Desperate Housewives move
After seven seasons of tangled mysteries, messy marriages, nervous breakdowns and salacious secrets, ABC executives and the producers of Desperate Housewives have announced the eighth and upcoming season will be the show's last.
"The only thing harder than creating a hit television show is knowing when to end it," executive producer Marc Cherry said on Sunday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills. "Because I have been working in television for 23 years, I am very aware of people overstaying their welcome."
Cherry was an out-of-work former writer for The Golden Girls living in a cramped Los Angeles condo in 2004 when ABC plucked from the pile his script about the scheming women of Wisteria Lane and shepherded it onto the small screen.
The series exploded into a blockbuster hit that transformed not only the fortunes of Cherry and the then-down-on-its-luck ABC network but also actresses older than 40. Desperate Housewives, starring Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria, demonstrated that middle-aged women could be sexy.
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The show — a dark comedy and soapy drama rolled into one — reinvigorated the genre of prime-time soap operas, which had been dormant for more than a decade. It reminded TV programmers that hour-long dramas, not just 22-minute sitcoms, could be effective vehicles for comedy.
Not only that, but Desperate Housewives improved the financial health of the entire television industry. The programme, along with ABC's other 2004 breakout hit, Lost, turbocharged international demand for US-produced network dramas.
Ever since, higher licence fees from foreign sales of network shows have helped to subsidise the high cost of production of scripted programming.
The plan had been to end Desperate Housewives in 2013 after nine seasons. But declining ratings and disjointed story lines with characters who seemed shoehorned into the cul-de-sac helped to persuade the network to end the show earlier than scheduled.
Its creative force — Cherry, who has been trying to develop another drama for ABC — also cited the suffocating workload of producing 22 episodes a season and a near nervous breakdown two years ago. He had planned to be less involved this year but now will plunge back in to assist with its send-off.
"I wanted to go out while the network still saw us as a viable show and when we were still doing well in the ratings," Cherry said. He said the timing question had long weighed upon him. He had seen too many dominant shows deteriorate creatively and in the ratings, only to be unceremoniously booted off the schedule.
"I didn't want that to happen to Desperate Housewives," Cherry said. Down considerably from its heyday, when it routinely attracted more than 20 million viewers on a Sunday night, Desperate Housewives continues to be one of television's most popular dramas. Last season, the show averaged nearly 12 million viewers an episode.
"I just wanted to make sure that this show, that sort of put this network on the map, would have its victory lap," said Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment. The decision to end Desperate Housewives a season early puts more pressure on Lee to field new hits to replace what has long been one of the network's pillars in prime time.
Cherry promised to reel back the stories of Desperate Housewives to its beginnings and its original mystery surrounding Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), who kills herself rather than reveal the true identity of her son. The move could invite back millions of viewers who drifted away from the series over the years with the introduction of characters whose stories did not seem central to the lives of the original four characters.
The show has had more than its share of diva drama, both on the screen and behind the scenes, including a lawsuit filed last year by former cast member Nicollette Sheridan, who claims Cherry was abusive and slapped her in 2008 before devising her untimely on-screen death.
Cherry said he didn't envision creating a Desperate Housewives spin-off. The show, he said, is incredibly complicated to write. Season after season, the writers have tried to artfully stitch together story lines of the four key characters that intersect with the exploits of newly introduced characters.
Simultaneously, they had to thread into the plot the ongoing mysteries that have been central to the show. "I swear my next show is going to be just two guys in a prison cell," Cherry said. "I need something easier than Desperate Housewives."