Carol Burnett will soon join Desperate Housewives as Eleanor Mason, the cold stepmother of Bree Van De Kamp (Marcia Cross), tand is tentatively scheduled to appear April 9 (9 p.m. ET/PT), says USA Today.

"Eleanor took over after Bree's mother was killed when Bree was a child," says Housewives creator Marc Cherry. "She's a very tightly wound, proper lady for whom appearances mean everything. A lot of what Bree has become came from this woman," and their relationship is "polite but strained."

Burnett had but one request for Cherry: "I said, 'I want her to be a little (meaner).' It's more fun to have those villainous takes �" like Miss Hannigan," Burnett's wicked role in 1982's Annie movie.

Eleanor comes to town with her husband, Henry, after Bree's son, Andrew, announces his intentions to be emancipated. "Andrew is bringing up all sorts of family secrets, and they want it stopped," Cherry says.

Cherry is writing Eleanor as an evil role to differentiate her from Burnett's characters on her 1967-78 variety series. So far, Burnett is scheduled to appear in only one episode, but all parties are open to a return visit next season.

As the second season of the show winds down, expect new baby drama for Gabrielle and complications in Susan and Karl's secret platonic marriage. And the two-hour season finale, says Cherry, "will be a mixture of current stories and flashbacks on how all the women came to Wisteria Lane." Dead characters will return.

The show also will be giving Alfre Woodard and Mehcad Brooks' characters "a big finale" �" allowing next season's mystery to focus on one of the four housewives, who "will end up in a serious relationship with a man who has some pretty dark secrets," Cherry hints.

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Brian B.