For the first time in years, Desperate Housewives is captivating America again — for reasons its creator and cast can’t be happy about. Former star Nicollette Sheridan sued Touchstone Television for wrongful termination after the show’s creator Marc Cherry killed off Sheridan’s man-eating alter ego, Edie Britt, in spring 2009. The details were scandalous (Cherry testified that Sheridan called costar Teri Hatcher ”the meanest woman in the world”), and the three-week trial culminated in a verdict reminiscent of Housewives’ famous cliff-hangers: A judge declared a mistrial due to a hung jury. The publicity around the trial is a fitting coda for the eight-year-old ABC dramedy, which will sign off with a two-hour finale on May 13 at 9 p.m. Housewives launched in 2004 alongside some of the most critically acclaimed series of the last decade — Lost, House, and Veronica Mars — yet it dominated headlines thanks to Cherry’s uncanny ability to illuminate the lives of suburban wives without pandering or condescension. The travails of Wisteria Lane’s klutzy divorcée Susan Mayer (Hatcher), frazzled mom Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), WASPy homemaker Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross), and suburban sexpot Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria) were addictive and sordid, yet somehow relatable. Is it normal to hate your kids sometimes? (Sure!) Does every household have its share of dirty secrets? (Definitely!) Is it okay to sleep with your teenage gardener? (Um…) To tell these stories, Housewives deftly mixed comedic moments with drama and, of course, mystery, starting with the juiciest: Why did Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) put a bullet in her brain?
To commemorate the end of this pioneering series, EW conducted dozens of interviews with the cast, crew, and writers, who recall Housewives’ provocative premise, its controversial story lines and effect on the TV industry, and one very gnarly photo shoot.