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'Desperate Housewives' trial starts

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed February 29, 2012
Actress Nicollette Sheridan is suing the creator-producer of her former show,
Actress Nicollette Sheridan is suing the creator-producer of her former show, "Desperate Housewives."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nicollette Sheridan claims show creator-producer Marc Cherry hit her during a 2008 rehearsal
  • Cherry killed off her "Desperate Housewives" character 11 episodes later, her suit contends
  • Cherry says he just "lightly tapped her head" and killing Edie Britt was "a creative decision"
  • Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, James Denton and Felicity Huffman are on witness list

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Opening statements in the trial of actress Nicollette Sheridan's claim that her "Desperate Housewives" character was killed off because she complained about mistreatment by the TV show's creator were delayed Wednesday morning as the judge considered an evidence dispute.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White tossed reporters from the courtroom while she heard arguments over whether the jury should hear conversations that may have been protected by attorney-client privilege.

Once lawyers deliver their openings to the jury, Sheridan is expected to testify in her wrongful termination lawsuit against series creator-producer-writer Marc Cherry and ABC.

Several of Sheridan's former cast mates -- including Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, James Denton, Felicity Huffman and Neal McDonough -- are on the list of witnesses expected to defend Cherry.

The suit contends that Cherry created "a hostile work environment" from the show's beginning in 2004.

"Cherry has a reputation for behaving in an extremely abusive and aggressive manner toward the individuals who work on the show, and is known for regularly demeaning the writers and staff in front of others on the show, including Sheridan," the suit says.

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Cherry focused his hostility on Sheridan in the fifth season when "Cherry consistently behaved in a dismissive, demeaning and unprofessional manner toward Sheridan, not only in front of the other cast and crew on the show, but before the public at large," it says.

This "hostility and aggression toward Sheridan culminated" on the set of the show on September 24, 2008, the suit says.

The suit alleges that "during a rehearsal for the show, when Sheridan questioned Cherry about something that was in the script, Cherry took her aside and forcefully hit her with his hand across her face and head."

Sheridan complained to ABC executives about the September 2008 incident, but "nevertheless, Cherry's abusive and aggressive behavior towards Sheridan not only persisted, it worsened," the suit contends. "He continued to behave in a derisive and condescending manner toward Sheridan."

Eleven episodes later, in March 2009, her character, Edie Britt, was electrocuted after a car crash, ending Sheridan's employment on the series.

Defense lawyers argue that Cherry "lightly tapped her head in giving her direction for a scene," and "the decision that the character of Edie would die was made before the incident and was primarily a creative decision."

Sheridan's lawyers contend it is "exceptionally unusual for a popular character to be killed off or written out of a television series unless the actor has requested to be released from his or her contract."

Sheridan lost at least $20 million by missing out on the last three seasons, the suit says. Her pay was to be $250,000 for each episode in the eighth year, which is the final season for the series, it said.

Lawyers estimated in court filings that testimony in the trial could last more than two weeks.

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