Hilarie Burton struggled with 'One Tree Hill' being inappropriate for teen viewership: 'There was a lot of, like, senseless underwear action'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Hilarie Burton reflects on her time on One Tree Hill in a new interview. (Photo: Getty Images)

One Tree Hill was one of television’s most memorable teen shows, but its legacy has taken hits.

Of course, as the #MeToo movement exploded last year, members of the cast and crew accused showrunner Mark Schwahn of sexual harassment. Now, in a new interview, Hilarie Burton talks about how parts of the show — which starred Chad Michael Murray and Sophia Bush and ran from 2003 to 2012 — were inappropriate for the teen audience they were targeting, and said she and her female co-stars fought to try to change it along the way.

“Every girl on the show was written as a hooker with a heart of gold,” Burton, who played Payton Sawyer, told Cosmopolitan. “I was a square all through high school, so when I had to go back and do high school for the second time for One Tree Hill and my character was, like, walking out of the shower with her boyfriend … what? What are you talking about?”

The shower scene:

But the actresses playing the teens on the show weren’t teens themselves — and Burton said the mostly male writers, under the helm of Schwahn, apparently had license to fulfill their own teen dreams.

“There was a lot of, like, senseless underwear action, and when everyone on set is a real adult, they forget that the viewer at home thinks this is a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, and so that creates a new normal for those ‘real’ 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds,” said Burton, now a parent of two with Jeffrey Dean Morgan. “That was something we were really bent out of shape about. And I think now, there is a sensitivity about: Oh, who’s our audience?

Danneel Ackles, who played Rachel Gatina, felt the same way. “Where were our parents?” she quipped to the mag. She recalled how her character, who was 17, had a sexual relationship with her peer’s uncle. The character also got behind the wheel after drinking — with no on-screen repercussion or even a mention — leading to Ackles getting a letter from MADD. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

“There was a lot of, like, senseless underwear action,” said Hilarie Burton, left, and this photo pretty much illustrates it. She and co-stars Sophia Bush, center, and Bethany Joy Lenz all va-va-voom next to Chad Michael Murray and James Lafferty in their full suits. ((Photo: Donald McPherson/Contour by Getty Images)

Despite it being Burton’s first big TV acting job — after her stint hosting TRL (Total Request Live) — she said that she, and the rest of her female co-stars, fought “tooth and nail” against those types of portrayals. So what aired often did so after major pushback — meaning the original must have been especially ridiculous.

Burton said that the disconnect — between how teens act in real life versus how they were depicted on the show — was due to the unequal representation behind the scenes. “I think it’s incredibly important for shows that have a strong female presence, particularly shows about teenage girls, have at least 50 percent representation in that writers’ room,” she said. “It’s vital.”

One year ago, One Tree Hill writer Audrey Wauchope came forward to say that Schwahn had repeatedly harassed and touched her and other female writers on the show. That led to cast — including Burton, Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz — and crew members of the North Carolina-based drama to band together and writer a letter with their own sexual harassment claims. Burton later detailed her direct experience with Schwahn, who she said tried to force himself on her more than once. Schwahn was subsequently fired from The Royals over it — women on that show claimed similar behavior.

Burton, who left One Tree Hill in 2009 (despite being offered a raise to return the next season), later appeared in White Collar, Extant, Lethal Weapon and Hostages. She has a holiday movie, The Christmas Contract, which will air on Lifetime Nov. 22 and co-stars Ackles.

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