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'Desperate Housewives' without a Script

(c) San Bernadino County Sun

March 11, 2005

By David Kronke

Tuesday evening's hot ticket in Los Angeles was clearly the Museum of Television and Radio's William S. Paley Festival's sold-out tribute to "Desperate Housewives." ABC's cheeky runaway prime-time soap revels in the trials, angst and intrigue of a group of five suburban women played by Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan. (Brenda Strong, whose character emptied the contents of a revolver into her skull in the premiere episode, narrates cheerfully from beyond the grave.) The show's success was discussed by creator Marc Cherry and its cast (save Hatcher, who Cherry said was shooting that night). The men of Wisteria Lane were allowed to participate as well, as did the producers. An early episode of the series was screened in which perfect Bree's (Cross) imperfect son mowed down restless Gabrielle's meddlesome mother-in-law and guest star Richard Roundtree offered the observation, "Sometimes evil drives a minivan."

Actress/author/screenwriter Carrie Fisher then moderated a panel discussion, distancing herself from the duller questions that the Paley staff had provided her.

Here are the lessons we gleaned on how to create water-cooler television and what happens to cast members' private lives when they suddenly find themselves on TV's hottest new show.

First things first - fashion report: Cross dazzled in a burgundy satin dress. Huffman wore a simple, elegantly form-fitting black party dress. Longoria concealed her physique, seen often enough on the show, beneath a cream-colored jacket and ensemble. Sheridan came casual in a jacket and jeans. Cherry was resplendent in a black sport coat and crimson T-shirt with suspenders.

Everything old is new again: The festival's program notes for "Desperate Housewives" - which critics declared one of the most original series in years - found echoes of, among other things, "Peyton Place," "Melrose Place," "Sex and the City," "American Beauty," "Gilmore Girls" and John Cheever's tales of suburban anomie.

Cherry mentioned yet more inspirations - Woody Allen movies, for one - then deadpanned, "I stole from so many places, it came out original."

He related the famous story of how he was inspired to create the show: Discussing the case of a woman on trial for drowning her children, he wondered to his own mother, what would drive someone to consider hurting her own children. She replied, "I've been there."

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be TV writers: Cherry revealed a source of many plot lines' inspirations: "Every writer has some story of their mother doing something awful."

He remembered his mother, driven to distraction by his youthful misbehavior, kicking him out of her car and driving off. "I remember that car getting smaller and smaller in the distance," he said. (She came back eventually.)

"Some could say, 'That's abuse,' but I say, 'Well, it was pretty effective.' " Cherry revealed that Huffman's harried Lynette is based on his mother when he was a child, while Cross' acidly demure Bree is based on his mother in his teen years.

"She says to me, 'Oh, that interesting Bree character, in her pearls.' I say, 'Mom, you're wearing pearls right now.' There's a little bit of a disconnect.

"My mom doesn't get it yet."

Panel etiquette Huffman's cell phone went off midpanel; she pretended to take a call from her husband, William H. Macy. Longoria and Sheridan whispered together while Cherry spoke, but since they were mic'ed up, one could almost make out what they were saying. Almost.

"Why is mine only on?" Longoria wondered with a laugh after realizing her asides were being broadcast to the audience. "This is so uncomfortable."

"Get drunk beforehand," Cherry advised.

Popping the paparazzi: Longoria, who has become the show's favorite tabloid target, revealed some of the ways in which she has toyed with shutterbug stalkers. Dining with a gay friend, the two emerged from the restaurant holding hands. "Sure enough, the (tabloid) headlines read: 'Eva's New Man.'"

But she has learned some lessons from the ubiquitous unwanted attention: "If you got something free and you want more of it," she explained, get photographed with it. Seeing paparazzi outside her home one day, she grabbed a favorite handbag and headed out, posing for a shot.

"It (appears) in a magazine, and (the designer) sent me more bags," Longoria exulted.

Cross, who shares Longoria's taste in accessories, high-fived her.

It's not just the gals: James Denton, who plays neighborhood mystery hunk Mike Delfino, says photographers pursue him, too: "I had a guy try to take my picture with a picture-phone at a urinal."

Cherry joked, "I apologized."

Moment of amusing honesty: Cherry acknowledged that he was reluctant to hire Cross to play Bree: "She was too much like my own mother. I think I was scared."

Once he saw Cross' work, he admitted, "I thought: 'I'm stupid.' " To Cross' credit, it was difficult to tell whether she was swollen with pride or utterly aghast at being compared to a middle-age man's prissy mother.

Season eight spoiler alert: "In season eight, the women will become terrorists," Cherry said. To be fair, this revelation came in the context of Cherry's admission that it's difficult to continuously uncork shocking narrative revelations.

"We will run out of ideas in November of next year," he predicted.

Spoiler alert, honest: "Most everything (regarding the show's myriad mysteries) will be revealed in the last two or three episodes," Cherry revealed. And Brenda Strong will return in person in the final episode.

S&M as clean-cut, all-American activity: In concocting the subplot concerning Bree and Rex's relationship, Cherry consulted with Steven Culp (who plays Bree's husband) for ideas on what Rex's fetish might be.

"I said no to his first six choices," Cherry said. "S&M was the safe choice."

Carrie Fisher makes a love connection?: Fisher told Culp, "I want to ask about the S&M." Culp replied, "We can talk about that later."

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