May 22, 2005
During a single week last May, Steven Culp died (on ‘‘Star Trek: Enterprise’’) and was also left for dead (on ‘‘JAG’’).
Now Culp lives to marvel at his transformative year on ABC’s first-year show ‘‘Desperate Housewives,’’ which has become a juicy topic on the lips of everyone, including first lady Laura Bush.
‘‘At first I thought, ‘ABC is never gonna pick up this pilot,’ ’’ Culp recalls. ‘‘Then I thought, ‘OK, they picked it up, but it’s too quirky to succeed.’
‘‘Then the critics gave it raves and I thought, ‘Great, we’ll get one or two seasons out of it and then move on, with the cachet of having been on this cool show.’
‘‘I’m delighted to be so wrong!’’
As devotees await tonight’s season finale, they have long since set Culp straight. Some 23 million viewers each week have made the show a national phenomenon as they savor its lighthearted take on blackmail, murder, adultery and sisterhood.
The show has hooked America since its ratingsleading premiere in October when, among many twists, its narrator gave a play-by-play of her own suicide.
Exactly why Mary Alice Young, the Desperate Housewife Emeritus of Wisteria Lane, put a bullet in her head will be explained in the finale.
Meanwhile, a new housewife, played by Alfre Woodard, will take up residence with her own set of secrets. A cliffhanger is promised. And another death.
So goes the kooky melange of melodrama, whodunit and dark comedy which, cooked up by series creator Marc Cherry, has seized the nation’s eyeballs and imagination like no new show in years.
One reason why: The disparate desperate women of Wisteria Lane, who are bonded by proximity and gender as they represent a variety of female distress. (ABC’s Web site offers a quiz to ‘‘see which Wisteria Lane housewife you are . . . or which one is your perfect love match.’’)
The series has launched or resurrected (as the case may be) the actresses who play this lovely foursome — Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria, plus Nicollette Sheridan as the serial divorcée.
But it’s been pretty good, too, for the men of Wisteria Lane, including Culp, who plays Dr. Rex Van De Kamp, restless mate of obsessively perfect homemaker Bree.
‘‘I look at the show as a comedy of manners,’’ Culp says. ‘‘It’s about the disconnect between the things people profess and the things they actually do.’’
The 49-year-old Culp is a stage and movie actor whose face, if not name, has been recognized by viewers for years. Besides recurring roles on ‘‘JAG’’ and ‘‘Star Trek: Enterprise,’’ he also found time last season for multiple appearances on ‘‘ER’’ and ‘‘The West Wing.’’
Meanwhile, he aced the ‘‘Desperate Housewives’’ audition, then missed the allimportant next step: A meeting with ABC brass. The day it was scheduled, he was filming his death scene as Major Hayes on ‘‘Enterprise.’’ In his absence, another actor was cast as Rex.
But after the show won a slot on ABC’s fall schedule, the role was re-cast. This time, Culp clinched it.
‘‘I guess some things,’’ he says, ‘‘are meant to be.’’
"Desperate Housewives" airs 8 p.m. today on ABC.