Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

'Housewives' flies in face of reality TV

By Lynn Elber
Associated Press

Reality television's survivors and junior Trumps have been bumped from the top of the water-cooler agenda — and all it took was four volatile homemakers.


8 p.m. Sundays


"Desperate Housewives" has unexpectedly stolen some of reality's gloss and resurrected the prime-time soap opera genre long absent from the broadcast networks.

ABC's Sunday-night drama about suburbia and its scandalous ways was the No. 1-rated show in its Nov. 28 airing, drawing more than 27 million viewers and eclipsing shows such as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice."

Real, schmeal. And enough with the endless loop of police and forensic dramas. It's the crimes and misdemeanors of Susan, Lynette, Bree and Gabrielle that fascinate viewers, as top-dog "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" was bumped to No. 2 behind "Desperate Housewives" that week.

From left, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria, Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross toast themselves on "Desperate Housewives." The show was nominated for a Golden Globe for outstanding television musical or comedy series. Cross, Hatcher and Huffman are best-actress nominees.

Associated Press library photo • 2004

"I haven't missed an episode," said fan Andrea Hawkins, 31, of Denver. "I've been anxious for any good show to get back on the air. I'm so sick of reality TV. ... There's the 'CSIs' and 'Law & Order,' but it's nice to have more of a drama on."

Fond memories of past prime-time serials, such as "Melrose Place" and '80s blockbusters "Dallas" and "Dynasty," which Hawkins recalls watching as a youngster, have lingered. Now she has another to savor.

"Desperate Housewives" is "comedy, it's dark, it's a drama, it's a soap opera. It's very well-written," Hawkins said, rattling off a list of virtues.

Web sites are abuzz with talk of Wisteria Lane's fictional residents just as online chatterers dissected the behavior of Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth or Richard Hatch.

"The timing is right for something that people wanted to sink their teeth into in terms of character," said Showtime president Bob Greenblatt. "I lived through the real fun times of 'Beverly Hills 90210' and 'Melrose Place,' two shows I was involved in when I was at Fox, and I remember those Monday night 'Melrose' parties when people would watch it together and talk about it."

"Desperate Housewives" was promoted from the start as a "fun, sexy soap," said ABC marketing executive Mike Benson. One telling promotional tool: Plastic bags distributed through dry cleaners and bearing the line, "Everybody has a little dirty laundry."

In mere weeks, the ABC series' title has become pop-culture shorthand — a magazine cover story on Jennifer Lopez and new husband Marc Anthony bore the headline "Desperate Housewife?" — and the show itself has drawn controversy as well as the stellar ratings that are a big part of long-dormant ABC's awakening.

A National Review essay last month praised it as "gloriously entertaining chick-TV" and its characters as symbols of traditional values despite their misbehavior.

On the Christian Broadcasting Network's Web site, however, a pastor's wife faulted the show for its "themes of sex, betrayal and secrets woven throughout the story line."

Even the promotion can be brazen. A "Monday Night Football" spot that featured a seductive, towel-clad Nicollette Sheridan (who plays single swinger Edie) provoked debate and government attention.

With "Desperate Housewives," it's all dish, all the time. Two cast members even boast soap credentials — Marcia Cross, who plays the straight-laced Bree, was on "Melrose Place" from 1992 to '97 and Sheridan was part of the "Knots Landing" cast from 1986 to '93.

"I think viewers were missing that (emotional involvement)," Brooks said, adding that character dramas have been kept alive through what he calls "kids' soaps" on younger-skewing networks like WB.

But prime-time serials that delight in excess and outrageous plot twists have long been missing, until now. The Nov. 28 episode that won "Desperate Housewives" its highest rating so far included the highly publicized killing of a Wisteria Lane resident, the neighborhood busybody.

"It's the mystery and what's going on and where is it going to go," said Benson, senior vice president of marketing for ABC Primetime Entertainment. "It really harkens back to the days of 'Dynasty' or 'Who Shot J.R.?' "

"When we go out and market that one of the housewives is going to be killed, it's salacious, it's big, it's exciting. It's like reading a good book and you get another chapter every week," he said.