Legal Drama

‘Desperate Housewives’ Trial: Nicollette Sheridan and Marc Cherry Head to Court

Nicollette Sheridan will finally face off in court with her former Desperate Housewives bosses. Maria Elena Fernandez reports.

As Desperate Housewives executive producer Marc Cherry plans for the finale of his ABC hit, a jury of 12 will write the ending of Wisteria Lane’s most sordid story: did Cherry hit actress Nicollette Sheridan in the face and fire her after she complained?

After two trial delays, Sheridan, 48, will finally get her $20 million day in court on Feb. 27 to face off with Cherry and ABC Studios about their decision to kill off her character in an episode in March 2009. Los Angeles Superior Judge Elizabeth Allen White, who threw out Sheridan’s sexual-harassment claim last year and has encouraged a settlement on numerous occasions, has refused to dismiss the wrongful-termination claim, saying the issues are not as “clear-cut” as Cherry’s defense team depicts them.

Cherry denies striking Sheridan and will testify that plans to kill off Edie Britt, Sheridan’s character, were in place as early as July 2008. He will claim the actress was rude and difficult and had trouble remembering her lines. Sheridan was notified in February 2009 that viewers would see Edie die the following month, and she will depict Cherry as an "abusive" and "overly aggressive" boss.

The lawsuit centers around an incident on Sept. 24, 2008, in which Sheridan says she approached Cherry to ask him why a line she found funny was removed from her dialogue. Sheridan says he answered abruptly and walked away from her toward two other actors. After the rehearsal, she said she asked Cherry again.

"When we neared the kitchen, he stopped and asked, 'What is you want?' I started to say, 'I'll tell you again,' and at that second, he stepped towards me and hit me hard on the head with his open hand,” Sheridan said in a deposition. “It was a hard hit. My head jerked. After Marc Cherry hit me, I was stunned. I could not believe what had just happened. I told Marc, 'You just hit me on the head, that's not OK. That is not OK.'" According to Sheridan, Cherry came to her trailer half an hour later to apologize to her.

In a December 2008 letter, the executive vice president of ABC Studios, Howard M. Davine, wrote that the studio’s investigation showed that Cherry tapped the side of Sheridan’s head to direct her for a scene and later apologized to her for upsetting her. Sheridan was informed four months later that she was being fired, but when that decision was actually made by Cherry and ABC Studios is an essential issue in the case.

The saga will offer a rare insider’s look into the making of a hit television show that became an instant phenomenon and put 40-something women on the sexy map again. It will also offer delicious details of the personalities of the writers, producers, and actors of a series infamous for its divas. Forced to take sides, some producers, who still work there, have vouched for Cherry in their depositions, while others have stood by Sheridan. At a final pretrial hearing on Wednesday, it was revealed that even other prominent producers, who have never set foot on Wisteria Lane, will be dragged into the mud.

Cherry’s lawyers will depose veteran showrunner and TV scribe Neal Baer (A Gifted Man, Law & Order: SVU, ER) on Thursday and want to call him to the stand during the trial as an expert who can attest to a preposterous notion put forth by Cherry’s lawyers—that showrunners make creative decisions about their shows without input from the network or studio. Sheridan’s lawyers, in turn, want an ABC business-affairs lawyer to testify that the network and studio are definitely involved, especially when it comes to contract renewals with actors.

The actress’s lawyers also argued that Baer is not a suitable witness because he has helmed procedural dramas, whereas Desperate Housewives is a serial, “and networks generally speaking do not kill off the lead character” of serialized shows. Apparently, Sheridan and her lawyers need to spend some time catching up with other ABC serialized series, like Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and Private Practice, which have killed off lead characters.

Then again, it could be argued that Sheridan was not a lead character on Desperate Housewives. Edie never appeared in the title card with the other leading ladies, and Sheridan wasn’t added to the cast photo on the DVD sets until the third season.