Pop Culture

Ladies of 'Desperate Housewives' changed the face of television

Matthew Rolston / ABC / Today
The ladies of Wisterian Lane: Vanessa Williams, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria, Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross.

Nicolette Sheridan snagged some of the spotlight away from the final season of “Desperate Housewives” when her $20 million unlawful termination lawsuit against show creator Marc Cherry went to trial this year.

The high profile proceedings – which ended in a mistrial in March – prompted star Eva Longoria to say she was surprised there was even a trial. “It’s a stain on our legacy as a hit show,” she told Katie Couric.

Which begs the question: Exactly what is the legacy of “Desperate Housewives”?

Surely the long-running hit series, which premiered on Oct. 3, 2004, has made a deeper impression than simply spawning Bravo's entire "Real Housewives" reality franchise, from New York to Beverly Hills.

What started as a cheeky title for Cherry’s work became a part of the worldwide lexicon. Cherry, when speaking to reporters at the 2012 Television Critics Association winter press tour in January, recalled taking a break after the first season of the show and traveling to England for vacation. While there, he opened up a newspaper and read a review of the play “Hedda Gabler.”

The first line said, “The original Desperate Housewife.”

“I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ ” said Cherry. “I just hope whatever impact it has had socially, it’s a positive one ... (although) the first season someone called and said, ‘Did you know that since ‘Desperate Housewives’ premiered, rates of anorexia in women over 40 have gone up?’ It was like, ‘Oh, I’m so proud.’ ”

Sarcasm aside, Cherry is delighted that his own desperation as an unemployed writer led to such a wild TV success. The series provided the perfect platform for four distinct characters not often portrayed on television: Felicity Huffman’s overwhelmed and bossy housewife Lynette, Marcia Cross’ Martha Stewart-like Bree, Teri Hatcher’s scattered pleaser Susan and Longoria’s delightfully self-absorbed Gaby.

Using these characters (and a few other ladies who rotated in and out in various seasons) and their lives in a picture-perfect suburban neighborhood,  “Desperate Housewives” changed the face of what viewers think of as scripted-hour entertainment. The show mixed things up by being an hour-long comedy, with each season based on a new crime or mystery.

Indeed the leading ladies provided quite a bit of dark humor. In an early episode, Bree's husband Rex said, “I can’t believe you tried to kill me.” Her response? “Yes, well I feel badly about that.” Or remember when Lynette told a murderous psychopath, “Well maybe you deserved being cheated on”? The fact that the show was twice as long as a traditional comedy episode didn’t stop it from winning best comedy series at the Emmys either, as well as various other awards.

As the show became a hit its first year, consistently placing in the top 10 in ratings, “Desperate Housewives” also set the tone for ABC’s women-friendly brand. It carried through the next spring in 2005, when the network rolled out “Grey’s Anatomy” just months after “DH” broke in the fall. The show also opened the door for series such as Lifetime's "Army Wives," a soapy drama launched in 2007 that centers around military housewives. Now, there's also "Suburgatory," a freshman sitcom riffing on suburban insanity.

In addition, the theme of "women behaving badly" certainly paved the road for series ranging from “Cougar Town” to “Girls.” And of course, let's not forget the previously mentioned "Real Housewives."

But most of all, “Desperate Housewives” proved that women of a certain age, living on what seems to be a cookie-cutter suburban street, could be some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

The series finale airs on Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

What will you miss most about "Desperate Housewives"? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.


Related content:

More in The Clicker: