Net enters dark hourlong in comedy category

“Desperate Housewives” viewers witnessed five deaths over the course of a season — one suicide, two murders and another caused by an obsessive homicidal stalker.

The stuff of comedy? Despite stark dramatic elements, “Housewives” contains enough of a comedic bent that ABC and Touchstone TV entered the hourlong skein in the laffer category opposite shows like “Arrested Development” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“It has its pretty dark moments, yet it also has plenty of slapsticky, campy moments,” says network communications chief Kevin Brockman. “We felt it had strong comedic moments that were laugh-out-loud funny (like) Hatcher’s character falling through a hole in the roof, or Eva Longoria’s character cutting the grass in an evening gown.”

There’s precedence, of course: Fox’s hourlong “Ally McBeal” was nominated twice for the comedy Emmy, winning in 1999. The WB enters its hourlong “Gilmore Girls” in comedy, too. And ABC and Touchstone aren’t dummies: “Housewives” is a shoo-in in the comedy category given the light competish. Drama, on the other hand, remains a crowded field.

“Its best shot was competing in that category,” Brockman admits.

Still, other contenders say they’re less than thrilled about competing against the 800-pound “Housewives” gorilla.

“I was thinking, if ‘Desperate Housewives’ is going into the comedy category, the Nobel chemistry prize is soft, so I’m going to enter ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ” quips exec producer Chuck Lorre. “Oh, and also the 21-Minute Spoken Word Performance Grammy, which is also soft this year.”

Kidding aside, Lorre says he hopes that his “Two and a Half Men” cast at the very least gets recognized by the TV Academy — and that they won’t have to go up against the women of “Desperate Housewives.”

“We’ve got a shot with the guys,” he says. “I’d love to see Charlie (Sheen), Jon (Cryer) and Angus (T. Jones) get the acknowledgement. We’ve got a terrific cast.”

Brockman admits that pitting “Housewives” against a multicamera sitcom like “Two and a Half Men” isn’t a perfect match. But he also points out that it’s not a new phenomenon. “Sex and the City” faced off with much more traditional sitcoms for several years, despite having a slightly more dramatic tone. “I think you could look at every category and make a case that it should be broken down further,” he says.

Meanwhile, the TV Critics Assn. validated ABC’s decision last week, nominating “Desperate Housewives” for its top comedy award, without any prompting from the studio or network.

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