Interview with Martha Byrne

by Julie Stevens (no login)

This is an interview with Martha from about her exit from "As The World Turns" after 21 years.


Martha Byrne wasn't planning to say much publicly about her shocking decision to quit As the World Turns. But then the show's executive producer, Chris Goutman, issued a statement saying, "We made Martha an incredibly generous offer in hopes that she would remain a valuable member of the ATWT cast. Unfortunately, Martha has decided to leave despite our best efforts to keep her." And that was something Byrne couldn't ignore. Here, the two time Emmy-winning actress — who will end her run as Lily Snyder next month — tells us what really went down in those contract talks. — Michael Logan Your fans are furious about this, and I know because I'm one of 'em! What the hell happened here?

Martha Byrne: This was the situation: Last year, I was asked to take a tremendous pay cut, and I did so willingly because I love ATWT and understood the financial situation the show was facing. I was willing to do anything to keep the show going, including giving up money, so we worked out a one-year contract. One year later, we go into this new contract negotiation and I had only one request. I thought it was only fair — and I wanted it on paper — that I would work the same amount of days this year that I did last year. I considered it a gesture of good faith on their part. I asked for nothing else. Zero. But I was told that this could not be put into my contract and, that same day, the show sent out a breakdown notice to recast my role. Was that supposed to be a scare tactic?

Byrne: Maybe. But I thought it was inappropriate. That shouldn't happen in the middle of negotiations. My request didn't warrant that kind of tactic, if in fact it was a tactic. After that, things went from bad to worse. I can't get into those details but it solidified my decision to leave the show. I never intended to speak about this, but I now feel I must after Chris put out that press release saying that they did everything they could to keep me. I do not feel that was the case, and I feel the fans deserve the truth. So, as some reporters are claiming, this had nothing to do with your unhappiness with storylines or your need for story approval?

Byrne: No. Never! No actor gets story control and I would never ask for that. I've never even had a meeting with [current ATWT head writer] Jean Passanante. And never, ever with [previous head writer] Hogan Sheffer. I barely saw Hogan in the hallway. That's not my thing. I'm low-maintenance. Give me the material and I make it work. That's my job. We could maybe understand this kind of treatment if you'd fallen from favor, but you haven't. You've had big, non-stop storylines — Lily's weight gain and pill addiction, Luke's coming out, the breakup with Holden, another drug relapse, the murder of Dusty. And you've played it all of it so beautifully and truthfully. You may be the most "real" actress in soaps.

Byrne: Thank you. That means a lot. I've spent 21 years of my life at ATWT and have loved every minute of it, and that's what's so hard about this. On my last day on the set I cried like a baby. Ellen Dolan [Margo] brought in the bagpipe guys from the NYPD to play when my last scene was done. The cast, the crew, everybody was so incredible. That show was my life! I met my husband [retired NYC police officer Michael McMahon] and had my three children while doing ATWT. I had my very first kiss in my life on that show, with Brian Bloom [the original Dusty]. I had my first crush ever on Jon Hensley [Holden], and I probably now still have a crush on him! And let's not forget you worked under the great head writer Douglas Marland!

Byrne: He taught us all so much about soap opera. Doug would always say, "You write a good story. You get good actors. That's all you need." I remember when I joined the show the Oakdale police station was nothing more than a phone, a desk and a window. But you had Benjamin Hendrickson (Hal) and Hillary Bailey Smith (Margo) and Scott Holmes (Tom) and Scotty Bryce (Craig). Man, were they good! And all anyone wanted to do was create great entertainment for the fans. Forget the fireworks and the tap dances and all the stuff we do these days. All we needed back then were good stories. That's still the case. Just the other day we saw Barbara (Colleen Zenk Pinter) sit down with Kim (Kathryn Hays) and finally reveal that she's suffering from oral cancer, and it was glorious! Two great veteran actresses, just sitting at a little table, sharing something incredibly dramatic and personal and profound. That's what the fans want.

Byrne: I hear ya! Doug was also a genius at growing a fan base for his characters. He slow-burned you into popularity. At the beginning, I was only on once, maybe twice a week. That's why I have to laugh at all this outrage over Luke and Noah. Keeping those two apart is good, old-school, Doug Marland storytelling — whether or not it's being done to shut up the anti-gay Christian groups.

Byrne: I think Doug took seven months before he let Lily and Holden have their first kiss! We were all so blessed to have him as long as we did. [Marland died in 1993.] His photo with that beautiful, smiling face was on the wall of my dressing room right to the very end. So much joy has come out of this whole experience! Trust me, it was not an easy decision to walk away from all this. But it was not done out of emotion. I'm 38 and I've been working 30 years. All decisions in my career have been made for business reasons, not emotional ones. Were you perhaps a sacrificial lamb here? It's been whispered to me that Procter & Gamble wouldn't give you what you wanted because every other ATWT star would then want the same thing, too.

Byrne: You know what I say to that? Nobody knows what's in anybody else's contract. And I don't care what anyone else claims. Sure, you might have an idea, you might think you know, but you don't really know. We're all individuals and we should be treated as such. Talent isn't equal. You are soap-opera history. There's only one Lily. And that ought to matter when it comes time to negotiate. Superstars are supposed to be worth more — that's why they're superstars. The fans know who's worth it and who ain't.

Byrne: It should always be about what the audience wants. What else do we have but the audience? I live and breathe daytime drama and, as a fan, I want to see the people I love. I want to see Nikki and Victor when I tune in to The Young and the Restless! I want to see Brooke when I watch The Bold and the Beautiful! There's no Guiding Light without Kim Zimmer (Reva)! And I'm not comparing myself to her at all. I'm talking as a viewer here. I cherish her value, not just to GL but to the whole daytime world. But you are the Zimmer of ATWT! And Lily and Holden are Oakdale's Josh and Reva! Why didn't CBS step in and do something here?

Byrne: They couldn't. Couldn't, or wouldn't? Surely someone at the network could have told P&G to knock off the c--p.

Byrne: Who has that power? I spoke to [CBS daytime programming executive] Richard Mensing on my last day and he said, "The contracts are with P&G, not CBS. That's the chain of command." I'm not one to pick up the phone. If someone at CBS wanted to do something about [the situation] and make it better, it was in their hands. Did your costars know what was going on between you and P&G?

Byrne: I really didn't think this was going to be something that would spiral out of control, so I never discussed it with anyone except Jon Hensley, and that's because he's my other husband and I trust him tremendously. These days a lot of daytime actors will take any bones thrown at them, just to hang onto their jobs. And that's understandable. As much as I regret your exit, I admire you for not acting out of fear.

Byrne: It's called good planning. I was prepared for things to go wrong. My spider senses were tingling when I went into these last negotiations. I said to Michael, "Look, if things don't go a certain way, I may have to leave the show." And he said, "I want you to be happy." That's all I needed to hear. I don't know that every husband would say that. I'm very blessed that I've worked my whole life and have a lifestyle that is very nice. It's a blessing that — at my age — I can still take a leap. I still have the time and the freedom to go on a different path. So what's next for you? As a kid you were in Annie on Broadway. Will we see your butt back onstage?

Byrne: Funny you should ask. There have been some phone calls, though nothing I can discuss yet. First I'm taking a vacation to the Bahamas, and then we'll see where things go. I like not knowing what's coming next. I do know I will be working a lot closer with St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis. I'm now on their advisory board and will be helping them raise more money and awareness — something I've wanted to do for a very long time. My family, thank god, is healthy. When I go to St. Jude's and see all the children who are suffering and dying, and how hard it is for the parents, it puts everything in perspective. When I think of all that, what happened to me [at ATWT] is not such a problem, you know? I have no bitterness. I have no regrets. I was true to myself. I listened to my heart and I feel nothing but gratitude. In the bigger picture, it's all OK.

Posted on Mar 25, 2008, 11:45 PM
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