She's the funny woman behind "Designing Women," and a little of each character comes through when she talks.

Get Linda Bloodworth-Thomason started on people who "compartmentalize" TV programs, and the way she spits out "sitcom" would do fiery Julia proud. Let her talk about her hometown of Poplar Bluff, Mo., a place where people "hold you to their bosom," and she sounds just like Charlene.She defends "hick power" with the conviction of someone used to saying what she pleases, just like Suzanne. And like the innocent but observant Mary Jo, she's aghast at California folks who never "ask a natural question, like `How are your children?"'

Well, why shouldn't she sound like the "Women?" She created the show and wrote every one of last season's 22 episodes. And she and husband Harry Thomason produce "Designing Women" through their Mozark Productions.

If the writing captures her sound, it also reflects her concerns. When her mother-in-law died of breast cancer, she wrote an episode about breast cancer. The loss of her own mother to AIDS - contracted through a blood transfusion - led to what may have been the best episode on any sitcom last season - the Emmy-nominated "Killing All the Right People."

Ironically enough, the Emmy nomination is something of a sore spot. Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason is fiercely proud of "Designing Women," and she's hurt that the show and the cast were once again nearly ignored.

Why the cold Emmy shoulder? She thinks maybe the show's so funny, people just can't take it seriously. And when it takes itself seriously, some people get annoyed.

"There is as much prejudice against a show that is fall-down funny as there is against a `quote' sitcom that aspires to have a message. I think that irritates people so much that a little 22-minute sitcom should bother itself to do breast cancer or anything else; that should be left to the more serious people.

"I just don't believe in serious people. I believe in talent, and if you have talent and you can get a point across, you should do it."

Talent she has. After a rocky start, Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason turned her show into a sophisticated, intelligent comedy tinged with real emotions.

Her characters are lovable, finely detailed individuals who revel in language and the sound of Southern voices - feminine Faulkners. And the literary allusion is no accident.

"My ideal is to make television more like literature. To make the characters more memorable and to have more texture to them."

If giving characters texture by exploring their religious beliefs makes some TV executives nervous, that's too bad. "I mean, I believe in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe in the separation of church and television characters."

More than anything else, her writing fights against "that sort of withdrawal," that television desire to expunge all trace of race, religion and region from our heterogeneous society.

"Television, somewhere along the way has gotten homogenized. . . . They (TV characters) don't get letters from family and friends, a lot of times they don't even have family. You never know who their parents are, you don't know where they went to church, you don't know who they voted for in the presidential elections.

"I think that's one of the things that makes `Designing Women' a little different. You pretty much have met everybody's family now . . . and you know how they feel or how they're going to feel about everything."

You also know where they're from. A diehard Southerner ("Mozark" comes from Missouri and her husband's home state of Arkansas), Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason is proud that Southerners are the show's biggest fans.

"The most mail has come from Southerners, who say `Thank you, I'm so proud to be a Southerner. Finally, we have a show that lets people know that we're not stupid, that we're not these stereotypical hicks that have been on television for so long.' "

Other than Jean Smart, the stars come from the South. And that, she says, creates a certain camaraderie.

***Robert Bianco is TV-radio editor for The Pittsburgh Press.