In Part 1 of TVGuide.com's Q&A with Stephen Collins, the actor spoke candidly about WB's unexpected — by cast and crew members, especially — decision to make this 7th Heaven's final season, and even hinted that an agreement might have been arrived at to trim the series' costs and perhaps keep it on the air. Here in Part 2, Rev. Eric Camden's portrayer elaborates on that thought, updates us on the spin-off talk and discusses his Rick Nelson worship.
TVGuide.com: Are you saying that the 7th Heaven cast would have made some sacrifices to keep it on another year? Would that have been a discussion?
Stephen Collins: I think you can always have a discussion, and my sense is that the discussion was very short-circuited.
TVGuide.com: WB's president indicated that a spin-off seemed intriguing.
Collins: I've heard some talk about it and that's all I heard. I'm certainly intrigued by it, but I don't know what anyone has in mind. The positive side of this was articulated by Tony Robbins, who has this theory that makes a lot of sense. There are six great human needs, one of which is a need for consistency and the other is a need for change. I love routine and consistency, I love working on the show, and at the same time, I find myself almost giddy with the thought of, "Wow!" I've written a couple of novels, and I've had people on me for years saying, "When are you going to write another book?" But I've been too busy with 7th Heaven to immerse myself [in the process], which is necessary for a writer. And there are other acting jobs out there that I know nothing about, whether it's on a spin-off or something else. That need for change is very alive in me.
TVGuide.com: After playing a good-guy minister for a decade, aren't you longing to play a really nasty villain?
Collins: It's funny that you say that. In the few years before 7th Heaven, I was racking up a number of bad-guy [role]s — so much so that I remember thinking that I was never going to be cast as a good guy again. You hit a place in your career, particularly when you're a WASPy guy, where you're always going to be playing the corrupt politician or the philandering husband — unless you're Harrison Ford; he gets to play all the other parts — so I figured that's what was in the cards for me. Now I'll probably have to fight my way out of [the presumption], "Boy, he's just such a nice guy. They wouldn't believe him as a bad boy." It'll be interesting to see what that brings. This morning, right now, I'm feeling very excited about what could be next.
TVGuide.com: Do you have an idea where your character will go? Or where the show will go in its final months?
Collins: I have so much faith in [series creator] Brenda Hampton. I learned years ago: Don't fix it if it's not broke; this show you don't have to complete everything. I feel like life should just be going on. We might dot some i's and cross some t's in terms of certain stories going on, but I would think you just leave the Camdens there, doing what they do. But I don't know!
TVGuide.com: In a world where two years is a decent run, why do you think 7th Heaven lasted 10?
Collins: Partly because of whatever alchemy of writing and acting there's been [and the resulting] characters who have been created, people who viewers want to spend time with. Years ago, I read Frank Capra's autobiography and he said that if you have wonderful characters whom the audience cares about, saying wonderful things, you can shoot them against black drapes. The audience doesn't know or care. Likewise, if you have characters that the audience doesn't care about, you can throw all the pyrotechnics and all the gimmicks in the world at the audience and they're not going to care. Brenda understands how to write good people and give them enough warts and humor to make them interesting. I love that she always injected a certain amount of smallness, pettiness and faults into all of our characters — we can be small-minded, we make mistakes, we screw up, we get neurotic. I think that's the bottom line of 7th Heaven, that we've presented the family and it's far from perfect; it's only the people who never watched the show that think it's a perfect family. When people watch us and say, "Life is like that," or "My life isn't anything like that, and I wish it were," I'm so grateful. The show taps in to that deep, deep need we have to be accepted and supported by our families. I was worried when we began that it would only appeal to people from strong families, but actually it has as much or even more appeal to people who aren't strong families. They see it as a kind of goal of how they'd like their family to be.
TVGuide.com: So you think a lot of criticism came from people who hadn't actually seen 7th Heaven? It's easy to take potshots that it was just "a wimpy, Christian, feel-good show."
Collins: Yes, you can tell [if an article was by] a writer who was watching or one who wasn't. If you say to me, "Oh, you're on that religious show," then you must have never seen it, because there's so little religion in the show. Yes, I play a minister, but Eric is so much more a father, first and foremost, emotionally. That's what it's about. I had someone say to me, "It must be interesting to be on a show where everyone's problems are solved in a half an hour." I said, "Well, first of all, it's an hour. Second of all, the problems don't get solved quickly, if at all." Some of the kids aren't doing so well, others are doing great.
TVGuide.com: Eric didn't act so great himself when his son wanted to convert to Judaism.
Collins: [Laughs] That's precisely the kind of thing that people who don't watch the show don't understand. They would expect Eric to say, "How wonderful, we welcome people of all faiths into our family," when in fact he acted badly but understandably.
TVGuide.com: I was told that you have a CD out; you did sing once on the show.
Collins: One of the great side benefits of 7th Heaven was that I started a band with these incredible musicians who score the show, some of the best rock and roll musicians you could ever ask to work with. Over time, we became a band, we made an album, and then people started contacting us to play live. At first, I said, "I don't think you could afford these guys — my lead guitarist, Lawrence Juber, was lead guitarist with Wings; my keyboard guy, Jim Cox, regularly plays with Mark Knopfler whenever he tours and records. They're all incredible musicians. About a year ago, we decided to make an album covering Rick Nelson songs. It's called "The Hits of Rick Nelson" and if I do say so, it's just really solid. It's got "Traveling Man," "Poor Little Fool" and "Lonesome Town"... all the songs that you'd expect to hear, and we do them really reverently. I decided that I would donate any profits I make from the record to the Christopher Reeve Foundation and to hurricane relief. The band is called Stephen Collins and the 7th Band — it's actually the seventh band I've played in in my life, but we're also trading shamelessly on the 7th Heaven name. The new album is on iTunes and in stores. One of things that I'm really thrilled about is that Rick's daughter, Tracy, loves the album and contributed liner notes. I'm just tickled that I've gotten to do this at my age.
TVGuide.com: Your Rick Nelson appreciation made its way onto the show, didn't it?
Collins: Years ago, Brenda asked if I liked Rick Nelson and I said, "I have always loved Rick Nelson." She had been listening to one of his greatest-hits albums, so she wrote this little thing where Eric was obsessed with Rick Nelson and played his songs all over the house. I reconnected with his music, and now here's this album about six years later.
TVGuide.com: Is there anything else happening with you?
Collins: I do have one other thing, which is a case of nice timing: I have a really cool short story called "Water Hazard" in an anthology, Murder in the Rough [published by mystery editor Otto Penzler]. What I'm really tickled about is that Lawrence Block and John Sanford also have stories in the anthology. I'm in very good company. My wife thinks it's the best thing I've done.