Nicollette Sheridan vs. Marc Cherry: Wisteria Lane's real drama
Ever since Nicollette Sheridan filed a lawsuit this week against ABC Studios and “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry for, among other things, assault and battery, gender violence and wrongful termination one obvious question has lingered - why did she wait so long?
The impetus for the legal action seems to have largely stemmed from an alleged incident on the set of the hit show on September 24, 2008 when Sheridan claims that Cherry struck her, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday. After the 46-year-old actress complained to ABC about the incident, she was later fired, with her final episode airing last April, according to the lawsuit.
Sources with knowledge of the events say that the 46-year-old Sheridan made no secret last year about her displeasure over her character's untimely demise and further was disappointed with her final pay upon her exit from the show. When efforts to increase her compensation failed, she threatened to sue -- and this week she finally made good on that threat, sources said.
Sheridan’s lawyers, Mark Baute and Patrick M. Maloney, declined to be interviewed but issued a lengthy statement on her behalf:
“Nicollette worked very hard on the show and was a model employee. Mr. Cherry's behavior toward Nicollette was and is nothing short of abusive and appalling. The lawsuit is not something Nicollette wanted to do. It is something she felt compelled to do. Nicollete asked ABC for help and protection from Mr. Cherry's abusive behavior and ultimately ABC was not willing or able to provide that protection. Sometimes the only way that a safe and normal work environment can be created is when a hard-working person like Nicollette stands up for herself and her rights, and in doing so, helps protect others who have had to work in a hostile environment. We expect the case to be hard-fought, and it will not be a surprise if ABC and Mr. Cherry try to depict Nicollette to be something other than a team player and longstanding industry professional. She put her heart and soul into the role of the Edie character, a character that she truly enjoyed playing.”
The lawsuit alleges that Cherry created a hostile work environment for the cast, crew and writers and stated that 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 writers and staff in front of others.”
It also goes on to say that Cherry’s hostility became “particularly focused on Sheridan” in the show’s fifth season, which began in the fall of 2008. In August 2008, Cherry apologized again for his behavior toward her, but then continued to be “rude and behave in a degrading manner toward her,” said the lawsuit.
Finally, on September 24, 2008, after Sheridan questioned Cherry about something in the script, Cherry allegedly took her aside and hit her across the face and head, according to the lawsuit. Although he immediately went to her trailer to “beg for forgiveness,” she immediately reported it to ABC, the lawsuit states. Even after the alleged incident, Cherry continued to act abusively toward Sheridan, the lawsuit contends, until on Feb. 11, 2009, the actress learned her character Edie was being killed off.ABC Studios, which produces the ABC show, is not officially addressing the complaint, except to reiterate a statement issued on Monday: “We investigated similar claims made by Ms. Sheridan last year and found them to be without merit.” Cherry also is declining to comment, both through his personal assistant and his publicist.
But sources say that descriptions in Tuesday’s Deadline Hollywood accurately explain what happened on Sept. 24. In a scene, Sheridan’s character, Edie, was supposed to be slapped by her husband, played by Neal McDonough. When Sheridan wasn’t reacting the way Cherry wanted, he struck her to demonstrate what he wanted from her performance.
“I know they did have a thing on set,” Eva Longoria Parker said Tuesday during a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest. “I guess it was a couple of years ago? It was so long ago, the actual incident, and I wasn't on set when it happened. But, apparently, this incident had happened and she felt it was wrong… She was doing a scene. He was showing her how to do a scene. Honestly, I wish I knew.”
Longoria Parker, who described Cherry as “funny and sweet and really probably could not harm a fly,” and Sheridan as a “sweet girl too,” said she was “really confused about this whole thing…and I’m trying to get the dirt here on set but no one’s allowed to talk about it.”
Tension between Cherry and Sheridan is nothing new. In July 2008, Sheridan kicked off a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association’s press tour by complaining that Cherry “tries to kill off Edie every year.” Edie had once tried to hang herself and once had been blackballed by the women on Wisteria Lane, forcing her to leave town for a lengthy period of time.
Cherry responded with a joke that didn’t go over well: “She’s like a bad boomerang. She just keeps coming back.”
Sheridan replied: Thank you. Very nice. Charmed, I’m sure.”Then in a “TV Guide” interview after she was fired, Sheridan complained that Edie never got enough attention from the writers: “When you have a jewel, why not polish it and put it out there for all to see?”
Cherry responded by telling the magazine that Edie had run her course. “We will find a new kind of sexiness coming through Wisteria Lane. What I won’t do is cast another fortysomething sexy blonde. [Sheridan] performed the aging neighborhood tramp better than anyone has ever done before.”
But that time, Cherry made sure Edie couldn’t be resurrected. How did she finally die? The Wisteria Lane fun girl was choked, involved in a car crash, and electrocuted in less than five minutes. Click the video to see it for yourself.
[Update: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled the first name of Nicollette Sheridan in the first reference]
--Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)
Photos: (Top) Nicollette Sheridan. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times. (Bottom) Marc Cherry. Credit: ABC.