Freelance writer Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
UPDATE, TUESDAY 4:40 PM: A jury has still not been seated in the case, and selection will resume tomorrow at 1:30 PM once the potential juror panel has been replenished. Once selection is completed — hopefully by late in the afternoon — opening statements will begin. However, with Judge Elizabeth Allen White being strict about ending proceedings at 4:15 PM, it is unlikely opening statements will get far. Sheridan and Cherry were present in court all day Tuesday.
PREVIOUS, MONDAY PM: Desperate Housewives may be in its final season, but the real-life war on Wisteria Lane is just getting underway between actress Nicollette Sheridan and series creator/executive producer Marc Cherry, ABC Studios (formerly Touchstone TV) and ABC. Sheridan, who played the villainous Edie Britt for the series’ first five seasons, is suing Cherry and the network for wrongful termination and battery. The case, which began jury selection today and is expected to last 12 days (UPDATE: The judge said this afternoon she expects the trial to conclude no later than March 12), features a juicy witness list that includes past and present ABC and ABC Studios executives like former ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson, former ABC Studios president and current CW president Mark Pedowitz, ABC Studios’ head of business affairs Howard Davine, Desperate Housewives executive producer/showrunner Bob Daily as well as other current and former writer-producers on the show including Alexandra Cunningham, David Flebotte and Lari Kirkland Baker. Also called in are most of Sheridan’s former co-stars on the show — Eva Longoria, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross, James Denton, and Sheridon’s former love interest Neal McDonough — but surprisingly no Teri Hatcher. But present on the list is former Law & Order: SVU showrunner Neal Baer. That’s in addition to the two principal parties Sheridan and Cherry, who are expected to take the stand for eight hours each. Sheridan likely will be one of the first witnesses called when jury selection and opening statements conclude.
After a short morning appearance today by Sheridan and Cherry in LA Superior Court, the trial was given over to jury selection. That group will get a crash course in behind-the-scenes network TV: With Sheridan’s claims of sexual harassment and compensation for the show’s entire run already rejected by Judge Elizabeth Allen White, the case now revolves around the sequence of events and decisions in late 2008 that led to the end of Sheridan’s tenure on the hit series. If she wins, the court has said she will be entitled to about $4.2 million, her annual salary.
Sheridan’s contention is that her character was killed off and she was let go from the show in February 2009 because she complained to ABC execs that Cherry hit her during a September 24, 2008 argument. Cherry, who has admitted he did lightly strike Sheridan on the head during the confrontation, claims the incident had nothing to do with Sheridan leaving the show. Cherry said he decided in May 2008 to cut Sheridan loose and had received approval from ABC and series producer Touchstone. In his deposition, Cherry called it a “cost-cutting measure.” Producer Lori Kirkland Baker, who worked on the show at that time, has a different understanding of events. In her deposition, she said Cherry began talking about problems he was having with Sheridan and killing off her character in late September 2008. In December of that year, Cherry — whose alleged abusive actions toward other cast and crew was declared by the judge a no-go zone for Sheridan’s lawyers in the trial — supposedly told the show’s writers that he planned to kill off Sheridan’s character at the end of Season 5. But he decided with network support to kill off the character and drop Sheridan much earlier.
Sheridan is represented by Mark Baute, Patrick Maloney, and Sean Andrade of downtown law firm Baute, Crochetiere & Maloney. Cherry, Touchstone and ABC are defended by Adam Levin and Aaron Wais of Westside lawyers Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.