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Desperate Times Call for ''Desperate'' Measures

(c) The

March 24, 2006

By Larry Bonko

I'm losing patience with "Desperate Housewives." I expect the show to be as great as it was when it premiered on Oct. 3, 2004. It isn't.

What was a bright, clever, witty, quirky and amusing series last season has gone flat. While I'm willing to wait for the ABC soap to improve, others are not so patient.

The series, which airs a new episode at 9 Sunday night , has averaged 22 million viewers of late. It once pulled in 30 million . Ratings among adults 18 to 49, the demographic most prized by advertisers, are off by 19 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

These numbers confirm that "Desperate Housewives" is in a sophomore slump.

In light of a conversation I had with the show's creator, Marc Cherry, before the fall season began, I should have expected the creative well to run dry.

"The series is a machine that just keeps eating up whatever creativity I have," Cherry said. "I start out thinking that I have enough ideas to take me through the whole season, and then by the sixth episode, the sad surprise is that I've used up things that I thought would take me a whole season to use up. I've started to run out of stuff."

What do you do when you run out of stuff? You bring in guest stars to camouflage the weaknesses in the scripts. Cherry has used Sharon Lawrence, Ryan O'Neal, Lesley Ann Warren and Maria Conchita Alonso to distract us.

Soon to arrive on Wisteria Lane is Carol Burnett, who will play Bree Van De Kamp's stepmother. She's chipped from the same iceberg as Bree.

Will Burnett rescue "Desperate Housewives" from its season of mediocrity?

If she doesn't, I suggest these five measures to improve what was the hottest water-cooler show on the planet when former Virginia Beach resident Steven Culp was in the cast:

• Return Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) to Wisteria Lane. When the writers took her off the street and tossed her back into corporate America, they disturbed the basic chemistry of the show, which is the four women played by Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria helping one another over life's bumps in the road.

I'd like to see more of Lynette matching wits with her bratty kids.

"I don't think my kind of a mom character has ever existed on television before," she said. Jane Kaczmarek of "Malcolm in the Middle" comes close.

• Give Nicollette Sheridan more to do than scooting around Wisteria Lane on rollerskates. She's been the fifth wheel since the series started, playing trampy man-eater Edie Britt.

She's not desperate and she's not a housewife. Look for her to explode when she finds out that the man she hopes to marry (Richard Burgi plays Karl Mayer) has remarried Susan Mayer (Hatcher) to provide her with health insurance because Susan needs an operation.

• Write the actor who plays Eva Longoria's husband out of the show. He's been in jail, toyed with the idea of seducing a nun, Sister Mary, beat up a youngster he thought was having an affair with his wife and plotted against Gabrielle (Longoria) with his late mother. We've seen enough of Ricardo Antonio Chavira's Carlos Solis.

• Have Marcia Cross as Bree loosen up more than a little. I realize she's quite loose after a bottle of wine or two, but it's time for a total Bree makeover, time for her to lose the Stepford-wife look.

Chuck the pearls, Bree, and pack off that obnoxious son of yours to the Peace Corps, minus his inheritance. Bree was widowed when Culp - as Rex Van De Kamp - died as the result of nutty pharmacist George (Roger Bart) tampering with Rex's medication.

Cherry, aware that Cross' Bree is more like a cardboard cutout than any of the other women of Wisteria Lane, has been telling reporters that big changes are in store next season. There could be a wedding in Bree's future, Cherry has hinted.

• Ease the tension between Mike Delfino (James Denton) and his son, Zach, played by Cody Kasch. Zach is torn between being loyal to the man whom he always believed to be his father (Mark Moses) and starting a relationship with his real father (Denton) and, of late, with the grandfather he never knew he had. Zach's such a sourpuss that he depresses the flow of the show whenever he's onscreen.

"Desperate Housewives" will likely be on the air for at least two more seasons. There is time to restore its zip.

"Viewers have fallen in love with these characters," Cherry said.

And they can fall out of love just as easily.

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