Hollywood Flashback: ‘Hacks’ Star Jean Smart Made Her Big Break on ‘Designing Women’

Long before she commanded the stage as Vegas stand-up diva Deborah Vance on Hacks — a role that has earned her two lead comedy actress Emmy nominations — Jean Smart got her big break as a sweet but naïve Atlanta office manager.

Designing Women, the CBS half-hour comedy created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, followed four women — played by Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Smart — and their decorating business. “The show … could do for women in their 40s and 50s what NBC’s Golden Girls hit did for older women,” THR predicted in May 1986. When the sitcom aired that December, it delivered.

A THR review of the show said “spunky cattiness has been the calling card.”

The Hollywood Reporter

Over the course of seven seasons, Designing Women racked up 18 Emmy nominations (though it only won one, for outstanding achievement in hairstyling in 1988). Smart was never nominated for the show but has since then fashioned a successful awards track record: 12 nominations in total, with four wins — two for guest actress on Frasier, one as supporting actress on Samantha Who?, and her 2021 lead actress win for Hacks.

In her acceptance speech at last year’s ceremony, Smart thanked her deceased spouse, fellow actor Richard Gilliland, whom she met on Designing Women. “I have to acknowledge my late husband, who passed away six months yesterday. I would not be here without him, without his putting his career on the back burner so I could take advantage of all the incredible opportunities I have.”

This story first appeared in a July stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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