Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cherry and sour grapes

Fans of quality soap (as in opera, not Cussons Pearl) all remember the day their favourite show jumped the shark. With Dallas fans clamouring for the return of their favourite hirsute hero, kind-hearted (and deep pocketed) producers relented and resurrected Bobby Ewing in the now infamous shower scene that ended the show's ninth season.

Although many viewers found Bobby's Lazarus-like resurrection a step too far, it proved that there's no such thing as 'dead' when it comes to long-running drama series. Especially when those shoulder-pads and extra-marital clinches start to lose their luster.

It's a lesson that the makers of Desperate Housewives probably have ringing in their ears. With the show's once unstoppable ratings now on the slide, they seem to have found a surprising, but kind of appropriate, way of generating some publicity.

Another long-dead character has made a return to Wisteria Lane for more bitchy fireworks and dramatic showdowns. The only difference is that these are happening away from the picket-fenced set.

Nicolette Sheridan, who brought her all-natural beauty to the show as slutty realtor Edie Brit, is suing Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives' creator and executive producer) for assault and battery, gender violence and wrongful termination.

Although these are pretty extreme claims, like all preposterous plot developments on the show, the clues were always there. When Nicolette's character Edie Britt made her exit from DH last year, she and Cherry were rather blunt in describing their parting of ways.

Nicolette was happy to tell the press that she had wanted to leave the show much sooner, but was tied to a contract. She also expressed dismay that the frothy drama had lost its edge: "When the show started it was such a different beast. It was exciting and dangerous and funny and edgy and bizarre. It started feeling a little complacent, and that was very frustrating."

She also felt that Cherry had underused her formidable skills, arguing "When you have a jewel, why not polish it and put it out there for all to see?". Cherry disagreed, believing that we'd all seen quite enough of what she was putting out there, thank you very much.

As well as saving somewhere in the region of $150,000 per episode by ditching Edie, Cherry saw an opportunity to mess with the successful formula and take the show in a new direction: "What I won't do is cast another fortysomething sexy blonde. She performed the aging, neighborhood tramp better than anyone has ever done before." Damned by faint praise, I believe that's called.

Like all great soap vixens, Nicolette is having the last evil laugh, with a $20 million lawsuit lined up against the ABC network. Following it up with a formal statement, the actress claimed that she'd been a "model employee" and accused her former boss of behaviour that was "nothing short of abusive and appalling."

Perhaps over-egging the yolkless omelette, Nicolette's lawyers even position her as a hard-working team-player who just wants to "help protect others who have had to work in a hostile environment". No mention of which battered women refuge the $20 million has been earmarked for.

As a self-confessed "gay republican", Marc Cherry must experience his fair share of internalised rage. And there's every chance that this simmering resentment might occasionally bubble over.

Having said that, it's also possible that Nicolette is disappointed that the offers haven't been flooding in since she departed the show 12 months ago. Although she's only 44, her skin is now so leathery the only role she'd be suitable for would be stand-in for a pair of Louboutins.

Like all good soap operas, this is the kind of plot that can run and run. Just don't be surprised if we later find out that she's actually a pre-operative transsexual and Marc had been replaced by his evil Hispanic twin. Compared with some of the storylines on Desperate Housewives, that'd be almost believable.

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