After 10 years as the WB's unsung savior, 7th Heaven is being sent to, well, programming heaven. The network declared the show "too expensive" to keep running and announced that this season would be the family drama's last though there is some talk of a spin-off. In a two-part interview, TVGuide.com spoke with Stephen Collins, who since Heaven's debut has played Rev. Eric Camden, the paterfamilias of seven kids which some might call hell, but maybe that's just us about the show's value, its abrupt cancellation and more.
TVGuide.com: When did you find out that Heaven was canceled?
Stephen Collins: [Series creator] Brenda [Hampton] called me Wednesday [Nov. 9]. No one was expecting a decision at this time, so it took us all by surprise. I would have thought they would have waited until after [November] sweeps. Our schedule this year has been so erratic and so affected by baseball and football. The way weekly ratings are published, they don't show that we're up against Monday Night Football, but in fact we are up against it in half the country and always have been. So that skews everything. Where we normally had been beating Arrested Development which for us was a big deal, to beat a Fox show nationally we were now on against these baseball [playoff] games. As we looked forward to a normal month with normal competition, I figured by the beginning of December we might hear about next year.
TVGuide.com: Were you optimistic or pessimistic about returning?
Collins: I'm not sure either is the right term because part of me is ready to move on. It's been such a wonderful run, but you find yourself in the position of [asking yourself if] you want a show to grind on until the bitter end when it's clear to everyone in the world that it should be canceled. Or do you want to go out when it's still got some momentum and a healthy audience, and leave them begging for more? I did think there was a good chance that the show would be picked up for next year. I kept hearing from various people who were expert ratings analysts that there was no way on earth it would be canceled this year because it's still among the highest-rated shows on the network. And if what the New York Times reported was correct, we were averaging 5.1 million viewers this year versus 5.3 last year [even though that was] disproportionately affected by the blackout of certain Southern cities that hadn't recovered from the hurricane. I'm going by what various people told me: that Monday night is still one of WB's strongest nights. "They've got problems on other nights, and you're not one of them." So I was figuring that we'd have that choice to make later on.
TVGuide.com: Would you have come back for an 11th year?
Collins: I think all of us who were on this year were prepared to come back next year. [But] the network has its own way of slicing and dicing and spinning and analyzing their needs, which are very different than ours. People have said that the show is very expensive. It's true that shows get more expensive, but it doesn't seem like a process was gone through, where it was said, "Let's sit down and figure out if we can make this fly or not." It's mysterious.
TVGuide.com: No one came to you with any proposals?
Collins: No. Nobody came to me and said, "We're going to have to knock costs down. Can you play a part in that?" This is a show that has come in under budget every single year of its run. I would have expected that they would say, 'Alright, here's what we want to make it for. Give us a week or two to talk to all the interested parties to see if we could make this work." From my understanding, very little of that went on. They just moved ahead very quickly with the decision. And you know what, maybe it's better that way.
TVGuide.com: How so?
Collins: The fact is, I find myself sort of exhilarated to be waking up and saying, "Oh, I wonder what will be happening next?" And it's so hard to complain about a 10-year run, which is so much more than any of us could have expected. I'm so grateful for it, yet I have a lot of mixed feelings. There should be a support group for actors after long-running series! It's funny, I've run into two recently the day we got the news, [I bumped into] George Wendt, who's an old buddy of mine. I said, "We just heard we're not coming back next year," and he raised an eyebrow and said, "Oh my god," as if to indicate it's a big deal. Cheers went on for 11 years. Julia Duffy guest-starred on 7th Heaven [recently] and I asked her for her advice "How do you deal?" She said Newhart was seven years and the most wonderful seven years. Her advice was to find a point-person for reunions and have reunions. The work is one thing, but it's the people with whom you go to work, the actors and the crew, who are really what the experience is about. That becomes your community. We're all in it together. God, I'm going to miss that. I'm sure there will be a real withdrawal period.
In next Monday's Insider: In Part 2 of our Q&A, Stephen Collins previews 7th Heaven's final days, updates us on the spin-off talk and discusses his Rick Nelson worship.