''7th Heaven'' experiences ratings success -- The WB's family drama pleases audiences and critics

One of the stars of 7th Heaven is cowering in a corner of her trailer, whimpering.

It’s an odd reaction, given that this WB family drama has a reputation for having one of the chummiest sets in the TV biz. Nevertheless, Happy — the dog who plays a dog named Happy and who is, exec producer Aaron Spelling points out, the ”only animal with billing equal to the human stars of any show right now” — apparently doesn’t like the smell of reporters.

”It’s nothing personal,” says Happy’s trainer, Shawna Hamann. ”We got her from a pound, and she’d obviously been mistreated by a man before she arrived there. She just doesn’t like men — [7th Heaven costars] Stephen [Collins] and Barry [Watson] have to come in a few days early at the start of each season so Happy can get used to them all over again. Otherwise, she’ll jump off a sofa in the middle of a scene and walk off the set.”

Diva behavior, mistreated by a man…jeepers, Happy sounds like the canine Mariah Carey. Who knew?

Who knew, moreover, that 7th Heaven would become popular enough to sire such a diva? At The WB, home of teen envelope pushers like Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Felicity, 7th Heaven is the network’s plain-brown-wrapper secret ratings weapon. It’s the ongoing tale of minister Eric Camden (Collins), his wife, Annie (Catherine Hicks), and their ever-growing brood — levelheaded 18-year-old Matt (Watson), basketball-jonesed 16-year-old Mary (Jessica Biel), boy-crazy 15-year-old Lucy (Beverley Mitchell), somber 12-year-old Simon (David Gallagher), and cherubic 7-year-old Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman). Plus, just in time for February sweeps, pregnant-and-grumpy-about-it Annie will deliver twins. If Happy doesn’t watch out, they’re going to have to start stashing new Camden kids in her doghouse.

Heaven is family TV in the tradition of the Waltons and an oft-forgotten Spelling production, the late-’70s Kristy McNichol series Family. ”I’m deeply proud of Family,” says Spelling, ”but it never had the growth spurt that 7th Heaven has. It’s one of the thrills of my long career that my least sexy, least naughty show is getting great ratings.” Indeed, during the sweeps period just ended, Heaven unseated Dawson’s Creek as The WB’s most-watched show (with 7.2 million viewers).

7th Heaven
  • TV Show
  • 10