Patricia Sheridan’s Breakfast With … Martha Williamson
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 7, 2013 12:09 am
By Patricia Sheridan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After a 10-year hiatus from television, Martha Williamson, the executive producer and head writer of “Touched by an Angel,” has returned. She is the creator and executive producer of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” a Hallmark Channel original movie about the power of the written word and a group of civil servants who work to get dead letters to the people they were intended for. The Williams College graduate worked on several television shows, including “The Facts of Life,” before she explored more heavenly topics on “Touched By an Angel,” which aired from 1994 to 2003. When the show was canceled, she and her husband made the decision for her to stay home. She wanted to spend time decompressing and raising their adopted daughters. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” premieres Saturday on the Hallmark Channel at 9 p.m.
Did you write “Signed Sealed Delivered” ?
Yes, I wrote the pilot, and it has gone through a number of adjustments since the very first time I wrote it. Basically it still has the same message. I wanted to remind people of the importance of the written word.
What inspired it?
I got literally thousands of letters from folks while I was doing “Touched By an Angel.” The work that was required to write those scripts and produce them every week for nine years made it almost impossible for me to read all the letters. So when the show was over, I sat down and started reading.
What was amazing was people would tell me how they had been moved by the show and moved by the message and tell me stories from their own lives. They would talk about something they were going through with their family or some choice that they had made. A woman might have said, “I decided to get my homeless brother and bring him into our house,” or a man said, “I decided not to kill myself because your show gave me hope.” I was so moved. Some of these letters were written a year ago, three years ago, four years ago, and I wondered how they are doing now. I had stopped working. I wanted to raise my children, and my husband [who had been a producer on the show] and I just needed a great big deep breath after working so hard on that series. These letters reminded me we did make a lasting and enduring difference in people’s lives.
Are you hoping “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” makes a difference in people’s lives as well?
Yes. We have a couple of messages going simultaneously in this show. We don’t have angels. We have regular people and as a result they are not perfect. What I have really enjoyed doing is challenging people to remember we need a balance.
It seems there is so much hopelessness in the world. Every time you look at the newspaper or get online now — even “Breaking Bad” has been embraced, I think, because people are trying to make some sense of the darkness in the world. We need something that encourages people to feel good.
You are known as a woman of faith. When did your life become so faith-based?
Oh, great question. I was born and raised in Denver, and my parents and I went to church every Sunday, but I didn’t make a personal commitment to be what I call a real Christian, you know, somebody who says, “I am going to follow Jesus the best I can.”
I do not expect to be perfect, but I am going to try to follow the one that I consider to be perfect. I realized that is what I needed to do with my life: to try to translate that joy that I found into the work that I did. I was able to do that for so long undercover.
It wasn’t until “Touched By an Angel” came along, and somebody like you said to me, “Well, what do you believe?” I do remember saying, “I am a person of faith. I am a Christian.”
But was there something that happened that had you look at faith? How old were you?
Yes, yes. I was in my 20s. I was in love with a man who I discovered was gay. My heart was absolutely broken. I didn’t know what to do. I was with some friends, and I closed my eyes and my first instinct was to pray. I remember this feeling in my heart saying, “Why does he have to be gay? Why can’t you change him?” [Laughs.] The answer I got back was, “Forget him. Let’s change you.” That is when I started getting my act together. Everything changed. I always had a job from then on, and I always got good jobs that lifted me up as well as hopefully the people I was writing for.
In a way, that man was like an angel in your life. Other than that, did you ever have an actual angel intercession?
Oh, yeah! I was going to shoot in Malibu, and I had never driven from the San Gabriel Valley in California to Malibu. I had certainly never gone over this pass in the dark. There was a major fog, and I did not know where I was. I was terrified.
I remember saying out loud, “OK, Jesus. I just accepted you. Now can you prove to me that I made the right choice? I need your help. They told me if I asked for you, you would come to my aid.”
No sooner had I said that when two lights came up behind me, went around me in front of me, hit the brakes and then sped up. I followed those two lights from that car all the way out through the fog. When I came out of the fog, I could not find the car. That, to me, was an angel.
So has anything ever shaken your faith since?
No, no, and I will tell you I have had plenty of reasons to have my faith shaken. I think it is because faith is faith. Either you have it or you don’t. I always remembered in the book of Job, everything goes wrong for this guy. He has lost his family and everything, and when he gets the worst possible news he still went to his knees and he praised God. I told myself, I am going to practice doing that because someday I am going to get terrible, terrible, terrible news.
The first time I was challenged like that I got a phone call from my sister, and she said, “Mother just died.” I was not expecting that. I said, “Glory be to the name of the Lord and thank you, Lord. Thank you for her life. Thank you for all she gave me [holding back tears], and thank you for your timing, not mine. I was planning to go see her the next week. It was easy for me to say, “Why would you take her now?” I will never know, at least not in this life. But I trust God.
Six weeks ago, my husband had a significant massive stroke. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know my name. He couldn’t remember our children’s names. He has still lost a great deal of his faculties. He was on a mountain top, alone on 280 acres with nobody to help him. I just happened to pick up the phone and was talking to him when he had that stroke. He said, “I think I’m having one of those things.” I said, “What are you talking about?”
I finally realized he was having a stroke and losing consciousness. I was in Canada, unable to dial 911. I stayed on the phone because I couldn’t hang up with him and got on the Internet and pasted in a whole bunch of addresses from people who lived in that area, and I said, “If anybody is online, please call 911. John is having a stroke.”
In five minutes, six people showed up and saved his life. By that time he had gone unconscious and fallen down a flight of stairs. So I don’t say, “God, why did he have a stroke?” I say, “Thank you, God, that I was there when he did.”
So on a lighter note, I read that you lost 120 pounds. Is that true?
I did. Where did you read that? I think I gained 10 pounds for every year I worked on “Touched By an Angel.” That was another one of those things that I knew I had to address and really deal with after the show was over. I am planning to be more forthcoming about all of that and how I did it, but I’m not ready to talk about it now. It took a long time, and God really walked me through it and my friends and my family.
Well, it is a basic everyday struggle for so many people.
I never lost faith in God, but how many times did I lose faith in myself? We realize so often that food represents something, just the way alcohol does for other people.
Anyway, I hope you like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” I am very proud of the fact Oliver, the main character, is a man of faith. But we don’t make a big deal of it. He is just a good guy who happens to go to church. I love that.