Barry Watson Tells Us What Advice He’d Give To His 7th Heaven Self

Photo: Everett.
This week marks 20 years since 7th Heaven premiered on August 26, 1996. Bill Clinton was in the White House, the Olympics were winding down in Atlanta, and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin had just been published. 7th Heaven focused on an entirely different type of family than those introduced in Martin’s epic series. The Camdens were a very conventional TV family, headed up by a minister, no less, but the show struck a particular cord with viewers. There is no doubt that the series had a strong point of view and took on tough issues. Even though it ran for 11 seasons (the finale aired in 2007), the show holds a permanent spot in many of our hearts. So let’s crank up the way-back machine, peg our jeans, and dive headfirst into some 7th Heaven history. Refinery29 talked to the eldest of the Camden sons, Matt, otherwise known as Barry Watson, about the show, its somewhat radical approach, and what it was like living in the Aaron Spelling universe. We caught up with Watson over the phone shortly after he got an email from Beverley Mitchell, who played Lucy Camden-Kinkirk, trying to organize a dinner for some of the cast to celebrate the anniversary. Does it surprise you that we’re still talking about 7th Heaven?
“No, not really. I think there’s been a time when people weren’t talking about it as much, but it seems like, with everything that’s going on in the world nowadays, it somehow has had a little resurgence.” Do you hear from 7th Heaven fans a lot? Do you run into people who want to talk to you about it?
“I just got back from a trip to my hometown in northern Michigan, and I was at a little place there. A young woman, I guess she was maybe 19 or 20 years old, was like, 'I used to watch you so much, and I’m re-watching everything now.' She was so excited about it. She was like, 'Are you really Barry Watson?' I was like, 'Yeah, I am, and this is my hometown. I’m so glad you’re re-watching the show and its bringing back hopefully good memories for you!' All that still happens.”
Photo: Photofest.
The show didn’t shy away from dealing with big issues that families face. Now that you’re older and have a family of your own, when you look back, are there things you’re surprised the show tackled?
“I think at the time it was such a blur when we were doing it. We knew that some of the content was really cutting-edge for what the show was. For being a family drama, we were getting into bigger issues more than other shows, and doing it in the best way we could as a family show. "I don’t think I understood it at the time, but as I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’ve really grown to be pretty proud of what we did.”

That’s probably one of the reasons why people responded to it and still have the same love for it.
“My kids love it. Though that’s just because they like making fun of the way my hair looks or the clothes I was wearing. They just can’t believe that’s me. They laugh so hard whenever they see it.”

The show came at the very end of an era of TV produced by Aaron Spelling. How did it feel to be part of that big TV factory when you were just starting out in your career?
"It’s interesting because I remember the days before I even got on the show, and I first started acting, I was like, 'Oh my god, I don’t know if I ever want to be in one of those Spelling shows. They’re so this, or they’re so that.' I’ll never forget being on a short-lived show called Malibu Shores before 7th Heaven, and then I got the script for 7th Heaven, and everybody’s like, 'You know, I think Aaron Spelling really wants you to do this.' I read it, and I was like, 'I don’t know. I just got done playing this guy who rapes these girls on this other show of his. Why does he want me for this?' "Sure enough, I had the reading for the network, and they wanted me to do it and, actually, at the time, I didn’t know if anybody wanted to see a show like [7th Heaven]. But I was truly wrong. I mean truly, truly wrong."
Photo: Photofest.
It was unique for its time.
“That kind of big TV production doesn’t really exist anymore. There was an old-school way of working that doesn’t really happen anymore. It’s kind of unfortunate, where I really feel like the networks gave more control and less notes to the people like Aaron Spelling. Aaron really gave a lot of the power and control to Brenda Hampton, the creator. It was the show that got the WB going.”

Without 7th Heaven and some of the other early outings on the WB, shows like Gossip Girl and Hart of Dixie, both of which you were on, probably wouldn’t exist.
“No, they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t have gotten the start they got or that platform. It’s interesting. I’m getting ready to do a new series for the Up Network that is a single father drama, but it’s got that same sort of element that 7th Heaven had in it. That’s why I love it, because it has the drama but it also has the lightness and the comedy as well. It’s a little bit of both, and I haven’t read anything like that for a long time, so I’m really excited to get that going. Fingers crossed it stays on as long as 7th Heaven did."

If you could go back, is there any advice you would offer your younger self on the eve of the premiere of 7th Heaven?

“I’m sure there are a lot of things that I’d like to tell my younger self at the time, but I think those are pretty much the same things anybody at a certain age would want to tell [themselves]. You don’t know everything. Relax a little bit. "I try not to live with, 'Oh, I could have done this better.' It’s just how it was and it’s made me who I am now, so I can’t really go back too much and lecture my younger self. I do think my younger self never would’ve thought that I’d still be in the business. I think at the time I was like, 'I don’t know why these people want me to do this, and I don’t really know what I’m doing because I’m so green, but it seems to be working out, so I’m going to take the money and run.'" Read these stories next:
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