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FALL PREVIEW - TV

Friday night date

In 'Miss Match,' Alicia Silverstone has a chance to renew her 'Clueless' appeal.

September 14, 2003|Margy Rochlin | Special to The Times

Alicia SILVERSTONE'S urge to fix up singles isn't restricted to her role as a contemporary matchmaker on her new NBC drama, "Miss Match." Lately, Silverstone has been busily bringing together a friend of hers named Sarah with Matt, a "Miss Match" production assistant.

Until now, she was stuck in the early stages of brokering the deal, having ascertained from both parties that they found each other cute. This morning during a Matt sighting, though, Silverstone moved in for the kill. "I was like, 'You should ask her out,' and he was like, 'I'd ask her out,' and I was like, 'You should!' " Silverstone recounts excitedly to "Miss Match" executive producer-creator Darren Star, slumped next to her on a couch in his second-floor, Santa Monica-based production office.

"Then I told Sarah, 'What do you think of Matt?' and she was, like, 'I'd go on a date with him!' "

"You're working it!" says Star, aiming for a supportive tone. He displays the wan, tired expression of a television producer who has just emerged from a nearby editing room. "I'm frazzled," admits "Sex and the City" creator Star, his brain still in startup mode on a new series. Just outside his office window is a Gothic-facade building, a remnant of the complex's previous tenant, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But now that the small studio lot has become the base of operations for "Miss Match," out in the parking lot also stands a distinctly modern set -- a replica of the trendy bar at Hollywood's bougainvillea-covered watering hole Les Deux Cafes, eerily accurate in every detail except two: the service and snooty atmosphere.

"It's a kinder, gentler Les Deux," Star says about what will be one of "Miss Match's" regular locations -- a Los Angeles nightspot where central protagonist Kate Fox mixes business and pleasure: scoping for lonely clients, visiting her best friend, bartender Victoria (Lake Bell), and using the place as neutral ground for arranged couples to have first-date drinks. Though breeding romance is a natural gift of Kate's, because she's a divorce attorney by day it's also a guilt-induced calling.

Star got the idea for "Miss Match" after meeting Samantha Daniels, a former New York lawyer who quit her legal practice to run Samantha's Table, a dating service for upscale professionals. By setting the series in Los Angeles, Star can reflect the show's optimistic tone in beachy, sunny locations. Call it, perhaps, a kinder, gentler "Sex and the City."

When Star pitched "Miss Match" to Silverstone, she was appearing on Broadway as Elaine in a production of "The Graduate." At the time, Silverstone says she'd never contemplated a regular gig in television. "Not that I thought it was a scary, bad thing," she says. "I just thought, 'TV. Doesn't that mean, like, your whole life ends?' Then I fell in love with the character that Darren was describing. Like, my brain started going crazy about it."

Shades of Cher Horowitz

These days, both Star and Silverstone could use the reassurance of a hit. Star, 42, the originator of hot singles shows that became generational touchstones -- "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Melrose Place" and "Sex and the City" -- has had two recent ratings failures: "The $treet" and the WB's "Grosse Pointe," a wicked behind-the-scenes sendup of Star's own "90210."

At 26, Silverstone works steadily, but she has never had a role as buzz-worthy as Cher Horowitz, the sunlit center of Amy Heckerling's 1995 classic, "Clueless." In fact, Star says that it was Silverstone's turn in "Clueless" that convinced him that she was the perfect actress to bring Kate to life. Just like Cher, Kate is pampered, rich, enjoys playing Cupid and has a touching chemistry with her gruff lawyer daddy (played with seasoned charm by Ryan O'Neal).

In this way, it's easy to view "Miss Match" as an attempt to re-create favorite aspects of Silverstone's "Clueless" character on the small screen. But ask Star and Silverstone if "Miss Match" is "Clueless" seven years later and a bout of showbiz amnesia overtakes the room. "I don't think so," says Star, adding that he recalls the exhilarated feeling he had walking out of "Clueless," and not much more. "I can't remember the plot as much as loving Alicia, this empathetic person who cared about other people and was also a wonderful comedian." Silverstone chimes in, "I don't remember the movie, either!"

One thing Silverstone hasn't forgotten is how to sell sprightly and wholesome, gift-wrapped as a Type-A hottie on a mission. It's not every actress, after all, who could, as Silverstone does in the pilot episode, lend an air of innocence to a scene where Kate goes to a nightclub in Santa Monica, bypasses crude comments from leering barflies and zeroes in on nice guys she can sign up as potential suitors.

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