Marc Cherry: Grilled

On his future with “Desperate Housewives,” the recent Emmy time-shift controversy and the WGA strike effect.

Last Updated: August 24, 2009 @ 7:27 PM

ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” roared onto the scene in 2004 and became an instant hit, helping to turn around the languishing network. The show’s second season suffered from the all-too-common sophomore slump but has since found its footing again, with a notably strong fifth season having concluded in the spring.

With the season 6 premiere just around the corner on Sunday, Sept. 27, Marc Cherry talks about his future with the soapy dramedy, the recent Emmy “time-shift” controversy and the WGA strike, among other topics.

You wanted to set an end date for “Desperate Housewives” a la “Lost.” But the network didn’t go for it. In January Steve McPherson hinted at a new contract. Where does all that stand?

A lot changed since I said that. There was a lot of pressure on the network to keep the show going because ABC hadn’t had many hits. Then, when we debuted in season 5, and were in the top 4, I started thinking, “Oh gosh, this show has a lot of life left in it.” 

Steve McPherson and I agree that we shouldn’t keep the show going for more than a couple years past my 7-year initial contract. We don’t want it to just fade away. We’ve been in negotiations. I expect to sign my new deal soon to set up a future scenario for the show. Someone else will run the show after season 7 and I will serve as executive producer from a distance.

 

Critics generally agreed that the show underwent a creative resurgence last season, which had a lot to do with your five-year, fast-forward plot device. Would you agree?

Yes, I think it worked well. It was a way to start fresh and let everyone start from scratch in a way.

 

Do you have some kind of convention like that up your sleeve for the upcoming sixth season?

Nothing that drastic. What we’ve planned is an interesting mystery storyline involving one of our beloved characters. It’s a “Who Shot JR?” kind of storyline.

Do you have an idea in mind for the next series you’d like to create?

I’ve been talking to ABC about a couple of different ideas. One is a high school version of “Desperate,” with the same sort of tone and feel, just set in a high school — the other idea is a completely different kind of show

How has the cost cutting that’s rampant in the television business today affected your show?

The biggest difficulty is that I can’t have as big a cast as I’d like. So the budgets just require myself and the writers to come up with interesting ideas using a smaller cast. That being said, ABC was very generous with us in the beginning so anything we need to do to help the company is fine by me.

What do you think of the current state of television comedy, which many feel is in a slump?

There are a lot of fine comedy shows, there just aren’t a lot of huge hits. What makes one person laugh may not be funny to someone else. All we need is a comedy hit or two for the genre to make a comeback.


You’re a huge musical theater fan and performed with the group Young Americans as a teen. Do you miss performing? Would you consider doing a musical at some point?

I hope to write a Broadway musical some day when I’m done with “Desperate.” I know where my true talents lie and that’s writing.

Let’s talk about the Emmys: Along with many prominent showrunners, you signed the petition protesting the proposed “time-shift” changes to the Emmycast, which have since been rescinded.

This came up four or five years ago when I was nominated for the first time and I thought “Why are you changing the rules now?” I took it very personally then.

The Academy can’t lose sight of what this is about, which is honoring the best in television. The moment you start relegating (writing and directing) awards it’s like saying you’re not as important.

Do you think it’s currently more difficult for one-hour dramedies, like your show, to be recognized come awards time?

The Academy doesn’t like shows that mix genres. A lot of people threw a fit when “Desperate Housewives” was nominated as a comedy. The Oscars actually do a better job by not dividing things into comedy and drama categories.

Did you ever consider submitting “DH” in the drama category? It’s always walked that line between comedy and drama.

Absolutely! But everyone told me that nobody would take me seriously since we’d previously been submitted as a comedy.

Any ideas on how to improve the Emmycast?

Maybe there’s a different way to do the show to get ratings. I think there should be fewer categories in general. But I’ve never produced a three-hour awards show. I’m sure it’s a very difficult thing to do.

  

What does your GLAAD award mean to you as an openly gay writer/showrunner?

I had sat there for three years and watched “Ugly Betty” win so it was nice to get my moment and give my speech. You do want to feel you’re helping your community in some way. And I really believe we’ve done a lot of storylines worthy of recognition from GLAAD.

You were on the negotiating committee for the writers during the WGA strike. Looking back, do you feel the gains were worth it?

We won’t know that for a decade to come. Time will tell us if the struggle was worth it, if the leadership of the guild did the right thing and steered us the right direction.

Have you been in on any meetings regarding negotiations on the next contract (the current one expires in just a year and a half)?

I have not been contacted about anything regarding the guild. We are about to have an election. I’d love to be asked again, but we’ll see what the new leadership wants. I am happy to help the guild in any way I can.
 
Did you learn anything that could help next time?

The one thing I kept thinking as we sat there discussing contracts, percentages and residuals was that numbers make my head hurt. The whole reason I became a writer was to not have to do math again.

Is there anything you would change in the five seasons of DH if you got a do-over?

If I knew then what I know now…I’d have not introduced the second season mystery so quickly. But I learned more on that season than any season of any show I’ve ever worked on.

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