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Exclusive Interview! Desperate Housewives Creator Marc Cherry
Marc Cherry Reveals What Lies Ahead on His Revitalized Sunday Night Hit
|By Ed Martin
Los Angeles, CA - Before this season is over, there are going to be two weddings on Wisteria Lane.
"One is a quickie wedding," "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry reveals in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "The other will be a big legendary soap opera wedding, the kind that folks are hopefully going to tune in for."
Cherry doesn't like to give too much away, but he does offer a few additional teases about story developments in the weeks to come. "Tom's back is going to give out and Lynette will have to run their restaurant all by herself," he says. "Edie will have a new romance with someone on the street. And disaster will loom in the triangle between [Edie's nephew] Austin, [Bree's daughter] Danielle and [Susan's daughter] Julie."
Clearly, Cherry is enjoying the buzz that is building all over again for his Sunday night serial comedy-drama during its third season, which has included two of the best episodes in the series' history (the season premiere, which advanced the show's many storylines by six months, and the supermarket hostage episode). Memories of the Applewhites, Edie's unfortunate turn as an arsonist, Tom eating donuts out of a toilet, Lynette eating raw meat in the office and the many other low points that sorely compromised the series in its sophomore season have been all but obliterated by the show's renewed attention to character development and compelling storytelling and the rebuilding of the strong relationships between the four women at the center of its canvas: Susan, Bree, Gabrielle and Lynette.
In a word, "Housewives" is fun again. So what went wrong last year?
"I was woefully ill-prepared," Cherry says of his sophomore slump. "In the second season, basically what I learned was planning, planning, planning. You have to use your pre-production time so wisely. I kind of had a lot of storylines and a lot of ideas already worked out when the first season started because I had been unemployed for a couple of years and I had nothing to do but think of my imaginary series and what I'd like to do with it.
"One of the problems in season two was too much writing on the fly," he continues. "I learned not to do that again. It was a very painful lesson but a valuable one. What everyone is seeing this year is a show that is much more thoughtful. It would be even better if I could have a little bit more production time. I work 50 weeks out of the year."
Last spring, Cherry recalls, he knew that he had to jump start his troubled show. "Here's what I did. I said to the network that I thought one of the problems in season two was that we had finished everyone's storylines. Everything had built to a big conclusion. At the beginning of season two what you saw was us slowly trying to rev up the storylines again. So [this year] I said okay, I'm going to have time go by. I'm going to pick up a few months later so that I've gotten everyone to a breaking point. It was a really effective device. I don't know if I'll use it again this year. I may or may not."
Of the acclaimed supermarket hostage crisis episode, Cherry says, "I'm so proud of that one. It really turned out well. I've had a lot of ideas that didn't always work out. But that one really came out beautifully.
"I told the staff on the first day of season three that I had this idea for a hostage episode set in a supermarket and I wanted a housewife to take the whole place hostage. She's taking the place hostage because her husband had an affair. That's what I walked in with. And we started building it. So much about the structure of it and who the characters were and the relationships came with the staff throwing in ideas."
With memories of that standout episode still so fresh, what will Cherry do for an encore?
"I've got a couple of really cool ideas that we're doing," he says. "The thing that [the hostage] episode had for you was the stakes were so high! It's kind of hard to have so many characters in jeopardy like that every week. So that's almost impossible to top. What you try to do is come up with something that will be fantastic on a whole other level."
Those cool ideas include an upcoming episode focused on the men of Wisteria Lane, narrated not by the deceased Mary Alice but by Bree's late husband, Rex. "It's going to be told from all the guys' point of view," Cherry says. "That's going to be a real fun episode. I don't know that it will have the impact of the hostage episode but I think people will get a really big kick out of it because it's different."
The idea to bring back Rex, who died at the end of season one, started with one of the housewives. "Teri Hatcher was the one who said to me at the end of season one, 'It's a shame now that Rex has died that he can't narrate,'" Cherry says. "I thought that was interesting. Steven Culp [the actor who played Rex] and I have kept in contact so I called him and he thought it was a fun idea."
"I never really intended for the show to be as sexy as it was -- and then we cast a bunch of sexy women!" "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry says about the creation of his hit Sunday night serial. "Having such an attractive cast in itself was an accident because I thought I was going to cast a couple of more normal looking women."
"I lucked into a cast that kind of led to where we were doing a lot of sexy storylines. The show kind of got this, 'It's a hot sexy show thing.' So part of the success the first year was something I had never really intended the year before when I was trying to sell it," he reveals in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage.
It isn't often that a show-runner will admit that some of the elements of his or her biggest success were actually "flukes," as he calls them. But the affable Cherry is more outspoken than most.
"I thought Bree would be kind of what I actually cast, which is an attractive, very conservative Republican ex-cheerleader beauty," he says. "And I wanted Gabrielle to be glamorous. But I thought Susan and Lynette were going to be very ordinary looking people. The beauty of casting Teri Hatcher was I got someone who was kind of glamorous but also believable as the single mom next door. And Felicity Huffman, who all the time tries to go, 'I'm the ugly one' - the truth is, Felicity cleans up magnificently. She has her own glamour, in addition to being one of the best actresses on the planet. And Nicollette Sheridan was never intended to be a regular. I thought the part of Edie Britt was just a one shot thing. Then we cast Nicollette and the network said, 'You gotta have her!' and I went, 'You're right!'
"Suddenly the poster for the show looked magnificent!" Cherry continues. "I thought the critics were going to make fun of the show: 'Oh, please! There's never been a group of this many attractive housewives on one block in America.' But nobody said anything and everyone bought into it. So that was a complete accident."
As for Gabrielle, Cherry notes that she was from the start "designed to be kind of glamorous and having an affair, but that kind of fun, wicked tonality found its way into other storylines." That particular creative development, he says, is "also an example of a fluke."
When it is suggested that he made a mistake at the end of season one killing Rex Van De Kamp, abruptly ending Rex's hilariously dysfunctional marriage to Bree, Cherry replies, "You're not wrong on one hand. But on the other hand the story led us to that. It was a natural conclusion of that storyline."
Cherry says he intended to do more with the story of Bree's sudden loss, but admits, "I don't think I really did it in season two because I was just so behind, or whatever. I wanted to write some of the stuff that my mom went through when my dad died. I told Steven Culp when he got the job [playing Rex] that, sadly, my dad died at this point. That's the story.
"Rex and Bree more than anything are my parents."
Bree, Cherry notes, is the housewife most closely modeled on his mom. And, at first, he had a very specific actress in mind for the role. "I didn't originally want to cast Marcia Cross," he recalls. "I brought her to the network, but I really wanted Dana Delany! She turned down the part, three times.
"My problem with Marcia was, I thought she was awfully good, but she didn't really get the joke. She sometimes played Bree kind of oblivious in terms of humor, and that bugged me. I had a problem with it. But she was the best [actress available] so we cast her.
"What I figured out about six episodes into season one was that Marcia was actually making the character more endearing!" Cherry continues. "Bree doesn't know her own Bree-ness. The obliviousness that Marcia brought to it actually became a major part of the character and now it's one of my favorite things to write, where Bree does stuff and she doesn't know she's kind of being ridiculous.
"When you find an actor, if it's not a perfect fit you have to adjust the writing to them. We've done that with Marcia, and I've got to say I'm so proud of her. I think she may be the most memorable character now that I've created. I think Bree Van De Kamp represents things to a whole lot of women across America, and so it's kind of funny how that all came down. It looks like I had it all planned from the start. I didn't. We just kind of found our way together."
Cross is pregnant and was recently told by her doctor that she must remain in bed for the remaining months of her pregnancy, necessitating a quick change in Cherry's production plans. "When Marcia told me she was pregnant, we always planned to have her last appearance be in the fifteenth episode of the season, and then Bree leaves town" he says. "That would give Marcia enough time to start getting really huge, have her babies and bond with them.
"The way we planned our storyline is, Bree is in bed for all of episode fifteen. I planned it on purpose, because I thought there was a chance she would either be so big we would need the blankets to hide it or she might get to the point where she didn't want to walk and stuff. It did not occur to me [that her doctor] would put her on bed rest in her home. The problem was she went on bed rest when we were still shooting episode fourteen, so we had to do a little fancy footwork and rewrites." As a result, the "Housewives" crew shot Bree's bed scenes in Marcia's own bed. "She has a really nice home, it's really big," Cherry says. "The set designer went there and said, 'I need to do this and this' and she said, 'Go ahead and do it.' I think we're repainting one of her walls, but when we're done we'll paint it back and then there you go."
Among advertising executives and members of the media, Cherry is also well known for his dazzling musical performances during ABC's last two Upfront presentations in New York City. This guy can really sing and dance! But, he notes, his legion of fans are in for a disappointment this year.
"I've informed ABC that my performing days are over," he says. "The first year I kind of did it as a favor and it was fun. Last year they asked me as a favor because William Shatner couldn't hit the high note in "Beautiful Girls". I said, "Fine, I'll hit the high note.
"But I don't want to do it this year. It ruins Upfronts for me because I'm nervous because I have to perform. I can't wait to go to an Upfront where I do not have to get on the stage!"