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The trysts and traumas of Melrose Place kept Fox viewers riveted
through the 1990s. Now the apartment house favored by L.A. hotties
reopens on the CW, where execs are betting that yet another drama
with stunning young stars can boost the bottom line.
BY GINA PICCALO




                                                             PHOTOGRAPHED BY ODESSY BARBU/RACERMEDIAINC.COM
                                                                PHOTO ASSISTANTS, ANDY YEUM AND SHARON HARRIS
                                                                   STYLING BY EMMA TRASK/PHOTOGENICSMEDIA.COM
                                                    HAIR BY KG “RAMSEY”, JACLYN MASTERAN AND LARRY WAGGONER
                                                MAKEUP BY KRISTINA VOGEL, AMY DISARRO AND PAULA JANE HAMILTON

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    BENEATH THE GLARE OF ARTIFICIAL SUNSHINE, the reigning                                         were cast, some of them teen TV stars
    queen bee of Melrose Place, played by the fierce and blonde Katie                              whose careers were born on shows like the
                                                                                                   WB’s 7th Heaven (Cassidy and Simpson-
    Cassidy, floats on the still waters of a heated pool, a faux mojito in                         Wentz) and Maybe It’s Me (Shaun Sipos)
    one hand and her genuinely expensive eyewear in the other.                                     and ABC’s Life As We Know It (Jessica
    Instructions shouted by executive producer–director Greg Beeman                                Lucas). Other cast members are more
    (“Smooth the left side of your hair at your part!” and “Sunglasses                             experienced actors who broke out recent-
    down!”) echo across the famed bouganvillea-lined courtyard.                                    ly in shows such as Terminator: The Sarah
                                                                                                   Connor Chronicles (Stephanie Jacobsen),
         It is the first day of production since   as devoted doctor Michael Mancini, the          Greek (Michael Rady) and All My
    the pilot on the CW’s remake of the ‘90s       CW isn’t banking on too much nostalgia.         Children (Colin Egglesfield).
    Fox hit, and the set still smells of drywall        Sure, there’s hope that the Melrose             Twenty-something writers were hired,
    and paint. The cast’s beautiful unknowns       Place brand has the juice to lure women         and their debauched weekends served as
    drape their lithe, tanned limbs along pool     young enough to remember the sex and            source material. With Slavkin and
    loungers, over their costars’ shoulders and    glamour of the original. But mostly, the        Swimmer, they created characters that
    around the Crate & Barrel–esque décor.         network’s creative team is gunning for          everyone hopes reflect the zeitgeist. If the
    The show’s lone celebrity, Ashlee              eighteen- to thirty-four-year-old women         zeitgeist were playing on the CW, that is.
    Simpson-Wentz is standing off camera in        who crave good hour-long dramas.                     Lauren Yung (Jacobsen) turns to pros-
    a thigh-length robe, feeding lines to her      Dramas that are, incidentally, studded          titution to pay for medical school when
    castmates. Her auburn hair down around         with young celebrities like Simpson-            her father gets laid off. Jonah Miller
    her shoulders, she looks demure among          Wentz, Rumer Willis (90210) and Hilary          (Rady) is an indie filmmaker who makes
    all this preening.                             Duff (Gossip Girl).                             YouTube movies and films parties for a
         Earlier, there was a paparazzi                 “A group of twenty-somethings living       living. Auggie Kirkpatrick (Egglesfield) is
    encounter outside the soundstage in            in an apartment complex in Los Angeles          a recovering alcoholic and a chef for a hot
    L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, but the media      — in theory, there’s not a lot to that idea,”   Hollywood restaurant. David Breck
    presence seemed to titillate the cast more     says Sherman.“It’s been done before, tried      (Sipos) is the oversexed and mischievous
    than threaten. After all, if this show is      many times and not very successful. So          rich kid. Riley Richmond (Lucas) is an
    going to warrant the same “OMFG”               when you’re trying to figure out the big        inner-city schoolteacher and member of
    brand of “TV to Talk About” that               hook, the title alone is what’s driving the     the so-called “Obama Generation.” Ella
    launched the CW’s Gossip Girl onto mag-        train.                                          Simms (Cassidy) is a bisexual spin doctor.
    azine covers, then starlet-stalking photog-         “It’s the same thing that we did with      And the show’s biggest star, Simpson-
    raphers can only help.                         90210: immediate name and brand                 Wentz, plays Violet Foster, a mysterious
         This Melrose Place, which premieres       recognition. The people who loved the           newcomer with a shady past.
    September 8, is a much hipper — or, as         original show will come, and the people              “Los Angeles is such a city of duality:
    the show’s executive producers put it,         who weren’t old enough for the original         the rich and the poor, the haves and
    more “cinematic” — version of Darren           will be curious enough to tune in to the        have-nots, the secrets and the lies,”
    Star’s ode to Los Angeles, which ran on        new show. It’s a built-in hook.”                Slavkin says. “That felt like really rich
    Fox from 1992 to ’99. Indeed, Oscar-                The updated show is run by executive       drama. The original Melrose Place was a
    winning          documentarian         Davis   producers Todd Slavkin and Darren               nighttime soap. We were trying to give it
    Guggenheim directed the pilot.                 Swimmer, childhood chums who most               a little more of a filmic feel, more of a
         But the show’s links to movie-making      recently partnered on the CW’s                  visual flair.”
    pretty much end there. Melrose Place is        Smallville. Back in the 1990s, they were
    TV melodrama. It has a nubile cast set         living their own versions of Melrose Place,     BACK IN THE DAY, Melrose Place was
    loose on a hyperstylized metropolis by         playing in a band, touring Sunset               known as appointment television, the sort
    serpentine plots that move at a breakneck      Boulevard nightclubs and high-profile           of show you set your VCR to record so
    pace. And if the CW’s executives get their     parties, then slinking back to their rela-      you could keep up at the water cooler.
    wish, Melrose Place — which airs Tuesday       tively humble private lives.                    Initially ratings were modest, but by the
    nights after another Fox refugee, 90210             “We had that outsider, wide-eyed           end of season two, cast members
    — will mark a turning point for the            mentality looking in,” recalls Slavkin.         Leighton, Heather Locklear and Josie
    scrappy network.                                    For them, a revived Melrose Place          Bissett were gracing the cover of Rolling
         “It’s the next Gossip Girl,” says Thom    meant using the show’s original setup —         Stone’s “hot issue.” It went on for seven
    Sherman, the CW’s executive vice-presi-        twenty-something neighbors trying to            seasons, earned Locklear four Golden
    dent of drama development, hammering           make it in the big city — but updating          Globe nominations, solidified Fox’s place
    home the network’s expectations. “And          characters and plotlines with more              as the “youth network,” and introduced
    the next 90210.”                               nuance and realism.                             the world to Marcia Cross, Andrew Shue,
         There’s no comparing this version of           “The moral element stayed the same,”       Lisa Rinna, Grant Show, Courtney
    Melrose Place with the original. Though        says Slavkin. But today’s under-thirty          Thorne-Smith and Kristin Davis.
    the show is still set in a stylish West        crowd is confronting an entirely new                “It was the right show at the right
    Hollywood apartment complex, the two           world, he points out. “Sexuality and            time,” says Leighton, who was on the
    versions exist in different paradigms. And     [career] struggles have changed so much.        original Melrose Place for five seasons.
    aside from hiring Laura Leighton to            Showing those in a new decade, we felt          “Now technology is so different. People
    reprise her role as trouble magnet Sydney      we could do a fresh spin.”                      have a million ways of seeing entertaining
    Andrews and featuring Thomas Calabro                Beautiful people with acting chops         and media. It’s everywhere. The [updat-
4
                           ed] show itself reflects that.”                  to it, which in today’s culture, is akin to
                                In this precarious TV market, launch-       herding cats. Though more than half of
                           ing a new show is as much guesswork and          the eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds sur-
                           faith as it is talent and strategy. And for a    veyed by SRI Knowledge Networks in
                           network like the CW, which consistently          spring 2008 reported watching TV, the
                           ranks last among the broadcast majors,           rest split time between digital, radio and
                           Melrose Place seems as sure a bet as any.        print media.
                                Created by CBS Corporation and                   “The biggest issue is getting people to
                           Warner Bros. in 2006, the CW was the             even know you exist,” says Robert J.
                           child of two smaller networks, the WB            Thompson, director of the Center for the
                           and UPN. The CW would, the theory                Study of Popular Television at New York’s
                           went, pool the most sought-after younger         Syracuse University. “You can have shows
                           viewers for advertisers. But despite its line-   that could be potentially beloved and
                           up of popular shows, including Smallville        audiences just never find you. The CW
                           and America’s Next Top Model, the network        has an advantage in that it has a couple
                           couldn’t accelerate its ranking.                 shows that are destinations for the very
                                In 2007 Gossip Girl put the network
                           on the map. The primetime soap, based
                                                                            audiences it wants to grow.”
                                                                                 Since its launch, the CW hasn’t shied
                                                                                                                            SHE’S GOT A
                           on Cecily von Ziegesar’s young-adult
                           novels, is set amid a clique of wealthy
                           teens on New York’s Upper East Side.
                                                                            from edgy and unconventional market-
                                                                            ing. Provocative print ads for Gossip Girl
                                                                            turned heads by boldly incorporating
                                                                                                                               SECRET
                           The show launched stars Leighton                 criticism (“Every parent’s nightmare,”
                           Meester, Blake Lively and Chace                  declared the Parents Television Council        THE CW’S NEW MELROSE PLACE HERALDS THE BACK-
                           Crawford, generated phenomenal buzz              on billboards) into a national campaign.       FROM-THE-DEAD RETURN OF SYDNEY ANDREWS, A
                           and drove healthy viewership of young            There were also serialized and super-short     FAN FAVORITE FROM THE ORIGINAL FOX SERIES.
                           women to the network.                            TV commercials, designed specifically to           Over five seasons the scheming Sydney —
                                Then, in November 2007 the writer’s         circumvent the ad-skipping DVRs.               played by Laura Leighton — was jailed, committed
                           strike hit like a sucker punch, halting               All that effort helped rank Gossip Girl   to a mental ward and beaten by a gang of street-
Patrick Ecclesine/The CW




                                                                                                                           walkers. In the 1997 finale, she was mowed down
                           production for three months and sending          among the top ten TV shows viewed
                                                                                                                           by a car on her wedding day and presumed dead.
                           already web-obsessed viewers to the inter-       online in May, according to Nielsen                But thanks to suspension of disbelief, Sydney’s
                           net. The show’s interrupted first season         VideoCensus.                                   back as the mercurial landlady of the Melrose Place
                           didn’t return until April 2008. By then,              The push to promote Melrose Place         apartments with — naturally — a dark secret.
                           the CW’s ratings had slipped so dramati-         has been under way for months. There’s a       Leighton tells emmy about reviving her character
                           cally — the Wall Street Journal reported a       Melrose Place Facebook page and an             at mid-life.
                           22 percent drop in May 2008 — that               iPhone application. The show’s characters
                           critics were counting down to the net-           are walking across web pages. Bus bench-       How did it feel returning to this character after
                           work’s demise.                                   es in L.A.’s Melrose area feature ads of       so long?
                                To stop the hemorrhaging, the net-          faux realtors hawking units at Melrose         In some ways, it was a comfortable rhythm that I was
                                                                                                                           able to find with her again. Of course, when you play
                           work redoubled efforts to target eighteen-       Place. And over Labor Day weekend,
                                                                                                                           the same character for five years, you become pretty
                           to thirty-four-year-old women, canceling         stretch Humvees equipped with swim-            familiar with her. At the same time, you can’t just play
                           its Friday night WWF broadcast and               ming pools and stocked with “Melrose           the character the way it was before. Time has passed.
                           picking up 90210. Then it outsourced             margaritas” will cruise the Hamptons,
                           programming of Sunday nights to the              Lake Michigan and San Diego.                   How has Sydney changed?
                           independent studio Media Rights                       “We like to go to the places we know      Ten to fifteen years later, there’s inevitably a dif-
                           Capital. But that failed. This past May,         [viewers] are, whether it’s Facebook, gos-     ferent sense of confidence and of being wise to the
                           the networks reduced its schedule to five        sip sites, entertainment sites, social net-    world. At the same time, the character has been
                           nights a week, returning Sundays to its          working sites,” says Rick Haskins, CW’s        through a lot in those missing years. All of those
                           affiliates.                                      executive vice-president of marketing and      pieces are going to be put back together. I’m still
                                                                                                                           learning about what [the producers] have in mind.
                                 Melrose Place in this context feels like   brand strategy. “Online is as important to
                           an attempt to conjure some of the mojo           reaching our target audience as TV. We         Sydney was presumed dead!
                           that bumped the Fox network from its             are a network born in the digital age. It is   Presumed is the key word. I presumed the same
                           early doldrums to its berth as the youth         part of our DNA.”                              thing. It’s all in good fun. It’s television.
                           network of the 1990s. But the CW’s                    Retaining those viewers, Syracuse         Everybody knows anything can happen. The main
                           Sherman dismisses that notion.                   University’s Thompson says, means craft-       thing is to not examine the past so closely.
                                “We’re really trying to create our own      ing each episode as if it’s the last.
                           thing here,” he says, sounding confident              “We used to have patience,” he says.      What do you hope to bring to the role this time
                           that his network’s toughest days are             “You would build up in seven or eight          around?
                           behind it. “We feel like we’re narrowing         episodes. Now [networks] want to give          It’s been a much different experience to be the older,
                                                                                                                           hopefully wiser, character in the cast of twenty-some-
                           in on our brand. We believe our audience         their viewers seven things they can
                                                                                                                           things who are just starting out. It is a unique way to
                           wants relationship dramas, no matter             Twitter about, seven OMG moments per           revisit those memories of what it was like to be in my
                           what the show is.”                               episodes.”                                     twenties and in a hit show. My life is really different.
                                Now, it’s just a matter of grabbing the          At this stage in the game, the CW is      I’ve got kids and a busy family life that I never had
                           attention of those viewers and holding on        poised to do just that.                        before. It’s a different thing to juggle. —Gina Piccalo
                                                                                                                                                                                  5

				
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posted:3/15/2010
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