Nicollette Sheridan Takes the Stand in 'Desperate Housewives' Trial
UPDATED: Sheridan’s testimony in her wrongful termination lawsuit is continuing Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Former Desperate Housewives actress Nicollette Sheridan has taken the witness stand in the trial over her claim that she was fired by ABC after complaining about being hit by series creator Marc Cherry.
"That was embarrassing," Sheridan said in Los Angeles Superior Court after a jury had been shown a montage of clips of her sexiest scenes from the hit ABC dramedy.
After describing her character as "sexy, overt, audacious," she looked at the jury of eight women and four men and began her testimony by describing her original audition for a guest role and how she became a regular. She said after season one, producers doubled her salary and gave her a $125,000 bonus.
Sheridan continued testifying that she received raises in a new contract (in the third year she got $125,000 per episode and in the fourth year she would get $150,000, then $175,000 in fifth year and $200,000 for the sixth year and $250,000 for seventh episode). At end of season three, Cherry allegedly told Sheridan that the show would end with Sheridan's character hanging in a noose but that she would "definitely" be back, and she was. That made her firing during the show's fifth season suspicious, she claims.
Sheridan testified that she had no indication Cherry would write her off the show. At the beginning of season 5 the studio had picked up her option for another year, given her another raise in salary and she had been fully vested as a profit participant in the entire run of the series. At a meeting in August she said Cherry told her "he was very happy with my work in season 5 so far," she testified.
The fight that soured Sheridan's relationship with Cherry started with an episode she originally wasn't going to be in, she testified. However, because the table-read for that episode was being taped for bonus material for the DVD release, a few lines were added for her. When Sheridan read her lines at the table read, they got a laugh, she said. So she was surprised and unhappy when in a revised script her dialogue was changed.
She asked Cherry to write a new line of dialog for her but "He got agitated and annoyed and didn't respond," Sheridan testified. After the rehearsal, she said she went to him again. He was standing with the director of the episode and others. "He got agitated," Sheridan said, and led her to a side area away from others. "What is it you want?" Sheridan testifed, mimicking Cherry's sharp, loud voice. She said she offered to explain her request again but she was cut off.
"Cherry stepped toward me and with his right hand he hit me upside the head," Sheridan said, adding that her head jerked and she was stunned. She then yelled at him, "You hit me in the head! That is not OK. That is not OK."
Sheridan said she then rode a van back to her trailer with co-star Neal McDonough, who played her husband. "Neal said if I saw him I would have hit him back," Sheridan testified. McDonough stayed with her in her trailer until he was called to wardrobe, she said. Then Cherry arrived to see her.
"On the doorstep, he said, 'I am on bended knee begging your forgiveness,' " she testified. "I said, 'Why would you do that? He wrapped his arms around me and apologized again. Then he changed the subject."
A little later she shot the scene with new dialogue that Cherry had written. When asked by her lawyer why she returned to the set, Sheridan said, "I pride myself on being a professional. I wasn't going to let everybody else down."
In February 2009, Sheridan said she was summoned to what was described as "a fun" meeting with the Housewives writers. She finally found Cherry in his office with several other producers and an ABC executive. "I said, 'What's going on?' " she recalled. Cherry directed her to take a seat. She noticed the others in the room had their heads hung low. She recalled Cherry looked "Very nervous. His hands were shaking" uncharacteristically.
"He said he had decided Edie Britt was going to die," Sheridan testified. Cherry said her character would be killed in a car crash. "I asked why? He said he wanted to shake thigs up. I was stunned."
Sheridan said she got up and left and drove home. "It felt like an out of body experience." She said she had no idea at the time that the decision had actually been made months earlier to kill her off.
Sheridan's appearance marked the beginning of testimony in the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks. At the heart of the case is Sheridan’s contention that she was wrongly terminated from the ABC series by producer-writer Marc Cherry after she complained that he had lost his temper and hit her on the side of the head.
In opening arguments on Wednesday, Sheridan’s attorney Mark Baute said that Cherry had smacked his client on the side of the head “hard.” Cherry's lawyer Adam Levin described the incident in his opening statement as “a light tap on the head," which was simply meant to demonstrate "a piece of physical humor" from the scene.
Jurors will be asked to determine if Cherry committed battery on Sept. 24, 2008, during that rehearsal and whether his decision to terminate her from the show several months and 11 episodes later was retaliation for her complaints against him.
Much of the case will hang on whether Cherry in fact decided in May 2008 that Sheridan’s character was to die. That was four months before he struck Sheridan. ABC is a defendant in the suit because it approved Cherry’s plan to kill off the character at the end of the season.
Two of the show’s former writers are expected to testify for Sheridan that they never heard Cherry say he would kill off the character in advance of the incident. Another network executive will testify that it is unusual to kill off a lead character like the one Sheridan played.
Cherry’s side will say that Sheridan’s character was originally only supposed to be in the pilot episode, but they later decided to make her a "blond bombshell who would have sex with the husbands of all of the housewives." Cherry will say that after five seasons, according to his lawyer, the "writers could only do so much with the character," because there were only so many husbands for her to sleep with.
Sheridan’s lawyer will point out that the network and producers picked up Sheridan's option for a new season, guaranteeing her $4 million for the year, only two weeks after they claim they decided to eliminate her character from the show.
Among those expected to testify on Cherry’s behalf are Sheridan's fellow actors Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, James Denton, Felicity Huffman and Neal McDonough, among others.
As part of ABC's case, jurors will be shown an index card created at a writer's meeting in May 2008 that reads "Steve drinks OJ," which was code for the plan to have Sheridan's husband cause her death. Levin said it was a reference to O.J. Simpson.
In earlier rulings, the judge limited how much Sheridan can win to a little more than $4 million, which represents her salary for one season. She had been seeking millions more to cover all the seasons she would have been on the show if she remained.