Question: Why did Delta Burke leave Designing Women? Wasn't it because of her weight? — Debi L., Oswego, N.Y.

Televisionary: As with many a public spat, Debi, the reasons given for the very public battle between Burke and the show's producers vary according to whom you ask and — even more important in this case — when you ask.

What I can tell you is that when DW creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and husband Harry declined to bring Burke back as the tart-tongued Suzanne Sugarbaker after the hit CBS sitcom's 1990-91 season, they and their producers placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of her husband, Gerald "Major Dad" McRaney. "Immediately after Delta started dating Gerald, there was a marked change in her relationship with all of us," producer Doug Jackson told TV Guide in 1992. "She was a fun, kicky girl at the start. After Gerald came on the scene, she came on the set one day to announce to the cast, 'Gerald says I am the star of the show and I should be boss."

Furthermore, those behind the show said Burke, who apparently was a pleasure to work with from the time of the show's 1986 launch until McRaney guest-starred on it and the two hooked up, became paranoid, obsessing over security arrangements on the set and claiming she was being mocked in scripts. And McRaney's visits didn't help, according to producer Tommy Thompson, who said "a pall would come over the set" when hubby showed up in his military uniform. (Producers also accused the actor of taking his soldier routine a little too much to heart and claimed Burke intimidated people on the show with tales of her spouse's firearm collection and his penchant for practicing with his shootin' irons.)

Burke, for her part, accused the Thomasons and their people of pressuring her to take off weight and treating her badly. The war of words escalated: Burke and McRaney portrayed the producers as mean-spirited dictators and the Thomason side colored the stars as a bossy diva and a scary gun nut. Soon CBS was dragged into a war between the production team behind two of its popular shows (the Thomasons produced Evening Shade, too) and two of the network's big stars (Major Dad was turning in officer-worthy ratings at the time).

The stars won round one when the Thomasons were canned from their own show. But the producers refused to leave and even called in pal Bill Clinton to intercede with top brass from Sony, which backed the series. By the time the smoke cleared, the Thomasons were back, Burke was out, her friendship with co-star Dixie Carter lay in ashes because Carter spoke out in the Thomasons' defense, and Burke and her husband were left to attempt some damage control in the press. "[P]eople tried to portray me as a troublemaker," McRaney said in 1992. "But I was just standing up to do the right thing, protecting the woman I love." (Of course, that "standing up" included, by the actor's own admission, heading to the DW set to find someone to punch out after Burke was confined to her dressing room. (He never did locate a suitable target.) So maybe the "troublemaker" label wasn't far off the mark.)

The funny thing is, you could see the battles coming if you read between the lines of TV Guide's 1986 DW story on Burke, which focused on her willful Southern-girl demeanor and featured quotes from her co-stars on the impression she made. "It's fun to go places with Delta," Carter said at the time. "She almost doesn't understand the stir she creates — and at the same time she almost does."

Even more telling, Hollywood gossips were already predicting on-set battles over who'd get top billing (the stars' names were listed alphabetically when the show debuted) and other forms of catfighting, though the ladies themselves insisted they all got along just fine. "I'm sure people are going to come up with that feuding stuff, but it won't happen," Burke said. "People are always going to put you in conflict, but they're not going to have any luck," co-star Annie Potts added.

Here's a tip on predicting on-set turmoil: When stars go out of their way to talk about how much they love one another, count on exactly the opposite as soon as a show gets hot and attention is paid to one over the others. Bet on it.

Here's another tip: Hollywood feuds hold up as well as Hollywood friendships. A few years later, Bloodworth-Thomason signed Burke on to step into the Sugarbaker role once again and appear alongside Teri Garr and Patricia Heaton as Suzanne went to Washington on the CBS comedy Women of the House. Everyone made nice and lived happily ever after. Or, at least, for the short time that show aired.