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Closing Up the 'Place'

A car wreck, an explosion, a wedding, two funerals. The Monday night staple goes out in style after a seven-year run that had drama both on the screen and off.

May 24, 1999|WILLIAM KECK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

R.I.P. "Melrose Place": 1992-99.

But before it makes an exit after seven steamy, schemey years, consider this finale: A major character dies in the last episode, goes straight to hell and comes face to face with all the deranged killers and psychopaths (Kimberly, Sydney, Brooke . . .) who've bitten the dust during seasons past. The kicker: The infamous apartment complex pool begins to bubble like a caldron, revealing Melrose Place and hell to be one and the same, with all the old villains chained to their apartment doors.

Sound farfetched? It isn't. This was one of the writers' early concepts, but re-signing the veteran villains proved far too expensive. The story line was revised: To make way for a new highway, the body of deceased doctor Kimberly Show is exhumed back in Ohio, revealing an empty coffin. At the end of the hour, when another femme fatale goes insane and is locked away, Kimberly reappears as her psychiatrist. Then again . . . this scenario also had to be scrapped after Spelling Television, which produces the show, and Kimberly's portrayer, actress Marcia Cross, failed to reach a financial agreement.

But somehow it's fitting that in "Melrose's" case, truth can approach the strangeness of its fiction. Inflated star salaries and failed contract negotiations are largely to blame for "Melrose's" cancellation in the first place. As the spinoff of "Beverly Hills, 90210" progressed, plot lines had to be retooled continually to compensate for the annual exodus of series regulars.

In the eyes of many fans, the seven-year Monday-night staple actually ended somewhere during the 1996-97 season, when it suffered an avalanche of cost casualties. During the course of that one eventful year, a brain tumor and a speeding car spelled the respective ends of treasured villainesses Kimberly and Sydney (Laura Leighton), while protagonists Jane (Josie Bissett), Jake (Grant Show), Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) and Matt (Doug Savant) all fled in search of fresh starts, with Billy (Andrew Shue) not far behind.

With Four Key Faces Gone, Show Faltered

Even Charles Pratt Jr. and Carol Mendelsohn, executive producers along with Aaron Spelling and E. Duke Vincent, agree this was the beginning of the end. "I think season six killed us," Mendelsohn admits. "At the end, we still had Thomas Calabro, Josie Bissett [who returned this season after exiting early in season five] and of course Heather [Locklear]. But I honestly think in a season where you lose Marcia and Andrew and Courtney and Laura . . . those four people were a big loss."

"Especially Laura Leighton," adds Pratt, who left the series briefly in season three to launch the short-lived "Melrose" spinoff, "Models, Inc." "And believe me, none of these were our choices. They made the choice to move on in their careers and their lives."

In a desperate attempt to lure back old fans, some thought was given earlier this season to bringing Leighton's character back from the dead, with the far-out explanation that Sydney's former admirer Carter had paid off doctors to pronounce her dead, then whisked her away to a convalescent hospital where the vixen was being held captive. But before the plot progressed to paper, Leighton had consented to a limited run on sister series "90210."

To compensate for the losses, a forgettable carousel of fresh, toned unknowns were brought in to fill apartment vacancies (anyone remember Craig, Taylor, Jennifer, Samantha or Coop?). The slew of new tenants during the past three seasons all had that sexy "Melrose" look, but, failing to ignite sparks with turned-off fans, each was soon issued an eviction notice.

"It was a combination of us losing folks and then not getting someone who could replace them," suggests Thomas Calabro (Michael), the sole actor to appear in all 226 episodes and who himself was prepared to leave at the end of every season. "If you really wanted to stay, you'd work it out."

In retrospect, Pratt now concedes, "we went through a period where we were throwing so many new faces and story lines at people that it became overwhelming. The audience wasn't as invested in the new characters and they went elsewhere."

Executive's Departure Affected Show's Fate

In time, the question of renewal became the show's biggest season-ending cliffhanger, managing each year to narrowly snare a spot on Fox's fall schedule. This season, in the wake of declining ratings (currently ranked 96th with a 6.1 rating--an all-time low), much hope was lost with the November resignation of Fox Television President Peter Roth, a longtime "Melrose" supporter. Show sources let it be known that the arrival of new President Doug Herzog presented cause for concern. One worried high-level executive reported that not only was Herzog not a fan of soaps, but the former Comedy Central president had apparently never even seen a single "Melrose" episode.

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