9:10am PT by Eriq Gardner
Nicollette Sheridan vs. ABC: 'Desperate Housewives' Wrongful Termination Trial Begins
The inner workings of long-running ABC drama Desperate Housewives will be the subject of a jury trial beginning this week as former castmember Nicollette Sheridan finally gets a chance to try to prove that ABC and series creator Marc Cherry killed off her character after she spoke up about Cherry's alleged abuse toward her during rehearsals. The trial opens today with jury selection and could last as long as 11 days as both sides plan to call as witnesses some of the show's top stars and executives.
Sheridan's lawsuit was initially filed with bombshell allegations and $20 million worth of alleged damages over claims of sexual and gender harassment, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination and more.
But during the pre-trial phases, the judge threw out some claims and the actress dropped others. Eventually, the case was trimmed to just wrongful termination and battery, and even if Sheridan wins, a judge has ruled that she will only be eligible to reclaim one year's salary at about $4 million, not pay for the show's full run, as she originally wanted.
Sheridan will attempt to show that she was struck across the head by Cherry's open hand during a September 2008 rehearsal after a reported argument about a cut line of dialogue. According to Sheridan, she then complained to higher-ups at ABC. Later, her character, Edie Britt, was killed in a literally shocking electrical mishap after a car accident in an episode that aired in April 2009. Sheridan claims it was in retaliation for making a complaint.
The actress plans to call many top current and former ABC executives to the stand to testify, including former ABC president Steve McPherson (who resigned amid a probe into allegations of his own sexual harassment) and former top ABC studio executive Mark Pedowitz, now president of the CW. Sheridan's witness list also includes her entertainment lawyer, Neil Meyer; her publicist, Nicole Perna; and one of the show's former producers, Lori Kirkland Baker, who has supported Sheridan's version of the events in question.
Sheridan also is likely to testify. Her lawyers, Sean Andrade, Mark Baute, and Patrick Maloney, have scheduled about eight hours for her on the witness stand.
The defense, represented by Adam Levin and Aaron Wais, have even more star power lined up to try to poke holes in Sheridan's story. Their witness list includes Desperate Housewives castmembers Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria, plus Cherry and 25 more individuals. One of those is Neal Baer, a seven-time Emmy nominee on such shows as Law & Order: SVU and A Gifted Man who will offer his expert opinion on casting decisions in Hollywood.
With this parade of witnesses, ABC hopes to show that nothing too unusual happened in the runup to Sheridan's dismissal and that the decision to let her go was a routine aspect of show business. “Death is as much a part of scripted television as it is a part of life," says the defense in court papers. "Of course, whenever a character dies, an actor loses a job. That is what happened here.”
The trial won't be videotaped. NBC News submitted a request, but a judge turned it down as "too disruptive."