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HUBER MAY RISE FROM THE DEAD ON 'HOUSEWIVES'

Martha Huber may be dead, but she's not gone from ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

That's the word from Christine Estabrook, the actress from East Aurora who plays the nosy neighbor who was strangled in Sunday's episode of the season's hottest new series.

"I'm allowed to say this -- I'm still shooting, and we're doing episodes that will be shown through January," said Estabrook from New York City, where she was making television appearances to discuss her TV death.

She arrived in the Big Apple after spending the Thanksgiving holiday in East Aurora, where she apparently prepared her mom for Sunday's strangulation.

"Not too long before it, though," said Estabrook. "It was a really hard secret to keep."

Martha's death came in the best episode since the pilot, a heavily hyped hour that revolved around the themes of sin, guilt and forgiveness. All week long, ABC told viewers that one desperate housewife would be gone forever. Viewers may have assumed that it would have been one of the Big Five played by Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria, Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and Nicollette Sheridan. But that was an unrealistic expectation. Writers don't kill off their most important characters so quickly and risk audience backlash.

Estabrook has been appearing as a guest star on the show, though her delicious character certainly has stolen the limelight from the bigger stars on occasion.

"All I could think of is I was hoping they wouldn't guess it was me," said Estabrook.

Indeed, all signs pointed to Sheridan's character, Edie Britt, who was the target of an assassination plot. But the assassin, played by Richard Roundtree, discovered that Paul Young (Mark Moses), the widowed husband who targeted Edie, did so using faulty information. The assassin learned that the note that may have prompted Paul's wife, Mary Alice, to commit suicide was written on a piece of paper that Edie took from Mrs. Huber.

Paul Young apparently planned to just talk to Mrs. Huber about the note, but her total lack of remorse and a remark about what Mary Alice did to her baby angered him. Paul hit Mrs. Huber over the head with a blender and strangled her, then wrapped her inside a rug.

Estabrook suspected her character wasn't going to have a long life from the start. Marc Cherry, the creator of the series who also is a friend, told her that one of the reasons he hired her was because he thought she could play a splendid death scene. She didn't necessarily believe death would come so soon.

"With Marc, things are never written in stone," said Estabrook. "Marc has a very fluid imagination. It just depended on how things happen. I wouldn't be surprised if there is more of Mrs. Huber around."

She is glad that the secret wasn't revealed before Sunday.

"People like the fun of not knowing," said Estabrook. "They really don't want to know. It is all about the mystery."

Cherry said before the season that the mystery of who wrote the note to Mary Alice would be revealed after several episodes and that other mysteries would follow. Among the mysteries remaining are what Mary Alice did to her baby and how Estabrook returns to the show. It could be in flashbacks, it could be at a funeral, it could be as a ghost or as Martha's twin sister. Of course, this assumes Martha is dead and we won't learn later that the death was a dream scene. Estabrook conceded Martha was dead on Monday's "Good Morning America," telling Charles Gibson "I think she was killed because she had no remorse about (the note)."

The actress isn't talking about how she'll return. She does realize that fans wish Mrs. Huber were still sticking her nose in the lives of the housewives as they deal with loneliness, drugs, divorce, and guilt. What was the initial reaction of fans to Martha's demise?

"Nobody can believe it," said Estabrook. "They are all so sad, they are all so sorry. They're going, 'I can't believe that your character might not come back because we like your character so much.' And so do I."

By the way, the episode was a huge national and local hit. It had an 18.8 rating in Buffalo, well above the national average.

Among the television appearances that Estabrook made Monday was on ABC's 11 a.m. program, "The View." Unfortunately, Estabrook's mom couldn't see it here because local affiliate WKBW-TV preempted her appearance for a news report on the Bass Pro deal.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com