LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Desperate Housewives" made suburbia sexy — and funny and murderous and touching — and it didn't stop there.
ABC's series about the messy lives within Wisteria Lane's tidy houses proved how low comedy and high drama can be a TV marriage made in heaven. It showed that women of a certain age — meaning over 25, in Hollywoodspeak — can be alluring and compelling.
It introduced the witty voice of creator Marc Cherry, and reintroduced (with another ABC program, "Lost") the concept of serialized storytelling at a time networks were stuffing viewers with a heavy diet of cheap reality and stolid crime-of-the-week procedurals.
Now, eight years on, "Desperate Housewives" is signing off Sunday (9-11 p.m. EDT), and we must swap farewell air kisses with Teri Hatcher's Susan, Felicity Huffman's Lynette, Marcia Cross' Bree and Eva Longoria's Gabrielle.
As the end nears, the foursome are keeping a secret that could put Bree away for a murder she didn't commit. Susan is coping with the aftermath of husband Mike's death and her unwed daughter's pregnancy. Lynette's bid to win back Tom (Doug Savant) has led to painful soul-searching, while Gabrielle tries to exonerate Bree without imperiling husband Carlos (Ricardo Antonio Chavira).
In other words, it's business as usual for the series that began with a buried body and the suicide of Mary Alice (Brenda Strong), whose lilting narration from the afterworld has guided viewers through Wisteria Lane's many plot twists and turns.
Cherry, who was persuaded by ABC to extend the show into year eight, is ready and willing to say goodbye.
"It's time," he said in a recent interview. "We had a wonderful ride and I've enjoyed it, but I really felt this should be the last season. People keep asking me if it's bittersweet, and I keep saying, 'Mostly sweet.' ... I feel really good about my decision."
Devoted fans are, if not desperate, experiencing separation anxiety. Shelly Robinson, 28, of Oakdale, Calif., a homemaker with three children, said she hopes the finale brings "the best for the characters" and has crafted her own ideal endings for them ("I hope Tom and Lynette grow old together").
"I cannot believe that I only have two hours left with them!" Robinson said in an email.
Cherry has remained largely mum about the final episode, but he said it includes a long-envisioned scene that was foreshadowed in last week's episode when Hatcher's Susan talks about leaving the 'hood.
"When Susan drives off the lane, I've had that ending in mind for seven years. We filmed it just like I saw it in my head, which is incredibly gratifying," he said.
Does he expect to hit the sweet spot for his audience? Cherry is philosophical — and braced.
"Look, 'The Simpsons' just did their 500th episode and they had a very funny title card at the end of it that said, 'Can you please wait a few minutes, fans, before you start complaining about this episode on the Internet,'" Cherry said.
"You really just go, 'I'm going to do the best job I can.' Hopefully people will like it and you just cross your fingers."
The audience embraced "Desperate Housewives" when it debuted in 2004. It was an instant hit, quickly gaining more than 17 million viewers and finishing among the top-rated shows for the season.
ABC lavished attention on its critical and ratings darling, with such clever marketing ploys as "Desperate Housewives" dry-cleaning bags imprinted with the saying, "Everyone has a little dirty laundry."
Even more eye-catching was the off-screen drama, starting with a 2005 Vanity Fair poolside cover shoot that reportedly sparked diva-esque competition among some cast members. The latest unscripted clash, Nicollette Sheridan's unresolved wrongful termination suit stemming from her character Edie's death, will outlive the show.
But the buzz for "Desperate Housewives" has faded, along with the ratings. This season, it's averaging 8.5 million weekly viewers, compared with the 19 million-plus each for broadcast's ratings leaders "NCIS" and "American Idol."
Cherry is reluctant to judge his show's legacy, although he's glad that it "breathed new life" into serialized storytelling, which lives on in ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and newcomers including "Revenge" and "Scandal." ''Desperate Housewives" also begat the "Real Housewives" franchise, but Cherry doesn't deserve the rap for that.
He is very proud to have contributed to female empowerment. The writer-producer gave starring roles to actresses in their 30s and up, especially important at a time when big-screen opportunities for older women were contracting.
"We expanded networks' ideas of who can be the star of a TV show. I'm very much proud of that and proud of the ladies for their accomplishment," he said.
Cherry has sworn off any big-screen, overseas "Desperate Housewives" adventures a la "Sex and the City." ("After years, boy, I think we're done," he told reporters in January. "I'm just never sending these gals to Dubai. That's all I'm saying.")
He has a new series, the Beverly Hills-set "Devious Maids," that's being considered by ABC for its new schedule. After that, he plans to make a grand exit that could eclipse anything we've seen on "Desperate Housewives."
"I've got a 'Broadway, here I come' sign that's being painted on my suitcase," said Cherry, who sees his future in writing books for musicals.
He's put Wisteria Lane and his experiences in TV-making, including the ongoing court battle with Sheridan, in perspective: "I made a comment to a friend: 'Well, I was the one who wanted to be in show business.'"
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/lynnelber