Des­per­ate mea­sures

It’s fast-for­ward five years as Des­per­ate Housewives deals with tum­bling rat­ings, writes Erin McWhirter

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SHE’S star­ring in one of the world’s most pop­u­lar TV pro­grams, but be­ing Lynette Scavo on Des­per­ate Housewives drove Fe­lic­ity Huff­man to tears last year.

Af­ter four sea­sons play­ing a mother to the child ac­tors who por­tray her rough-and-ready troupe in the se­ries, Huff­man learned they were be­ing shafted for a sto­ry­line that pro­pels Wis­te­ria Lane’s housewives five years into the fu­ture.

‘‘When they first told us I thought, ‘Oh that’s ex­cit­ing’. Then I re­alised, ‘Oh no, we have to get new kids’,’’ says Huff­man, re­lax­ing at the Hol­ly­wood man­sion of the show’s res­i­dent sex­pot Gabrielle So­lis and her hus­band, Car­los.

‘‘The moth­ers of a cou­ple of the younger ac­tors came into my trailer and were up­set and I started cry­ing. They were won­der­ful kids, per­fect for the show. We do miss them.’’

But shows must con­tinue to pro­duce rat­ings. If a pro­gram starts to slide in au­di­ence share, alarm bells sound. Cre­ator Marc Cherry could hear the bells and saw the au­di­ence wan­ing in sea­son three, which he says was a trou­ble­some year.

He re­bounded with a corker sea­son the fol­low­ing year when mys­tery sur­rounded new res­i­dent Katherine May­fair (Dana De­laney), new hus­band Adam and daugh­ter, Dy­lan.

Cherry’s rem­edy for main­tain­ing mo­men­tum rolling into sea­son five? Flash for­ward five years.

‘‘Early in sea­son four, which was re­ceiv­ing all the crit­i­cal hosan­nas for its en­er­gised sto­ry­lines and de­light­ful in­tro­duc­tion of Dana De­lany, I started to worry about sea­son five,’’ Cherry says.

‘‘I worry about the view­ers be­ing un­able to re­late to the show. I thought about the pi­lot episode. Lynette’s kids driv­ing her crazy, Gabrielle hav­ing an af­fair, Bree’s hus­band want­ing a di­vorce, Su­san want­ing a man. It was all so sim­ple. I de­cided I had to make a bold move with the show.’’

Orig­i­nally Cherry wanted to move for­ward 10 years, but that was too big a jump to age the char­ac­ters, so five years was de­cided and the ac­tors have em­braced it whole­heart­edly.

‘‘I love it be­cause it gave us the chance to re­set the show go­ing for­wards in time,’’ says Doug Sa­vant, who plays Huff­man’s on-screen hus­band and pizza shop owner Tom.

‘‘I thought it was a smart creative choice.’’

The re­laxed chem­istry be­tween Huff­man and Sa­vant isn’t hard to de­tect. They are comfortable, bounce jokes off each other, fin­ish each other’s sen­tences and share a mu­tual re­spect.

Their tight bond has been forged over the four years they have played hus­band and wife.

‘‘We spend a lot of time to­gether and I couldn’t be hap­pier,’’ Huff­man says, smil­ing at Sa­vant. ‘‘I don’t know how I lucked out with get­ting Doug. I have to say the days Doug isn’t work­ing it’s like, ‘I don’t know if I re­ally want to be here’, and when Doug’s here it’s like, ‘Yay, we have the whole day’.’’

‘‘When she’s not drink­ing she’s fan­tas­tic,’’ Sa­vant jokes as they both burst into laugh­ter.

‘‘I adore her. This is my favourite job in 26 years of be­ing an ac­tor. I love her. We get along so eas­ily.’’

The pair’s on-screen mar­ried life hasn’t all been rosy. Out-of-con­trol kids, a se­cret daugh­ter, a for­mer flame and Lynette’s can­cer bat­tle are some of the chal­lenges they’ve faced.

De­spite this, Huff­man can still rest easy know­ing the Scavos are the most nor­mal fam­ily on the block con­sid­er­ing other neigh­bours’ prob­lems in­clude cov­er­ing up mur­ders, fak­ing death and moth­er­ing a child who’s not their own.

‘‘We are the most nor­mal in the sense that it’s a func­tion­ing mar­riage, not per­fect, but func­tion­ing,’’ she says.

‘‘We have chil­dren and is­sues of deal­ing with small chil­dren and now deal­ing with teenagers. So we are not a His­panic su­per­model (Gabrielle) or your Bree Van De Camp. We’re just nor­mal.

‘‘In the first sea­son they had plans to break us up in dif­fer­ent kinds of ways and the pub­lic said we like this mar­riage, we like th­ese two peo­ple be­ing to­gether, so the writ­ers have kept us to­gether.’’

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