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Marcia Cross was beside herself. “We have the whole week off and I can’t even think straight with all this free time.”

Time off is a precious commodity when you are starring in a one–hour drama. And when that show just happens to be the smash hit Desperate Housewives, any respite from the 14 hour days and the press responsibilities that come with being the top-rated new show on television is welcome.

Cross, already known to most TV viewers from her stints on Melrose Place, and most recently, Everwood, isn’t complaining. The actress, who plays the tightly wound, controlling Bree Van De Kamp in Housewives, sounds happy, and even if our interview is the umpteenth that she has done since the show started filming this past summer, she’s none the worse for the wear. But DISH may have made it under the wire – the actors and producers, as delighted as they are to be in demand, are planning on taking a press hiatus for a while, not a bad idea when you may be about to hit the saturation point.

Aside from Cross, the cast includes Teri Hatcher who plays Susan, the single mom in search of love; Felicity Huffman, who plays Lynette, the successful career woman who is slightly less successful as a stay-at-home mother of incorrigible children; Eva Longoria, who plays Gabrielle, a rich man’s wife who keeps herself happy with a boy toy lover, and Nicollette Sheridan, as Edie, Susan’s competition for the handsome unmarried plumber who moves in to Wisteria Lane. Amidst the exhausting barrage of media, the actors and executive producer Marc Cherry did their jobs, and the buzz around the show just got louder as the exposure increased, all leading up to the November sweeps claim, “One of the housewives will die!”

ABC’s promo was a bit of a cheat at that time, but any Housewives aficionado could have figured out it was the meddling Mrs. Huber, played so wickedly by Christine Estabrook, who was going to bite it. But you might be inclined to cut the network a little slack – it was, after all, ABC and Touchstone executives who recognized what the other nets who turned the show down didn’t – Marc Cherry’s original voice, and a show with a quirky tone that viewers were, well, desperate for. Part heartbreaking drama, part sexy soap opera, laugh out-loud funny, and centering around mature female characters and making men the supporting characters – this is the show for those of us who have been pining for real must-see TV, the kind of show that actually lives up to that promise and has you counting the days between episodes.

“I don’t feel comfortable talking about that,” Michael Edelstein, a former network programming honcho and now a Housewives executive producer says quickly when asked about the fact that every other network took a pass on the show. He theorizes that what’s supposed to happen, happens. “It was the right time, the script was in the right shape, when ABC bought it,” he says. Edelstein is delighted that the show’s a hit. “Good shows will find an audience,” he says, but the truth is, making it as big as this show has requires a combination of good decisions behind it to go with a good script – perfect casting and competent show runners, proper scheduling and promotion… all combined with a whole lot of luck and ultimately, the unpredictable viewer’s desire to see the final product. Even if you build it, they don’t always come.

Just ask James Denton, who plays the mysterious and very fly plumber Mike Delfino. Denton, who used to sell advertising time for the CBS affiliate in Nashville, knows whereof he speaks, and he’s not at all surprised that not only women, but large numbers of the male demo are hooked on the show. “It wasn’t just a show called Desperate Housewives that was like ‘Sex in the Suburbs’, which everybody mislabeled in the beginning. Our women don’t talk that much, they don’t reveal that much to each other. My neighbors never told each other their secrets and these women don’t either." "Yes," he concedes, "there were those 5 gorgeous women in the promos, but they also showed the offbeat quality, and hinted at the darkness. The show’s also really funny for a one hour… to have laugh out loud moments like this show does… is really out of the ordinary.”

With the demise of Mrs. Huber, Housewives finished in first place ahead of a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation rerun, the perennial number one show. Should CSI be worried? Not according to the very gracious Edelstein – and you have to admire an executive who doesn’t sound at all desperate to be number one, but is sincerely thrilled to be working on a deserving hit: “There’s enough room for all of us – CSI, CSI Miami, The West Wing, The Sopranos. I’m just pleased that an audience has found us.” Edelstein theorizes that viewers are flocking to ABC on Sunday nights because “it is really fun to watch…[they] can come together like they watch a feature film… talk about it… be titillated… be surprised... be shocked. It’s a fun amusement park ride each week. We live in a heightened reality in the sense that a woman can have an affair with her gardener but then has to come home and mow the lawn in an evening dress so her husband doesn’t find out. We just take reality and push it ever so slightly.”

Undeniably, hot women like these Housewives and equally smoking leading men like Denton who are fun to watch don’t hurt either, but it’s the heart of the show, Edelstein contends, that keeps things ticking. “All the women have real hopes and dreams… that’s what keeps people tuning in, keeps them coming back. It’s that sense of the human journey.” / Issue 44 - September 2018
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