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
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-
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
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