Unimpressed by most roles she's been offered lately, Carol Burnett is suddenly turning "Desperate."
The comedy legend and multiple Emmy winner plays against type as Bree's (Marcia Cross) emotionally reserved stepmother on the hit ABC series "Desperate Housewives" Sunday, April 16. She and her husband (fellow guest star Ronny Cox) visit Wisteria Lane to try to help Bree with her son, Andrew (Shawn Pyfrom), who has filed for legal emancipation.
"It went fine," Burnett says of filming the story. "There are terrific vibes on that set. I was talking to one of the crew guys, and he said that it really is a family. All the ladies are supportive of one another. When you walk onto a set, you can pick up a feeling. Everybody here was loose and having a good time, even though they were tired because they're approaching the end of their season. It was fun."
Burnett also enjoyed working with Cross, with whom she shared most of her scenes, and calls her "a doll."
"The characters don't like each other, and it was just the opposite off-camera," Burnett says. "I had seen the show quite a few times, but of course, I love the whole soap-opera genre. One of my favorite things I ever did was [the 1986 miniseries] 'Fresno,' which was a total takeoff on 'Dynasty' and all those shows. ['Housewives'] reminds me of a campy soap opera with a twinge of 'Twin Peaks,' that dark underbelly."
Rarely seen now -- unless she's receiving the Kennedy Center Honors or the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- Burnett explains, "There's not that much I really want to do. This was a wonderful three days; I wouldn't even call it work. It was just getting in the sandbox, and that's what I like to do."
Many TV veterans have recently turned up on current series, such as Tom Selleck and Michael J. Fox on ABC's "Boston Legal" and Susan Saint James on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Burnett likes the trend: "I think it's great. Also, it keeps you off the street."
Most of Burnett's present efforts are aimed toward funding the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse (www.carriehamiltontheatre.com), a training ground for young artists named for Burnett's daughter, an actress, director and writer who died in 2002. Also involved is Martha Williamson, formerly the executive producer of "Touched by an Angel," an episode of which featured Burnett and Hamilton.
"For all the years that show was on, Carrie was voted by the crew as their favorite guest star," Burnett reports. "She was a force, funny and talented. Martha was just taken by her, and when Carrie died, there was a memorial with all of her friends. One girl who spoke said that when Carrie was very ill, she still was holding court with the nurses and making them laugh. The friend asked how she could be so cheerful, and Carrie said, 'Every day when I wake up, I decide that I'm going to love my life.'
"That impressed Martha, who made it sort of her mantra ... and when this idea for the theater came up, she called to see if I would approve of it being named after Carrie. I said, 'Well, of course.' If Carrie had lived, Martha would have made her the artistic director."
Given how her "Desperate Housewives" episode ends, Burnett could return to the series, but she reasons only time will tell. "It depends on how this is received," she says, "and if they're pleased with me. I sure had a good time."