LOS ANGELES -- A "Desperate Housewives" producer drew gasps from a packed courtroom Thursday when he revealed that a major character dies in an episode airing tonight.
George Perkins, an executive producer, disclosed the plot twist under questioning by a lawyer for actress Nicollette Sheridan, who is suing the show's creator and studio for wrongful termination stemming from the elimination of her character, Edie Britt.
Asked if any other character of Edie's prominence had been killed off, Perkins shifted uncomfortable in his seat before answering.
"Mike Delfino," Perkins said, referring to the character played by James Denton.
Two female jurors clasped their mouths.
"You just spilled a secret from Sunday night," lawyer Patrick Maloney asked.
"Yes," Perkins acknowledged.
The lawyer jokingly asked if the judge wanted to impose a gag order on the reporters covering Sheridan's suit.
"I can't order that," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White said.
The show, once a "red-hot phenomenon" in the words of its creator, Marc Cherry, has declined in popularity and will conclude its eight-year run in May. Cherry smiled and swiveled his chair at the defense table toward the spectators' gallery as observers reacted to the news of Delfino's demise.
Denton, who has played Delfino since the 2004 pilot, had left the witness stand shortly before Perkins took it. He briefly detailed his reaction to the death of Edie's character at the end of the fifth season.
"I can't say I was shocked because people get killed so often," the square-jawed actor told jurors.
"Did you ever wonder if your own character ... would die?" asked Cherry's lawyer, Adam Levin.
"Always," Denton said.
Sheridan contends that Cherry wrote her out of the script after she accused him of striking her during a rehearsal. A director who witnessed the scene, Larry Shaw, backed up Cherry's claim that he only tapped the actress on the head to demonstrate a stage direction. Shaw demonstrated the contact, which he called a "brush," on Levin.
The Sunday spoiler was not the only piece of inside information Perkins parted with reluctantly. Sheridan's lawyer also grilled him about conversations he and Cherry had about killing off other stars to save money.
"I have to answer?" Perkins asked the judge before running down a list of five cast members whose deaths were contemplated for the season that ultimately claimed Edie's life. Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman were "safe," Perkins acknowledged, but the fourth housewife -- Teri Hatcher -- was "under discussion."
The life of her character, Susan Delfino, was spared.
Cherry wrapped up his testimony earlier in the day with his first full account of the encounter with Sheridan on the set in 2008. He said he had suggested she exit a scene with a slap or a pinch to her on-screen husband.
"Miss Sheridan seemed to be very confused by what I meant," Cherry said. He said that to explain, "I reached over and tapped her on the side of her head, you know, trying to help her."
She gave him an "odd look" for several seconds "as if she was making a decision," Cherry said. "She started yelling, 'You hit me! You hit me!' "
She fled to her trailer, and after consulting with his assistant and director, Cherry followed.
"I decided to apologize because I needed to get her back to that set," he said.
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