It's mayhem on the set of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."
Most of the cast is attempting to flee a crowded nightclub that's slowly catching fire. Thick layers of smoke are quickly filling the room. Flickering flames are streaking up the walls. Pushy extras are hurrying to the nearest exit. And someone is still in the bathroom!
Much like the tornado that ravaged Wisteria Lane last season or the supermarket standoff the year before, the nightclub fire is the buzzed-about sweeps stunt that will engulf Sunday's episode. The blaze appears to have been started by this season's mysterious -- and perhaps villainous -- new neighbor Dave Williams, played by Neal McDonough.
"I personally don't think my character is a bad guy," McDonough said during a break from filming. "He's just damaged goods. Something happened to him that he just can't come back from. He has to take care of something. It's eating his life away. It's really interesting to explore a character like this, and it makes me feel very fortunate for my life."
Away from their usual Universal Studios street set, the cast have gathered for the scorcher inside Sound Stage 28. Meanwhile, on another part of the back lot, a nightclub facade is being erected that will later be burnt to a crisp. In true sweeps fashion, someone won't survive.
During production of the episode in October, the actor portraying one of those in peril found himself in danger in real life.
Gale Harold, who plays the boyfriend of Teri Hatcher's character, was in a motorcycle accident and fractured his shoulder. Script rewrites were ordered after Harold was admitted to USC Medical Center.
This fire isn't the first to threaten Wisteria Lane's residents. In the series' first episode, Susan Mayer (Hatcher) accidentally burned down the home of Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan), who retaliated in the second season by lighting up Mayer's place. In the fourth season, the naughty twin sons of Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) confessed to an arson.
Is series creator Marc Cherry a closeted pyromaniac?
"Not at all," he says over lunch with Huffman a few days later. "I just like putting people in jeopardy."
He certainly does. Without much explanation, "Desperate Housewives" was thrust five years into the future at the end of last season. Inspired by "Lost," Cherry recalls nonchalantly pitching the leap to ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson during a baseball game last October. He said McPherson's initial response was: "Oh, that could be interesting."
Cherry let the idea percolate with ABC executives because he knew it was a "pretty risky proposition." After the fifth season premiered in September -- apart from a few flashback scenes -- there's been no going backward. What could have been a jump-the-shark moment ultimately reinvigorated everyone.
"I think it got everybody -- the fans included -- excited again," said Huffman, whose character battled cancer during the fourth season. "It certainly got the writers excited again. It all started on the page. The housewives all look younger though, which is a little weird, but the men look at a little older, which is really how it really should go."
The jump gave Dana Delany's tormented Katherine Mayfair, the center of last season's mystery, a place alongside the housewives at their weekly poker games. However, beyond her pairing with plumber Mike Delfino (James Denton) laid out in last week's episode, Mayfair has mostly served as the caterer sidekick to domestic queen Bree Hodge (Marcia Cross).
"I've gotten to do a lot more comedy," Delany said on her way to Sound Stage 28. "I guess I am hoping they will change it up a bit. I'm just honored they asked me to come back in the first place. The show has never asked anybody to come back for the next season, so I think they're trying to figure out how you fit in a sixth housewife."
Older counterparts for the children of Wisteria Lane were cast while the teenagers morphed into adults. Andrea Bowen, the 18-year-old actress who has played Susan's levelheaded daughter Julie since the beginning of the show, will return to Sunday's episode as a graduate student who's dating an older professor (Steven Weber).
"This whole five-year change has really shifted the vibe on the set," she said in her trailer. "It's spiced things up. There's the ability to do a lot more with these characters. For me, to come back in the middle of this has been interesting. I'm trying to get everybody to catch me up. I've been watching episodes like a regular viewer."
Cherry, who once worked as a writer and producer on the long-running sitcom "The Golden Girls," said he doesn't think "Desperate Housewives" will be doing any more fast-forwarding, but he does see an end to the series in sight. He's beginning to conjure up ideas for the sixth season and hopes the seventh season will be the last.
"I know what the last scene of the show is," teased Cherry. "I already have that in my head. I would like to end the series after seven seasons. The problem is we are one of the top-rated scripted series on ABC."
Cherry revealed that the final scene would feature just one of the housewives. Gasp! On a series where car wrecks, back-stabbing, murder, fire and other natural disasters are regular occurrences, it probably shouldn't be too surprising that, in the end, the show's mastermind may leave just one woman standing.