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While maintaining his decision to kill off the character of Edie Britt was the best creative choice for Desperate Housewives in season five of the show, creator and executive producer Marc Cherry testified Wednesday that he also did it because he had observed unprofessional behavior by Nicollette Sheridan and for budgetary reasons.
Under questioning from his attorney Adam Levin, Cherry said Sheridan had a history of being late, not knowing her lines and at times caused friction with other lead actresses on the hit ABC series.
He recalled when Sheridan only had one scene in a particular episode but still struggled with her dialogue, as he observed when he watched the dailies after the scene was shot.
“She only had five or six lines, and she had come to the set and didn’t know any of them,” said Cherry. “This wasn’t the only time this had happened.”
Cherry also recalled being asked to come to the set during the shooting of a scene between Sheridan and another actress during the first season of the show.
“There was a problem going on between Nicollette Sheridan and Teri Hatcher,” recalled Cherry, adding that “they were furious with each other.”
“Nicollette pulled me aside,” added Cherry, “and told me that Teri Hatcher was the meanest woman in the world because of how she was acting.”
At that point, Sheridan’s lawyer objected, and the judge ruled Cherry could not continue his narrative about that occasion.
Cherry also said he saw examples of Sheridan’s unprofessionalism during script readings. He said “she made insulting comments about her dialogue.”
He added that what she did was “hugely rude and highly upsetting to the writers present.”
Cherry said that beginning in season three of the show, there was pressure to reduce costs. At that time, Cherry explained, NBC was airing Sunday Night Football, and the blockbuster ratings for Desperate Housewives began to fall.
He said that was when he first had the idea to kill off Sheridan’s character. “It occurred to me if I killed off a major character like Edie Britt, the next season I could get three or four actors for that budget [amount],” said Cherry.”
When asked if he expected to save money in season five by killing her off, Cherry replied “No.”
Much of Wednesday morning was spent with Levin establishing in various ways that Cherry decided to kill off the Britt character long before the Sept. 24, 2008, incident in which he struck Sheridan in the head.
Levin walked Cherry through visuals of cards prepared by writers’ assistants as they worked through story ideas. For instance, on May 14, 2008, a card read, “Husband kills Edie.” On May 19 of that year, another card said, “Steve (then the name of the character that became Britt’s husband) misses his medication and kills Edie.” On May 22, a card said, “In fallout from Edie’s death, several episodes about blame.”
The defense also presented writers’ cards from a writers’ retreat at the end of May 2008 that referred to the coming death of the character.
Many of these, explained Cherry, were ideas that did not eventually get used. Part of that was pressure from the network to push back when the character was killed so it could get as much use out of Sheridan as possible since she would be paid for the entire season five in any case. As Cherry put it, ABC wanted to “get more bang for their buck.”
Cherry said that after thinking about killing off Britt from the third season on, he felt it would provide a “tentpole” moment — a big important plot point that would be part of the mystery they wanted in season five. He said that was why he felt it was worth it to get rid of such a well-known character. He called it a “risky but potentially effective change to the series.”
“I thought it would be a great way to shock the audience,” said Cherry, “because she was such a major character in the story.”
Still, he later said he did not consider her “a major character” on par with the other housewives. “I just considered her a series regular,” said Cherry.
Cherry said he is always looking to shake things up in that way. “Shock and surprise are in my tool belt and what I do to get people to watch my show,” he said.
Under repeated questioning, Cherry said he never wavered in his decision to kill off Edit Britt from the time it was approved by the studio and network in May. It was only a question of when and how.
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