Former Touchstone Television prexy Mark Pedowitz testified Tuesday that he found out about an on-set incident involving “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry and actress Nicollette Sheridan when he was at the supermarket and spotted a headline in the National Enquirer.
“I was not pleased to find out that way,” said Pedowitz on the witness stand in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial over Sheridan’s suit against Cherry and Touchstone, claiming wrongful termination following a script dispute in which Cherry struck her on the back of the head.
Asked by one of Sheridan’s lawyers whether he was upset to find out that way, he said, “That would be an understatement.”
Pedowitz, who left Touchstone (since renamed ABC Studios) in 2009, then convened a meeting in which he consulted studio attorneys. He also confronted the studio’s head of publicity, Charissa Gilmore, who had been aware of the story but told him that she thought she could handle the matter.
Sheridan claims that her character of Edie Britt was killed off in retaliation for her complaint about the Sept. 24, 2008 incident. She said in earlier testimony that Cherry hit her “hard on the back of the head after she queried him on why one of her lines was removed from the script. But he says that he merely gave her a “tap” as part of direction for an upcoming scene.
Cherry also contended that Sheridan was dropped from the show largely for creative and budgetary reasons. Sheridan was informed in February 2009 that she was being eliminated from the show.
Earlier in the day, Sheridan’s entertainment attorney, Neil Meyer, testified that the actress feared she would be cut from the show if she made “waves” about the confrontation with Cherry.
Meyer said that after the incident, Sheridan called him and was “very upset.” Meyer said he called Howard Davine in the business-affairs department of production company Touchstone Television to inform him of what had taken place.
“I told him Nicollette was extremely upset and it must have been pretty bad because she wouldn’t just call me,” Meyer said. “I said we weren’t looking for ABC or Disney to do anything,” adding that she wanted to put it behind her but that he felt that it was something that Davine should “know about.”
Meyer testified that Sheridan “was very concerned about her job. She told me Mr. Cherry was a very vindictive man.” Cherry’s attorney, Adam Levin, objected to the “vindictive” characterization, and jurors were instructed to not consider it in the record.
Davine sent Meyer a letter dated Dec. 5, 2008 informing him that the studio’s human resources department had concluded an investigation with the finding that Sheridan “was not mistreated” and noting that Cherry had apologized for “inadvertently upsetting her.”
But Meyer said he never responded to challenge the finding, saying that “it was a self-serving letter and I don’t respond to self-serving letters.”
Nevertheless, Meyer said on the stand that he didn’t believe he mentioned Sheridan’s fears of “retaliation” to Davine. He said he did tell Davine that “Nicollette wanted to get through this and get back to work.”
“I wanted to protect Nicollette because I was afraid … that if we pursued this (at the time) her job would be in jeopardy,” Meyer said.
In cross-examining Meyer, Levin spent considerable time challenging his recollection of events, suggesting that his memory of what was said back then was suddenly much better than it was when he gave a deposition in the case.
Sheridan’s attorneys also gave a glimpse of studio accounting during Tuesday’s proceedings.
Sheridan was a profit participant in the series, but her litigator Mark Baute presented a profit statement from the studio showing that even though the show’s revenues exceeded $1 billion, her return in one time period after she left the show was $62,590. It was unclear what her percentage was or what time period it covered.
Later in the day, an expert witness for Sheridan’s team testified that it was highly unusual for a comedy to kill off one of its main characters. Richard Olshansky, a business affairs executive who has worked at Endeavor and NBC Universal, said that producers “tend not to want to mess” with a successful show.
But in cross examination, one of Sheridan’s lawyers detailed a number of comedies and dramas — including “MASH,” “Archie Bunker’s Place” and “Dexter” — on which characters were killed off.