Deliberations begin in 'Desperate Housewives' case

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By ANTHONY McCARTNEY, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jurors heard alternate plotlines Wednesday about Nicollette Sheridan's departure from TV "Desperate Housewives."

Her lawyers claimed she was fired after complaining that show creator Marc Cherry hit her in the head during an on-set dispute in September 2008.

Attorneys for Cherry and ABC countered that the decision to kill off Sheridan's character on the show had been made four months earlier for creative reasons and had nothing to do with the dustup.

The different versions were laid out in closing arguments delivered at Sheridan's wrongful termination trial before the jury began its deliberations. The actress is seeking roughly $6 million in damages.

Mark Baute, the actress' attorney, accused ABC officials and Cherry of lying about when they decided to kill off the Edie Britt character. Baute also accused witnesses of destroying emails and other documentation that would pinpoint the timing of the decision that he contends was made in December 2008.

"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 prime-time comedy/soap opera.

In his closing argument ABC's lawyer Adam Levin contended that Cherry obtained permission to kill off the character in May, during early planning for the season, and the plan was endorsed by top studio and network officials because it made creative sense.

He 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. "The fact that these witnesses differ on small facts — it lends to their credibility."

Levin also said 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.

He said the theory involved a "complicated story of conspiracy, perjuring witnesses, backdated documents and photographs" that simply wasn't true.

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.

During that same month, a human resources investigation cleared Cherry of wrongdoing in his dispute with Sheridan.

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

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