‘Desperate Housewives’ Trial Puts Behind-The-Scenes Drama In Spotlight

Freelance writer Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor

UPDATED, WRITETHRU: An emotional Nicollette Sheridan, with a stern-faced Marc Cherry sitting in front of her, today detailed in court the events of an alleged on-set incident in September 2008 that escalated into a purportedly violent confrontation between her and Housewives creator/executive producer Cherry. Her testimony came on a day that Deadline learned that attorneys might be paring the witness list in order for wrongful termination and battery trial to finish by Judge Elizabeth Allen White’s March 12 target. Sheridan’s lawyer Mark Baute told media late in the day that he thought the defense had no intention of calling the other Housewives stars — Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman — currently on the list.

Sheridan, aided by her co-counsel Patrick Maloney, twice re-enacted for the jury how she says Cherry struck her the morning of September 24. The incident is an anchor of Sheridan’s suit. With Sheridan on the stand playing Cherry and Maloney playing the actress, the incident looked far more than a light tap on the head, as Cherry has claimed. “Mr. Cherry approached me from the left-hand side,” Sheridan told the court, “and hit me upside the head.” Sheridan said Cherry struck her with an open-palm right hand on the left side of the head with “a hard hit” that caused her to jerk back. “I’m not accustomed to being hit,” Sheridan said. “It was unfathomable to me that I had just been hit by my boss. It was demeaning; it was humiliating”. (Sheridan and Maloney emphatically re-enacted the scene again later in the day.)

Sheridan said in a very loud voice on the stand that after the confrontation she told Cherry: “You hit me in the head, that is not OK, that is not OK”. She said she went back to her on-set trailer, where Cherry soon followed. After begging forgiveness — “I’m on bended knee, Sheridan said Cherry said — Sheridan testified that Cherry “wrapped his arms around me and apologized again”. Then Sheridan said he quickly changed topic “to strangely comment on how nice my trailer was”. Cherry left soon after, Sheridan testified, promising to rewrite the scene in question. Sheridan then testified she made calls to assistants and friends about the incident. She also talked to Neal McDonough, who played her husband on the show, and her then-lawyer Neil Meyer. Asked by Maloney why she returned to the set afterward, she said that she was a professional “and I wasn’t going to let everybody else down”.

PREVIOUS, 11:54 AM: Nicollette Sheridan wants the jury to know she is not Edie Britt. “She is a character I play,” the actress said in court this morning on the first day of testimony in her suit against Desperate Housewives creator/executive producer Marc Cherry, ABC Studios and ABC for wrongful termination and battery. “Honesty was the only thing we shared.” Sheridan, co-questioned by her co-counsel Patrick Maloney, is the first witness in a trial expected to last two weeks. She is expected to testify all day today and all of Friday’s half-day session. Cherry, who is in court today, is expected to testify next week, a source told Deadline.

Starting with biographical questioning from Maloney and persistent objections from defense lawyer Adam Levin, Sheridan told the jury that despite missing the 2009 pilot season the actress has worked fairly steadily since leaving the hit ABC series in early 2009 after the alleged abusive circumstance that is the core of her case. Maloney emphasized in his questioning Sheridan’s professional attitude and how this was appreciated by the producers and network behind Desperate Housewives. The jury saw the actress’ initial contract for Desperate Housewives and the $125,000 first-season bonus Sheridan received, and also were treated to video clips of Sheridan on the show. Those included the infamous car-washing scene from early in the series and others depicting the Britt character, in Sheridan’s own words, as “sexy overt and audacious.” The silence after the lights went up after the clips were played was broken by Sheridan saying, “That was embarrassing” to chuckles from the judge and jury.

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