Who's ready to go back to Wisteria Lane?
When Desperate Housewives debuted on ABC 15 years ago on October 3, 2004, the dramedy from former Golden Girls scribe Marc Cherry, along with Lost and Grey's Anatomy, would go on to reverse the struggling network's fortunes and introduce the world to an iconic setting with more murder and intrigue than any other street in America. For eight increasingly ludicrous seasons, that nondescript suburban cul-de-sac was the epicenter for some of the juiciest moments on broadcast television.
But as it turned out, the real drama worth talking about was happening when cameras weren't rolling and egos were clashing. As we were reminded recently when Cherry and leading lady Eva Longoria turned in special pleas for leniency for their pal and former co-worker Felicity Huffman, who was recently sentenced to 14 days in federal prison after pleading guilty to honest services fraud after being arrested in the nationwide college entrance exam cheating scandal that rocked the world and also took Full House star Lori Loughlin down in the process, the set of Desperate Housewives wasn't exactly the happiest place on earth.
So, to answer our question above: Probably none of the original stars, which also included Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Nicolette Sheridan.
In honor of the show's 15th anniversary, we're taking a look at the 15 most insane stories behind-the-scenes stories to have come out about the show, each one juicier than anything Cherry and his writing staff ever put on TV. (And that's saying something.)
1. Our first hint that the show's cast wasn't one big happy family came when the five female leads, after taking home the Golden Globe for Outstanding Television Series - Musical or Comedy in the first season (Hatcher also won Best Actress at the ceremony), graced the cover of Vanity Fair in 2005 and right there in bold letters, it read "You Won't Believe What It Took Just To Get This Photo!" It's not every day a magazine up and admits that. In the story, writer Ned Zeman wrote that the shoot, which involved the women in different colored bathing suits around a pool, was monitored by an unnamed ABC rep who was there to ensure certain demands were met, including keeping Hatcher from selecting her wardrobe first or appearing in the center of any group photo. "Whatever you do," the rep said when he arrived, "do not let Teri go to wardrobe first."
Despite the pleas from the rep, Hatcher was still the first to visit wardrobe and had apparently consulted with the stylist days in advance. At one point, the rep said, "This is a problem. I'm getting text messages from Eva. Everything is not fine." Once they got everyone to set, as Cross found Hatcher next to her in the center of the photo, she stormed off the set and screamed at the ABC rep to "do your [expletive deleted job!" That, in turn, forced Hatcher to retreat from set and reportedly cry into her cell phone as she carried out a heated conversation. The end result saw Sheridan in the center, flanked on either side by Hatcher and Cross, with Longoria and Huffman posed below them. When the fold-out cover was closed, Huffman and Cross weren't visible.
In response, ABC and Touchstone Television released a statement calling the moment "one isolated incident."
"While negotiating certain elements of photo shoots is standard practice, and was part of our coordination with Vanity Fair, this shoot simply did not go as planned," the network stated. "Because of this, our talent were made to deal as best they could with a situation not of their making. This one isolated incident does not define these women or their relationship."
2. While it's hard to imagine other than Hatcher in the role of Susan Mayer, it was reported in the book Desperate Networks that Julia Louis-Dreyfus wanted the role, but ABC execs felt she wasn't right for the part. And that means that, yes, there's a bizarro world out there where JLD was confined to the show until 2012 and we never got Veep (which debuted a month before DH's series finale).
3. When Cherry shopped the script for the pilot around, it was passed on by a whopping six networks. As pilot director Charles McDougall revealed in The Telegraph in 2005, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, Showtime and Lifetime all turned it down. Big mistake. Huge.
4. McDougall only got the gig directing the pilot because the original director quit after being told that he wouldn't have sole casting discretion, something that we're not sure has ever been offered to a director of a TV pilot in the history of the medium.
5. The name of the show's narrator, Brenda Strong's Mary Alice Young (whose suicide proved to be the show's inciting incident), was changed from Mary Alice Scott in Cherry's original script for a very unique reason. "We changed Mary Alice Scott to Mary Alice Young because we couldn't get the name cleared with our lawyers," he wrote in Desperate Housewives: Behind Closed Doors, a companion book to the first season. "If over three people in the country have that name you're fine but with anything less than that, they make you use a different name. Apparently there was one Mary Alice Scott in the country."
6. During casting on the series, ABC encouraged Cherry and his team to cast an Asian-American woman as the "busybody next-door neighbor...to balance the cast," McDougall claimed. (Although which busybody, we're not quite sure. He didn't clarify.) "We see the best 30 and and fail to raise a glimmer or a laugh, so I suggest we give the part to the woman whom Marc wrote it for, who is not very Asian."
7. After Sheridan was killed off the show in 2009, she filed a $20 million lawsuit in April 2010 against Cherry and ABC Television, alleging that she'd been assaulted by Cherry on set, struck on the head during a rehearsal on Sept. 24, 2008, and was fired in retaliation for reporting the alleged abuse to the network. Cherry would assert that the alleged assault was merely a tap to the head with his fingers, done to show her how she should play out a gag. The case was ultimately thrown out court, but not before testimony and reporting unearthed a trove of salacious BTS accounts.
8. Through testimony, it was revealed that Sheridan had actually been the last person to be informed that her character, Edit Britt, was dying in the show's fifth season. Several folks, including then-ABC president Steve McPherson and then-ABC Studios president Mark Pedowitz testified about meetings on May 22, 2008 in which they claimed they approved storyline, then intended to take place in the fifth season's finale. And when the cast and crew celebrated the show's 100th episode, which aired January 18, 2009, and Cherry announced that the network had renewed the show for two more seasons, he revealed his plans to Longoria and Huffman, only after they'd told him Sheridan had approached them about negotiating their next contract as a group.
9. Cherry testified that he'd apologized to Sheridan for the incident as she was clearly upset, but when she requested, through an intermediary, for a second apology as well as a gift of flowers, he put his foot down. "It was a sincere apology that I had inadvertently offended her," he said on the stand. "I had upset her, and I don't like upsetting my actresses. But when George [Perkins, executive producer] informed me that now she wanted flowers, I said, 'No, that's saying something more,' so I declined." Sheridan's departure was eventually moved up from the finale to the season's 18th episode.
10. In the wake of Sheridan's lawsuit, The Daily Beast spoke with former staffers on the show in 2010 who all painted a rather unflattering picture of Cherry's leadership. "He will dress you down in front of the staff. He will assault an idea," said one source. "He is very confrontational in this way. He has hissy fits."
11. According to those sources, there was a distinct sense of gender discrimination going on with Cherry and his writing staff. Only 14 writer-producers out of the 39 who'd worked on the show from 2004-10 were women, and many of their tenures were short-lived. SNL alum Julia Sweeney left after half a season. "He hates women," said one person who has worked on set. "It's apparent on set that he's a fan of cute, gay men, not women." Another source said that female writers were kept out of the "polishing room" and relegated to their "caves," and when storylines involving menopause, aging and pregnancy came up, Cherry listened primarily to his male writers, while females got "a hostile face and a dismissive wave, and a 'You need to go shut up and sit over there, while I listen to this guy.'"
12. Cherry's behavior wasn't the only highlighted in the Daily Beast report. According to one source, Hatcher once causes a crisis when she had to shoot a scene where the then-pregnant Susan was to scarf down a stack of pancakes. Not wanting to repeatedly down carbs during numerous takes, she allegedly insisted that blueberries be put on the pancakes so she could eat those instead. It led to a showdown with Cherry, who eventually gave in.
13. When the show wrapped in 2012, the cast presented the crew with a parting gift of carry-on luggage and Hatcher's name was conspicuously nowhere to be found on the card, but Vanessa Williams, who'd co-starred in the last two seasons, was. "Just know that on all your future adventures you are carrying a little piece of our love and gratitude. Thank you for a magical 8 years. Love, Eva, Marcia, Felicity and Vanessa." While relations between Hatcher and the rest of the women were clearly always tense (see: No. 1), the rift deepened during their final contract negotiation when Hatcher reportedly made her own agreement in advance and separate of the other women, limiting their ability to negotiate as a group. When TV Guide Magazine asked Hatcher for comment on the strained relations, she said via email, "I will never disclose the true and complicated journey of us all, but I wish everyone on the show well."
14. In Longoria's letter to the judge in Huffman's case sent on September 6, 2019, she revealed that she'd been bullied on the set of the show as a newcomer to the industry. "There was a time I was being bullied at work by a co-worker," she wrote, never revealing the identity of her bully. "I dreaded the days I had to work with that person because it was pure torture. Until one day, Felicity told the bully 'enough' and it all stopped. Felicity could feel that I was riddled with anxiety even though I never complained or mentioned the abuse to anyone."
15. Similarly, Cherry wrote of a "problematic cast member" in a letter of his own, claiming the actor in question had "big behavioral problems" that made it "impossible" for the cast to get along with them. This person even "decided she would no longer speak to her fellow cast members," only to the directors, behavior he described as "alternately maddening and hilarious." Huffman, however, never gave the bully the satisfaction of stooping to their level.
"Felicity still insisted on saying, 'Good morning' to this actress, even though she knew she wouldn't get a response. I found out about this and asked Felicity about it. She smiled and said, 'Just because that woman's determined to be rude, doesn't mean she can keep me from being polite,'" he wrote.
We'll let you connect the dots on who they could possibly be talking about.
All eight seasons of Desperate Housewives are available to stream on Hulu.