: Five young people who have never had any life experience, who are size four and wear crop tops, work for an advertising agency and talk like 45-year-olds. It’s on every channel. There are no shows about families, although I do like “Sports Night.”
Q: Political correctness notwithstanding, how is the South portrayed on network television today?
A: People are looked upon as hicks. There is free rein on that and the president bears witness to that. There was tremendous ridicule heaped on him because people wanted to connect him with the white trash of the South, which he is not.
Q: Has being a friend of Bill Clinton helped or hurt you in Hollywood?
A: It didn’t do anything for us in Hollywood. We don’t trade on anything like that. We live in Santa Barbara and so we never go to fund-raising events. We have a rule: We won’t pay to see him.
Q: You’ve spent a lot of time inside the Beltway with the Clintons. Is there much humor in Washington?
A: There isn’t much of it. It is not a funny town. People are very scared of saying or doing the wrong thing and not appearing smart.
Q: What about the press corps?
A: They have a sense of humor. You have to have a sense of humor to live like a child who follows grown-ups around and tries to dig up dirt on them. It’s a child’s job, going around in a herd like a troop of cattle onto a bus or plane. They develop insular views and act like lemmings.
Q: What is the biggest change you have seen for the Clintons?
A: This has been more of a bloody foxhunt, but my money is still on the fox. The important thing to remember about the president and the first lady is that we are in the middle of their story. We are not even close to the ending. There is much more for them to do on the public scene. I don’t feel that he is a ruined man. The first lady is just beginning what will be her turn, and I think what she will do will be quite impressive.
Q: If Hillary Clinton runs for a U.S. Senate seat, will you help her?
A: We plan to work for her, if she needs us. We will pass out leaflets if she asks us.
Q: Will you help Al Gore in his bid for the presidency?
A: He’s nice to call and has said that he would like us to participate in the campaign. We think the world of him, but he doesn’t need our help. He has plenty of competent people around him, but we will support him.
Q: There has been a lot of speculation about President Clinton moving to Los Angeles once his term is over. Will he?
A: This is not going to happen. He has huge plans on the world stage. He will be doing something great. I don’t see him hanging around the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel.