March 5, 2012 at 7:35 PM ET
"Desperate Housewives" executive producer Marc Cherry took the stand Monday in the trial over claims brought against him and ABC by actress Nicollette Sheridan.
Cherry was grilled by Sheridan’s attorney over why he killed off the character of Edie Britt, which ended Sheridan’s role on the hit show after the fifth season. Sheridan claims she was fired in retaliation for complaining about being hit by Cherry on the set.
On the stand, Cherry said the decision to kill off Sheridan's character was a creative choice that would cut costs as ratings for the show declined and that Sheridan's "unprofessional behavior" was a factor in the decision.
Cherry said the actress' behavior was not the "primary reason for my decision, but it was something I was aware of."
He listed five things that he considered unprofessional: She was not punctual, she sometimes forgot her lines, he saw her being mean to a prop worker, she questioned him about the script, and she raised issues about her co-stars.
Cherry said he did not actually see Sheridan be late for work and that she was always there when they actually shot the scene. But he said the incident with the prop man came during filming of a season five episode called "Connect Connect" and occurred after he had hit Sheridan in the head.
Much of the session was spent discussing a May 2008 meeting Cherry had in a hallway with Mark Pedowitz, who was then head of Touchstone, the producing arm of ABC/Disney that's responsible for the show. At that brief meeting, Cherry said he wanted to kill off the Edie Britt character for creative reasons and to save money, which had become an issue as ratings had softened.
Cherry said that during that meeting and another brief meeting later, and at a subsequent meeting with ABC president Steve McPherson, he had been given permission to kill off the character at the end of season five.
He insisted it was mainly a creative decision to freshen up the show but added, “I did mention the money as a extra benefit in this decision.”
Sheridan’s lawyer pointed out that only 10 days later, ABC picked up Sheridan’s option for the entire following season (season five), at a cost of more than $4 million.
But Cherry insisted that his talks with Pedowitz and others included a discussion of the timing. He said he told Pedowitz that he would do it in a way that would allow the network to promote the episode heavily, though he did not know until later how it would all be done. Cherry said the death would be “shocking,” and the network could promote it as “something major was going to happen.”
One of the big issues in the case is the timing of Cherry's decision to kill off the Sheridan character. If he decided before he hit her in the head, as he claims, it would mean one thing; if he decided after that incident, as she claims, it would boost her case.
Sheridan’s attorney also probed how much input Cherry gets from his performers.
Cherry said he rarely allows an actor to come into the writers room and be part of the discussion of the story arc for a season, but he admitted he did discuss the scripts with the lead actresses and welcomed their suggestions.
A media interview with Cherry was shown in which he said he was “very collaborative with the actors.”
The discussion about cost-cutting on "Housewives" brought about a chuckle in the courtroom. Cherry had been coughing and asked for water; when given a fresh bottle, he said something about not being sure what he would get a fresh bottle because of the budget.
Judge Elizabeth Allen White joked: “We always provide water if you’re choking. … We don’t want to kill them off.”