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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW, and here to give my overdue blessing to that TV rock of ages, 7th Heaven.

7th Heaven, of course, is a family drama about the Rev. Eric Camden, his loving wife and passel of children ... and it's a series that, year after year, hides in plain sight from all but its faithful flock.

Why? Well, for nonbelievers, 7th Heaven might be overlooked as a series that isn't very good or bad; a show inducing no particular response other than blind devotion from those who happen to like it.

Ensconced in wholesome family values, it handles what, in some other forum, would be messy contemporary issues with antiseptic tidiness. Sanitized for your protection, 7th Heaven leaves no viewer scandalized, or even dangling in existential doubt.

For instance, on a recent episode Rev. Camden faced the plight of marital infidelity. Miss Margo, his children's grade-school teacher, professed her love for him with hanky-panky on her mind.

How would he deflect her overtures? By telling her: No way, no-how, get over it!

"But what can I do," Miss Margo persisted, "to change the way I feel?"

"You can decide that your feelings are completely inappropriate, and choose some other feeling," he firmly replied.

A weekly interlude of tender tedium, this is a drama where nothing too much happens apart from scatterings of laughter and tears, and heartwarming chitchat by the carload -- could be, 7th Heaven embodies the most talk and least action of anything on TV this side of Congress telecast by C-SPAN.

So where does it leave a TV critic? In my case, turning elsewhere. 7th Heaven, I long ago concluded, was of interest to no one but its own parishioners. And what did they care what a skeptic like me thought?

Then last spring, an unaccustomed burst of attention befell the show, upon news that its end might be near. After 10 seasons, the WB's most-watched series was getting the ax.

But at the same time, the WB was about to merge with UPN to form a new network, the CW, which swiftly judged 7th Heaven to be worthy of a reprieve. Just days after its much-hyped Final Episode Ever -- which roused critics to take rare notice of the show, and even to shed some crocodile tears that it was being laid to rest -- an announcement rang from high: 7th Heaven would be resurrected. It now airs Sunday nights, with a guaranteed full-season run -- the eleventh, for 7th.

But in the wake of that near-death experience, the series is now plotting to kill off its patriarch: Rev. Camden, played by Stephen Collins, has learned he has a potentially fatal heart condition. TV producers, like God, work in strange ways.

Of course, Rev. Camden can look forward to eternal life -- in reruns.

Meanwhile, no one should be looking forward anytime soon to another new series like it. Squeaky-clean family drama -- whether 7th Heaven, or The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie a generation ago, or the scant handful of such shows introduced in between -- is TV's most-neglected genre.

And for that, maybe I share a bit of blame. For 10 years and counting, I have been dismissing 7th Heaven and absorbed in most everything else. But now I'm ready to repent, and to acknowledge its unique place on the TV scene, even in contemporary culture, serving up its powerful balm.

I would never have believed it, that in the same breath as the words 7th Heaven, I could also utter words like Bold... Defiant... Heretical. But there it is.

7th Heaven, avant garde? Amen!

Watching television for KCRW, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.


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