Nothing is desperate on Wisteria Lane

Hit `Housewives' celebrates with a party on the set

January 28, 2005|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,HARTFORD COURANT

LOS ANGELES - It's just around the corner from the Jaws pond on the Universal Studios tour.

But the chatty tour guide never mentions Wisteria Lane, where a string of fanciful houses on a curvy street once known as Colonial Drive houses America's most popular new TV stars.

The house lights twinkle the way they would on a normal, lively suburban street. The lawns and hedges are neatly trimmed, the flowers blooming and, if you touch them, fake.

Except for the big Universal Studios parking garage looming on a hill, you might believe this street from Desperate Housewives really exists in a town called Fairview. If the comfortably mismatched homes look familiar, it's because they've been used in many films - as recent as The Munsters and as far back as the Jimmy Stewart comedy Harvey.

And while the home of, say, Teri Hatcher's character Susan Mayer seems well suited for a single mother and her teenage daughter, the exterior of the late Mary Alice Young's home actually contains the interior of Bree Van De Camp's spotless domicile.

The exterior of Bree's house is just that - behind the facade are the set's bathrooms and the kind of dingy, bare-attic look the Van De Camp matron would never stand for.

The street is "a little like the show," says Felicity Huffman, who plays the harried stay-at-home mom and former career woman Lynette Scavo. "It feels very real and hyper-real at the same time. It's heightened reality.

"So you kind of walk down the street and go, `I wish my wisterias could look like that.' And they don't because they're plastic.

"You kind of go, `What a lovely house. I'd love to live there.' And then you walk in, and it's a flat, you know. There's cockroaches and 2-by-4s behind there.

"But it's great working there. It's a lovely street."

The street was opened for a block party Sunday as ABC celebrated the success of Desperate Housewives, the No. 1 new show of the season, averaging 23 million viewers a week.

Using a street on a studio lot worked much better than the original plan of adapting an actual neighborhood, show creator Marc Cherry says. "With the amount of attention that this series has gotten, we would have totally laid waste to any goodwill we would have engendered in any particular neighborhood."

In some ways, the success of Desperate Housewives was easy to predict, Cherry says.

"Let me give ABC its due," he says. "They promoted the heck out of us. They gave us the perfect time slot. Those two things right there were huge."

And, he says, the show has a perfect title, which network brass at one point wanted to change to The Secret Lives of Housewives.

With Desperate Housewives as the title, "I think that audiences right from the start heard about this and sensed: `Oh, something different is coming down the pike.'"

And it was certainly different from any other comedy around.

"I think we wore out the traditional sitcoms. There were just too many domestic sitcoms done in the same tired format: The schlubby husband, the attractive wife," Cherry says. "When our show came on, even though it was an hour long and it was being promoted as a soap opera, I think a lot of folks tuned in and were delighted to find out: `Oh, I get to laugh every week at this.' This show carries laughs.

"America will embrace something that's funny. You just have to surprise them with it."

Cherry, who cut his teeth writing The Golden Girls, says, "I approached this more like a sitcom, in terms of I wanted short, fun scenes. I wanted each scene to be its own thing and I wanted to tell four interesting - well, five interesting stories - every single episode: for the four characters and always there would be a mystery story.

"So every week we always had more plot than we know what to do with," he says, and the show has become "this incredibly fast-paced thing."

And once it began, viewers started relating to all of the women - and not just those played by Hatcher and Huffman. "The men seem to think Eva Longoria is pretty saucy. And Marcia Cross has transformed this character into something so relatable," Cherry said. "You care for Bree from where she started from."

It's very different from the other network soaps in which she starred, says Cross, who uses metaphors from the art world. "I thought of Melrose Place as like Andy Warhol and I think of this like Kandinsky or Francis Bacon." That is to say: "One was like pop art," Cross says, "but this is much more complicated and rich and interesting."

The full success of the show didn't hit home with Longoria until the cast appeared as a group on The Oprah Winfrey Show and were treated like rock stars. "They just went crazy. It was kind of exciting to feel that energy from, basically our audience," she says. "That was overwhelming. I cried."

Longoria's character has created heat for her affair with a gardener played by Jesse Metcalfe, a Connecticut native whose character's name, ironically, is the same as the ex-governor's, John Rowland. Longoria and Metcalfe are pictured on the current TV Guide.

Even Brenda Strong, who is rarely seen and mostly just heard as the narrating voice of Desperate Housewives," is getting recognized. "If I go to Starbucks or Coffee Bean or something like that, I'll be in line and I'll order my drink and all of a sudden heads start turning," she says. "It's starting to become more frequent now."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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