The sounds of Sondheim at primetime

Turns out ABC’s hit “Desperate Housewives” has an awful lot in common with “Sweeney Todd” — and not just the twisted murders.

Broadway-literate fans may have noticed the skein’s first three post-pilot episodes — titled “Ah, But Underneath,” “Pretty Little Picture” and “Who’s That Woman” — are all named after classic Stephen Sondheim showtunes.

This twist could send conspiracy theorists skittering off in all directions, but “Housewives” creatorMarc Cherry insists the in-joke is just that, and that it has nothing to do with the show’s why’d-the-housewife-kill-herself plot hook.

“I’m a big Sondheim fan,” he says, admitting that his love for the veteran composer-lyricist only went so far with other writers on staff.

Recent episodes have since broken out of Sondheim mode, borrowing monikers from the late Johnny Cash (“Come in Stranger”), U2 (“Running to Stand Still”) and Broadway’s “Annie Get Your Gun” (“Anything You Can Do”).

Skein’s Nov. 28 episode, which climaxed with the death of yet another neighbor and drew a record 27 million viewers, was named after Barbra Streisand‘s “Guilty.” The Dec. 12 episode, “Suspicious Minds,” cribs from Elvis Presley.

“If we had just done a Sondheim thing, it would’ve been great, but we’re going to do 20 to 22 episodes a year. If we run seven years, we’d just sheer run out,” Cherry says. “Also, I wanted the writers to feel they’d have their musical tastes reflected in the game.”

“Every title should give you some indication of theme or what the premise of the episode is,” says Cherry, citing an upcoming episode titled “Your Fault” (from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”) that deals with the issue of responsibility.

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