Nicolette Sheridan v. Marc Cherry

By Maria Cheung

Reviewed by Jennifer Williams

Any fan of ABC’s Desperate Housewives remembers Edie Britt’s tragic death a few seasons ago. Edie escaped being strangled by her maniac of a husband and subsequently survived a car accident only to be electrocuted when she fatally stepped out of her car into a puddle on the street. Unbeknownst to Edie, her car had severed a power line in the accident. Edie (played by Nicolette Sheridan) was the character we loved to hate through the years. She was known to get around in the neighborhood, which she proudly accepted.  However as the show progressed and we watched the housewives grow and change, we learned to love Edie. She made many mistakes and was not the most conventional housewife, but she had a genuine heart. Deep down, she was a woman who simply wanted to find true love and to be accepted.

Yet when Edie died, most fans were content with the way her life ended. Her death was tragic but at least it honored the character we once hated and had learned to love. Edie had attempted suicide in an earlier season and was married to a psycho murderer when she died.  Her death was not exactly unanticipated. Yet most of all, the death was believable on a street in which any crime or lie seemed possible. However, while Edie peacefully died on camera, the real drama was occurring off-screen. During Sheridan’s last season, media reports swirled that Sheridan would be leaving the show following her character’s death due allegedly to on-set problems with Marc Cherry, the show’s creator.  Cherry has stated Sheridan’s departure was purely for financial reasons. Sheridan’s salary reportedly cost the series an estimated extra $100,000 to $200,000 per episode. Sheridan left the show following the 2008-2009 season.

A year later, after the housewives and their fans had recovered from Edie’s death, Sheridan filed a lawsuit against Cherry, alleging wrongful dismissal and assault and battery, among five other counts. Sheridan alleged in her April 5, 2010 complaint that Cherry forcefully hit her with his hand during a rehearsal and then wrote her character off the show after Sheridan reported the incident to the network. Sheridan initially wanted $20 million in damages. On May 20, 2010, Sheridan amended her claim, clarifying that the alleged assault was a “light tap.” However, Sheridan still maintained her wrongful dismissal suit.

According to an August 30, 2011 Entertainment Weekly article, the trial is scheduled for October in Los Angeles Superior Court. However, the law does not seem to be on Sheridan’s side. After limiting the damages, Sheridan could potentially gain at trial, a sum equal to one season’s worth of wages (approximately $980,000). Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White advised Sheridan to settle her suit and warned Sheridan “You’re going to spend a lot of money on this case.” At trial, the jury will decide Sheridan’s battery and wrongful termination claims. White previously dismissed Sheridan’s harassment claims against Cherry. Additionally, Sheridan could not reference those allegations in her current lawsuit. If Sheridan wins at trial, she may be entitled to additional punitive damages.

Housewives fans will have to wait and see what the jury finds but as a fan of the show myself, I cannot help but think Sheridan’s wrongful termination suit is frivolous.  Although I have not seen Sheridan’s contract, I would assume that she did not have a contract past the 2008-2009 season, when her character was killed off the show.  If Cherry did breach Sheridan’s contract, then she does have a valid claim but assuming Sheridan’s contract did not run past the 2008-2009 season, I believe her claim has no merit. Sometimes, whether for storyline developments or simply to keep viewers engrossed, television show characters die. Yes, it means an actor has lost their job but that is the nature of television and life. People die and things happen beyond our control. However, without a contract for the 2009-2010 and supplemental seasons and without an explicit clause in Sheridan’s contract stating that she could never be fired or that her character could never be killed off, Sheridan will probably lose her wrongful termination claim.  I would need to know more about the facts surrounding the battery claim to come to a conclusion on that matter.  At least Sheridan could find solace in the fact that her character died respectfully and did not die a John Doe who was hit and dragged by a bus (yes, George on Grey’s Anatomy). I was an avid Grey’s fan and after that shocking season finale, I never watched Grey’s again.

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