Desperate Housewives was a massive hit for ABC, both in terms of ratings and critical acclaim — so why did the drama series conclude its run after 8 seasons? Created by Marc Cherry, the show focused on the lives of a group of women through the eyes of their friend and neighbor, Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong), as they deal with the struggles of domesticity while also uncovering the dark secrets which bubble under the surface of an ostensibly perfect suburban neighborhood. Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria were the core cast members of Desperate Housewives, leading the drama for all of its 180 episodes, even as other notable supporting actors were frequently added to the ensemble as a result of character deaths and other twists.
Season 1, which centered around the shocking suicide of Mary Alice, was a success right out of gate. The pilot episode, airing in October 2004, was watched by more than 21 million viewers. The impressive ratings would continue for the rest of the season, which averaged 23.7 million and peaked at more than 30 million viewers for the finale. The show remained part of the top ten most-watched series for five seasons, garnering similarly fervent attention with international audiences. Frequently recognized at the Emmys and the Golden Globes, Desperate Housewives has been credited with helping to restore ABC’s prominence in the realm of scripted series along with Lost and Grey’s Anatomy. Given all of these accolades, why did season 9 never happen?
Desperate Housewives ended after season 8 because Cherry didn’t want the show to overstay its welcome. Making the decision in concert with Paul Lee, the president of ABC at the time, Cherry explained that he wanted to end the series while it was still valuable for the network. “I wanted to go out when the network still saw us as a viable show and a force to contend with. We felt from a creative standpoint that this was the right time. I feel so good about it.” Cherry noted, according to TVLine. This is a stance that Cherry had maintained throughout his tenure as showrunner and executive producer of Desperate Housewives. As early as 2007, only a few years into the drama’s run, he was making public statements about the importance of ending the series on a high note.
While it’s understandable that Cherry would want to avoid the divisive finales of other influential titles, such as Seinfeld and The X-Files, the decision to wrap up with season 8 came as a surprise to the cast. Desperate Housewives had been generally expected to continue, with the network even contracting the show’s four main stars for an additional season. Although it did slip gradually slip in the ratings, averaging around 10 million viewers by the time it ended in 2012, the series maintained an international following and was a solid revenue earner overall. In 2010, for season 7, the show brought in $5.48 per episode. Only two other shows, American Idol and Two and a Half Men, raked in more money that year.
By all accounts, the decision not to move forward with season 9 was largely a creative call. Often a blend of comedy, mystery, and drama, Desperate Housewives was able to rejuvenate itself thanks to its almost anthological format which offered a new crime to solve with each new installment. Although that approach lends itself to an infinite number of new stories, it’s probably for the best that the conclusion came when it did. The series exited the airwaves, just as pop culture was beginning to shift thanks to the rise of Netflix and prestige TV. The residents of Wisteria Lane likely wouldn’t have been able to compete.