It was entirely appropriate that several participants got choked up during the “Everwood” reunion panel Wednesday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Everwood,” which ran for four seasons on the WB and is newly available in full on CW Seed, always delivered more than its share of finely wrought emotional moments and tear-jerking family scenes.
Talking of how much she missed her real father when she moved to Park City, Utah, to shoot “Everwood,” which debuted in 2002, Vivien Cardone recalled co-star Treat Williams telling her, “My family is not with me either, so if you’ll be my temporary daughter, I’ll be your temporary dad.”
Williams and Cardone, both tearful, hugged each other. And though there were many jokes and laughs scattered through the session, Tom Amandes, who played Dr. Harold Abbott, noted that the emotional bonds on set were solid from the start, and are still going strong. Those real-life relationships came about in part thanks to the material they were given by creator/executive producer Greg Berlanti, executive producer Rina Mimoun, and the rest of the writing staff.
“We were given emotional work to do, and when people are given work that deep and powerful, when you’re doing scenes like that with people, you’re opening up your guts,” Amandes said. The entire cast’s commitment to be authentic in their work “brought us all to a place” of extreme closeness.
“Of all the things I’ve ever done, this is right there at the top,” said Williams. “I’m just so very proud of the show.”
Though Berlanti has gone on to create many other shows, his voice cracked as he spoke of creating the “Everwood” “coming of age” story, which revolved around Dr. Andy Brown moving his family to Colorado after losing his wife.
“People who know this show probably know me better. It was very personal,” Berlanti said. But he admitted that when he wrote the pilot, he had not gone through as many major life events as his characters.
“Everwood” came from “wanting to put on TV subject matter that felt like it was in the news but not referenced in dramas,” Berlanti said. “The cornerstone of it was that tragedy makes us real. When we suffer tragedy, we become richer, deeper, more meaningful people.”
“Everwood’s” arrival on CW Seed is yet another twist in the saga of the critical favorite, which was never a shoo-in for renewal when it was on the air, and had its run cut short after four seasons when the WB and UPN merged to create the CW.
“We’re all here because we want an answer” to why the show never got a fifth season, Emily VanCamp joked. She added that the show’s welcoming and generous on-set vibe taught her who she “wanted to be in this industry.”
“I would come to L.A. to do press and see what other kids were doing and be happy to go back to Park City,” where it was shot, VanCamp said. “This show taught me everything and informed all the decisions I made later in my career. I just feel so fortunate I got to learn all those things in Utah. …It was an acting masterclass. We young folks just soaked it all in and observed.”
The observation paid off for Gregory Smith (Ephram Brown), who’s gone on to have a thriving career as a TV director.
“It was always interesting to me, what was going on behind the scenes — I became very curious about directing and telling the story from that side of the camera,” Smith said.
Though Chris Pratt (Bright Abbott) was not at the reunion, many fond stories were told about his fondness for craft service, his unstoppable energy, and his desire to learn from the rest of the cast. He also had other skills.
“He would do this stupid dance where he would kick his leg back, and he did that in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,'” John Beasley (Irv Harper) said. “He got his dance into that movie. We’re proud of him.”
The show continues to have staying power around the world, Amandes noted. Not long after it had gone off the air in the U.S., he encountered fans in Toledo, Spain.
“These young women came up to me and burst into tears, I’m not kidding,” Amandes said. “The only English [word] they could say was, ‘Everwood.’ It was really moving to see how much” reach a family drama on the WB ultimately had.
“It has really devoted fans. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done,” VanCamp said. “It holds such a close place in the heart of anyone who’s ever watched.”
“The subject matter we were dealing with was unbelievably ahead of its time,” Mimoun said. “I hope people find it. I think it holds up.”
The success of the NBC family drama “This Is Us” “hopefully is encouraging more people to do that kind of storytelling,” noted Berlanti, who said that there were no ideas or plans for a revival or reboot.
“It’s more important [now] that you have a passionate audience than necessarily a vast one,” Berlanti said. “I certainly hope there are a lot of young writers out there from all walks of life figuring out a way to tell their story.”
During its four years, “Everwood’s” stories included all kinds of challenging topics, including abortion.
“The original pitch was that Andy Brown was supposed to be an abortionist,” Berlanti recalled. Though the character’s backstory was changed, the WB promised him that “Everwood” could take on the subject in a Season 1 episode. In that installment, Brown found out that Dr. Abbott had been providing that service for women in the town.
Despite reservations on the part of the network executives in place at the time, who were nervous about showing the episode at all, “it ultimately aired and there were no protests,” Berlanti said.
“It was the finest, bravest writing I ever had the pleasure of working on,” Amandes said. Many “Everwood” alums on stage were once again visibly moved, but Williams soon broke the tension by referencing a different episode.
“I think trying to talk Kristen Bell out of getting fake breasts was very powerful,” he said.