From Golden Girls to Golden Boy

In the early 1990s, Los Angeles was tumultuous -- earthquakes, riots, fires, O.J. But things for television writer Marc Cherry were quite tranquil. He had just wrapped his fist professional gig as a producer and writer on The Golden Girls and he and his writing partner had just signed a production deal with 20th Century Television. Well, the production deal turned out to be a bust, and things quickly got tumultuous for Cherry. He was basically stuck in sitcom purgatory there for a while. Scary.

Ten years later, however, Cherry is back on top in TV land again, as the creator of a little show called Desperate Housewives, which recently picked up a Golden Globe for Best TV Series (Musical or Comedy). Here's a quick run-down about Cherry's long, turbulent trek between Betty White-ville and Wisteria Lane.

Cherry's first show for 20th Century was the critically well-received The Five Mrs. Buchanans, a 1994 sitcom about sister-in-laws and their strained relationship with the family matriarch. It was an excellent showcase for Cherry's acerbic wit, but, partly due to crappy time slot, the show never found its audience and was canceled after 13 episodes. Cherry's next project, The Crew, in '95, ultimately ended his relationship with his writing partner. At that point, reality television, the death knell for traditional programming, had arrived. Sitcom development went downhill as reality shows started usurping time slots. Cherry did manage to get a Justin Bateman-Danny Nucci pilot on CBS in 2001, but it, too, was canceled after just five episodes.

Suddenly Cherry's "golden days" seemed far behind him -- his money was running out and he was developing a reputation as a quick witted-wash-up. Desperate to get work, he took odd gigs as a sitcom staff writer around Hollywood. And then inspiration hit, in the form of the Andrea Yeats murder trial and a quip from his mother. When they were talking about the scandal one night, she removed a cigarette from her mouth and stated: "Trust me, I've been there."

He sat down to write yet another show, and what he came up with was an hour-long dark comedy with an underlying mystery. "It was sheer ignorance. I had no idea how to write a one-camera, hour-long show," Cherry recalls. "By the time I introduced the four main characters I was already on the 15th page -- most hour-longs have a total of 30 pages. So the pace was unprecedented."

Before handing the script over to his trusted agent in 2002, Cherry was nearly broke and had to borrow $30,000 from his mother. The agent started peddling the script around town as a "dark comedy"; it was rejected by six networks in short order. To add salt to his wounds, it was around this time Cherry found out his agent had embezzled $80,000 from him. Luckily, people at the Paradigm Talent Agency stepped in. They loved Cherry's script. They repackaged it slightly, emphasizing its soap quality, and tied in an established daytime television producer.

Desperate for a hit, ABC/Touchstone bought the script and Desperate Housewives debuted last October with a phenomenal 21 million viewers. It was the highest rated new show of this season, came in second in ratings overall, and was nominated for five Golden Globes (besides the Best TV Series win, Teri Hatcher also nabbed a Best Actress honor).

And so, even after embezzlement, a string of flops and a little desperation of his own, things have worked out very nicely for Marc Cherry. "We're all riding on the Marc Cherry train around here," says actor Jamie Denton, who plays the mysterious, studly plumber Mike Delfino on the show. Cherry was recently in New York for an appearance on Charlie Rose. On the way over to the studio, he took some time out to answer a few quick questions for PAPERMAG:

PAPERMAG: How does it feel to be interviewed by Charlie Rose?

Marc Cherry: I feel sorry for him that his standards have lowered to interview me [laughs].

PM: Who's your favorite character on the show?

MC: Bree -- she's the one most like my mother.

PM: Is it true you said the parents of the show are Sex and the City and Six Feet Under?

MC: I wanted to combine the tonalities of these two shows.

PM: Desperate Housewives is so white hot, how long do you think it can last?

MC: We'll probably cool down a bit in season two.

PM: One of the directors on the show said the best shows are the ones that have a single voice and point of view. How much of the writing of each episode are you responsible for?

MC: At least 50 percent. Sometimes more.

PM: You took a chance and wrote the original script for this show on spec. Why is it so unusual to get the response you did -- the initial rejection by six networks -- to such a high-quality, unique script?

MC: Networks don't traditionally buy spec scripts. They like to develop projects in-house.

PM: Why do you think such a steamy and off-beat show stuck a chord with conservatives and liberals alike?

MC: I honestly don't know.

PM: What's next?

MC: A few more years of desperate acts for desperate women.

A few evenings after our conversation, Cherry stood on stage at the Golden Globes and graciously accepted the Best Series award. He dutifully thanked his mother and dedicated his award to her... just like a golden boy would.

Desperate Housewives airs on ABC on Sundays at 9 p.m.

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