EMMYS: Marc Cherry On 'Desperate Housewives'

Ray Richmond is a contributor to AwardsLine.

Boardwalk EmpireIt’s only June, but this has already been kind of a rough year for Marc Cherry. The wrongful termination suit filed against ABC Studios and ABC by Nicollette Sheridan ended in a mistrial on March 19. A retrial was scheduled to go forward beginning Desperate HousewivesSeptember 10, but has been temporarily stayed pending resolution of certain issues. In May, ABC passed on taking Cherry’s new hourlong pilot Devious Maids to series, the same week that his Desperate Housewives wrapped its run on the network after eight seasons. (Devious Maids has since been shopped to Lifetime.) Yet Cherry refused to be downbeat in a recent interview, reflecting on the wild ride that was Housewives.

AWARDSLINE: When you look back, what are you proudest of with regard to this show?
MARC CHERRY: Well, personally I’m just proud that I created something that helped me pay my bills because I was so flat broke. You know, I was borrowing money from my mother to stay afloat, and that was kind of uncomfortable. Professionally, I think just the fact that the show had a very original voice. I created a tone for network television that they hadn’t really been seen before. And I have to admit that was really more of an accident. I was just writing the way I write. I got the right director and the right cast, and the recipe just worked, and I was flattered and thrilled that people seemed to like it.

Desperate HousewivesAWARDSLINE: Why is it that you think this show hit so big when it arrived in 2004?
CHERRY: Let’s start with the title. It promised something different from what people were seeing on other TV shows. And then when people tuned in, we delivered on the promise. We had something to say about the roles of wife and mother in today’s contemporary society. We were depicting situations that hadn’t previously been shown. And there was an element of boldness to it. I think we spoke to a whole lot of women out there who were frustrated.

AWARDSLINE: What were the challenges in keeping the show up and running so well for so long?
CHERRY: Well, each of the four characters had their own individual storyline. We had a mystery storyline. There was comedy and drama. I don’t think I could have created a more difficult show to run, quite frankly. And then we had this narrator who was trying to tie all of the stories together thematically. It was terrifically hard, and as you well know, I did some episodes better than others. I did some seasons better than others.

AWARDSLINE: In hindsight, was the five-year jump ahead in Season 5 a good idea?
CHERRY: Oh my God yes. That refreshed the show. I think that probably gave me an extra season.

AWARDSLINE: Are there any decisions you made that you don’t feel good and would have done differently if you’d had a second chance?
CHERRY: Oh my God, so many things. There are certain storylines I shouldn’t have done, there are certain actors I shouldn’t have cast – guest stars, I mean. There are certain flights of fancy I took that were best left on the ground. But I think most anyone who runs an hourlong TV show for any significant amount of time would say the same thing. We write them very quickly. We produce them very quickly. And if at the end of the day you can say, ‘Well, only a couple sucked,’ you know, pat yourself on the back a little bit.

AWARDSLINE: Some people think the show has gotten screwed at the Emmys. Do you think maybe it’s been too much of a hybrid for this crowd and suffered as a result?
CHERRY: Oh I think one of the difficulties with our show is, well, look at what will probably be nominated this year. If we’re a drama, we’re not exactly a show that should be in a category with Homeland. But we’re not exactly a show that should be in a category with Modern Family, either. We’re our own special thing. Did we suffer for that when it came to awards? Yeah I suppose probably. But it was also the thing that made us a hit, that we were such an interesting hybrid. So the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, I can’t bemoan too much.

AWARDSLINE: Can you address the trial situation?
CHERRY: Because it’s an ongoing legal matter, I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.

AWARDSLINE: Fair enough. But all in all, you’d say that Desperate Housewives turned out to be a positive experience for you?
CHERRY: It’s been rewarding and exhausting and I’m nothing but grateful for it. People ask me if it’s a bittersweet thing, and I say no, it’s all sweet. I got to have a TV show that really was the talk of the nation for a while there. So I’m a very lucky guy. Plus, I can pay my bills now.

  1. Desperate Housewives remains to this day one of the best written pilot scripts ever. Cherry wrote it on spec and he said things in it that had never been said in TV. Female characters in network shows never seem to address the deep and powerful frustration of being treated as a second class citizen. Cherry wrote to something long simmering in women. It didn’t hurt that it had terrific production values and a great cast. In the last 20 years women have not made the stride and inroads they deserve. This male dominated culture and the male dominated landscape of network TV still won’t go here. Shonda Rhimes and Cherry are the only two writers that have gone to that place in their work. They’ve been rewarded handsomely for it. We are the better for the voice of an African American woman and a gay man writing for TV.

    1. I absolutely agree. The entire first season of DH is perfection. Especially the reveal of Mary Alice’s backstory….suddenly the “mystery” part became something sad and resonant. Good for Cherry. I hope he gets something back on air soon.

    2. Thank you Mr. Cherry for making a great show that was about something. If the straight male world of TV media and TV execs couldn’t appreciate it millions of fans did and do all over the world.
      I just wish white middle aged straight men didn’t run Hollywood.
      Sadly until Shonda Rhimes no woman would be allowed to make the show she does.

      1. That’s funny! Most development executives are females. It’s harder than ever for MALE writers and show runners to get MALE ORIENTED shows on the air. Everything smells of perfume.

  2. Frank and astute analysis. Some shows and seasons of DH worked better than others, but at the heart of what worked was perceptiveness and humor. I’ve seen Cherry on panels at WGA functions and charity events, and the lightning sharpness of his wit made him clearly stand out in rooms full of top comedy pros. If you study the careers of the best TV writers, you see that for reasons hard to quantify, some ideas seem to catch fire and bring out their best voices while others do not. Though I read that Devious Maids may still be in play at Lifetime, if it doesn’t happen, I’m guessing he’ll soon find another idea that ignites.

  3. Kudos on everything except the last season, Marc. Really, that was as good an ending as you can write? Extremely disappointing. And if you’re going to do the wrap up their lives storyline, watch “6 Feet Under” – they did it MUCH better.

  4. This show was a game-changer. I never missed an episode and I’m a straight, male, show producer. It was very well written and hilarous. There will be a huge void to fill on Sunday nights.

    1. you base this on what? if you really think a soap opera can only go on for one season then you misunderstand what it is to be a soap… and you need to speak to people who worked on knots landing and Dallas and Beverley hills 90210 and all my children…

  5. Wow. Lost count of how many times he uses the word ” I “.

    Amazing how he refers to being broke after years in the business but never considers why no one would hire him while his former writing partner thrived. Same credits, yet one was working and Cherry wasn’t. It’s because Cherry’s rep as being terrible to those around him caught up with him.

    But that’s the great thing about writing — even an a-hole can write himself out of a hole. Cherry learned well on Golden Girls — copy a successful format and ride it into the ground.

    1. Wow, you actually brought up Jamie Wooten as being successful in comparison to Cherry? Wooten is the reason Cherry had trouble getting work. When their writing partnership broke up (due to personal issues and NOT the work) Jamie bad mouthed Marc all over town because he is a vindictive and thoroughly unlikeable human! He ended up on some low rent no name show and eventually hung it up and moved back home to the deep south. He now writes plays with TWO writing partners. He recently admitted that Marc was way more talented and he always knew that! Wooten actually told mutual friends that they had to PICK being friends with either him or Marc. They picked Marc because they knew Marc would NEVER ask then to make that kind of choice!
      Get to know the people you are talking about BEFORE you comment loser!

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