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Sexism On The Set of Desperate Housewives?

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Last week when the reports surfaced of actress Nicollette Sheridan filing a lawsuit against Marc Cherry, creator of Desperate Housewives, and ABC because of treatment she received on the set of the show, I shrugged. It seemed like a bitter axed actress who wanted to get back at her former employer for terminating her from one of the biggest gigs in television. Though when I read that part of her lawsuit pertained to reportedly being slapped by Cherry it raised my eyebrow.

I remember hearing rumors a year or so ago about there being a big blow-up on set resulting in him slapping her in the face, but it seemed so ridiculous no one believed it. Of course now it seems there may be some truth to it all this time later. Not only has Sheridan cited it in her lawsuit, but former cast-mate Eva Longoria has confirmed that the incident did in fact happen, though according to her not necessarily maliciously.

They did have a thing on set. I guess it was a couple years ago. It's so long ago, the actual incident, and I wasn't on set when it happened. Apparently, this incident had happened, and she felt it was wrong.

Longoria adds the context that Cherry was actually showing Nicollette how to do a scene in which Edie's husband, played by Neal McDonough, slaps her.

Something happened on set regarding them doing a scene. She was doing a scene, and … he was showing her how to do a scene. Honestly, I wish I knew [what happened]. During that time too, I didn't work with Nicollette's character.

She also adds that Cherry "could not harm a fly, he's just so sweet," then said, "Nicollette's a sweet girl, too."

Then there's a conflicting article from the NY Daily News where a "source" close to the show indicates Sheridan wasn't the only woman on the show who had conflicts with Cherry.  Teri Hatcher apparently doesn't find Cherry's behavior completely kosher either.

The snitch adds that while Teri Hatcher is equally distressed by Cherry's overbearing behavior, she's unlikely to join Nicollette in her fight.

"Sometimes Teri doesn't appreciate Marc's 'humor,'" says the source, while a rep for Hatcher didn't comment by deadline. "But that doesn't mean she's going to get involved with this mess anytime soon."

The Daily News article also implies that the rest of the women on the show are secretly supporting Sheridan but are afraid to do so publicly for fear of being killed off the program as her character was.

I'm not sure who to believe at this point.  I find the whole thing to be pretty shocking considering Cherry has always come across as cheerful, witty, and personable in all of his appearances on television to promote the program, and has always seemed to have so much respect and adoration for his actresses.  That said, appearances can be just that — appearances.

What I found most troubling out of this whole ordeal was the strange language used in Sheridan's lawsuit that seemed to imply she thought Cherry treated her badly because he is a gay man and she is a straight woman.  Which everyone pretty much agreed was about the strangest thing ever.  But after this new article by the Daily Beast where some former producers have broken their silence about Cherry's treatment of female writers, it might start to make a bit more sense, and be much more angering.

The producers say they cannot imagine Cherry ever being physically abusive with the intention of hurting someone, but the one thing they all agree on is that he creates a difficult work environment, especially for women.

One source said: "He hates women. It's apparent on set that he's a fan of cute, gay men, not women." Another said, "He will dress you down in front of the staff. He will assault an idea," said another. "He is very confrontational in this way. He has hissy fits."

The biggest problem I have is with this part of the article which discusses the unfair way in which female writers were treated on the program.

It's the more general charges in Sheridan's suit that are bringing out a chorus of "Amens" among some former staffers, who strongly echo the actress's claims of gender discrimination and a harsh work environment, saying the conditions are more severe than on other television shows.

Ironically, given the show's subject matter, female writers on the show get the worst of it, and are mostly kept out of the "polishing room," instead relegated to their "caves." This person said that the writing "posse" that Cherry surrounds himself with and most treasures, consists of mostly straight men.

The former staffers also say that while the show tends to deal with issues very specific to women, he listens mostly to the male writers and is incredibly dismissive to the women who write for the program.  The situation is so bad, they say, that they have begun to refer to themselves as "the unwashed."

The Daily Beast points out that of the 39 different writers who have written for the program since it premiered in 2004, only 14 have been female.  Not only that, but several of those writing stints were short-lived.  Julia Sweeney left only a few months after she began to go to SNL.  And Alexandra Cunningham just recently left the program to go develop new shows for NBC (though to be fair, she was offered a huge seven figure deal).

Of course, these statistics for women writers on the show, as depressing as they may be, are much more favorable than the average primetime series is in general, which is obviously a travesty in and of itself. Take a look at these stats on the state of female writers in Hollywood.  In 2007 only 24% of the writers in television were female.  Not only that, but there is a wage gap in terms of what the working female writers earn versus their male counterparts.  When women make up more than half of the population this is not acceptable.

And if Marc Cherry is in fact giving preferential treatment to the male writers on his program, he's contributing to the problem.  Which is not only discriminatory and unfair to these very talented women who deserve better but also detrimental to the quality of the program which is supposed to be about… you know, women.

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About Chris Evans

  • Oscar

    The incredible irony is the subject matter coupled with Cherry’s attitude to female cast members and writers. My personal view is that he has got away with his “primadonna” attitude for too long and that this suit may actually result in clipping his wings. However, probably unlikely.