Actress Nicollette Sheridan has waited nearly two years to tell her story. On Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, she did more than that—with her open right hand, she twice smacked one of her lawyers, Patrick Maloney, on the left side of his face and head, demonstrating how in 2008 her boss on the Desperate Housewives set allegedly hit her in a fit of anger.
The first time Sheridan reenacted the alleged assault, she held back. The second time, Maloney asked her to show the jury exactly how hard she says Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry struck her at the end of a rehearsal on Sept 24. 2008. Sheridan is suing Cherry and ABC Studios for wrongful termination essentially for firing her in 2009 in retaliation, she says, for her complaint against Cherry.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Sheridan told Maloney before agreeing to hit him “upside the head,” the way she says Cherry did when she twice questioned him about her funny line of dialogue being deleted from a scene. When asked to describe how she was struck and how she felt about it, Sheridan testified: “It was a nice wallop across the head … I’m not accustomed to being hit. It was shocking, humiliating, demeaning, and it was unfathomable to me that I’d just been hit by my boss.”
Sheridan was on the witness stand all of Thursday, the first day of testimony in the civil trial. Fidgety and nervous in the morning as she described her work on the show and her various contracts, she calmed down considerably when her lawyer finally got to the business at hand. The actress described her character, Edie, as a “singular voice on the show” who was colorful and promiscuous.
“I think honesty is about the only thing [Edie and I] shared,” said Sheridan, who filed the lawsuit in April 2010. Later, when the jury was shown a montage of Edie’s sexcapades, the actress noted, “That was embarrassing.”
What follows is Sheridan’s account of the events that led to Edie being killed off in the fifth season and her losing a job in which she was earning $4.2 million a year plus residuals. Sheridan’s cross-examination should begin today.
In late August 2008, pre-production on Desperate Housewives episode 507 “What More Do I Need?” was underway. As written by Matt Berry, there were no scenes for Edie Britt in the original draft. The table read for the episode was an event of sorts—it was being filmed as bonus material for the season’s DVD set. Although Sheridan was not going to appear in the episode, she was expected to attend the table read in full hair and makeup. This did not sit well with Sheridan, who called executive producer George Perkins (who handled all of the cast’s needs), and told him it was a “waste” to pay for hair and makeup artists if she had no lines. “If Marc Cherry wants me there, it would make sense that Edie have some lines,” she testified that she told Perkins. After speaking to Cherry, Perkins told Sheridan, “that Mr. Cherry would put a few lines in the script for me and if I didn’t like that, he’d write me out completely.”
Sheridan agreed and a scene was added in which Edie interrupts her husband Dave (Neal McDonough) and Mike (James Denton) as they’re trying to write a song. In the first draft, Edie mocks them for having a hard time coming up with lyrics and says, “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah. How hard is that?” According to Sheridan, the line got a big laugh at the table read.
As the script was revised over the next few weeks, Edie was still in the scene, but the line with the Beatles lyrics was removed and now Edie was meant to hit her husband with a magazine. As a result, Sheridan testified, rehearsal of the scene on Sept. 24, 2008, was going badly.
“I didn’t feel it served the scene or Edie,” Sheridan testified. “It just wasn’t funny anymore. Edie usually says something funny.”
Sheridan asked Cherry why the line was omitted and he replied: “It was too expensive. It’s gone.” (Cherry was referring to the high cost of paying for music rights, Sheridan says). Sheridan said she then asked Cherry if he could come up with an inexpensive line to replace it, and Cherry “got agitated, ignored me, and started dealing with [McDonough and Denton] again.”
A few minutes later, when Cherry was finished talking to the other actors, Sheridan testified, she approached him again. Cherry became “agitated” and motioned for her to walk toward Edie’s kitchen and said in a loud angry tone: “What is it that you want?”
Sheridan said she was taken aback but continued, “OK, I’ll explain it to you again. I think we’re missing …” She testified that she never completed that sentence because “Mr. Cherry stepped toward me and hit me upside the head.”
A couple of seconds later, Sheridan testified, she told Cherry: “You just hit me on the head and that is not OK! That is not OK!” Sheridan became red in the face and choked up while retelling that part of the incident, but composed herself quickly.
Cherry remained stoic throughout Sheridan’s lengthy testimony, and only cracked a smile when the jury was shown several different takes of the scene in question.
After yelling at Cherry, Sheridan testified, she left set in a van that was waiting for her with McDonough, the show’s costumer, and the driver. When she told them what happened, Sheridan said, McDonough could not believe it.
“If I had seen him hit you, I would have hit him back,” McDonough responded, according to Sheridan. The actor then walked Sheridan to her trailer and stayed with her for about 15 minutes, offering her support, she said. Another employee then notified Sheridan that Cherry was on her way to see her.
With one foot on the top step of her trailer and the other below, Sheridan testified, Cherry said to her: “I’m on bended knee begging your forgiveness.” Sheridan said she asked him why he hit her and he replied, “I didn’t know what you wanted.”
Cherry then embraced Sheridan and changed the conversation by telling her he admired how she had redesigned her trailer, she testified. Before leaving, he told her he would rewrite Edie’s scene to give her a new funny line.
Sheridan testified that she thanked him but did not forgive him. She called her assistant, her business lawyer, and several girlfriends that day to tell them what happened. The next day, Sheridan testified, she called Perkins, the line producer, to discuss the incident with him. Perkins told her he was “very sorry” and offered to speak to Cherry on her behalf. Sheridan asked Perkins to ask Cherry to apologize again and send her flowers, but Cherry refused, she testified. In court, Sheridan’s lawyer asked her to explain that request.
“I had been hit—unacceptable behavior by my boss,” Sheridan said. “I thought he could at least apologize again and send some flowers.”
Although Sheridan testified she was never contacted by Human Resources, an ABC lawyer wrote a letter to her business lawyer, Neil Meyer, in December 2008 saying he had investigated the incident and determined that Cherry had lightly tapped Sheridan as he was showing her what he wanted her to do in a scene and the matter was closed.
Two months later, Sheridan testified, Cherry’s assistant left her three different messages asking her to attend a meeting in the writer’s room the next day that “will be fun.” Sheridan testified that when she arrived, there was no such meeting and she was directed to Cherry’s office, where he was sitting with Perkins and executive producers Bob Daily and Sabrina Wind.
“I walked in and they were all sitting with their heads very low and Marc Cherry was standing behind his desk very nervously,” Sheridan testified. “It was very strange. Mr. Cherry directed me to sit and was very nervous, shaking and sort of stuttering—very uncharacteristic for him. He said he had just made a tough decision between two characters and that Edie was going to die in car crash and I would receive the script that night.”
Sheridan asked Cherry why he chose to kill off Edie and he responded: “I want to shake things up.” As she walked out of his office, Sheridan testified, she felt like she was having an “out-of-body experience … This had come to a very strange and abrupt end.”
Sheridan’s publicity team asked ABC to announce her departure from the show as a “creative decision,” she testified, “because we wanted to put out something positive so that the real issue at hand wouldn’t be exposed.”
Sheridan’s last episode aired in April 2009, but she was asked to appear in a brief scene as a ghost in the season finale, which she was contractually obligated to do. Sheridan testified that Perkins told her he felt “badly” that she was being asked to return for that, and confided that he thought Cherry was being “mean-spirited.”
Although the majority of Sheridan’s testimony centered on her experience working on Desperate Housewives and the events that led up to her being fired from the show, there were glimpses of other behind-the-scenes troubles on the set. In the third season, for example, Cherry instituted table reads with all the actors and producers before episodes were filmed because the second season of the hit show had been a creative disaster, according to Sheridan.
Similarly, at the end of the third season, Cherry decided to have Edie Britt attempt to hang herself as a way of spicing up the finale, Sheridan testified. She said Cherry told her his studio and network bosses thought his planned ending for the season “was lackluster and they wanted him to come up with something more spectacular.”
“He said Carlos would find her in Season 4 [and] she would not die, and I thought it was a fabulous idea,” Sheridan said. “Something different.”
Carlos (Ricardo Chavira) did, in fact, save Edie then. But when it came time for Edie to die in the fifth season, the writers made sure it stuck. In the episode, Edie escapes being strangled by her husband, gets into a car wreck when she hits a tree, and survives that, only to step into a puddle and be electrocuted.
“A triple homicide,” her lawyer, Mark Baute, sarcastically referred to it in his opening statement.
When exactly the writers came up with that gruesome death will make or break this case for Sheridan.