and well-educated," she said. "We know there's a responsibility we have to make
it successful because if it doesn't, industry people will be like, 'Oh, well
that didn't work!' And then who knows when the next opportunity like this will
But at the start even the actresses who would play those roles didn't appreciate the show's conceit.
"Honestly, my first reaction was not unlike the blowback we're getting," Ortiz said. "I understand where people are coming from because, as a Latina and being in this business as long as I have, I was like 'Really? Devious Maids? What, are we all going to be called Maria? But it was a show from Marc Cherry, who I respect greatly, so I resisted the urge to write it off completely."
Cherry, nicknamed affectionately by the cast as Mr. Cereza (Spanish for "cherry"), also needed early persuading. The Mexican media giant Grupo Televisa, which last year opened a small Santa Monica-based studio, approached Cherry to adapt one of its titles for English-language television. When Cherry heard that they wanted one about Latina housekeepers, he toyed with the idea of having a racially diverse group of maids. He soon reached out to Longoria for advice.
"He said, 'If I make them all Latina, will I get a backlash for it?'" Longoria recalled. "I was like, 'Well, what is this story about?' ... He was telling me the story, and it really had nothing to do with race or ethnicity stereotypes. These women are the moral compass of the show -- I thought it was a beautiful story to tell."
Still, on the surface, the idea of a middle-aged white man writing about Latina maids seemed like an odd choice. But the tension between the rich and working-class poor has always interested the 51-year-old Cherry, who once worked as an assistant to "Designing Women" star Dixie Carter.
"I have always been fascinated by the juxtaposition," Cherry said. "Working in someone's home gives you a very different perspective of that person."
The heavily promoted new series -- with ads splashed across billboards, bus sides and print publications -- was once seen as ABC's heir apparent to "Desperate Housewives," which ran for eight seasons and once commanded an enviable audience of more than 20 million weekly viewers. But the network passed on the project (originally titled "The Disorderly Maids of the Neighborhood") during pilot season last year.
"My disappointment only lasted about five minutes," said Cherry, who prefers the less-exhausting 13-episode order for basic cable instead of a typical 22 or more episodes for a major network.
For the female-centric Lifetime, the series joins other scripted shows such as "Army Wives," "The Client List" and "Drop Dead Diva" and should provide an opportunity to broaden its audience, say network executives.
"Marc is one of the premier artists working in our genre, and it was a show we felt really fit with what we're about," said Rob Sharenow, the network's vice president of programming. "We think it's a broad appeal show that will reach across a lot of different constituencies and bring new viewers to the network, particularly in the Hispanic market, which we think is being underserved in the English-language market."
The show's soap cache soared when daytime star Susan Lucci signed on to play a wealthy socialite named Genevieve. Lucci is quick to point out its French pronunciation Zhawn-vee-ev, a name she hopes is equally as memorable as Erica Kane.
"I really embraced the opportunity to not have to rush in performing every scene," said Lucci, a staple of "All My Children," which ended its 41-year run on ABC in 2011. "You can take things in and process it. It's such a fun story he's telling -- there's comedy, drama and mystery."
Cherry hopes viewers will forget about the early tempests and show up for the entertainment.
"I just want people to give the show a shot," he said. "More than anything, I want people to understand this is going to be a fun romp. I feel really good about providing some really fun parts for five amazing Latina actresses."
(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times
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