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Desperate Housewives stars James Denton and Teri Hatcher in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 10, 2012. (LUCY NICHOLSON/LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS)
Desperate Housewives stars James Denton and Teri Hatcher in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 10, 2012. (LUCY NICHOLSON/LUCY NICHOLSON / REUTERS)

John Doyle

Stark memories of desperate housewives Add to ...

Desperate Housewives (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.) has never exactly explored the darkest areas of human experience. But the show did strike a chord, and an emphatic one.

In fact, it begat an entire cultural phenomenon – one focusing on housewives real and imagined. And well, catfights, shenanigans and shopping. That is not to dismiss Desperate Housewives or all that followed it. All those Real Housewives shows owe their existence to it. At the core of the phenomenon was the recognition that middle-class housewives are often repressed; inevitably, what is repressed bursts forth.

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I remember well the pilot episode. It was the summer of 2004. And when I was about to write the guide to upcoming new shows, an editor suggested the return of The Apprentice would be the big event. I countered with an assertion that this new series would be the biggest thing in years. It was. And now the end is nigh. The sun will set on Wisteria Lane. The current and eighth season of Desperate Housewives will be its last.

The entire cast and the show’s creator, Marc Cherry, came here to meet the critics, reminisce and say goodbye. The stage was full: Ricardo Chavira (Carlos Solis), Eva Longoria (his wife, Gabrielle), James Denton (Mike Delfino), Teri Hatcher (his sometimes-wife, Susan), Felicity Huffman (Lynette Scavo), Doug Savant (her husband, Tom), Marcia Cross (Bree Van De Kamp), Vanessa Williams (Renée Perry) and producer Bob Daily.

All knew they had been involved in something significant. All were grateful for the success and attention. Most grateful was Cherry. A roly-poly man who talks in a kind of gosh-golly style, he talked about the writing of the original pilot. He’d worked as a writer on Golden Girls in the 1980s and then fell on hard times.

“I was a hundred thousand dollars in debt to my mother. I went through years without an interview for a job. No one thought I was anything. People who were friends didn’t even call for a while. And then, like, I write this script because it was my attempt to show people that I was a better writer than maybe they thought, and all hell broke loose.”

When the subject of the Real Housewives shows came up, he joked, “I want residuals!” But, of course, Cherry is now a very wealthy man. In 2007, it was estimated that his creation was the most-watched U.S. network show in the world.

“At the end of the first season,” recalled Cherry, “I went to London on vacation, where I kind of just collapsed in a hotel room. And they delivered my paper, and I opened it up. And the play Hedda Gabler was playing, and the first line of the review was ‘The original desperate housewife.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Now I hope that whatever impact it has had socially, for the most part, it’s a positive one.”

The show had outrageous soap-opera plot twists. As Denton said about his plumber character, “I’ve been in jail. I’ve been out of jail. I was run over by a car. I was in a coma. I was married and divorced and married.”

There’s been a lot of death, lust and silliness, but always a psychological truth to the show. This season has shown the strain on the marriage of Tom and Lynette Scavo. Always the most solidly married of couples, their separation has come about organically and logically. “I didn’t think we were ever going to be able to split Tom and Lynette up, because that relationship was so treasured, and so a lot of the fans really related to it,” Cherry said. “That was one that I didn’t expect, didn’t think we could get away with. And the fans have gone with it this year, which has been nice.”

There wasn’t time for every actor to name a favourite scene, but Hatcher got in a mention of the time her scatterbrained Susan got locked out of her house, naked. “It’s really hard to beat the ‘naked in the bushes’ scene. … There was a new wardrobe girl on-set. Her name was Susan. It’s six in the morning. She says, ‘Can we please take some gaffer’s tape and cover your nipples and your crotch?’

“And we walk to the set, and I was in a robe, and it was going to be six hours of shooting this from every angle. So I just took off my robe in front of the 60 crew and said, ‘Everyone, take a good look.’ And then we just moved on. It was so bonding.”

Cherry said he will make a Hitchcock-style cameo appearance in the final episode. But he dismissed the idea of a Desperate Housewives movie, citing the Sex and the City movies as a reason for not doing it. That’s wise. Desperate Housewives arrived just as Sex and the City stopped airing. “After eight years, boy, I think we’re done,” Cherry concluded.

True, but well done to him and all involved.

Check local listings.

Truth and Hype from the TV Critics Tour

Truth

Cable is where the action is. “I think House of Lies is incredibly timely,” says David Nevins, head of Showtime. “It’s about everything that’s messed up with American capitalism.” The show, a corrosive satire of management companies, which airs Mondays on TMN, last week achieved astonishing ratings for a hardnosed cable series – which suggests cable viewers are willing to question capitalism. Later the same day, producer John Wells said the major broadcast networks would now be too timid to buy some of his previous hits: “It took us a long time to sell West Wing at the time, and I think it would be completely impossible to sell it now to network television. I would never be able to sell ER, actually, which was hard to sell to a network at the time.”

Hype

Old ideas die hard. The CW is the little network that relies on shows aimed at young women – Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries, Hart of Dixie and others. It also seems to hold firm to the idea that young women will always fall for a bad boy. Or a “badass guy,” as they call such figures. On Thursday, there was a panel called Badass Boys of the CW. Wilson Bethel, who takes his shirt off very often on Hart of Dixie, was asked about a previous report which said he writes poetry. He was outraged: “I only write poetry when I'm riding my motorcycle smoking weed, chasing rattlesnakes.” He was kidding, but only a little.

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