By Eddie Shapiro
In Out's September issue, we spoke to Marc Cherry, creator and executive producer of Desperate Housewives, about his hit show. Now, as the DVD of season one is about to be released and the second season readies to air, we offer these exclusive outtakes that reveal even more of the scandal behind TV's hottest show.
Out: Obviously, everything you write is, to some degree, an extension of you. Has your gayness infused your writing in any particular way?
Cherry: You know, it depends on the scene I'm writing. There are times when it's really my WASPy, repressed Midwestern culture that influences the story. Sometimes, because I'm an adult who hasn't had that many personal relationships, I tend to be a little cynical about romance. I can kind of call on that part of my personality when writing some of the relationship stories. I have a lot of aspects to my soul and I draw on different things when I am writing. Definitely, when writing the stuff when Andrew came out to his mother and we did the whole storyline where she brought the preacher over to dinner, that was lifted directly from my life. That storyline just poured out of me. Because so many of the things that got said actually were said in real life by either me or my mother. But so much of the show has nothing to do with sexuality. It's about how you keep secrets or what you do when you're desperate. That came from the other part of my life, the professional part. So, pretty much, all the parts of me get used up at one point or another in the creation of the series. I'm like the Indians with the buffalo: Every part is used.
Out: If it's all from you directly, do you worry about burning out? I mean, you run through so many storylines and arcs so quickly.
Cherry: All the time. All the time. One of the reasons daytime dramas are able to keep going is that their storylines go at a glacial pace. When you tune in to an episode of Desperate Housewives, something big is gonna happen to somebody. I do worry that by season six, what the heck are we gonna be doing then? But for right now, for season two, I still have plenty of stuff up my sleeve and none of it feels tired. We're having a good time.
Out: And in keeping it fresh, it seems that you're not afraid to seriously shake things up.
Cherry: Not at all.
Out: To lose major characters, that's a change from most series.
Cherry: That's real life. You can have someone who's such a huge part of your life and then they get hit by a bus. Sometimes it's happy, sometimes it's sad, sometimes it's weird. I want the audience to tune in, never knowing what's going to happen and realizing that life on Wisteria Lane is a fragile thing indeed. Hopefully, that will always keep the show alive and fresh.
Out: Has there been any backlash about Andrew? Several people seem to think that the scene with his priest puts his actual sexuality in question.
Cherry: People misheard that scene. What he said is that he likes vanilla but every once in a while he likes chocolate. A lot of young men discovering their sexuality are not willing to come right out and say 'I'm gay.' When he got caught kissing a boy, remember, the first words out of his mouth were 'I'm not gay.' So for me, the truth of that, what he was saying to the preacher was, 'Oh, I'm not really gay. Yeah, I have sex with boys occasionally.' Which to me is the biggest joke. 'Cause guess what? If you have sex with boys occasionally, you're at the very least bi.
Out: I've had that argument. But I've heard people say 'No, he did the whole thing to piss off Bree.'
Cherry: Yeah, people accept what people say too readily. They think that just because he said it, it's true. One of the things I was trying to write in there is that he's like a lot of kids. He's saying, 'Oh, I'm not really gay.' Well, yeah, you are. That, to me, is the truth of the situation. I've had people get confused by that. That's one of the problems you get sometimes in TV. It's hard to write with ambiguity.
Out: Perhaps that's OK. They will figure it out eventually and you can't dumb it down.
Cherry: Exactly. We'll just do what we do and at some point they'll figure out that he's just a mixed-up kid. 'Cause how many times do we do that in real life? Someone says 'Oh, I'm not this' and then they go and do whatever it is they say they don't do. It happens all the time. People are so horrible about lying to themselves. One of the things I was worried about didn't actually happen. When Andrew said 'I'm gonna fuck with her so bad, I'm going to rock her world,' I was concerned that people were going to go 'Oh, no, he's gay, don't make him a bad guy.' And what I really love is that we didn't hear backlash about that. That's one of the things I'm so excited about with this character. I've got this young gay teenager and he's not going to be the typical victim you see in ABC after-school specials. This is a kid who is just as evil and manipulative as any of the women on the street. He knows what he wants when he wants it.
Out: We knew that already because of his reaction to the hit and run.
Cherry: Exactly, and now by adding the gay layer on it, I get to write a gay teenager that has never been seen on TV before and that's exciting creatively. He's his own little Bette Davis/Joan Crawford character, that's very appealing. He's no victim.
Out: The victim in this is Bree and that's only because she's victimizing herself. That's an interesting choice.
Cherry: Yeah. And that's one of the things we came up with early on and it wasn't completely planned. Marcia's character has such a big stick up her ass that one of the ways we made her likable is that we kept throwing these obstacles at her. The husband who's having an affair with a hooker, a son who put someone in a coma and doesn't have any regret over it. And suddenly the whole conservative, uptight thing you saw her desperately trying to hold on to was the obstacle. And suddenly she went from being snooty to someone people really started to feel for. I think Marcia had one of the most amazing years of anyone on the show in terms of getting to play a wide variety of emotions and the audience feeling for her. I get a lot of nice compliments about that character and I'm pretty proud of it.
Out: How did you come up with the notion to name every episode after a Sondheim song title?
Cherry: I knew I wanted to do a fun kind of something title wise. Now, mind you, I never thought anyone would know this, 'cause usually you just put your titles on the scripts. But because of the advent of TiVo, I'd forgotten that titles are seen. And what's really cool about all of that is because I was doing that, I was invited to contribute something to Sondheim's 75th birthday celebration. He sent me a note afterwards saying 'Next time you're in town, give me a call and you can tell me how much you like my work.' And, indeed, I did call him and he had me over to his home for dinner and I got to sit and chat with Stephen Sondheim for five hours.
Cherry: In a year full of extraordinary things, that was, like, my favorite thing that happened all year long.
Out: Is there a correlation in your head between Desperate Housewives and The Golden Girls?
Cherry: I think Golden Girls was the original TV female ensemble comedy. [Series creator] Susan Harris did such a beautiful job delineating four women's personalities and doing a show that's really smart and gave women a chance to talk about stuff. It's, no pun intended, the grandmother of all female ensemble shows. There were some things that I knew I wanted to keep and some things I wanted to play on. I also sort of worked on Designing Women inasmuch as I was Dixie Carter's personal assistant before I got my job as a writer on Golden Girls. And I'm a very big fan of Sex and the City. All of these shows have very much contributed to my understanding of the format. One of the things where Sex and the City influenced me was that the women told each other every single aspect of their lives in intimate detail. And I thought how cool would it be to do a female ensemble show where the women keep secrets from each other. That was a big influence in terms of how I chose to approach the material when I sat down to write it.
Out: That's very atypical, don't you think?
Cherry: I think that there are probably women out there who share everything with their friends, but I'm betting that there are a whole lot more who keep a lot of secrets from each other. Lord knows there's a lot my friends don't know about me. I just thought it was time to take a kind of left turn with this ensemble-type show, and I think it paid off.
Out: Do you have a favorite moment from season one?
Cherry: The first one that comes to mind is from the last episode. It's when Marcia Cross gets the phone call that her husband's died and she just goes and keeps polishing the silver. She waits to cry until after she's finished her chore. There was something so cool about that moment for me because you knew that she was starting to crumble inside but because Bree is so organized, she wanted to get the chore done first. The first time I saw it I cried, and I didn't expect to be so affected by it.
Out: With so much of it based on her, what does your mother think of the show?
Cherry: It's the first show I created that she really enjoys. Of course she never told me that until this one premiered. Leave it to my mother. She loves it. The thing I get the biggest kick out of is that she doesn't see herself in any of the characters. She doesn't see herself there at all.
Out: Some of the things you told me are direct quotes from her. She doesn't remember?
Cherry: No. My mother literally said to me, when I said the words 'I'm gay,' she said, 'Well, I'd love you even if you were a murderer.' The episode aired, she said nothing, so I honestly don't think she remembered. Of course that was 13 years ago. A lot of the things that you're seeing are stuff that happened in my childhood. Things that she probably didn't think twice about had a huge impact on me. The one thing that she did remember was when Lynette dropped off the kids and drove away. I got a call after that episode aired and she said, 'I cannot believe that you just told America about that.' That makes me laugh.
Out: Good for you for managing to reconcile those things and still having a good solid relationship with her.
Cherry: And here's the thing, I mean, I am going to run out of horrible stories to tell about my mother 'cause by and large she is a wonderful, wonderful woman. It's just that, God love her, she's a little passive-aggressive and there's some darkness there. God love Mom and her desperation because it's paying off for me now.