- Hilarie Burton was a key cast member on the teen drama One Tree Hill, in which she portrayed Peyton Sawyer.
- Burton left the series after Season 6 to explore other opportunities and “start something new.”
- Since One Tree Hill, Burton has made several recurring and guest-star appearances on acclaimed TV shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and The Walking Dead.
The following contains discussions of sexual harassment and assault.
The WB (and, later, The CW) drama One Tree Hill lasted for the better part of a decade. Set in the fictional town of Tree Hill, North Carolina, the series followed the lives of five main characters, who began as high school students, but later grew up and married their sweethearts. One of those characters was Peyton Sawyer, played by Hilarie Burton.
One Tree Hill was the teen drama for its generation, well before Euphoria or other similar shows. However, it suffered a major blow when Burton and her on-screen love interest, Chad Michael Murray, left in Season 6. What made Burton leave Peyton One Tree Hill behind?
Updated on October 12, 2023 by Katie Doll: 20 years after its premiere, One Tree Hill remains one of the most popular teen television shows of all time, especially after finding a new audience in the streaming era. Old fans and new fans have a shared love for Hilarie Burton’s character Peyton, who was a quintessential part of the cast. This article has been updated to include the allegations Burton and other One Tree Hill cast and crew members made against One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn, and expand on Burton’s career after One Tree Hill.
Who Was Peyton Sawyer on One Tree Hill?
Peyton Sawyer was initially introduced as Nathan Scott’s girlfriend. Lucas Scott, Nathan’s half-brother, was recruited to the team after several players were suspended. When Peyton took note of how terribly Nathan treated Lucas and decided Nathan was in their relationship for the wrong reasons, she broke up with him. Consequently, Peyton became romantically involved with Lucas and the infamous love triangle between Peyton, Lucas and Brooke Davis (played by Sophia Bush before she starred on Chicago P.D.) began.
Season 2 and Season 3 were rough for Peyton. She started using cocaine and lost her biological mother Ellie to breast cancer after discovering she was adopted. If that wasn’t enough trauma, a stray bullet hit Peyton during a school shooting, and she almost died. In later seasons, she was kidnapped by a stalker before she and Lucas reunited and eventually tied the knot. After their wedding, Peyton suffered a difficult pregnancy and had to have an emergency cesarean section. She fell into a coma, but later woke up and met her daughter, Sawyer Brooke Scott. The Season 6 finale was the last time viewers saw Peyton as she, Lucas and Sawyer left Tree Hill.
Burton’s Allegations Against One Tree Hill Creator
In 2017, Burton and 17 other women of One Tree Hill cast and crew accused creator and showrunner Mark Schwahn of sexual harassment. On her podcast Drama Queens with former co-stars Bethany Joy Lenz and Sophia Bush in 2023, Burton detailed how she was assaulted by Schwahn before filming to surprise a local high school that they’d be filming a CW show there. She claimed that she “told all sorts of people” about the assault, and one person who stood up for the women was Chad Michael Murray. Murray reportedly confronted Schwahn about the misconduct because, as Bush puts it, “Chad didn’t have anything to lose.”
Burton never claims that this is a reason why she left the series. It would be a good enough reason if Burton felt unsafe on set, and no one would blame her for leaving, considering many other women in not only the One Tree Hill community, but the film industry supported the women speaking up. However, Burton claimed there was another reason why she ultimately decided to leave the series.
Why Did Hilarie Burton Leave One Tree Hill?
Burton and Murray both said their goodbyes in the One Tree Hill Season 6 finale. Murray returned for a one-episode cameo in Season 9, Episode 7, “Last Known Surroundings,” but Burton was never seen on the show again. She told Entertainment Weekly her contract had expired, and she chose to leave, calling it “an emotional decision, and a professional decision as well.” She expounded upon that thought years later. On a 2020 podcast with Jana Kramer (who played Alex on One Tree Hill), Burton said she didn’t regret her decision to leave and needed to “start something new.”
Burton owes her decision to leave to co-star Moira Kelly, who played Karen Roe on show. On an episode of Drama Queens, where Kelly was a guest star, Burton thanked Kelly for being the only person who told her it was okay to pursue other opportunities. Other people in Burton’s circle were attempting to convince her to stay during the filming of the last episode, yet Kelly was the only one who reassured Burton in her decision, saying, “There’s so many chapters in life and this is just one. This is just one.”
Hilarie Burton’s Career Post-One Tree Hill
Burton’s career has been nothing but plentiful since leaving One Tree Hill. She had a recurring role as Sara Ellis on White Collar from 2010 to 2013 and portrayed plastic surgeon Dr. Lauren Boswell on Grey’s Anatomy. Additionally, she’s been seen in roles on Hostages, Extant and Lethal Weapon. She appeared on The Walking Dead, opposite real-life husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as Negan’s late wife, Lucille in the Season 10 finale.
She also reunited with Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz in an episode of CBS’s Good Sam. In 2022, Burton and Morgan hosted the true-crime series It Couldn’t Happen Here for SundanceTV. Since 2021, Burton has co-hosted the Drama Queens podcast, reflecting back on her times on One Tree Hill, and has written two non-fiction books: The Rural Diaries: Love, Livestock, and Big Life Lessons Down on Mischief Farm and her 2023 memoir Grimoire Girl: A Memoir of Magic and Mischief.
One Tree Hill is available to stream on Max and Hulu.
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