March 08, 2012 1:22pm PT by Alex Ben Block
'Desperate Housewives' Trial: Cherry Says He 'Hit' Sheridan as a Scene Demonstration
When he returned to the witness stand Thursday, Desperate Housewives creator and executive producer Marc Cherry for the first time gave a detailed explanation of his recollection of what happened on Sept. 24, 2008, when he struck actress Nicollette Sheridan in the head at the end of a rehearsal.
Cherry said Sheridan — who played Edie Britt on the show — had approached him during and after the rehearsal of a scene in which Neal McDonough, who played her husband, and James Denton, a neighbor, were trying to write a song for their garage band. In the script done at an earlier read-through, Sheridan came by and suggested they write a love song saying a lot of things rhyme with Edie.
In the scene. McDonough’s character, Dave, replied, “Yeah, like needy,” and she quotes a line from a Beatles song and exits. That line got her a laugh in the read-through, but when she got to the rehearsal, it had been dropped. Cherry told her it would require payment of a license fee, so it was dropped for budget reasons. She asked for another funny exit line.
“Seeing she was very insistent,” Cherry testified, “as a way of compromise,” he suggested another approach.
Cherry said he thought that instead of a line, maybe she could do a bit of “stage business,” meaning a physical action that would express her frustration with her husband’s joke.
He said Sheridan seemed confused as to what he meant. “I said, 'You know, just give him a pinch or a thing on the head,' " Cherry said. "I reached out and tapped her on the side of the head.”
He said, “She got this look on her face” and, after a few seconds of stunned silence, yelled at him, “You just hit me!"
"She then turned and walked off the set,” Cherry said.
He insisted he never intended to hurt or offend Sheridan. When asked if he had, as she said, “walloped her,” Cherry replied, “Absolutely not.”
Cherry said he had gotten physical with his actors quite often in order to make a point about what he wanted in a scene. He recalled touching the head of Marcia Cross and she “lifted up Eva [Longoria] and moved her around to where I wanted her to stand.”
After Sheridan left the set late that morning, Cherry said he turned to his assistant and the director on that episode and said, “ 'What the heck just happened?' And [director] Larry Shaw said, ‘Yup, directing is hard.’ ”
He said they discussed her reaction and that Cherry expressed concern that he had offended Sheridan. “There was a discussion about [whether I] should apologize,” said Cherry.
Cherry said he went outside the Edie Britt house set and called Housewives executive producer Sabrina Wind (she had testified earlier that she did not remember being called). Then he got into a golf cart, and his assistant drove him to “base camp,” which is what they called the area where all the actors have trailers.
Cherry said his main interest was how to get Sheridan back to the set to actually shoot the scene because they were on a very tight schedule.
“I remember being nervous because of what she had yelled out and what she accused me of,” said Cherry, so when he got to her trailer, he stayed in the doorway with one foot still outside. “I didn’t feel comfortable being alone with her in that trailer,” he testified.
He said he apologized if he offended her. She said what he had done was not funny. Cherry testified: “I said, 'Nicollette, I was demonstrating some business for you — what I wanted you to do.' She seemed to understand.”
He said that, to make it up to her, he would write some new funny lines for her in the scene as she had requested. “We ended up with my going in and hugging. Once the hug was over, I turned around and … complimented her on the decor of her trailer. I hadn’t been there in quite a while. Then I left.”
He went to the writers room and wrote her a new joke, which was used in the scene. He said he told the other writers in detail what had happened.
Cherry said he never meant to apologize for hitting her, because he did not feel he had hit her in a mean way.
He insisted he was not angry that Sheridan had contacted (through her reps) the studio, ABC and others and insisted that he welcomed the investigation by human resources some weeks later because he "wanted everyone to see what happened.”
Cherry again said the decision to kill off her character had been made long before that incident and that there was no relationship between those events.
Cherry said he waited to tell her that her character was being killed off until the night before the scene was shot and refuted her testimony that he told her they had just made the decision, or that it was between her and another as to who would be cut out. “I informed her a creative decision had been made and we were killing off her character,” said Cherry.
He said he discussed at the meeting that he wanted to do publicity around the event “to give the character a really cool send-off and honor her character.”
He said when he decided to bring Sheridan back to play “the ghost scene” in the season finale, it was part of a device to give her husband’s character someone to talk to about his plans to kill one of the housewives and that she was only one of several actors he brought back – all of whom played a character killed earlier by her husband’s character.
“I thought it was a cool way to get into this psychopath’s mind,” said Cherry.
Cherry's lawyer had him go through a long list of people he did not conspire with so they would all tell the same story. When challenged about doing this, Adam Levin said he was responding to “the plaintiff's conspiracy theory.” By that he meant that Sheridan’s attorney Mark Baute was trying to set up in the jury’s mind that Cherry, ABC and others had all agreed on a story to tell so that they could win the case.
Earlier in the morning,exec producer Wind — who Cherry previously had referred to as his “right-hand gal” — completed her testimony.
After a shaky start on Wednesday afternoon, Wind strongly supported Cherry’s position that the decision to kill off the Edie Britt character was made months before the incident in which he struck Sheridan.
Wind, who also is Cherry’s business partner in a production company, recalled attending small meetings on May 22, 2008, with Mark Pedowitz, then head of Touchstone TV, and also a meeting with Stephen McPherson, then head of the ABC TV network, at which each of them signed off on Cherry’s plan to kill off that character as part of a dramatic moment during season five of the show.
She said the return of Edie Britt to Wisteria Lane after she was banished by the neighbors in season four would “put her in imminent danger,” and that "the thought process was maybe it would be interesting to let that imminent danger come to fruition.”
Wind said they made every effort to keep their plan a secret because they did not want it to get out so that the surprise would be spoiled for the audience.
One way they tried to keep it secret was to refer to the plan on the corkboard where they list story points as “Steven drinks OJ.” This was code for the character of Edie’s new husband, who was then called Steven, to kill her using a reference to O.J. Simpson.
She said they did this so the cleaning crew would not be able to see from the cards what they had planned and because it might be possible to read it through a nearby window.
“We just didn’t want a card that said, 'Steve kills Edie,' ” Wind said.
She said the name of the husband character was later changed to Dave because the names of Steve and Edie would be similar to the names of the husband-and-wife singing duo Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. “She said that would make it “sound goofy instead of a mystery, so we changed the name.”
Wind said that in the discussions with Pedowitz and McPherson on May 22, it was she who raised the question of how to handle Sheridan’s contract. The choice, she had told them, was to tell Sheridan they were going to kill off her character and renegotiate her deal or to just pick up her option for all of season five and then do what they wanted when they wanted.
She said she told them that if they informed Sheridan that far ahead and tried to redo her deal, it would give the actress a great deal of leverage and she might ask for “four times as much money.”
Both Pedowitz and McPherson said it would be better to keep her in the dark and to just pick up her option for the whole season. She said Pedowitz did request that they move the episode in which Britt dies from early in the season to near the end of the season. He wanted it done in May.
Cherry, who initially wanted to kill off Britt in November, suggested doing it during the February sweep. Wind said they learned that year there would be no February sweep because of the national switch from analog to digital TV, so that sweep period was moved to March. Thus it was decided to kill off the character in March.
Under repeated questioning, Wind said she never saw Pedowitz, McPherson or Cherry waver once the decision was made in May to kill off the Britt character. “That was what we were doing,” she said.
An assistant who witnessed Cherry hitting Sheridan's head was promoted shortly thereafter. Wind testified that the promotion had been planned months in advance and was in no way connected to the incident.