ABC Promises 'Stronger' Third Season of 'Desperate Housewives'

Slammed by critics and slighted in the Emmy nominations, "Desperate Housewives" endured a rocky second season. But better times are coming to Wisteria Lane, ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson said Tuesday.

Series creator Marc Cherry will be the sole executive producer following the departure of Tom Spezialy, who helped launch the show, McPherson said.

"Marc has taken over 100 percent of the show-running and that's been a terrific change," he said. "The early scripts and the story lines and arcs and the mystery are a lot stronger from the get-go."

Both the show's dark comedy and its soap-opera heart will be strongly in evidence when the show returns Sept. 24, he said. ABC kicks off its fall season Sept. 8.

All of the third-season episodes are arriving "through Marc's typewriter, which I think is a great thing," said McPherson, who didn't elaborate on Spezialy's exit.

Spezialy isn't out in the cold: He has a development deal with Touchstone Television, ABC owner Walt Disney Co.'s TV studio, a Touchstone spokeswoman said.

Appearing before the Television Critics Association, McPherson rejected one reporter's contention that "Desperate Housewives" suffered a "creative collapse." But he acknowledged the show that was an unmitigated success in its freshman year had problems in the second.

"Everyone, including Marc, admitted that at the beginning of last year he stumbled a little bit, answered so many questions at the end of the first season that he really spent too much time setting up the mystery, the new arcs," McPherson said. "This year we're going to jump right in."

Cherry, whose TV expertise was in half-hour comedy (he cut his writing teeth on "The Golden Girls") had been paired at the beginning of the ABC show with Spezialy, who brought experience as a drama producer ("Ed," "Dead Like Me").

McPherson was asked if the tone of "Desperate Housewives" would change with Cherry's total stewardship.

"I think it's going to get back a little bit more to the heart of it, which I think tonally was kind of a wicked comedy," he said.

With "100 percent of the responsibility falling on his shoulders," McPherson added, Cherry has made an effort to stay ahead on story planning and themes.

"We have seen more arcing of the entire season from a specific story standpoint and soap standpoint than we've ever seen so far," the programming chief said.

The suburban satire, which stars Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan, held strong in the ratings despite critical mutterings that it had lost its way creatively. It finished as the No. 4 show among viewers for the 2005-06 season.

But this month's Emmy snub added to the show's woes. While three of the stars were nominated last year and Huffman won the best comedy actress trophy, only newcomer Alfre Woodard snagged a bid for the Aug. 27 Emmy Awards ceremony.

The same treatment met another ABC hit, "Lost," which was named best drama series last year and wasn't even nominated this time. The network did score with its medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," among the leading nominees with 11 nods.

McPherson refused to accept that the quality of the shows was the issue, instead fingering a new Emmy nominations approach that he suggested should be scuttled.

Under the revised approach, blue-ribbon panels played an instrumental role in determining the nominees in the categories of drama and comedy series (previously decided by a general membership vote) and lead actors and actresses.

McPherson was especially aggrieved by the "Lost" snub, which followed a well-received season.

"Clearly it's because of the new system, I would assume. Who wins the Emmys is one thing, but to have that kind of oversight to me is remarkable and it's sad for a show like that. It's one of the best shows on the air and maybe one of the best shows of all time."

"I hope the academy will look at it and realize that maybe the changes they made aren't all good and they need to go back to the old system," he said.