THE SECRETS BEHIND TV HIT 'DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES'

Published on: October 15, 2004

A murderous child killer is behind the idea for ABC's twisted new hit, "Desperate Housewives."

The series was born when creator Marc Cherry's mom confessed to him that she nearly suffered a violent nervous breakdown like famous child killer Andrea Yates!

That shocking revelation is just one of the secrets behind the dark drama.

YATES TRIAL

Cherry remembers watching Yates' trial on TV with his mom Martha at her Brea, Calif., home about three and a half years ago. They were discussing the tragic story of the woman who drowned her five children--when Martha dropped a bombshell.

He said he remembers asking his mom, "Gosh. Can you imagine a woman being so desperate that she would hurt her own children? "And my mother took the cigarette out of her mouth and turned to me and said, 'I've been there.'

"And I remember saying, 'What?!'

"I always thought of my mom as the perfect wife and mother. And for the very first time, she started telling me these amazing stories of when my dad was off getting his master's degree at the University of Oklahoma and it was just her and us three kids on the farm alone, and she had no help and no neighbors or anything, and she was having these mini-breakdowns."

Martha, 67, said: "I felt overwhelmed. I just felt like I had never seen so many children in all my life, and they were all mine. I was not a baby person. My interests were not in cooking and housekeeping. I wasn't into it."

Cherry says his mom is the direct inspiration for the characters of Lynette, a former corporate exec turned stay-at-home mom played by Felicity Huffman, and Bree the scary Martha Stewart-styled perfectionist played by Marcia Cross.

"Toward the end of their marriage, my parents were having some difficulties, and my dad had congenital heart disease," Cherry remembered.

"I remember getting up at 5 in the morning, and my dad was going down the stairs.

"And I said, 'What's going on?'

"He replied, 'I'm having another heart attack.'

"And I went, 'Where's Mom?'

"He said, 'She's in the bedroom.'

"And so, my dad was waiting downstairs, and I went in, and my mom was finishing making the bed.

"I remember saying to her, 'Well, Daddy's waiting to be taken to the hospital.'

"And she said, 'Well, it's the start of my day.'

DISASTER STRUCK

"She just did the little crease under the pillows and I remember thinking, 'Oh, wow, she really doesn't care if he makes it to the hospital.'"

Fueled by those compelling stories, he wrote the pilot and pitched the show to several networks in 2002, but they declined.

Then disaster struck--his agent embezzled $79,000 from him and $191,000 from other clients.

But Cherry went from desperate writer to rising star the following year when ABC bought the series. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m.

The show could be described as "Peyton Place-meets-Leave-It-To- Beaver." In fact, the show is shot on the same Universal back lot street where "Leave It To Beaver" was filmed.

--MICHAEL GLYNN