'Heaven' Loses a Place on Earth

FamilyTelevisionEntertainmentCelebritiesDavid Gallagher

A slice of "Heaven" is about to end -- perhaps.

The WB Network mainstay "7th Heaven" concludes its 10-season run Monday, May 8, with an hourlong finale. Or supposedly concludes, anyway: At this writing, there were low rumblings about a possible revival or spinoff on the new CW Network, the WB-UPN consolidation that will soon announce its fall program schedule.

In either case, repeats of the series will continue on ABC Family, including a Mother's Day marathon of episodes on May 14.

In the final episode, titled "And Thank You," Rev. Eric Camden (Stephen Collins) and his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) regather their brood on the day their son Simon (David Gallagher) is to wed fiancee Rose (Sarah Thompson). As is traditional with the clan, surprises lie in wait, thanks in part to Simon's siblings Matt and Mary (former series regulars Barry Watson and Jessica Biel, who return for the last episode). Their sister Lucy (Beverley Mitchell) and her husband, Kevin (George Stults), also have unexpected news.

A decade after executive producers Brenda Hampton and Aaron Spelling faxed him the "7th Heaven" pilot script while he was on a family getaway, actor Collins marvels at the longevity the show has enjoyed.

"I had just finished 'Sisters,' which I had come out [to California] to do," he recalls, "but we couldn't go back to New York until our daughter's kindergarten year was over. We were about to leave for a few days just to decompress, and my agent called that morning and said, 'I think we're going to get an offer for a pilot, but you're not going to want to do it.'"

The agent hadn't read the script, but Collins wanted to see it for himself. His wife, actress Faye Grant, also gave it her blessing, and the rest is television history.

Although he has just filmed a guest spot for the FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," Collins is intrigued to see if playing a clergyman for so long will typecast him.

"I fully expect to hear, 'Oh, he's too nice/too sweet/too good-natured for this.' Usually, though, there are a number of people out there who are pretty smart about casting. At one time, I had played so many rogues, I was pretty sure I would never play a good guy again." For evidence, consult Collins' work opposite Keri Russell ("Felicity") in the 1996 TV movie "The Babysitter's Seduction," which runs near-weekly on either Lifetime or Lifetime Movie Network.

Wrapping up "7th Heaven" didn't totally feel like the end, Collins says, since no one knew for sure that it was. "I tend to believe it's over, or at least down for a mandatory [period of time]. The human psyche can't process something being completed and almost completed at the same time, and our crew -- which desperately wants the show to come back -- didn't want to hear, 'It's over,' so we had this weird kind of double thing going on. As the days went by, I'd think things like, 'Is this the last time I'll work with David Gallagher as Simon Camden, or not?' You couldn't really have the big emotional completion."

While Collins has special feelings for the actors who have played his "7th Heaven" children, he maintains those are less like a father's and more like an older brother's.

"They all have solid relationships with their own parents," he reports, "and until each of them turned 17, their parents were always on the set. I didn't want to get into a parental relationship with them off-screen, because I think that somehow mars the work relationship, but I am so proud of how each of them has grown up. Bev and I have always had a special closeness. Every year the show was on, she'd send me a Father's Day card."

Co-star Mitchell literally grew up in the public eye during her "7th Heaven" tenure, and she knows her television "family" will stay in touch.

She reveals, "David Gallagher celebrated my 21st birthday with me, David and I celebrated Jessie's [Biel] 24th birthday with her, I went and spent Barry's fiancee's birthday with them ... we're all very close. Outside of what happens with the show, we're all going to stick together. Jessie is going to be in my wedding next year, and every one of the cast members is coming, even if I have to drag them there in chains! I love these people more than I could ever explain."

Collins appreciates that "7th Heaven" hasn't always been as "vanilla" as some may think, even allowing him to portray his character's crisis of faith at one point.

"That was a wonderful choice by Brenda Hampton," says Collins, himself a writer of published mystery novels. "It was very difficult for the audience; it made a lot of people very nervous, when in fact, the research I've done shows it's pretty common. People have different ways of working it out, but it's an occupational hazard."

If fans are concerned about one of the last bastions of genuine all-family entertainment vanishing from broadcast television with the end of "7th Heaven," Mitchell understands.

"One thing I've always loved about our show," she reflects, "is that it's been so honest and true. None of the Camdens were perfect. They all had their issues, but they learned to deal with them and to do so as a family. That's a very important message to get across."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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