Ron Tom, ABC
Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria Parker, Marcia Cross

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The actresses on "Desperate Housewives" insist that it doesn't bother them a bit that the show's narrative suddenly jumped forward five years in the final moments of May's fourth-season finale. Or that it's going to stay five years forward when the fifth season begins on Sunday (8 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4).

After all, if creator/executive producer Marc Cherry had gone with his first inclination, the show would have jumped ahead even further.

"I was thinking seven years, but then my writing staff was, like, 'Well, you know, do you want to go in there and tell all those women they're going to be seven years older?' And I went, 'Yeah, five is good."'

Yeah, well, it was a little more involved than that.

"We talked him down from seven," said executive producer Bob Daily. "We countered with three and ended up with five, eventually."

As for the actresses — Teri Hatcher (Susan), Felicity Huffman (Lynette), Marcia Cross (Bree), Eva Longoria Parker (Gabrielle), Nicollette Sheridan (Edie) and Dana Delany (Katherine) — they unanimously declared The Great Leap Forward a "great" idea.

"I think once I explained to them that I wasn't going to put wrinkles on them, that they were basically going to look like this, it was fine," Cherry said as the actresses nodded in agreement. "And I think everyone was mostly just interested in the stories we were going to be telling so that was that."

Cherry said the time jump was a way to "reset" after four seasons of serialized comedy/drama.

"The soap tends to build up. I wanted to get back to where we were that very first season where it's just the problems of some ordinary women and they were small and relatable.... I thought, 'How am I going to do that? And I thought, 'Oh. Let's just go forward in time. Let me change everyone's lives completely."'

We got a good look in those final scenes last May. Lynette is struggling with teenagers; Bree has her own business; Katherine is working for Bree; Edie is back on Wisteria Lane after a five-year absence with a new husband in tow; Gabrielle is a frazzled housewife with two young daughters; and Susan has a new man in her life.

There's a lot of information about how they've gotten where they are in Sunday's episode, as well as the episode that airs a week later. But I won't give any of it away here.

And the changes are not just cosmetic. Hatcher said that any physical changes to the characters are "motivated by some sort of real emotional, situational thing that's happened. It's not like arbitrarily somebody just went, 'Hey, I want to wear a different kind of dress.' It all means something."

And — again, without giving anything away — after watching the first two hours, The Great Leap Forward really does look like a great idea. By jumping ahead five years, "Desperate Housewives" has been rejuvenated.

Cherry promises that while he's bringing the show back to earth, it won't stay there indefinitely.

"Of course, the ball will start rolling and pick up steam as the year goes on," he said. "But I thought it would be a good chance to do something interesting and give everyone some challenges.

"That's what I love about my gals is that, for all the glamour, they're all actresses first. And that can't be said on some TV shows because I have friends who constantly marvel at what my gals allow me to do and how ridiculously silly I make them and how wickedly driven I make the characters, but they really go with me. And I've always been very fortunate in that regard."

LONGORIA PARKER said she's excited about the chance "to really start from scratch and explore more things" about her character. And it's a chance "to play something other than glamour."

"I love it, because I come into hair and makeup now and it's like 10 minutes instead of two hours," she said. "I wake up and go straight to set."

But it wasn't that easy. The early attempts to make her frumpy didn't work.

"I said, 'You know, she's not looking bad enough. Take off all her makeup.' And they did, and she looked like a 12-year-old," Cherry said. "And it became a big topic of conversation on our set — that it is really hard to make Eva Longoria look bad."

Longoria Parker is outfitted with a whole bunch of padding, and the makeup people draw dark circles under her eyes. And she said she got a "mom haircut ... because I didn't want to wear a wig once he told me how long it was going to last."

How long will it last?

"We'll get her back to looking glamorous somewhere in the middle of the season, I would think," Cherry said.

For now, though, it's "a challenge just because there are levels of frumpiness," Longoria Parker said. "She does have her past and she was a runway model. So, in her frumpiness, there's efforts of trying to be glamorous and it's just tragic."

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