'Desperate Housewives' Trial: Mark Pedowitz Says Decision to Fire Sheridan Predated Cherry Fight

5:48 PM PST 03/06/2012 by Alex Ben Block
Cliff Lipson/CBS

The former head of ABC and Touchstone says he and Cherry discussed the idea four months before the show runner struck Sheridan in the head.

Under intense questioning, Mark Pedowitz, former head of ABC and Touchstone Studios, the company that makes the show Desperate Housewives, repeatedly confirmed that the decision to kill off the Edie Britt character was made in May 2008, about four months before Marc Cherry struck Nicollette Sheridan in the head at the end of a rehearsal.

Pedowitz said the decision was made in two meetings, which were smaller versions of two larger meetings during which Marc Cherry presented his vision for season five of the show which involved moving all the characters forward five years in terms of the story.

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The discussion to kill off Edie Britt, which also meant ending Sheridan’s employment on the show, was not made in front of the larger groups. Pedowitz said there were smaller confidential meetings because it was not decided yet how or when to do that. But he said on May 22, he approved the decision and shortly after Stephen McPherson, who was president of ABC Entertainment (the network) also gave his blessing to kill off Edie Britt after the fifth season.

Why? “They felt there was no more storytelling to tell (about that character) after that season,” said Pedowitz.

Pedowitz explained thisdecision required approval from the studio and network, and could not be done by Cherry and the production without their permission. “Series regulars require a conversation,” said Pedowitz.

After the court adjourned for the day, the lawyer for Cherry and ABC, Adam Levin, expressed satisfaction that Pedowitz had made it clear the decision to kill off Sheridan's character was made before the Sept. 24 incident.

This was not the first time Cherry had wanted to kill off the character, said Pedowitz. Cherry wanted to eliminate Edie Britt in season three, but the studio and network would not approve it. So the character continued.

The only argument, said Pedowitz, was over the timing. The studio and network wanted to kill the character near the end of the season in May sweeps. Cherry wanted to do it in November. Ultimately it was one in May.

There was no discussion about telling Sheridan well in advance that her character would be killed off at the end of season five, after they had picked up her contract option for all 24 episodes; and after she had become vested in profit participation for the entire run of the series, even if she departed.

Pedowitz said they wanted it to be a secret and a surprise for everyone, and were concerned word would leak out. When asked if keeping a secret was an issue, Pedowitz quipped, “I have a concern about anybody keeping a secret.”

Pedowitz said he did have a moment when he reconsidered the decision. He personally only found out about the Sept. 24 incident when Cherry struck Sheridan when he read about it in the National Enquirer tabloid at the end of October while he was standing on a supermarket checkout line.

Pedowitz recalled he was surprised he knew nothing about the incident and immediate got on the phone and called a meeting with his top internal staff at what was then still called Touchstone Television to discuss it. At that meeting Pedowitz ordered that an investigation be done into the incident by the human resources department. That was the appropriate way to handle the situation he felt, so he made no effort to contact Cherry or Sheridan or anyone else directly.

However, it did concern him that when word got out that Edie Britt was going to be killed, it might cause an issue. “We did not want the decision to play out like it did today in court,” he lamented.

In November, the head of HR reported back to him verbally that an investigation had been completed, there were no more outstanding complaints to deal with and that there was no further action to take. HR and Pedowitz at that point determined the matter was closed.

Pedowitz said it was true beginning in 2007 when they saw the recession coming the studio tried to cut costs by at least two percent; but insisted budget was never discussed when it came to killing off Edie Brit. He said that was a creative decision.

Pedowitz’s own involvement with the show tapered off after November 2008 when he was informed his contract would not be renewed as head of the studio when it was up in January 2008. By the time Cherry informed Sheridan she was out, Pedowitz had moved to a consulting role and wasn’t involved.

Earlier Tuesday, Richard Olshansky, a former network and talent agency business affairs executive, had testified as an expert witness paid for by Sheridan’s lawyers. He said he had done an analysis and found that no other comedy that had run for five seasons or more had ever killed off a major character. “It’s virtually unprecedented as far as I can tell for a lead character in a comedy to be killed off during the run of the show,” he testified.

At the end of the day Tuesday, Cherry returned to the stand and was asked if he agreed with Olshansky that Desperate Housewives was a comedy in the same way Seinfeld or 30 Rock or Golden Girls, on which he had worked, was a comedy.

“Absolutely not,” said Cherry adamantly.

Cherry said those comedies for the most part are half hour shows usually shot in front of a live audience, that are all about doing a set up and then a joke, a set up and a joke, again and again.

He said Desperate Housewives, on the other hand, had comic elements but also told dramatic stories and involved a mystery element. “That’s why,” said Cherry, “its not a typical comedy.”

The trial resumes Wednesday morning.

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