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Desperation row

Discontent. Revelation. Betrayal. Life Gave Marc Cherry A Template For A Dark, Funny Look At The Secret Lives Of Suburban Wives.

September 05, 2004|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

The creator of "Desperate Housewives" strolls through the cul-de-sac of his imaginings, those hopeless, adverse days of unemployment, betrayal and near-bankruptcy behind him. In one month, ABC viewers will get to sample Marc Cherry's luscious, ultra-suburban Wisteria Lane, a perfect street in a perfect neighborhood where its inhabitants are everything but.

The forlorn women of Wisteria Lane may live next door to one another and even consider themselves friends, but they have no idea what really goes on behind closed doors, including why their other friend, Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), has shot herself in the head. Now, from her unique vantage point -- death -- Mary Alice delights in sharing all of the neighborhood's secrets, except, of course, her own.

Cherry knows a lot about women who place a premium on appearances. Until three years ago, his own mother, a private and exceptionally mannered woman who gave up fashion designing and illustrating to raise three children, had been harboring her own secrets about motherhood and marriage. "She thought it was classless to talk about your personal problems," Cherry says.

All that was changed by an unexpected conversation between mother and son, and now Cherry is on his way to launching one of the most anticipated shows of the fall season. His desperate housewives are a beautiful, complicated and intriguing lot of thirtysomething women who are paying dearly for their life choices: Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher), a children's book illustrator and mother whose husband has left her for his secretary; Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), a mother of three rambunctious boys and newborn daughter, who longs for her high-powered corporate career; Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross), a repressed Martha Stewart-type whose zeal for perfection drives her family away; and Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria), an ex-model who is so bored with her wealthy, condescending husband that she sleeps with her 17-year-old gardener. Then there's Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan in a recurring role), the sexy, morally loose divorcee who competes with Susan for the attention of the cul-de-sac's most eligible and up-to-no-good bachelor, Mike Delfino (James Denton).

ABC is in need of a hit drama, but whether "Desperate Housewives" will be the one to help the beleaguered fourth-ranked network is still weeks from being answered. Cherry, who wrote for "The Golden Girls" and "The Golden Palace," certainly hopes so, but he tries not to think that far ahead. He stillremembers where he was just two years ago.

"I was getting concerned that I was getting older and I couldn't get an interview anywhere for a staff position," says Cherry, who also produced "The Five Mrs. Buchanans" and "Some of My Best Friends." "The sitcom market was dying, and I had only thought of myself as a sitcom writer. I had a long, honest talk with myself and I had to admit that I didn't have a killer piece that wowed everybody. And I desperately wanted one."

The seed for his offbeat show was planted one year earlier by his favorite housewife -- his mother. Martha Cherry kept a tidy house, served meals with linen napkins and napkin rings, and was a renowned "coaster freak" who often reminded her children, "Oh, let's not be unpleasant."

"My son says that my greatest failing is that I so dislike unpleasantness," says Martha Cherry, who lives in Brea with her cat. "If I'm forced to, I can be unpleasant, but I really dislike to do it. I like people with good manners, and I believe in the golden rule."

So Cherry was understandably stunned when he was watching coverage of the high-profile Andrea Yates case with his mother and he turned to her and asked, "Can you imagine a woman being so desperate that she would hurt her own children?"

Martha Cherry removed her cigarette from her mouth and replied, "I've been there," speaking of the emotional strains a mother can feel rather than the literal reality of Yates, who was convicted in 2002 of drowning her five children in a bathtub and was sentenced to life in prison.

"You have to understand, my mother has seven stories and I've heard them all 100 times," Cherry says. "She is the kind of person who dwells on the positive. For her to open up when I was 40 and start telling me that there were moments she was depressed and felt like she was bouncing off the walls was shocking to me. I had no idea there was all this drama in my house."

Martha Cherry had confessed to her son that raising her three children, who were a year apart in age, alone on a farm while her husband was away working on a master's degree almost drove her mad.

"I felt overwhelmed," she says. "I've never thought of myself as desperate about anything. I just felt like I had never seen so many children in all of my life, and they were all mine. I was not a baby person. My interests were not in cooking and housekeeping. I did it. But I wasn't into it."

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