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Filthy Rich

Created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason ("Designing Women"), "Filthy Rich" was a broad, stagy spoof of prime-time soaps like "Dallas" and "Dynasty" featuring an eccentric Southern clan who are desperate to get their hands on the vast fortune of their recently-deceased patriarch, Big Guy Beck (Slim Pickens). Prior to Big Guy's death, he recorded a "video will" that was to be played in increments for his family, stipulating the various terms of his will. The first condition was that the family had to "cohabitate in love, peace and harmony" with his theretofore unknown illegitimate son, RV salesman Wild Bill Westchester (Jerry Hardin) "and his lovely and whimsical wife Bootsie" (Ann Wedgeworth).


Big Guy's youngest son Stanley (Charles Frank) was independently wealthy, quite down to earth and had no problem with this arrangement -- he welcomed Bootsie and Wild Bill with open arms. However, Big Guy's widow, the gold-digging Kathleen (Delta Burke), self-centered eldest son Marshall (Michael Lombard) and status-conscious daughter-in-law Carlotta (Dixie Carter) wanted nothing to do with the Westchesters. Matter of fact, this trio schemed and went to outrageous lengths to rid themselves of their newfound relations... without success. Also residing at Toad Hall, the family mansion, (after fleeing the nursing home!) was Big Guy's loony first wife Winona (Nedra Volz), who was affectionately known to all as Mother B.




"Filthy Rich" had a very unusual genesis. Bloodworth began developing the show in 1980, and an hour-long pilot was filmed in February 1981. Network executives couldn't make heads or tails of the show. It wasn't included on the fall 1981-82 schedule, but the network optioned it as a midseason replacement and kept the cast under contract, which prevented them from taking starring roles in anything else. In May 1981, Delta Burke won the role of Katherine Wentworth on "Dallas" and was offered a supporting role in the sitcom spin-off of "Private Benjamin," but she was forced to turn both down. Dixie Carter was offered a starring role on Broadway in "42nd Street," but she instead had to seek work guest-starring in memorable episodes of "Best of the West" and "The Greatest American Hero" (amongst other shows) while waiting on word of the fate of "Filthy Rich."


In March 1982, a second pilot was filmed. This time around, they cut the show down to a half hour and the network stipulated that it was to be "less bizarre" than the first pilot had been. The cast and crew reunited (with the exception of Slim Pickens -- but more on him in a moment) and perennial character actor Henry Jones guest-starred. Still, the show didn't secure a spot on the 1982 fall schedule.


In those days it was quite common for unsold pilots to be broadcast during the summer -- it was a way for the networks to recoup their losses. (As a p.s., I find it annoying that nowadays we know about pilots before they're filmed thanks to the internet, but they never air.) The hourlong episode was split into two parts and a few jokes were removed, which was more than likely to compensate for an extra set of credits and a "last week on..." recap (though a then-racy revelation of a character's bisexuality was omitted, which altogether negated another joke about transvestism).

"Filthy Rich" debuted in August 1982 as a "limited series," with the now-trio of episodes broadcast behind reruns of "M*A*S*H" (which Bloodworth got her start on). The network had no intention of ordering further episodes, but much to everyone's surprise, "Filthy Rich" topped the TV ratings for three consecutive weeks. CBS scrambled to clear a place on the fall schedule for the show, and they decided to bump a new series called "Mama Malone" but still keep it in production. ("Mama Malone" had a similarly bizarre fate and ultimately didn't air until 1984!) Unfortunately, they had to soldier on without one of the original stars...


The day after "Filthy Rich" debuted, Slim Pickens spent five hours in surgery in San Francisco Medical Center to have a brain tumor removed. Pickens was released before taping on the show resumed but, presumably, he was unfit to appear, even as the bed-ridden Big Guy. Despite what many sources say, Pickens didn't die until months after the show had been canceled. His role was recast, with Forrest Tucker stepping into Big Guy's boots. Unfortunately, Tucker didn't have the cornball zeal that Pickens brought to every role, making his portrayal of Big Guy pretty forgettable. There's no telling if it was a writing decision or a network decision (since the network wanted to tone down the show's weirdness quotient), but most episodes played without Big Guy. Instead of focusing on the family getting messages from Big Guy from the beyond, subsequent plots usually concerned Marshall, Carlotta and Kathleen either scheming to get rid of the Westchesters or suffering public humiliation because of them.


When "Filthy Rich" returned to the air a month and a half after the second pilot was broadcast, it was no longer paired with "M*A*S*H," it was now nestled between "Alice" (which had dwindling ratings from the moment they gave Polly Holliday her ill-fated spin-off, "Flo") and a new series about a magical sleuth called "Tucker's Witch." Ratings were pretty dire, with "Filthy Rich" plummeting from #1 to #60 in the weekly ratings.  Helluva drop.





This was probably at least partially due to the success of the competition -- namely a wholesome new sitcom called "Family Ties" on NBC. "Filthy Rich" was bounced around, on and off the schedule several times, but ratings never improved, so it was finally canceled in early '83. In total, 14 episodes were produced and broadcast (15 if you count the original pilot as two episodes, 13 if you count the two-part "Take This Job" as a single episode as I have below), none of which have ever been rerun in the USA. But the story doesn't quite end there....








Bloodworth continued to churn out shows with little success. Then, in 1986, she had an idea to reunite Burke and Carter and pair them with Annie Potts and Jean Smart (who'd guest-starred as jewel thieves on the short-lived show "Lime Street") for a new series about loud-mouthed Southern Belles called "Designing Women." CBS was on board -- but they didn't want to repeat the failure of "Filthy Rich." Although Bloodworth created the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker for Burke, the network didn't want her re-paired with Carter. Bloodworth complied and recast the part, but at the zero hour the other actress dropped out -- so before anyone at the network could protest, Bloodworth called Burke in to shoot the pilot. And the rest is TV history.


In terms of tone and content, "Filthy Rich" and "Designing Women" bear very little similarity to one another, but the former show obviously had an impact on the latter. In her autobiography, Burke referred to her "Filthy Rich" character as "Suzanne in the Beginning." Both characters were flighty, self-involved beauty queens with a penchant for speaking their mind without regard for the consequence (though Suzanne was far more openly bigoted than Kathleen). Similarly, Carter's Carlotta and Julia were both prone to breaking into long-winded, eloquent rants. In the "Designing Women" pilot, Carter says to Burke, "If sex were fast food, there'd be an arch over your bed!" This memorable line is a fan favorite -- but Carter had already made that comment to Burke once before in the "Filthy Rich" episode "Some Like It Not." Bloodworth continued to mine her previous work, stealing several one-liners from "Filthy Rich," reusing a ridiculous "hog hat" prop that once belonged to Wild Bill Westchester, and casting actors who'd starred and guest-starred on the earlier series.




After Burke was let go from "Designing Women" (I'm not even going to begin that story), Charles Frank guest-starred on an episode. Apparently Bloodworth wanted to see them reunited. Burke and Bloodworth eventually got together for a little known spin-off of "Designing Women" called "Women of the House," which featured Suzanne landing a seat in Congress through unusual circumstance. Many reviews of the show were positive, but there were bizarre behind-the-scenes casting issues, one episode caused a big controversy with the network, and it only lasted a little over a month on the air before being canceled. For the final episode that was filmed, Frank came in to play the oft-spoken of boyfriend of Natty (Patricia Heaton, "Everybody Loves Raymond," "The Middle"), a whiny Congressman who had been up to some shady dealings and wound up in prison. Once again, Burke wound up throwing herself at Frank.


And, following the deaths of several cast members (R.I.P. Dixie, Nedra, Slim and Forrest), that seems to be where this story ends. The series is not available on DVD but copies of every episode (in varying quality) have surfaced on websites like You Tube and can frequently be found for sale at ioffer.

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EPISODES
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Episode 1: Pilot
Film date: February 27, 1981
Original airdates: August 9 & 16, 1982
Following the death of patriarch Big Guy Beck, the family learns that they'll have to share their inheritance with his hick illegitimate son, Wild Bill Westchester.
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Episode 2: Town and Garden
Original airdate: August 23, 1982
The Becks jump at the chance to have the family mansion featured in a prestigious magazine.
Guest-stars Henry Jones.
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Episode 3: Some Like It Not
Original airdate: October 6, 1982
Marshall, Carlotta and Kathleen attempt to break up the Westchesters' marriage.
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Episode 4: The Kidnapping of Stanley
Original airdate: October 13, 1982
When Stanley is kidnapped, the family has to scramble to come up with the ransom.
Guest-stars Allyce Beasley ("Moonlighting")
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Episode 5: The Real Men
Original airdate: October 20, 1982
Marshall comes into a large sum of money, but winds up losing it in a poker game.
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Episode 6: The Happy Medium
Original airdate: October 27, 1982
Bootsie hires a medium to contact Big Guy, but the family meddles in her plans.

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Episode 7: Take This Job and Love It
Original airdates: November 3 & 10, 1982
Big Guy forces the family to seek employment, but this causes interference with Marshall and Carlotta's meeting with members of a prestigious club.

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Episode 8: The Country Club
Original airdate: January 17, 1983
Stanley helps Wild Bill and Bootsie gain admittance to the family's country club, much to their family's chagrin.

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Episode 9: A Beck Goes Back
Original airdate: January 24, 1983
Carlotta is charged with heading up the high school equivalency test drive... but her involvement leads to criminal charges.
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Episode 10: The Treasure of Toad Hall
Original airdate: January 31, 1983
When Bootsie discovers a Civil War diary which documents hidden gold in the mansion, Marshall and Carlotta quickly concoct a scheme to prevent Bootsie from telling the rest of the family.

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Episode 11: The Blue and the Gray for the Green
Original airdate: February 14, 1983
The family attempts to cheat the IRS by having the family mansion declared a historical site -- but they're completely oblivious to the fact that they'll be forced to open up Toad Hall for tours.

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Episode 12: The First Heir
Original airdate: June 8, 1983
The Becks concoct outrageous schemes when Big guy offers a tidy endowment to the family member that bears him the first grandchild.
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Episode 13: The Best Revenge Is Stealing Your Ex-Husband's Second Wife's Fiance
Original airdate: June 15, 1983
Kathleen's imminent second marriage is jeopardized when her aged suitor falls for Mother B.
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LINKS
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