Writers Guild Awards

Designing a Career

Paddy Chayefsky TV Laurel Award honoree Linda Bloodworth Thomason took the road from Poplar Bluff to Hollywood.

Before she found her way to a successful career as a writer-producer in Hollywood, self-described small-town girl Linda Bloodworth Thomason tried her hand at a series of jobs including a stint as a reporter at the Los Angeles Daily Journal. For one assignment, the future creator of Designing Woman once found herself eye to eye with Charles Manson when she covered his trial. 

Linda Bloodworth Thomason

“I went to the court every day, and each time Manson locked eyes with me. I got into a staring contest with him,” recalled Bloodworth Thomason. “I detested the man and wouldn’t back down. He finally gave in and laughed.” 

The career in journalism didn’t stick. After a career spanning more than five decades, Bloodworth Thomason will receive the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement, presented to “that member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) who has advanced the literature of television through the years, and who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer.” 

“I’m not really big on awards,” admitted Bloodworth Thomason who joins the ranks of such previous TV Laurel recipients as Susan Harris, David Chase, Shonda Rhimes and Steven Bochco. “But this award comes from the writers I have long admired. This is a full circle moment of happiness for me.”
A native of the small town of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Bloodworth Thomason graduated from the University of Missouri and came to L.A. in her mid 20s, working a series of jobs including teaching English at Jordan High School in Watts in 1973. Around that time, she began her career as a freelance writer after meeting Mary Kay Place at a party. “She was hilariously funny, a great writer, and a secretary at CBS,” Bloodworth Thomason said of Place who suggested the two collaborate on a spec script for The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Even though their script was rejected, it caught the eye of M*A*S*H executive producer Larry Gelbart who invited the two to write for his show. “It was the kind of Hollywood call that comes once in 50 years,” Bloodworth Thomason recalled. Their first script netted the two writers an Emmy nomination. “We didn’t take home the Emmy, but that experience of working in television with such talented people convinced me to take up screenwriting as a career,” she said.

I wanted to write a series that highlighted strong, independent, self-sufficient Southern women.

- Linda Bloodworth Thomason

The two continued writing for M*A*S*H, before Place got snapped up by Norman Lear. Bloodworth Thomason continued writing episodes on her own. “During those years of being a freelance television scripter, the mentoring I received from producers Larry Gelbart, Norman Lear, and James L. Brooks was invaluable,” she said. “The fact that they were all recipients of the Paddy Chayefsky TV Laurel Award, makes being this year’s recipient even more precious.” 

In 1977, she became the creator-producer of the series, Filthy Rich. She also began co-producing with Harry Thomason. “That worked out well,” she quipped. “We married in 1983, combining names and careers.” Together they formed Mozark Productions with the name derived from the combination of Missouri and Arkansas, Linda Bloodworth Thomason and Harry Thomason’s home states. 

Linda Bloodworth Thomason and husband Harry Thomason in 1992 with Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton

One of the defining moments of Bloodworth Thomason’s career came when she wrote the series concept for the sitcom, Designing Women. “I wanted to write a series that highlighted strong, independent, self-sufficient Southern women,” she said. “We hit a pot of gold with our cast: Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart. And our casting director was the magnificent Fran Bascom.” 

Designing Women aired on CBS, running for seven seasons from 1986 to 1993. In 1990, she created the series, Evening Shade, which aired on CBS from 1990 to 1994. 

The 1990s was the busiest time her of career, but not just as a television writer. In July 1992, in the midst of writing and producing both Designing Women and Evening Shade, Bloodworth Thomason produced the acclaimed documentary The Man From Hope, which introduced family friend, Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention. In 1994, she was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award “in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.” 

Moving into the 21st century, Bloodworth Thomason began doing more than churning out scripts. Her 2004 novel, Liberating Paris, set in small-town Paris, Arkansas, is the story of six best friends who have just passed their 40th birthdays and now must come to terms with the past. A longtime believer in the importance of education, she created The Charlie Classics Reading Program, in honor of her grandfather Charles T. Bloodworth, which has since expanded nationwide. The Claudia Foundation, in tribute to her mother, Claudia Bloodworth, provides scholarships for qualified girls in Arkansas and Missouri who would otherwise not be able to attend college. 

More recently, Bloodworth Thomason has added another credit to her resume: playwright. “I’ve brought the characters from Designing Women up to date and put them on stage,” she said. Titled Designing Women – 2020: The Big Split, Bloodworth Thomason’s play tackles presidents and pandemics. 

This liberal-minded small-town girl from Missouri may not have imagined herself ending up in Hollywood writing for TV, but as Bloodworth Thomason notes, it makes for a “downright good Hollywood story,” with the end nowhere in sight. 

 “Of course, I have more ideas,” she said. “My yellow writing pad is always within arm’s reach.”

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