ABC’s hit Sunday night series “Desperate Housewives” is more than just a television show-it is a full-fledged cultural phenomenon that has changed the television landscape.
Laura Bush jokes about it, conservative groups complain about it, and audiences can’t seem to get enough of it, despite the conventional wisdom that audiences no longer responded to serialized shows and favored procedurals (a “wisdom” that was shattered once “Housewives” became the top-rated scripted series on television in adults 18 to 49). Huge audiences and critical acclaim came instantly after it premiered in the fall, and Golden Globe nominations and wins followed in January.
But is the hour-long single-camera series without a laugh track really a comedy?
On paper, “Housewives” seems dramatic: four homemakers on a well-kept but nondescript suburban street are shocked by the suicide of a friend and neighbor who led a seemingly perfect life. As the series’ first season unfolded, serious issues, from murder to infidelity and marital strife, dominated. But the show’s subversive comedic core, which shows itself through both broad physical comedy and witty dialogue, permeates the otherwise heavy story lines.
The melding of tragedy and comedy is what makes the series so compelling, said John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast operations for Campbell Mithun.
“Like life itself, and nearly all good television, it’s a degree of both,” he said of “Housewives.” “Even the most dramatic lives and shows are comedic.”
A show like “Housewives,” which doesn’t easily fit into conventional television categories, owes much to the unconventional series that run on cable, said Craig Zadan, an Oscar- and Emmy-winning producer who said he’s a fan of the series.
“You find the shows on cable don’t have the same sort of borders network shows are used to having,” Mr. Zadan said. “Cable has always taken the initiative in not being pigeonholed. It has dark elements while still having comedic elements.” That makes “Housewives,” he said, “stand out among all the other shows that are on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox.”
Hour-long series have done well in the Emmy’s comedy categories before, most notably Fox’s “Ally McBeal,” a legal show that tapped a host of quirky characters and musical numbers to produce laughs.
Mr. Zadan said the “Ally” model fits the “same kind of prototype” as “Housewives,” but what makes the latter show such an Emmy competitor is the quality of the writing, production and acting.
“It’s a strong contender in any category because it’s clearly caught on as the most exciting show in television in a long time,” he said.
Key to the show’s success is the chemistry among its principal actors, Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan, Mr. Zadan said.
“The casting on ‘Desperate Housewives’ hit the jackpot,” he said. “Each and every one of them contributes something unique to the package.”
That actors considered washed-up, obscure or not ready for prime time came together to create a show that works so well comedically does not surprise Mr. Zadan.
between these actors is bigger than everybody individually,” he said. “It is very important to get those people in the room together and see how those people react and interrelate. In isolation you may not see that. All [of a] sudden that ensemble becomes magic.”
Others to Consider
2004 Comedy Series Contenders
Winner: Arrested Development (Fox)
Other nominees: Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO); Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS); Sex and the City (HBO); Will & Grace (NBC)