December 31, 1990 12:00 PM

The episode was titled “They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?” And in it, Delta Burke, who plays voluptuous Suzanne Sugarbaker on CBS’s Designing Women and who had gained a well-publicized 40 lbs., was given a chance to passionately soliloquize about her poundage plight. With pride and conviction, she carried off the episode so deftly that she earned her first Emmy nomination.

Off-camera, though, Burke, 34, was involved in a drama that wasn’t so well received: a yearlong squabble with her producers that made her weep to Barbara Walters and endangered her place on the Top 10 sitcom. The rancor began when Burke told a reporter that working conditions on the set were miserable. Then, on Walters’s special, she attacked the show’s executive producers, husband-and-wife team Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, saying they weren’t treating her with respect. Later she added that she sometimes got so infuriated, “she’d go home and eat.” The Thomasons countered that Burke was temperamental and divisive. Finally, in early December, CBS brass privately stepped in and, siding with the Thomasons, gave Burke an ultimatum: Shut up or Linda will ship you out.

Amid all the name-calling, the former Miss Florida emerged as a standard-bearer for zaftig women everywhere. Aided by husband Gerald (Major Dad) McRaney, though, she has managed to shed 30 lbs. on a Pritikin-style, low-fat diet. She’s also trying to judge herself less and love herself more. “I’m stronger than I realized,” she observes. The only question now is how she’ll use that new muscle.

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