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'Housewives' star Sheridan says slap from show's creator was 'humiliating'

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 1:12 PM EST, Sat March 3, 2012
Nicollette Sheridan is suing for wrongful termination after her
Nicollette Sheridan is suing for wrongful termination after her "Desperate Housewives" character was killed off on the show.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nicollette Sheridan returns to the witness stand Friday in her case against producer Marc Cherry
  • Her lawyer asks Sheridan to show on him in full force how she says Marc Cherry hit her on "Desperate Housewives" set
  • "It was shocking, humiliating, it was demeaning," she said.
  • It was "a light tap on the head" to demonstrate "physical humor," Cherry's lawyer says

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Former "Desperate Housewives" actress Nicollette Sheridan returns to the stand Friday in her legal battle with show creator Marc Cherry and ABC over the TV killing of a character she played on the hit comedy series for five seasons.

During Thursday's court session, Sheridan, 48, slapped her lawyer to demonstrate how she claims Cherry hit her during a rehearsal.

Her wrongful termination lawsuit contends Cherry killed off Edie Britt, the sassy, blond woman Sheridan played, in retaliation for her complaints about being hit.

Several of Sheridan's former castmates -- including Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross, James Denton, Felicity Huffman and Neal McDonough -- are on the list of witnesses expected to defend Cherry during the two-week-long Los Angeles trial.

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Cherry's lawyers contend show writers began planning Britt's demise in May 2008, four months before the alleged battery, as a way to shock viewers and raise ratings.

The hit was just "a light tap on the head" intended to demonstrate "a piece of physical humor" Cherry wanted Sheridan to perform, the defense said in opening statements Wednesday.

Sheridan's dissatisfaction with her lack of lines in a scene preceded the alleged hitting incident, she testified.

She wanted to recite a line from a Beatles song -- "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" -- but Cherry said the music royalties would be too expensive. Without it, her exit from the scene "wasn't funny anymore," Sheridan testified.

Sheridan testified that while she explained her concerns to Cherry, the producer asked "What is it that you want?" Then he hit her his open right hand, she said. "It was a nice wallop to my head."

"It was shocking, humiliating, it was demeaning," she said.

Sheridan demonstrated the hit in slow motion on her lawyer, Patrick Maloney, but then he asked her to "hit me as hard as you were hit."

"I don't want to hurt you," Sheridan told her lawyer.

The actress finally agreed to show jurors the hit in full force, sending a loud thump across the courtroom and turning Maloney's head. "I'm fine," he assured her as she apologized.

Cherry apologized to her soon after the hitting incident, telling her "I am on bended knee begging for your forgiveness," Sheridan testified.

But she did not accept it. The next day, she told show producer George Perkins she wanted a second apology and flowers from Cherry.

"I thought he could, at least, apologize again and send me flowers," she said.

But Cherry's reply, delivered by Perkins, was not a second apology or flowers. "He felt the incident had been resolved," Sheridan said he told her.

Five months and 11 episodes later, Cherry informed Sheridan that Britt would die during a show taping the next day, ending her five-year run on "Desperate Housewives."

Jurors must decide if the death of Sheridan's character and the end of her employment was illegal workplace retaliation or just a creative decision unconnected to the alleged battery incident.

Cherry's defense is expected to present notes made by show writers in May 2008 that document the various scenarios they were considering at the time for killing off Britt.

In his opening statement Wednesday, Mark Baute, Sheridan's lawyer, challenged the authenticity of those writers notes, accusing Cherry's defense of an "effort to backdate the decision" with a fake story that the character's death was planned months before the hitting incident.

Britt is "a very colorful character, sassy, overt, audacious," Sheridan said. "She has a heart, but people loved to hate her."

She made it clear to jurors she was not like the character she played. "I think honesty is about the only thing we shared."

Jurors appeared to enjoy several clips of the show, featuring her character seducing a series of men. They laughed several times during the playing of the clips.

They were also shown Britt's death scene, in which she crashed a car into a tree and was electrocuted by a fallen power line.

Cherry lawyer defense lawyer Adam Levin told jurors that TV writers must "shock and surprise" viewers with pregnancies, affairs, marriages, divorces and deaths to "keep them on the edge of their seats."

"The unanticipated death of a prominent character can shock the viewing audience and energize the show," which Levin said can "lead to watercooler talk and media buzz," increasing ratings.

The demise of Sheridan's character was first considered at the end of the third season, which ended with Britt's head in a hangman's noose, but a senior executive decided it was too soon for her to go, Levin said.

Sheridan testified that the hangman's noose scene was Cherry's idea, prompted by ABC's request that the season end with something "more spectacular." Cherry assured her that her character would "be saved" in the next episode at the start of season four, she said.

She said Cherry even told the whole cast when they gathered to start the next season's production that "we know one character we won't be killing off is Edie Britt," because people were "up in arms" over the possibility.

The character was not initially intended to be on the show beyond the pilot episode, but Cherry decided to make her the "blond bombshell who would sleep with the husbands of all of the wives," he said.

After five seasons, "writers could only do so much with the character," Levin said. "There were only so many husbands she could sleep with."

ABC Entertainment is a defendant in the lawsuit because its executives allegedly failed to properly investigate Sheridan's accusation that Cherry hit her and then agreed with his decision to fire her.

Although a line producer reported the incident to the studio's human resources department, there was no investigation until an ABC senior executive saw a National Enquirer story about it at a grocery store two months later, Baute said.

What followed was a "fake" investigation designed "to protect the money machine known as 'Desperate Housewives,'" he said. "Nobody wants the 'Desperate Housewives' applecart turned upside down."

The human resources investigator never interviewed Cherry or Sheridan about the incident, only three people who worked for Cherry, Baute said.

Contracts introduced during Sheridan's testimony revealed that she is still getting royalties from the show, even for the last three seasons after her termination.

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