'Housewives' trial deliberations enter 2nd day

ANTHONY McCARTNEY AP Entertainment Writer Published:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The fate of Nicollette Sheridan and "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry are in the hands of a different set of viewers than they are accustomed to worrying about -- jurors.

Twelve Los Angeles-area residents will enter their second day of deliberations Thursday into Sheridan's claims that she was wrongfully terminated from the show during its fifth series. Her attorneys contend her forced departure from the show was retaliation for her complaining that "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry hit her during an on-set dispute, but the veteran TV writer's attorney contends it was simply business.

Show business, that is.

Adam Levin, the lead lawyer for Cherry and ABC, focused on testimony during the two-week trial that indicated the decision to kill off Sheridan's Edie Britt character had been made four months before she accused Cherry of hitting her while discussing the scene. Levin argued Cherry's decision was based purely on creative reasons, and he had left Britt's character in precarious situations before "Desperate Housewives" entered its fifth season.

Sheridan's attorney Mark Baute however said jurors should award the actress nearly $6 million because Cherry and current and former ABC officials had lied about when the decision to fire Sheridan had been made. Baute said the more likely explanation was that Britt's role was eliminated in December 2008, the same month Cherry had been cleared of wrongdoing for the September 2008 spat.

"You don't make decisions on killing one of your top five actresses early," Baute said. "It's a game-day decision. You wait."

The attorney also told jurors it didn't make sense that ABC officials had renewed Sheridan's contract for the fifth season of the show if they intended to kill off her character. Her contract guaranteed her a full season's pay and a share of profits for the entire series.

Sheridan looked directly at the jurors as her attorney argued that she should be awarded millions for being dropped from the primetime comedy/soap opera.

Nine members of the 12 person panel must agree on a verdict.

Levin urged the jury to reject defense contentions that most of the witnesses they heard during the two-week trial were lying.

"If there is a conspiracy, then these are the Keystone Kops of conspirators," Levin said. He noted that the memories of several writers and producers differed on details of the decision to fire Sheridan. "The fact that these witnesses differ on small facts -- it lends to their credibility."

Levin also contended Baute and Sheridan were resorting to desperate tactics.

"Desperate is claiming that 10 good citizens of California conspired to get their story straight," Levin said.

Levin said people such as former studio head Mark Pedowitz and former ABC network chief Steve McPherson had no reason to lie about giving Cherry a green light in May 2008 to kill off the Britt character.

In addition, Levin noted that two of Sheridan's key witnesses, both former writers on the show, disagreed on when discussions began about ditching the character. Jeff Greenstein said the talks began a month or two before Sheridan and Cherry had their dispute in September 2008, while Lori Kirkland Baker said no discussion occurred until December 2008.

Baute said Baker's testimony was a key to showing a conspiracy existed.

"One or two quality witnesses (are) better than five or 10 people who are spinning, finessing or lying," Baute said.

Sheridan's case initially included a battery claim, but the judge ruled Tuesday that jurors will no longer be asked to consider that allegation.

"Desperate Housewives" was a ratings powerhouse in its early years, but has seen its audience dwindle. The show is in its eighth and final season.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP