Cable’s “Real Housewives” come and go in this city or that, but it’s the fictional housewives of Wisteria Lane, in Fairview in the Eagle State, who have forged the lasting impression.
In advance of the Sunday night series finale, creatives behind “Desperate Housewives” remain awed at its reception and influence.
Creator Marc Cherry originally aspired to craft “a companion to ‘Sex and the City’ with a little ‘American Beauty’ darkness,” but fashioned an even more quirky hybrid.
“Someone pointed out that, really, what I had done was put a new millennial spin on what were the standard soap opera archetypes of the 1950s — housewives with cups of coffee talking about their problems. … I harkened back to the kind of shows I enjoyed with my mom at home back in the ’70s, and did my own little dark version of it.”
Brenda Strong (ongoing narrator Mary Alice Young) says, “It was the first time women of a certain age were being seen and celebrated in a very youth-oriented industry.”
In that wake can be seen “The Good Wife,” “Damages” and “GCB,” but “Housewives” broke the ground.
“Originally ABC was asking me to have everyone in their 30s,” Cherry says. “I hope it changed some networks’ preconceptions about what America was willing to watch on TV.”
The series also challenged executives’ views on category limitations, as Cherry discovered “when you have a couple of different tones in your show, you can sometimes take a tired old genre and reinvent it.” Every episode seemed to mash up drama, comedy, soap and mystery (and this last season, the procedural and courtroom genres as well).
Current exec producer Bob Daily says, “The most interesting thing is when we pivot from one of those to the other in the same scene.” He recalls a season three hostage standoff, with guest star Laurie Metcalf as the wife of a philandering grocery manager.
“A woman died and lives were changed, but I can remember (Laurie) eating Oreos off the shelf, waving the gun around and screaming at her husband, ‘You’ve made me go off my diet!’ A very funny suburban housewife moment in a very tense scene.”
As awards and hoopla came the show’s way, the connection with the core audience remained paramount.
Eva Longoria, the ambivalently glamorous Gabrielle, believes the show broke ground in focusing on “the modern woman and her universal issues: marriage, divorce, kids, career, babies, neighborhood. … I think the audience could see their own lives played out, though in a heightened, comedic way.”
Daily cites Lynette (Felicity Huffman) as dramatizing “the dilemma of the working mom: When you’re working you feel like you’re neglecting your children, and when you’re with your kids you feel you’re not fulfilling your career ambition. I think that’s something you didn’t necessarily see on TV before, in a scrupulously honest way.”
Moreover, as Cherry puts it, “There are desperate women everywhere in the world.”
Strong says, “I meet people from Vietnam and Saudi Arabia who tell me how much it means to them.” When she joked about “Housewives” opening up some of the customs of the Middle East, a friend replied, “I know you’re kidding, but they’ve attributed some of the women’s uprisings in Iran to bootleg ‘Housewives’ DVDs.”
The series saw no need to be archly up-to-the-minute. Longoria giggles, “We stayed in our little bubble.”
Yet over time it may seem reflective of its era, the Bush years, stemming from Cherry’s conservative upbringing in Orange County.
“I always respected and honored the women who stayed home, tended the kids and looked after their husbands,” he says. “I saw their struggle, my mother being the foremost example of that. Being a wife and mother was of the utmost importance. That respect seeped into the show, for better or worse, and I think that’s a slightly more conservative way of looking at things.”
It’s a secret to the success, as well.
“I wasn’t making fun of housewives,” he points out. “I was sympathizing with them, and it was the smartest thing I could have done. I was saying ‘Yes, I know you do crazy things from time to time, and I feel for you.’ For a lot of women out there who were going slightly crazy, the show was kind of a life jacket they could watch on Sunday nights and go, ‘Oh my God, someone understands.’ … This was something I intended, but you never know whether you’re going to catch the zeitgeist or not.”
Cast reflects on magic moments