‘Heaven’ Banking on Family of Fans


All signs point to a crossroads season this year for the WB’s undisputed ratings champ, “7th Heaven,” airing tonight at 8.

The drama has followed the home-and-hearth high jinks of Eric and Annie Camden and their seven offspring for seven seasons now, and one can almost sense the pressure on the series to keep things interesting for its loyal legion of fans.

Last month’s season premiere ranked 45th nationally in the Nielsens, and while that might be cause for concern at big networks CBS or NBC, the numbers (a 5.5 rating, or more than 9 million viewers) represented a high-water mark for a series that has led all WB shows during the last four years.


“7th Heaven” also began running repeats last month on ABC Family. This amiable show of homespun values has turned into quite a franchise.

But tonight’s episode, “Bowling for Eric,” threatens to shake up things in a big way when family patriarch Eric (Stephen Collins) learns that he must have double-bypass heart surgery. Stunned and even fearful, he reluctantly schedules a family meeting to drop the bombshell, only to change his mind at the last minute, explaining that he brought everyone together for a mandatory bowling outing.

Eric does manage to tell his brother (guest star Ed Begley Jr.) about the impending surgery, adding that the bowling excursion would allow the family to have one more night of normality before “everything changes.”

But the trip to the lanes and Eric’s evasiveness on questions about his sudden odd behavior largely come across as annoying contrivances, and it isn’t until the final quarter-hour that the episode regains its footing with some deeply affecting scenes.

Eric’s crisis plays out in unusual ways during the next few weeks, but the one thing the series can’t afford to lose is its heart.