7th Heaven is an American drama series that aired from 1996-2007 on the WB and later on CW. The show was created by Brenda Hampton and followed the adventures of the Camden family in the fictional town of Glenoak, California. The show was hugely successful, and ran for a total of eleven seasons, helping to launch several careers in the process.
Wholesome Family Theme
The premise of the show centers around Camden family patriarch, Reverend Eric Camden, a Protestant minister. Throughout its run 7th Heaven touched on many themes, one of the principal ones being faith. The show was considered among the most family-friendly, but we’re going to examine some of the secrets and scandals that surrounded the show.
The Show Spawned a Big Star
During the original taping of the show, she may not have been the biggest star, but Jessica Biel left 7th Heaven as a household name. The stunning actress is certainly the breakout star to emerge from the show, and one of the only actors from the show to carve out a consistent career in Hollywood.
Jessica left the show in 2003 and straight away went against what could have been her typecast by starring in slasher-horror remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then she has appeared in over 25 movies, including Blade: Trinity, The Illusionist, and ensemble film Valentine’s Day. She is also married to former ‘N Sync member, and pop superstar Justin Timberlake. They have a young son together.
Biel Was Unhappy With Her Role
Not many people know this, but it seems that Jessica Biel was unhappy with her character and her role in the show. There was a lot of tension generated on set, as Biel had grown dissatisfied with her character, Mary Camden, by the fourth and fifth seasons of the program. It seems the actress was unhappy with the direction the writers were going, developing her character.
Biel went to extremes to show her displeasure, and at one point actually tried to get herself fired so she could get out of her contract. She made a decision to do a racy photo shoot for Gear Magazine in an attempt to get axed. She later regretted her decision and remained with the show until the sixth season.
Recently, Stephen Collins found himself the subject of abuse allegations. The shamed actor, now 69, was allegedly caught on tape by his ex-wife admitting to child molestation. Collins apparently confessed to molesting and exposing himself to several girls who were underage years earlier.
The scandal rocked those involved with the show and looks to have ended Collins’ career prematurely. Apparently, his former wife, actress Faye Grant, taped their therapy sessions, unbeknownst to Collins. And it was during these tapings that the truth came out about his unsavory past. The inappropriate conduct is alleged to have occurred in 1973, 1982, and 1994. It’s unclear whether it involved anyone from the show or not.
Police Investigate Gunshot
Since information broke about Collins and his history of abuse, his career and life have been in tatters. It’s understandable that nobody would feel comfortable working with him again after such revelations. This has led to an investigation in which the actor is alleged to have shot and killed himself. The incident is said to have taken place at his home in the San Fernando Valley.
The police were called amid fears the actor had shot himself – a gunshot was heard. Officers apparently responded but didn’t find anything. Since his confession, Collins has been fired from any projects he was working on and resigned from his position on the board of the National Screen Actors Guild. The alleged shooting was reported by former Baywatch actress Donna D’Errico.
Beverley Mitchell Audition
As is the case with many TV shows, Beverley Mitchell wound up playing a different character to the one she originally auditioned for. At first, she auditioned for the role of Mary Camden, but producers felt she wasn’t right for the part. The role eventually wound up going to Jessica Biel and would make her a household name.
However, that wasn’t the end of things for Beverley. She was invited to audition for a different part, the role of Lucy Camden; Mary’s younger sister. She impressed producers so much that she was offered the role and cast on the spot. It was obviously the right choice, and she went on to play the part for 242 episodes and became a firm favorite.
Barry Watson’s Cancer Diagnosis
You may not have been aware of it while watching the show, but Barry Watson was actually pretty ill at one point. The actor, who portrayed Matt Camden on the show, was diagnosed with the cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2002. This is the same type of cancer that Dexter actor Michael C. Hall sought treatment for in 2010.
After his diagnosis, Barry took a hiatus from the show in order to seek treatment. He had chemotherapy and other treatments. He went into remission in April of 2003 and returned to the show for its 150th episode. He has been cancer free since that time and is another inspiring example of someone who beat such a terrifying illness.
Conceptualizing the Show
Ever wonder how writers come up with the ideas for shows like this? It would be great to be able to crawl inside the heads of creative people and see how they tick. Conceptualizing a show like this one takes a lot of time, effort, and forethought. Luckily, series creator Brenda Hampton has this in abundance.
She was originally a writer on a number of shows, most notably Mad About You, and while writing for that show, came up with the idea of 7th Heaven. Hampton was excited by the idea and pitched it to producer and TV heavyweight, Aaron Spelling. Spelling was keen and thought it would make a great idea for a show. Soon after the show was commissioned, and would go on to become the huge success it was.
Art Imitates Life
Later in the show’s run, creator Brenda Hampton began to introduce more story-lines involving adoption and foster parenting. These came to prominence around the 8th and 9th seasons of the show, as the Camden family opened their doors, and their hearts. This wasn’t just a logical progression for the family, it was also very deliberately done by Hampton.
She had long expressed a desire to adopt and help children who are vulnerable or in need. And she used her art to express these views and do as much as possible to convey it to her audience. Hampton herself is also the adoptive mother of two children, so this was clearly something close to her heart.
The little sister of Jessica Simpson, remember her? One time pop princess. Ring any bells? Well, Ashlee Simpson was one of a number of then little-known actors and actresses who would find success with roles in the show. And it wasn’t merely as a guest star either; Ashlee actually appeared in 40 episodes of the program between 2002 and 2004.
She already had one credit going in, but this was her first main acting role. She played the role of Cecilia, Simon’s girlfriend, in the 7th and 8th seasons of the show. This was not the first time a future teen-idol would appear on 7th Heaven. Others including Haylie Duff and Leighton Meester would also appear, though less prominently than Ashlee.
There Was a Musical Episode
Unless you are an ardent fan and watcher of the show, you probably aren’t aware that there was a musical episode! Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed the way we view musical episodes of television, and 7th Heaven jumped on the bandwagon. The 15th episode of the show’s ninth season was entitled “Red Socks,” and was the show’s foray into musical.
Many regard it to be one of the worst musical episodes in television history. And, we’ll level with you, it’s pretty cringe-worthy! Making a musical episode of TV generally requires you to have actors and actresses who can sing and dance. The problem in the case of 7th Heaven is that many of them couldn’t! Sidebar – you may not know that this episode was actually written by Martha Plimpton!
Those more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the appearance of indie actor Jeremy London as Chandler Hampton in 37 episodes of the show. There were a number of young stars who got their break on the program, and Jeremy was one. His role as the minister who fills in for Eric was taken after he had been acting for some time.
Indeed, London had already famously appeared in Party of Five, but the role in 7th Heaven gave his career a much-needed boost in the 2000s. If you’re struggling to place Jeremy, you probably recognize him best from the aforementioned Party of Five, as well as Kevin Smith’s cult comedy movie Mallrats.
When shows run for a long while, you often get cast members who will write and direct episodes. Generally, they will have an interest in going into the process of writing and directing at a later point and will use the show to experiment. We saw it in The X-Files with David Duchovny, Friends with David Schwimmer, and in 7th Heaven with Barry Watson.
It could have been something to do with his cancer diagnosis. Perhaps Barry decided he didn’t want to put off any ambitions he had. This is likely what led to him writing an episode of Season 7 – “Peer Pressure” (7.8), and directing one for Season 9 – “Brother Love” (9.13). He was the only series regular to try his hand at writing and directing episodes of the show.
Stay of Execution
Ten seems like a nice round number and would have been a great choice for ending the show on. In fact, it was the original plan to end the series after 10 seasons. The finale for the entire series was set to be the 10th Season finale – the double episodes of the finale were entitled “Goodbye,” and “…And Thank You.”
However, late in the process, the cast was approached about the possibility of returning for an 11th and final season. CW made the decision to renew the show for one more season, and the series finale became the 10th season finale. Many of the cast were forced to take salary cuts following the renewal, due to the low budget involved.
Eleventh Hour Casting
The casting process for TV shows and movies is one of the most important things to consider. You have to understand that you need to pick the right cast for the characters. That’s why, much of the time, parts are cast very late in the process. For instance, the character of Eric Camden was cast just two days before filming was to begin.
Stephen Collins was offered the role just two days before the pilot was set to be filmed. He didn’t even audition for the role in fact! Apparently, he met with the rest of the cast, and producer Aaron Spelling, and did an informal reading. This gauged the chemistry between the cast, and Collins was offered the role then and there.
Crew on Screen
We can’t help but giggle at the shows in which you can make out the crew in some shots. These are often due to oversights and lack of budget and time for shoots. 7th Heaven is no exception to this, and there are mistakes that can be found throughout the series. A crew member is visible in the season 1 episode “Saturday,” and if you look closely, you’ll be able to spot them.
In the scene where Eric walks into Simon and Ruthie’s room after hearing their conversation, the crew member is visible on the left of the frame. It’s likely that this was down to the limited budget, and the show still finding its feet in the early stages. We can’t recall any other instances in the show of crew members being visible, so looks like they learned their lesson.
Religion is one of those issues that is tackled a lot in television, and it’s generally done in a diplomatic way. So, it’s a surprise that 7th Heaven chose an unorthodox approach for their rabbi character. The show was filming Matt’s wedding to a rabbi’s daughter, and they were offered an LA synagogue for filming. However, this was later withdrawn.
It seems that the synagogue was unhappy with the portrayal of the rabbi in the show, and the fact that he is hostile and unaccepting of a Christian son-in-law. It’s interesting to think about whether this portrayal might have been changed had the episode been made today.
A Dog’s Life
The family dog became a beloved member of the household for cast and fans alike. The cute mutt’s name was Happy, and she was originally a stray dog. The story goes that series creator Brenda Hampton discovered the dog while working on another project, and wrote her into 7th Heaven, as the lovable addition to the Camden family.
Apparently, the dog had been in an abusive home prior to being a stray and had a fear of men. As a result, many of the male cast and crew had to spend time bonding with her off camera. This was important as it would allow them to shoot scenes properly as Happy would feel more comfortable around them.
Casting the Twins
Like many family shows, there were twin characters, in this case, Sam and David Camden. The twins were the youngest of the Camden children, and they were born during the third season of the show. Many TV programs will have multiple actors playing the parts of twins as there are a lot of legal issues to consider. And the same was true in the case of Sam and David.
Originally they were played by quadruplets Lorenzo, Myrinda, Nikolas, and Zachary Brino, in order to get around child labor laws. But, as the siblings began to age there were noticeable differences between them, so the official actors were cut down to Lorenzo and Nikolas. The pair has not carried on acting since the show ended, and count 7th Heaven as their only acting credits.
Longest Running Show
A little-known fact about 7th Heaven is that it was, and still is, the longest-running series to air on the now-defunct WB network. It is also the longest-running family TV drama series in television history. The show spanned 11 seasons and almost 250 episodes, and this in itself is a wonderful achievement. These days a lot of shows struggle to make it past the first couple of seasons.
7th Heaven obviously struck a chord among viewers to go on and achieve this impressive feat. At the start of the show’s 10th season, it surpassed Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons to become the longest running family drama show in the history of television. To eclipse both of these ground-breaking shows was a huge achievement for 7th Heaven.