He Said, She Said

What to Expect in Nicollette Sheridan’s ‘Desperate Housewives’ Court Showdown

The court battle between Nicollette Sheridan and producer Marc Cherry starts today and promises to reveal secrets of the hit show. By Maria Elena Fernandez.

L-R: Jason LaVeris, FilmMagic / Getty Images, Kevin Parry, WireImage / Getty Images

On Desperate Housewives, Lynette and Susan are going to be grandmas to the same baby, Gabrielle’s husband is in rehab, and Bree is a promiscuous alcoholic.

Is any of that as remotely interesting as the Los Angeles court case that opens today pitting actress Nicollette Sheridan against her former bosses, Desperate Housewives executive producer Marc Cherry and ABC Studios? Um. No.

Sheridan’s suing and claiming that the only reason her character, Edie, died following a car accident and subsequent electrocution in 2009 is that she dared to complain that Cherry had hit her across the head during a rehearsal.

Hit. Her. Across. The. Head.

Of course, Cherry is fighting this. He says he lightly tapped her on the head during a rehearsal as he was directing her in the scene, and that firing her or “not renewing her option”—the euphemism commonly used in the industry for getting rid of someone—was planned in advance of the infamous Sept. 24, 2008, rehearsal.

What really happened will be up to a jury of 12 to determine, despite Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White’s repeated efforts to have the case settled.

Already, White has thrown out Sheridan’s sexual-harassment claims, ruled that her lawyers cannot bring up Cherry’s alleged rude behavior toward others, and limited Sheridan’s damages to one’s year salary. Sheridan earned $4.2 million and residuals in the fifth season, her last, according to the court file. (If she wins, she will be entitled to punitive damages as well.) White, a civil trial attorney for 16 years before she became a judge in 2002, is also overseeing the Happy Days lawsuit and handled the libel case against Guess, Inc. founder Georges Marciano in 2009.

But Sheridan has persevered with the wrongful-termination and battery claims she filed in April 2010, and jury selection begins today. Here’s a guide to what you can expect, as the court documents obtained by The Daily Beast tell it.

1. There are two central issues in the trial, which is expected to last a maximum of 11 days. The first is whether Cherry struck Sheridan out of anger on Sept. 24, 2008, after he grew frustrated with her because she demanded to know why a line was cut from her dialogue. The second is whether he fired her in retaliation for her complaint to ABC. Much of the testimony will revolve around the timing of Cherry’s decision to get rid of Edie Britt, Sheridan’s character. Sheridan learned she was losing her job in February 2009, and her last episode aired in April 2009.

2. The judge has turned down NBC News’s request for cameras in the courtroom because it would be “too disruptive,” according to her order. (In other words, you’re stuck with us if you want the bloody details).

3. Sheridan’s legal team—Mark D. Baute, Patrick M. Maloney, and Sean A. Andrade—will call 16 witnesses.

4. Cherry’s lawyers—Adam Levin and Aaron M. Wais—will double that and question 32.

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5. Sheridan’s lawyers estimate the actress will testify for eight hours. They also will call several Desperate Housewives writers and producers, former ABC president Steve McPherson, former ABC Studios chief Mark Pedowitz (who is now the president of the CW network), ABC Studios executives, her publicist, Nicole Perna, and her entertainment lawyer, Neil Meyer.

6. Cherry’s list includes all the lead actors on the show, a few of the same writers and producers being called by Sheridan, McPherson, Pedowitz, and veteran writer-producer Neal Baer, who now runs A Gifted Man and has never worked on Desperate Housewives, as an expert witness.

7. Although executive producers Robert Daily and Sabrina Wind are being called as witnesses for both sides, they have both vouched for Cherry in their depositions. They stated that they met with Cherry and Pedowitz on May 22, 2008, to discuss killing off Edie Britt.

8. Executive producers Jeff Greenstein and George Perkins, who also will be called by both legal teams, have stood by Sheridan in their depositions. Greenstein has stated that he attended a meeting on May 22, 2008, and the subject of killing off Edie never came up. Sheridan called Perkins after the rehearsal incident to tell him what happened.

9. Former producer Lori Kirkland Baker will be called by Sheridan’s team to testify that Cherry had expressed “increased frustration” with Sheridan to the writers around the time the actress claimed he slapped her. Then, in December 2008, Cherry told the writing staff that he met with McPherson and had decided to kill off Edie at the end of the fifth season, but had changed his mind and decided to kill off the character sooner.

10. Cherry’s lawyers expect he will testify for four hours. In his deposition, Cherry called the firing of Sheridan a “cost-cutting measure” and said he made the decision in May 2008.