August 10, 2008

The ‘Housewives’ May Be ‘Desperate,’ but the Show is Tragicomedy Done Right

By Mike Hughes

For "Desperate Housewives," 2008 is the everything year.

It's the year the show has been large and small, tragic and comic, traditional and quirky.

"Housewives" has survived a fake tornado and a real strike. Now it's ready to slow down, shrink down and have fun.

"I wanted to get back to where we were that very first season, where it's just the problems of some ordinary women ... small and relatable," said Marc Cherry, the show's creator and producer.

That's fine with his stars.

"I felt like it was a reset button," said Eva Longoria Parker.

For now, ABC's "Housewives" reruns face big sports events on NBC - - the Olympics through Aug. 24, the return of Sunday night football Sept. 7.

During that time, it replays the big events that followed its tornado. There's the usual scheming, cheating and such -- and then the surprise: In the final moments of this fourth season, "Housewives" suddenly leaped ahead five years.

"I was originally going to do an eight-year jump," Cherry said. "But ... someone explained to me how the actresses would react to the idea that they were eight years older."

Viewers have seen snippets of that new world, with:

Bree as a business success. "Growth is inevitable," said Marcia Cross, who plays her. "I just thought it would be great for her to get out and get into the world."

Gabrielle with two wild kids. The former model is now unkempt. "I love it," Parker said, "because I come into hair-and-makeup now and it's like 10 minutes instead of two hours."

Lynette facing troubles with her sons. Now the boys and the problems have grown.

Susan with a new guy. As played by Gale Harold ("Queer as Folk,""Vanished"), he's a change of pace.

"He's kind of an interesting, artsy guy who's very ... different from the previous man in her life," Cherry said.

That's Mike, who will pop in sometime next season. Edie -- frozen out lately by her former neighbors -- also will return. "It will be hot," promised Nicollette Sheridan, who plays her.

A bigger surprise is that Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany) still will be there. That broke the "Desperate" pattern.

Each fall, the show brought in a new family with a secret. (This fall's key newcomer is played by Neal McDonough of "Boomtown.") Each spring, the family left.

Katherine, however, lingers. "It was impossible not to bring her back, after the response we got," said Bob Daily, who runs the show with Cherry.

That's been a key trait for "Housewives" and Cherry -- the ability to change plans, change style, almost change careers. After writing "Golden Girls" and other comedies, Cherry was unemployed at 40.

"I was (being rejected) at shows I despised," he said. "And I was kind of frustrated by that. And I thought, 'I have a lot more in me than setups and punch lines.'"

Inspired by his eccentric mother, he created "Desperate Housewives" as a sort of soap opera with fringes of comedy and drama. The first year, it won six Emmys and was nominated for nine more.

"Season two was not a good season for us creatively," Cherry said, "and I was devastated."

That's when he shed his co-producers and added more comedy people. These days, he talks about writers whose background includes "Frasier" (Daily, Joe Keenan) and "Will & Grace" (Jeff Greenstein).

"Now I have a big computer screen and we will sit together ... and (write) together," Cherry said. "And it's really kind of saved my life."

It has also sent his show on fresh comic-tragic detours.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.