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Feature: Desperate Housewives
Why has this series about life in American suburbia become such a phenomenon?
You’d be hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Desperate Housewives. The undisputed hit US hit of 2005 has created an exceptionally devoted fan base. Watched by over 25 million viewers, it’s consistently the number one show in the US, has received more viewers for its series début in the UK than the finale of Sex and the City, and has become the highest rated series on Australian TV. Ever. Not bad going for creator Marc Cherry, who spent many frustrating years being turned down by studio networks (the Desperate Housewives pilot was, in fact, rejected by Lifetime and HBO before ABC picked it up). After a string of short-lived TV projects, Cherry’s final act of desperation has certainly paid off, providing him with not only his career high, but one of America’s biggest TV hits.
Undeniably one of the major factors behind its widespread, international success is its vigorous publicizing. Weeks before the show aired in the UK, billboards were emblazoned with the now iconic image of Susan, Lynette, Gabrielle, Bree and Edie standing enticingly in the picket-fenced gardens of Wisteria Lane. And the hype from across the Atlantic where it had already begun airing obviously didn’t hurt.
Most surprising for the show’s unprecedented tune-in figures for its first episode is the fact that it didn’t have any major hook. Creator Cherry was a relative unknown, and the only familiar faces in the cast were the almost obsolete Teri Hatcher and Nicollette Sheridan. In a climate where TV shows are cut if they haven’t achieved a substantial following after merely two episodes (think the recent Chris O’Donnell drama Head Cases), Desperate Housewives should be commended for pulling in so many viewers who actually knew very little of what it was about.
Perhaps the biggest marvel is its accomplished feat in keeping viewers and continually gaining new ones. This is a series that never wanes in its interest or humour, despite its vast run of 23 episodes. And here’s another fascinating statistic for you: 40 per cent of viewers are male. How did an overtly female-driven programme gain such wide male appreciation?
While the gorgeous protagonists are an obvious explanation, it cannot be the sole one. Because while these women are domestic sirens, there is nowhere near as much of the frank sex discussions of Sex and the City, or the nearly-naked women of Baywatch that helped to win men over. The heartening truth is that they are just as mesmerized by the unfolding, convoluted plot, and just as charmed by the distinct sense of humour as women. Desperate Housewives has become one of those rarities in television where it seems to effortlessly straddle the male/female divide, appealing to both sensibilities.
by Natalie Braine
Read more about the series, plus an interview with 'new girl on the block' Alfre Woodard in
Image © Visual Imagination, Desperate Housewives © ABC
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