Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria

When ABC announced in early January that such network hits as Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Castle, Modern Family, Cougar Town and The Middle would be back for the 2011-12 season, one fan fave was conspicuously missing from the rescue boat. At a presentation of ABC's winter programming, new ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee told reporters he "wasn't quite there yet" regarding a renewal for Desperate Housewives, leaving fans to fret that they were about to spend their final months with Susan, Lynette, Bree and Gaby.

Now in its seventh season, the primetime soap continues to be a lucrative international ratings winner — a negotiating point stars Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria have been using to their full advantage. With a deal yet to be struck with the quartet for future seasons and series creator Marc Cherry developing the new primetime drama, Hallelujah, for ABC, might fans' concerns be warranted? Most likely not.

"The actresses are still in hot and heavy negotiations, so as of this moment everyone is hopeful and optimistic that we'll be returning for an eighth season," Cherry tells me exclusively. "But until the women have signed on there's no guarantee."

Once the deal with the actresses is worked out as anticipated, the producer indicated that a likely scenario would find ABC picking up the series for two more seasons, with an end date planned for 2013 when Cherry's own Housewives contract expires. "I think that's what everyone would be happy with," he says. "So yeah, that would be the end of Desperate Housewives. I think nine years would be a really good long run."

Time however is ticking. Cherry says he realistically needs to know by the end of February if he will be ending the current season with another nail-biting cliffhanger or wrapping up his Wisteria Lane shenanigans for good. "I've specifically asked [ABC] to please get the deal done as quickly as possible so I can know," says Cherry. "I would hate to have to wrap up Desperate Housewives in an untidy fashion just because they weren't able to make a deal. But everyone's pretty optimistic a deal will be made."

It certainly sounds so, as Cherry indicates he will soon be sitting down with his writing staff to conceptualize a couple of exciting new Season 8 characters that quite possibly could pop up on screen before the current season ends in May.

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