Sex and the Suburbs; America Is Feeling 'Desperate.' How Did a Racy Series about Fortysomething Housewives Take over Pop Culture-And What Took It So Long?

Newsweek, November 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

Sex and the Suburbs; America Is Feeling 'Desperate.' How Did a Racy Series about Fortysomething Housewives Take over Pop Culture-And What Took It So Long?


Byline: Marc Peyser and David J. Jefferson

Here's a dirty little secret about entertainment journalism: the writing and interviewing are easy. The hard part is the photo shoot. And so it was when the ladies of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" gathered for their NEWSWEEK close-up last week. Nicollette Sheridan arrived 45 minutes late. Eva Longoria then insisted she'd stay only for a half hour. Marcia Cross bristled at the thought of wearing her hair in the trademark flip of her character, Bree Van De Kamp. The drama! It was almost as juicy as the show itself, which is saying something considering that "Housewives" is the juiciest show to hit TV in years. To be fair, the shoot took place at 8 p.m. and the women had worked all day--Sheridan and Teri Hatcher started at 5 a.m. At one point, the photographer, Nigel Parry, asked the cast to "vamp it up." Fortunately, these women vamp like most people breathe. Sheridan immediately grabbed Felicity Huffman's right breast. Then, Huffman turned to Cross and said, "I hear people are going into salons to get their hair red like yours." To which Sheridan retorted: "And their [pubic hair] to match."

Those brackets mean Sheridan said something naughty--let's just say she wasn't talking about our president. "Sorry, Nigel," said Huffman. "We're usually worse than this."

Like when they're working from a script. "Desperate Housewives" is everything you've heard--racy, funny, smart and sexy. It is also something of a miracle. Not just because, with almost 25 million viewers every week, it hit the top five faster than any new drama since "ER" in 1994. "Housewives" is what network television isn't supposed to be. It's a soap opera in an era when procedural shows like "CSI" and its clones rule. It's on ABC, a network that hasn't launched a hit show since the fall of the Berlin wall. (That's only a slight exaggeration.) Most amazingly, it's a show about housewives--in their 40s! This being Hollywood, these are naturally the hottest housewives you've ever seen--too hot, perhaps, to judge by last week's hubbub over a promo Sheridan did with NFL star Terrell Owens, where she seduces him in a locker room by dropping her towel. ABC quickly apologized for the "inappropriate" spot, though you wonder how sorry they can be. Last month's controversy--when advertisers pulled their ads because they thought the show was too risque--only made more people desperate to see "Housewives." "Yeah, I have some women wearing some skimpy stuff and a gardener that takes off his shirt, but I also know that I'm well within my rights to do so under the heading of soap opera," says Marc Cherry, the show's creator, who is actually a somewhat conservative, gay Republican. "The stuff that goes on in daytime is far more racy."

If you're coming this late to the party, you'll need an introduction. "Housewives" is set on picture-perfect Wisteria Lane--one of the houses on the set was the home of Ward and June Cleaver--and is populated by a group of far-from-perfect women. Susan (Hatcher) is a divorced children's book author and major klutz--she once locked herself out in the nude, only to be discovered by the hunky neighbor she has a crush on. Lynette (Huffman) gave up her career to become the mother of four and is so overwhelmed she's become addicted to their ADD medicine. Bree (Cross) is the local Martha Stewart, a woman who brings homemade potpourri to the marriage counselor even though it's her perfectionism that's driving her husband away. Gabrielle (Longoria) is nouveau riche, miserable and having an affair with the teenage stud who cuts her lawn. But don't confuse her with Edie (Sheridan): she's just the neighborhood slut.

"Housewives" is a soap opera, but it may also be the funniest non-sitcom ever. Unlike "Dynasty" or "Melrose Place," the humor isn't just campy. Underneath all those wonderful costumes (or lack thereof) and winks at soap conventions is a razor-sharp satire of suburbia. …

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