'Desperate Housewives' adds a touch of reality

Aaron Barnhart
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Among the lingering questions about the last television season (like, who thought "Viva Laughlin" was a good idea), the most intriguing was what the people behind "Desperate Housewives" were thinking when they hit the fast-forward button in the season finale.

Moments after one of the most chaotic hours in Wisteria Lane history - including a cold-blooded yet oddly satisfying scene in which Dana Delany's character shoots her abusive ex -husband - the picture went black and up came three little words: "Five years later." The few minutes that followed set the stage for this season, which will start half a decade later in the ladies' lives.

Mostly this will affect the show's storylines (and some of the children's parts that will need to be re-cast). But judging from the response of TV critics last week in California, the immediate impression of the fast-forward was how different the housewives looked. Suddenly they looked a little less like magazine models and a little more like everyday women in their 40s.

In a press conference Thursday, the "Housewives" actors voiced support for the rapid-aging process. Even its youngest and most glamorous starlet, Eva Longoria Parker, professed to be fine with putting on a few pounds - an effect, she said, that was accomplished with "butt pads and stomach pads and boob pads."

The fast-forward decision was made by the show's creator and resident imp, Marc Cherry, though producer Bob Daily said Cherry actually wanted to leapfrog seven years and had to be talked down to five.

Afterward I told Cherry I thought this took a lot of nerve. After all, it was just last season that "Desperate Housewives" climbed back up to king (or queen) of the hill as TV's most-watched scripted drama, ahead of "CSI" and "House." Now he risked losing those hard-won-back viewers again.

"It's a risk, absolutely," Cherry said. "But my instinct about my show is, 'Let's mix it up. Let's do something for the fans.' They still get to follow the lives of the women. ... We're going to have flashbacks. It's not that we're going to skip over those five years. We'll reveal it in dribs and drabs."

The fast-forward also addresses a lingering issue for the native Oklahoman, which is how to move these drop-dead actresses into the vicinity of looking like the women he grew up with.

"One of the bad things that the entertainment media does is set up unrealistic expectations for how women can look," Cherry said. "I inadvertently became part of the problem when I created a show called 'Desperate Housewives' with five of the most beautiful women in the history of television living on the same street.

"I see what everyday, middle-class, working-class women do and how much they struggle in their personal lives, and I'm trying to honor that. I'm fascinated by that struggle. If anything, this (fast-forward) is a way to pay tribute to it."


The Emmy nominations were announced here before sunrise Thursday, and as usual they offered their share of pleasant surprises and huge disappointments. If there's one chronic problem that ails the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, it is the voting body's inability to recognize TV shows aimed at viewers under the age of 40.

"Boston Legal," an ABC show on its last legs, with an older viewership and declining ratings, nonetheless picked up two prestigious nominations for best drama and best actor in a drama.

Meanwhile, series such as "Battlestar Galactica" and "Friday Night Lights," which have both won Peabody Awards but are aimed at younger audiences, are dead to academy voters. (And don't get me started on HBO's "The Wire," which collected exactly as many nominations as one.)

At a party Thursday night thrown by ABC, which plays host to the Emmy Awards Sept. 21, I bumped into John Shaffner, the academy's chairman and CEO, and buttonholed him on this.

"First, I understand the demographics tell us that shows like 'Boston Legal' appeal to an older group," Shaffner said. "However, I like to subscribe to the theory that they really appeal to a thinking group. 'Boston Legal' is so engrossing in the intellectual conversation that takes place, it takes your breath away.

"In my opinion, shows that are very young, that have only been on the air six months or so, maybe we're waiting for them to grow up a little."

Well, that was a leap, I said: Shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" were on for years (and speaking of intellectual, I'd wager more academics are studying old "Buffy" episodes than "Boston Legal"). They were never recognized.

"OK, then, which show would you take out of the top five to make room for it? Every year it's the same dilemma."

Shaffner's most convincing point, to me at least, was about the promotion that shows get when they are snubbed by the academy: "If a show is overlooked, fans and critics like you speak up, and viewers say, 'Hey, maybe I'll take a look at that.'

"Let's face it, everything we do is about the promotion of the programs to the viewers so they'll watch and support the advertisers so we can keep doing shows."

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