Can a show be too popular?

Alphabet exex rein in hit 'Housewives' to avoid overexposure

The hard part’s over: “Desperate Housewives” has quickly become the biggest overnight sensation to hit TV in ten years.

Now the really hard part begins.

There’s no rest for the weary — or the tremendously triumphant — in network TV.

Having launched a massive critical and commercial hit, everyone involved with “Housewives” must now find a way to manage their success and make sure the show stays on top.

That means walking a fine line between honoring the rabid media appetite for the show, and making sure viewers don’t tire of seeing its five stars on every other magazine cover.

ABC and Touchstone must also revisit the salaries of the “Housewives” — Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan — now that the show has hit it big.

And then there’s the challenge on creator/exec producer Marc Cherry’s shoulders: Maintaining the sudser’s addictive premise until the show has enough episodes for syndication.

On the publicity front, ABC execs privately admit they’re looking at trying to slow the tide. The “Housewives” cast has already appeared three times on the front of TV Guide — and also graced the covers of Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek. Individually, cast mates have appeared on plenty more, from Maxim to Harper’s Bazaar. A Vanity Fair cover is also in the works.

Entertainment TV skeins like “Access Hollywood” can’t get enough of “Housewives,” grasping at any piece of information to justify airing a package about the show; the cast mates will even each take a turn at co-hosting “The View” (and make a return trip to “Oprah”).

No one blames ABC for taking advantage of the buzz around the show — it’s been a long time coming for the net, after all. But publicity execs at rival studios and nets wonder if the show’s star is burning too bright, too fast.

As proud as he is of “DH’s” success, even Cherry admits he might welcome a respite from the media spotlight.

“I can’t wait for the next big hit to come along and take some of the glare away from us,” he quips.

As for other potential headaches, the most immediate will probably be the inevitable salary renegotiations between Touchstone and the show’s cast.

While the fab five truly seem to be one great big happy family, once lawyers and agents get involved, all bets are off. Even though all the cast has long-term deals in place, TV history teaches that stars of an overnight hit almost always get big bumps before beginning work on a second season.

“They’re probably all going to walk in together in lockstep and ask for $150,000 an episode,” one top agent says, throwing out the first sum that comes to mind.

Others aren’t even sure if group negotiations are in order. While “DH” is an ensemble, the stars have vastly different experience and are pulling down widely varying salaries. What’s more, the show’s sudser roots would make it easy to kill off the character of any actress who suddenly took ill with renegotiation fever.

“DH” also has the unique challenge of being one of the first shows of its kind: An HBO-style drama with the ratings of a broadcast blockbuster.

While the media (and many fans) view the show as a straight-ahead sudser, Cherry has crafted a skein that actually strives for intimate moments of both drama and comedy. And unlike procedural hits like “CSI,” the only built-in story machine on “DH” is Cherry’s mind.

“On a lot of storylines, we have moments that are painted with a fine brush,” Cherry says, adding that he wants to continue crafting plots without “entering the realm of pure soap.”

“There’s a hunger for the big moments,” he admits. Balancing big and small “will be the external struggle” in the coming seasons.