Throughout the 1990s, Jason Priestley was well known to devoted fans as teen Brandon Walsh, fraternal twin brother of Brenda (Shannen Doherty), on the hit Fox show "Beverly Hills, 90210." Despite the title, the show actually filmed on soundstages in converted warehouses in Van Nuys
On a Friday in early February, Priestley, sporting a beard, looks around at the Santa Monica sets of The CW's "7th Heaven." At the invitation of series creator Brenda Hampton, he's directing an episode set to air this Sunday.
Priestley is having deja vu, both because of the location and the fact that "7th," like "90210," is a brainchild of the late legendary producer Aaron Spelling.
Asked if he feels the spirit of Spelling, Priestley says, "You know what, yeah. Even these studios look very much like our old studios used to. They were converted warehouses like this. Glamorous, right? It's amazing. If only the people at home knew."
"Beverly Hills, 90210" was about the Walsh family moving from Minnesota to swank Beverly Hills; "7th" centers around preacher Eric Camden (Stephen Collins), his wife, Annie (Catherine Hicks), and their large clan in the fictional California suburb of Glen Oak.
As different as the shows are, Priestley says, "At the end of the day, '90210,' when it started, before it became what it became, was a show about a family, just like this show. Aaron understood glitz and glamour and makeup and hair, but Aaron also understood family shows.
"He got it that shows need to have heart. This show is a perfect example of that."
Canceled at the end of its 10th season last year -- coinciding with the shuttering of The WB, which merged with UPN to become The CW -- "7th Heaven" scored such good ratings for its finale that it was brought back for one last season. The show's final season concludes on May 13.
Considering how long the show has been on, and the fact that this is the first time he's ever directed it, Priestley could be forgiven for some nerves. But Collins says he's a pretty cool customer.
"In this medium," Collins says, "a director's chops are apparent within 20 minutes. You can't fake it, because the medium and the demands of shooting on this schedule are such, if the director doesn't know how to film it, you can tell by the way they line up the master and then discuss the coverage with you. Jason's all over it."
Just because he's sitting in the director's chair doesn't mean that Priestley has given up acting. He regularly goes before the camera, including recent ongoing roles in Fox's "Tru Calling" and CBS' "Love Monkey."
Priestley rattles off a list of recent acting jobs, including "The Screwfly Solution," an episode of Showtime's "Masters of Horror"; a Canadian family film called "Luna: Spirit of the Whale"; a science-fiction movie called "Termination Point"; and "Subs," an FX pilot he also directed.
And Lifetime has picked up a pilot he stars in called "Side Order of Life."