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'Secret Life' creator Brenda Hampton reflects on final season

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Secret Life Of A Teenage Girl
Bob D'Amico/ABC Family; Randy Holmes/ABC Family; inset: Heidi Gutman/Getty Images

After four seasons of drama, ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager launches its final season tonight at 8 p.m. ET. What began as the story of high-schooler Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley) becoming pregnant by Ricky Underwood (Daren Kagasoff) tonight finds Amy buying a wedding dress and — yes — a guest appearance by Chaz Bono as himself. At this momentous point in the show’s history, creator Brenda Hampton takes a little time to reflect on the highs and highers of working on the drama through the years and reveals a handful of “secrets” behind the production.

We had such a good time doing Secret Life, we hated to see production come to an end last fall. We were hoping to keep going until the baby grew up and graduated from college. We put together a wonderful cast and crew; it was a really great group of people, and we shot at the Warner’s Bros. Ranch, best lot in town. When Steve Schirripa (Leo) left the set for the last time, in thanking everyone, he repeatedly said it was the “best job I ever had in my life.” That made me feel really good because I strive to create an environment where everyone can enjoy the work and do their best, knowing that that’s really an impossible goal. I can get a show done on time and under budget; that’s always possible when you work with Lin Parsons (our line producer/unit production manager/director), but making a production a good experience where everyone still has time for a life… that’s a rare experience in Hollywood. And this was one of those rare experiences. I owe most of the credit to Lin and to Bill Asman (our jovial director of photography). I loved going to work every day, and though the job presented a lot of challenges, I’d have to say that The Secret Life of the American Teenager was also the best job of my life.

We took a month long hiatus every August. Thank Molly Ringwald (Anne) for inspiring that idea! The birth of Molly’s twins was in August of the first season, so we took a hiatus to accommodate her. Shows are always in production in August. No one ever gets to go on a family vacation in August with their kids. We liked it so much, we set the schedule so we could do it every August after that.

Secret: I knew Molly was trying to get pregnant when she took the job. She talked with me about it, and I told her if she got pregnant, what I’d like to do was this: George (Mark Derwin) and Anne would split up. In her subsequent depression, Anne would not notice that she was getting increasingly fatter, although everyone else would, and then when Anne finally realized, she’d duck out of town and go to some weight loss camp and come back slim again. Good plan. Only when Molly actually did get pregnant, no one wanted us to go that way, not even Molly.

It took a few seasons, but Molly and I found a storyline for Anne, independent of Amy’s issues, that we both felt very strongly about and that turned into one of our best episodes — the coming-out episode, which was co-written by Anne Ramsay, who plays Ricky’s mother Nora. The couch scene where Anne tells George that she’s gay was my favorite scene for Mark and Molly. Unfortunately, because the show did not go another season, we never got to the gay wedding we wanted to do.

Another episode that I would consider one of our best was the one in which Adrian lost her baby. Francia Raisa did such a wonderful job, as did Ken Baumann (Ben), but it was Steve Schirripa who really broke my heart. He made me weep in the hallway scene, as Leo delivering the sad news to all the friends.

Not exactly a secret, but: During a hiatus on our show, Steve was in The Hereafter, directed by Clint Eastwood. He was a great mentor to the younger actors, and he’s a very involved father at home in New York, where he has two daughters. His youngest daughter is the starting pitcher for the fastpitch softball team at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn.

NEXT: We knew right away that Shailene was a star.