In the world of made-for-TV marriages, few seemed more solid than Martin and Gina.
The couple at the center of Fox’s “Martin” appeared to fit together like hand in glove. Their differences complemented each other. They had a healthy sex life. And though they regularly clashed, they were undoubtedly in love.
Although the interaction between Martin and Gina, as portrayed by Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell, shared similarities with Paul and Jamie on “Mad About You,” they were unique on the TV landscape--a hip African American yuppie couple with no children but good jobs and a nice apartment.
Martin and Gina are still together in terms of the show’s story line, but the “marriage” behind the scenes is definitely on the rocks.
According to court documents filed last week by Campbell and her attorneys, her real-life relationship with Lawrence was much darker and dangerous than their on-screen personas indicated.
Detailing her decision last November to abruptly leave “Martin” in the middle of its fifth season, Campbell accused her co-star of waging an obsessive campaign of physical and emotional abuse against her, so volatile and unpredictable that she feared for her life. She charged Martin with “repeated and escalating” sexual harassment, sexual battery and violent threats.
In addition, the lawsuit said Chris Albrecht and Christopher Schwartz, executives for HBO, which produces the show for Fox under HBO Independent Productions, had long-standing knowledge about Lawrence’s treatment of Campbell but failed to do anything about it.
The lawsuit was filed as a counterclaim to an earlier lawsuit by HBO against Campbell that sought to get her to return to the series pending a union arbitration hearing on the harassment charges.
Lawrence on Tuesday fired back with a terse statement denying his co-star’s charges, claiming that he is being used as a pawn in a contract dispute between Campbell and HBO.
“Martin has long been Tisha’s champion and protector, and is thus deeply hurt by these allegations,” his statement said. “There is no merit to the lawsuit, and it will be vigorously defended.”
Responding to Lawrence’s statement, Kurt Peterson, Campbell’s attorney, said Tuesday, “Mr. Lawrence’s statement refers to a ‘contract dispute’ between HBO and Miss Campbell that has never existed. The financial terms of Miss Campbell’s current contract with HBO were agreed to quickly and amicably prior to the current season. The issues raised in the current litigation have nothing to do with any discontent with the financial agreement struck between the parties.”
In another statement issued Tuesday, HBO said of Campbell’s lawsuit, “We responded to Tisha Campbell’s concerns as soon as we heard about them.”
“Our hope is to resolve this amicably as soon as possible,” HBO said.
But that seems unlikely, according to associates of Campbell’s, who insist that she will never return to the series.
Campbell’s lawsuit details a season-by-season account of what it calls Lawrence’s mistreatment and obsession. Problems started in the first season, the lawsuit said, when Campbell consistently turned down Lawrence for dates.
In the second season, the lawsuit claimed, Lawrence “became increasingly manic and volatile, and he would often, and easily, fly into uncontrollable fits of rage for no apparent or rational reason.” He would threaten to fire cast and crew members, it said.
The rages became worse in the third season, the lawsuit said. “He humiliated and abused Campbell in front of the entire cast and crew on so many occasions that it reached the point where she needed to be hospitalized due to the stress he caused her,” the lawsuit said.
Campbell charged in the legal filing that Martin would grope her, kiss her, force his tongue into her mouth and simulate intercourse with her on the set in front of the cast and crew during moments when they were not rehearsing or filming scenes.
By the fifth season, the lawsuit said, Lawrence was “simply out of control.” Despite Campbell’s pleadings to writers that they stop creating scenes where she and Lawrence would have to be in bed, they continued to write bedroom scenes, she said.
Last Nov. 22, the lawsuit said, Lawrence had “his most hysterical outburst to date,” physically confronting a cast member and throwing such a rage at Campbell that she was “terrified and concerned for her safety.” She then told producers she was leaving and would not be returning.
Prior to “Martin,” Campbell and Lawrence had appeared in several films together, including “House Party” and “Boomerang.” In a People magazine profile a few years ago, Campbell called Lawrence “my brother.” In the same story, Lawrence said of Campbell, “I always thought she was very natural, and that was the kind of woman I wanted to play my wife.”
The departure of Campbell creates a problem for the show. The relationship between Martin and Gina is its central focus, and the producers have not yet determined a way to explain her absence for the remaining episodes of the season. The show this week is taping the 14th of 24 scheduled episodes.
For the first few Campbell-less episodes, Gina will be written out in a story line that has her missing the boat on a romantic voyage she and Martin had planned.
The dilemma most likely will not be long term. The popularity of “Martin” has steadily dropped in the last few years, and industry insiders have predicted that this season would probably be the last for the comedy, which airs Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Also, Lawrence, who starred in the 1995 hit “Bad Boys” and starred, co-wrote and directed last year’s “Fatal Attraction"-flavored comedy, “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” has been leaning more toward feature films.