Throughout its 13 seasons over eight years, Intervention has seemed like one of those shows that will just always be around. Every so often it comes in with a new batch of episodes depicting the harrowing journeys of addicts desperate to get clean and their friends and families who suffer in their wake. It led to a spate of imitators and parodies, which only solidifies the place it found in popular culture. But the A&E show is finally calling it quits, with the final five episodes airing Thursdays beginning tonight at 9pm ET/PT.
Candy Finnigan has been with the show since the beginning, bringing her own personal history with alcoholism to bear as one of the original interventionists, along with Jeff VanVonderen and Ken Seeley. Her interaction with the families and the addict often get emotional, with tears and raised voices just being part of her process. She took some time to share some of her most memorable moments from the show, her thoughts about the legacy of Intervention, and why she believes it connected so strongly with people.
Channel Guide Magazine: What are your thoughts now that the show is ending?
Candy Finnigan: On a personal note, I’m incredibly sad. I get stopped all day, every day. In fact, I went to the grocery store last night after a support group meeting that I go to, and this girl was sitting on the phone sobbing and I just patted her on the shoulder. She turned around and freaked out that it was me. She said, “You’re not coming to get me, are you?” And I said, “No, not at the grocery store.” She said, “That was my mother, and I HATE her!” I sat for like 35 minutes and talked to her, and it turned out she was two years sober, and I would never have those opportunities if this show hadn’t presented the hope and the whole process so beautifully. For that I’m eternally grateful. We have 175 or 178 people sober today after doing 200-some odd shows, and the best treatment centers only have 5 percent success rate. … I’m so sad it’s over because I have a lot more people to help. But it’ll just have to be in a new way.
CGM: Back at the beginning, was there any part of you that was skeptical about the show, whether having the cameras there would be a problem?
CF: I don’t know where I come from, maybe Mars or something. But I was so gleeful to be able to help these families that suffer, and help the families help the addict/alcoholic that I never did anything differently when the camera was there. … I didn’t have any hair and makeup going for me, trust me. And wardrobe was by TJ Maxx. It wasn’t anything that was ever made to be anything other than it was. I got called into the office and met with the creator, who is really a hoot. He said, “I’m really sorry, Candy, but you’re too old.” And I went, “Too old to help people?” And he went, “Well, we’re kind of looking for-” and I said, “What? For somebody 6-foot-1 with big boobs and blond hair? They don’t make them in my business.” He looked at me in horror. Two weeks later he called me and said, “Could you come in? I don’t think I’m finding that person.”
CGM: When did you realize the show was becoming a big success?
CF: I was at Walmart with my husband. My husband’s a very successful musician (keyboardist/vocalist Mike Finnigan), and he’s always been in the limelight. Somebody walked up to me and covered their hand over their mouth and said, “Are you …?” And I said, “No, I don’t do interventions at Walmart.” I was in Connecticut visiting friends of ours. My husband goes, “She came in here and was dragging me away to treatment!” I said, “You can’t make a joke of this, Mike.” But I think we were both so shocked. I’ve been on airplanes and had captains of the flight come back and thank me. I’ve had one person who was negative in the 13 seasons, and that was someone who thought we gave money to the addict to keep them going. I said, “I’ve been doing this for 21 years and I’ve never compromised my own values or my own recovery. Life and death is what this is all about and I’m sorry you feel that way, but this is about as authentic as it gets.”
CGM: Why is it that you think the show became so popular?
CF: To be really honest with you, every single addiction looks very much the same, as does the measles or anything that has to do with something that has symptoms and is progressive, and unfortunately here, it’s fatal. The families we did were so unique within themselves that every story was different, even though the addiction was the same. You know, they’d taken all the jewelry from their grandmother, they’ve been horrible sons, husbands, brothers, whatever. But you really rooted for them. If you can laugh and cry at addiction, that show gave you permission to do that. And hope.
CGM: What’s it like from your perspective, having gone through the events on the show, and then later watching the one-hour version of it on TV?
CF: I’m glad you realize that, Stacey, because … I spend four or five hours on a pre-intervention. It’s not just some 15-minute, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am thing. We always did interventions really early, which is not always an addict’s best time. It was really important for me to engage with these people and to take them to treatment and to stay with them until they close their little eyes that first night. My job is to represent hope, because I know how they feel. I’m a recovering alcoholic I didn’t want them to ever know that this was a waste of time for anybody. I will tell you some interesting things that I don’t think a lot of people know about the show. If they went out on a shoot and they shot for four days and if in any way, shape or form the addict knew they were on the show Intervention, they packed up and left. It happened to me twice before I ever got out there. Whoever had slipped it to them, they don’t care about that. All they know is that the person knew that this intervention was coming, and we promised that the authenticity of this show would be that they would not know what show it was until they walked in the room. Sometimes they didn’t even know then. We had a couple of very homeless people, and they don’t have cable. I begged this one time because the person was in such dire straits, but the mother had told this boy, and [the producers] said, “Candy, this is the rules of the game. We promise the viewers that this is not a setup and this is not a game. We are going to continue to be authentic. It makes us as sad as it does you, but our conditioning on coming out here and helping him is that he wouldn’t know.” They were so cautious about that kind of stuff.
CGM: The episodes are very distinguishable based on who the interventionist is. You tend to be the more outwardly emotional of the bunch, so where do you think that comes from?
CF: I’m not a crying person. I’m kind of an old tough cookie. Everybody goes, “You’re so mean!” I think I only have one shot at this family to let them know that this is not a joke. You’ve all whispered and you’ve all had secrets but it’s time to come together and save this person’s life. If I don’t do my job and train this family and get them to write statements and be sincere about every word that’s said, then I haven’t done my part. This isn’t a job or a career for me. This is really such a gift for me, and this is my life’s work. I am very emotional, particularly if there are kids involved. I’m adopted and I was fortunate enough to do four shows aobut adoption. It got me involved in a whole process of “Adoption before Addiction.” It’s opened many doors for me. I am really emotional about that, because there but by the grace of God sits me, or sits someone who isn’t going to live very long if we don’t get them the help they need. … They always said there was never an intervention I didn’t cry at, and that’s actually not true. I got really pissed sometimes, and I couldn’t hit ’em, so I just got to sit quietly and give them the old silent treatment, which isn’t good for a Finnigan.
CGM: Hard question here, but what are some of your most memorable moments from the show?
CF: Two of them I will always remember deeply. One of them was during Season 1, a girl in Arizona. She was in severe addiction and emotional and psychological turmoil, a lot of trauma. Her living situation was just horrendous. She was very much kind of put out to pasture, she wasn’t allowed to live in the house, she lived in this kind of shed thing. When I walked in there, I just thought, “Oh, my God, if we hadn’t come here, what would have ever happened to her?” She ended up just being a phenomenal woman. She was in treatment for a long time, and it changed her life. And then another show that touched my core was [Rachel] a girl who lived on the streets in New York City and had been a street child, a runaway street urchin, and she survived in Manhattan by herself with this made-up family that incorporated her. We took her out of there and gave her hope where she would have died on the streets. She hasn’t had a perfect recovery but she’s never given up and I saw her two weeks ago and she is so gorgeous and talented, a fabulous artist and she’s just taken the world by storm and now is trying to get into makeup school where she does zombies. Which she saw enough of. I told her, “You’re an expert in that, honey!” Her boyfriend that was on the show ended up getting murdered. I mean, it’s a real life story. It’s life on life’s terms, and to see her blossom and bloom and never give up on herself is just wonderful.
CGM: So what’s next for you after the show ends?
CF: I’ve always had a private practice, as has everyone who has worked on the show. My work is not stopping. … I would hate to see that the visibility of the recovery and the process of Intervention and the opportunities that A&E has given me, that I’m just not going to use them in some way. But I just don’t know quite what I’m going to do. There will only be one Intervention. I think enough people tried to copy it and mimic it, but the authenticity and the heart and the soul that went into that show cannot be repeated. I’m not trying to do Intervention 2.
Photo: Courtesy of A&E