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Maid for cable

US CABLE: Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry tells Michael Pickard why his new series, picked up by US cablenet Lifetime, is set to be his best work ever.

Marc Cherry

Marc Cherry

As the curtain came down on Desperate Housewives after eight seasons, its creator Marc Cherry wasted no time in preparing his next project.

Devious Maids is based on Mexican telenovela Ellas Son la Alegría del Hogar, about four women who have ambitions and dreams of their own while working for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.

But after being ordered to pilot during the most recent development season by ABC, which was also the home of Housewives, the broadcast network passed on taking it to series.

Their loss, however, was cablenet Lifetime’s gain, as it quickly stepped in to snap up the show and hand Cherry, who will exec produce and act as showrunner, and ABC Studios a 13-episode order. Disney Media Distribution is handling international sales.

Incidentally, Cherry says the Mexican format didn’t interest him at first, due to similarities between it and Housewives, such as the narration and its mysterious plotlines. However, it was his experience working as an assistant to the late actress Dixie Carter (whose credits include CBS sitcom Designing Women) that led him to rethink his decision.

“The idea of the relationship between maids and the people they work for was fascinating to me and so compelling it brought back memories of my first job after I moved to Hollywood as an assistant to Dixie and her husband Hal Holbrook,” he explains. “The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to write about it because there are some really interesting dynamics to those relationships.”

As to why ABC passed on the pilot, “I’ve never had a straight answer,” Cherry says. But he was determined the show would find another home.

Coincidentally, Lifetime execs had been following the pilot through development and when Cherry said it was available, a 13-episode deal was wrapped up. The show will star Ana Ortiz, Judy Reyes, Dania Ramirez and Roslyn Sanchez, and is due to air in 2013.

The move from ABC to Lifetime (whose parent A+E Networks is 42% owned by Disney) means Cherry will be able to rewrite a couple of scene from the pilot he thinks can be improved. More importantly, however, is the additional production time he will have to write the rest of the season, which he describes as the “biggest benefit” of switching from a broadcast network to cable.

“I’m only going to be writing 12 more episodes so I have much more time to plan the series,” he says. “Artistically, it gives you greater licence to do much more complicated storytelling and richer and deeper writing than you have time for on a network schedule.

Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives

“With the networks, from the time they pick up your show to the time you start shooting is approximately six weeks. That’s not a lot of time to plan what you’re going to be doing for 23 episodes, whereas I have four straight months of plotting before we start shooting. What the fans are going to see from me is the best writing I’ve ever done because I have time to plan things and talk about them and get to deeper places.”

Devious Maids will line up at Lifetime alongside other original series such as The Client List, Drop Dead Diva and Army Wives.

And Cherry says a lot of US writers are now willing to take their shows to cable if a broadcast network doesn’t support them.

“Every time a Mad Men, Walking Dead or American Horror Story comes along, cable is getting more competitive with the broadcast networks,” he says. “Suddenly a lot of people are thinking that if ABC doesn’t get my idea but Lifetime likes it, let me go someplace where they get my vision.

“A lot of people turned down Mad Men but it’s gone on to become one of the greatest TV series of the decade. It’s a natural thing for a writer to want to have a home where they understand his vision; they see what he sees. Cable is providing us with more choices. Cable gives us another option. It’s the best thing possible for the viewer.”

The downside of the move to cable, however, is a smaller budget. Maids will be filmed in Atlanta, rather than Los Angeles, while the show will also have a shorter shooting schedule of seven-and-a-half days, compared with the nine days per episode ABC afforded Housewives.

“Those are some of the compromises you make,” says Cherry. “You just have to be smart about how you budget your time and the way you do it. But because we have fewer episodes, we can plan ahead more, which makes all the difference in the world for your production team.”

When Housewives came to an end in the US in May, it brought to an end a show that had become a hit around the world. But despite claiming to feel under no pressure to repeat this feat, Cherry believes Maids could turn out to be an even bigger success.

“I’m feeling no pressure. The odds are fairly slim that I will create as much of an international stir with my second series as I did with Housewives,” he admits. “It’s kind of impossible. But that being said, I put pressure on myself to step up my game.

“I’ve learned a lot and made some mistakes along the way, so I hope to repeat the good stuff I did and improve on the areas I screwed up. This will be a better series in the long run. We’ve got an amazing cast and that’s 90% of the battle.”

With Sanchez’s character appearing in the 180th and final episode of Housewives, Maids has already been lined up as a quasi spin-off to the ABC blockbuster. And that’s likely to mean more international sales for the Lifetime series when it hits the air next year.

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