War on Wisteria Lane: 'Housewives' star claims she was hit and then written out

On screen, the cast of Desperate Housewives gossip, sleep around, and peer enviously at neighbours over their impeccable white picket fences. But the real drama begins when the director shouts "cut!" and they return to their highly strung lives away from Wisteria Lane.

That, at least, is the view of Nicollette Sheridan, who played estate agent Edie Britt in the hit programme and has filed a lawsuit claiming she was sacked after being physically assaulted by the show's creator.

Sheridan's character was killed off last year by electrocution from a falling telephone wire. She now claims this sticky end was deliberately engineered by the creator of Desperate Housewives, Marc Cherry, as payback for a long-running and, at one point, physical dispute between them.

The British-born actress alleges that she and Cherry's tense relationship spilled over during rehearsals for its fifth series in September 2008. "When Sheridan questioned Cherry about something that was in the script, Cherry took her aside and forcefully hit her with his hand across her face and head," reads the 18-page suit filed at Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday. "Sheridan was physically and emotionally injured, humiliated and stunned."

After she complained to bosses at the broadcaster ABC, Sheridan alleges that Cherry retaliated by having her fired. "It is exceptionally unusual for a popular character to be killed off or written out of a television series unless the actor has requested to be released," the suit continues.

Sheridan claims she suffered "wrongful termination", "assault and battery" and "gender violence" and is seeking compensation totalling $20m (£13.3m).

The actress alleges she responded to Cherry's attack with the comment: "You just hit me in the head. That is not ok. That is not ok!" Shortly afterwards, the lawsuit claims that the director "acknowledged that he had gone too far and went to Sheridan's trailer in an effort to, as he put it, 'beg forgiveness'".

Since the launch of Desperate Housewives in 2004, public fascination with the show, about a prosperous suburban cul-de-sac, has consistently revolved around the allegedly fraught relations between its female leads.

A Vanity Fair profile published at the peak of the show's popularity saw all five of the stars posing in swimwear. "You wouldn't believe what it took just to get this photo!" read the headline.

ABC responded to the lawsuit last night with a statement. "While we have yet to see the actual complaint, we investigated similar claims made by Ms Sheridan last year and found them to be without merit," it read.

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