When showrunner Brenda Hampton pitched the idea for 7th Heaven to producer Aaron Spelling, it was of a “functional family” so the show could focus on a wholesome group of people working through everyday dramas instead of the usual sitcom dysfunction. The idea was a great seller, and Spelling produced the series for its entire run on the WB, and later the CW.
Following the Camden family, 7th Heaven featured a crop of rising stars like Jessica Biel and Beverley Mitchell as the kids, and veteran actors Stephen Collins and Catherine Hicks as the parents. The cast became tight-knit over the eleven years the series aired, even though not everyone was as willing to do the show as they appeared.
In fact, the show wasn’t always as “functional” behind the scenes as was presented on television. In addition to some cast members wanting out of their contracts, some didn’t want to do the show to begin with, and others were hiding plenty of far darker secrets from their co stars.
We’ve got 15 Dark Behind The Scenes Secrets You Had No Idea About from the set of the long running series, and from the stars after they left the show behind.
15. Jessica Biel Wanted Out
By the fourth season, rumor has it that Jessica Biel was unhappy with her place on the show. She had started work on 7th Heaven at just 14 years old, and was ready to move on to projects she found more challenging. Of course, rumor also has it that Biel wanted to get herself fired instead of leaving the show, which is where a racy photoshoot with Gear Magazine came in.
Biel was just 17 when she posed for Gear in a series of topless pictures, including one that made the cover of the magazine. Aaron Spelling was so unhappy with her appearing in the spread that he banned the magazine from set, according to her costar Mackenzie Rosman. Rosman also revealed in interviews as an adult that the shoot was a spot of hot gossip amongst the women on set.
14. Jessica Biel Was Also The Most Rebellious
Lending credence to the rumors that Biel was trying to get herself fired is the admission from Biel when interviewed by W Magazine that she was a bit of a rebel in her teen years on set, frequently getting into trouble with producers.
When Biel cut her long hair and bleached it without getting the okay from producers to change her look, she was forced to apologize to the producers, including TV heavyweight Aaron Spelling. She also recounted to the magazine that her friends sent a stripper to set for her 18th birthday, getting her into even more hot water, since it wasn’t in keeping with the show’s wholesome image.
13. Risque Photos Of Mackenzie Rosman Leaked
These days, it seems like every young woman in Hollywood gets hit with a photo “scandal” when pictures are released without her consent. Vanessa Hudgens, Blake Lively, Victoria Justice, and Jennette McCurdy all saw it happen in recent years while their stars were on the rise.
In 2008, the year following the season finale of 7th Heaven, photos hit the internet of Rosman in lingerie, as well of photos of her kissing another young woman. Luckily for Rosman, she didn’t face any repercussions from the very strict producers of the show, since production was finished.
Cynics might suggest the leak was an effort by someone close to her to help TV audiences see her as an adult after playing the child of a minister on a family drama for 11 years. Rosman made that clear herself when she posed for a photoshoot in lingerie for Maxim in 2013, though.
12. Catherine Hicks Didn’t Want To Do A TV Show
When Catherine Hicks auditioned for the role of Annie Camden on the show, she wasn’t actually sold on the part. Hicks – who had just filmed a movie she hoped would hit it big, but flopped – wanted to be doing film shoots instead of a TV series.
Despite her misgivings about doing a series, Hicks filmed the pilot and stuck with the show while still auditioning for other roles. She considered getting out of her contract, but the film parts just weren’t there for her.
As she explained in an interview with Snakkle, she grew to love the cast, which is what made her want to stick around on the show. In fact, she’s still close with many of her co-stars today. She and on screen kids Rosman, Biel, Beverley Mitchell, and Barry Watson have frequently met up for events in Hollywood.
11. Beverly Mitchell’s Real-Life Tragedy Made Its Way Onto The Show
In the season two episode “Nothing Endures But Change,” each of the Camden kids experienced some event that showed how much life can change. While that meant new bedrooms or new relationships for some of the kids, for Lucy, it meant experiencing loss for the first time, something that was inspired by the real life of the actress who played her.
As a teen, one of Beverley Mitchell’s closest friends was killed in a car accident while another was seriously injured. She wrote about the experience in Chicken Soup for The Preteen Soul, and detailed how she didn’t allow herself to grieve because right after, she discovered her parents were divorcing.
It wasn’t until Brenda Hampton approached her about using her experiences in an episode that Mitchell allowed herself to experience all of the feelings she had been putting off, writing that filming the episode was “physically and emotionally exhausting,” and that once she started crying, the tears “didn’t stop for weeks after,” but the experience offered her some closure.
10. A Synagogue Questioned The Show’s Depiction of Jewish People
When the writers decided it was time for the eldest Camden child to grow up and get married, Matt (Barry Watson) fell for a young woman who wasn’t just of a different faith, but a daughter of a rabbi. Matt and Sarah (Sarah Madison) had to navigate the challenges of the relationship along with having fathers who were leaders of their own houses of worship.
Rumor has it that a synagogue in Los Angeles initially offered up their property for filming when location scouts were on the lookout. They ended up pulling out of the prospective arrangement.
The synagogue’s name has never been publicly revealed, but word is that the religious leaders learned more about what the show had done with the few Jewish characters it had, and they didn’t like it. The character of the rabbi (Richard Lewis) was someone who was overly critical and didn’t want to allow his daughter to marry someone of another faith. The folks in charge of this particular synagogue didn’t want their religion to come off as non-inclusive on national television.
9. Happy Was A Trauma Survivor
In the opening credits of every 7th Heaven episode, Happy closed out the introduction. The dog was as much of a family member as the human cast members were, but she had a very sad history.
Happy was actually found by showrunner Brenda Hampton in an alley while she was working on another series. The stray dog was discovered to be a survivor of abuse after Hampton took her in. Extremely frightened of the men around her, Happy took a long time to warm up to them, no matter how well she was treated.
As a result, when Hampton brought Happy in to appear on 7th Heaven (and kept the dog employed), she had to spend extra time with male cast and crew members so that she would be comfortable enough in their scenes together. In the early episodes, Happy spent most of her screentime with the youngest cast members instead.
8. Mackenzie Rosman’s Terminally Ill Step Sister Appeared
Just like the character she played, Mackenzie Rosman comes from a large family. Also like the characters that made up the Camden family, Rosman was intent on getting causes close to her heart more attention. Her family provided the inspiration for a character that appeared on two episodes of the series.
Rosman’s real life stepsister Katelyn Salmont played Ruthie’s friend who attended horseback riding lessons with her. Rosman and Salmont were both active equestrians in real life. Like the character she played on the show, though, Salmont was afflicted with cystic fibrosis and underwent a lung transplant.
The first episode in which she appeared was used as a platform to raise awareness about just what the condition entailed. The second episode allowed the audience to see how she was faring two years later.
7. Ashlee Simpson Had An Eating Disorder
Before Ashlee Simpson was known for releasing pop-rock albums, she featured on 7th Heaven as Cecilia, girlfriend of David Gallagher’s character Simon. It was one of her first big acting roles, but even before she went into acting, Simpson was focused on dancing.
Simpson grew up hiding her singing voice from her family because she didn’t want to be compared to her older sister Jessica, and she threw herself into dancing at a very young age. By 11, she was in a prestigious ballet program. Ballet, known for its long and lean aesthetic as much as the skill required, led many of the young women around Simpson into unhealthy eating habits, and she followed suit.
In an interview with People Magazine, Simpson called her experience that of a “minor eating disorder” as she spent months barely consuming food. She credits her family with getting her to eat again, and by 14, she was a professional backup dancer on her sister’s concert tour.
6. Andrew Keegan Created His Own Religion
Movie fans recognize Andrew Keegan for his role as the most popular (and most annoying) guy in school in 10 Things I Hate About You, but he also had an arc as a teenage father on 7th Heaven. The actor hasn’t done a lot of work in front of the camera over the last decade – because he’s been busy creating his own religious group.
Keegan is the leader of a group known as Full Circle based in Venice Beach. Most reporters who have visited have likened it to a hippie commune or a New Age cult. In addition to teaching about “cosmic energy,” the group leads political sit-ins, holds concerts with local artists, and believes in the healing power of crystals.
5. Barry Watson’s Battle With Cancer
In 2002, oldest child Matt Camden suddenly starting appearing on the show a whole lot less, much to the surprise of the audience. The character was attending university, which meant less screentime, but in real life, the actor was undergoing treatment for a serious illness.
Barry Watson had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. In order to focus on his health, he requested to be written out of the show so that he could undergo treatment. He spent a year in chemotherapy before he was found to be in remission, eventually returning for more episodes.
Though Watson didn’t return to the same series regular status he’d held prior to his illness, his character did make it through medical school, marry, and have children over the following seasons, frequently returning to guest star.
4. Season 11 Saw Big Salary Cuts
The WB originally planned to end the series with season 10, so plenty of closure was offered for the ever-growing cast as the season came to an end. The surprise renewal of the show for an eleventh and final season led to many cast members having to negotiate new contracts, with several being forced to appear in fewer episodes.
Mackenzie Rosman only appeared in seven of the 22 as a result. Jessica Biel, Barry Watson, and David Gallagher were no longer a part of the regular cast, though the former two did make guest appearances. This led to the introduction of a lot of new, and less expensive, cast members.
Several new teenagers in the lives of the Camden family got the spotlight. There was also a larger focus placed on Lucy becoming a minister, with plenty of extras in the congregation instead of the regular cast, all costing the show less than the previous seasons.
3. Stephen Collins Wrote Erotic Novels
7th Heaven debuted on the WB in 1996, but Stephen Collins wasn’t devoting all of his creative energy to playing a minister and the patriarch of a wholesome family at the time. He was also writing erotic novels.
Collins penned two in the ’90s – Eye Contact, which landed in stores in ‘94, and Double Exposure, which dropped in ‘98. Both novels were mysteries that leaned heavily into sex and violence to tell their stories, which probably would have been frowned upon if Aaron Spelling had realized they were being published. Spelling was adamant that the cast had to maintain the wholesome family image of the show, even offscreen.
Nick, the woman at the center of Eye Contact, is a struggling actress who sees herself as “sick” since she has trouble controlling the urges she has, something critics pointed to as a troubling sign decades later, when more about Collins was revealed…
2. Stephen Collins Admitted To Molesting Underage Girls
In 2014, while in the midst of a divorce from Faye Grant, a tape of Collins admitting to molesting at least three teenage girls leaked to the public. All three young women were, according to Collins, either family members of friends, or relatives of his own wife. The incidents had occurred decades prior, but the recording of his admission was made during a therapy session with his wife in 2012.
With Collins admitting to actions like inappropriate touching and exposing himself, his roles quickly dried up. His last roles were in Revolution in 2014 and as the voice of Howard Stark in the animated Avengers Assemble the same year. He was supposed to appear in Ted 2, but was axed from the project soon after the story broke, and several networks that aired 7th Heaven in syndication pulled the show in the aftermath.
1. Catherine Hicks Wanted Eric Killed Off
It wasn’t just strangers who were hesitant to work with Collins, either. Even his former cast mates balked at the idea of a reunion show with him.
Catherine Hicks went as far as telling TMZ she would only be interested in pursuing a 7th Heaven reunion show if the writers decided that Eric Camden wouldn’t return. Her idea? Killing Collins’ character off so that Annie would be a widow, leading the family on her own.
Since then, though, Hicks appears to have changed her mind. In September of 2016, Hicks explained to TMZ that she was only joking about wanting his character killed, and that she’d be up for the cast to film a reunion special if everyone else was.
Whether or not fans will see a reunion special or revival like Fuller House and Gilmore Girls is anyone’s guess. It’s hard to imagine that Stephen Collins would be around for it if it did happen, though.
Did we surprise you with any of these behind-the-scenes secrets? Is there a secret you’ve heard about 7th Heaven that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!
If you can’t get enough 7th Heaven, the complete series is set to release on DVD in November.
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