Desperate Housewives

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Airdate: 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28 (ABC)

Marc Cherry says he was inspired by "Lost" to play with time and move his "Desperate Housewives" five years into the future. Whatever prompted the idea, it is a shrewd, daring way to energize the ABC series with a second life.

Just about every hit series (excluding "The Simpsons") has an arc to its popularity, and by the time it reaches its fifth year it is usually on the other side of the peak. Most long-running series -- and the networks that carry them -- accept this aging process as inevitable. Media and promotion tail off as the show coasts to an end right at the intersection of declining ratings and rising production costs.

Cherry's experiment with "Desperate Housewives" could bring back older viewers and attract newer ones, essentially rewriting the playbook for successful TV series.

A lot will depend on how viewers respond to the familiar characters being placed into unfamiliar situations. It isn't hard to accept that Bree (Marcia Cross), the perfectionist homemaker, has succeeded in a catering venture with her partner, Katherine (Dana Delany). It will take a bigger leap to envisage Gaby (Eva Longoria Parker), the sexy fashion model, as a frumpy housefrau with two pudgy kids.

Cherry reimagined Susan (Teri Hatcher) as less flighty and desperate as she calls the shots in a new relationship. And yet it seems the character hasn't changed all that much: She remains impulsive and driven by emotions. Meanwhile, a more attractive Lynette (Felicity Huffman) is very much her pragmatic self as she parents her husband and kids.

Some things don't change. Except for Gaby, the housewives look as good as ever, including Edie (Nicollette Sheridan), who returns to Wisteria Lane with a husband. The husband, an eerily mysterious motivational speaker played by Neal McDonough, is at the heart of this year's annual mystery.

Cherry penned the season premiere, which establishes the new dilemmas. It has the wit and bite that made the series a standout, but it has jettisoned much of the dramatic baggage that had begun to weigh the show down.

"Desperate Housewives" will be around for two more seasons, but how viewers react to this one could have an impact on not just this show but the future of scripted programs.

Cast: Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria Parker, Nicollette Sheridan, Dana Delany, Ricardo Antonio Chavira, Doug Savant, Kyle MacLachlan, Neal McDonough, James Denton. Writer-creator: Marc Cherry. Director: Larry Shaw; Director of photography: Eric van Haren Noman; Production designer: P. Erik Carlson; Editor: Andrew Doerfer; Music: Steve Jablonsky.

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