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A return to 'Melrose Place'

A major character returns, then dies at the start of a new version of the series. This isn't your '90s show.

August 30, 2009|Maria Elena Fernandez

Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer are the kinds of writers who bring back popular people from the dead only to kill them.

In 1997, "Melrose Place" viewers were devastated when a car struck and killed Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton) on her wedding day. But in the pilot of Slavkin's and Swimmer's remake, Sydney is alive and looking sensational in her middle age -- until she's discovered floating in the apartment complex pool about 10 minutes into the show.

That the executive producers have chosen to kick off the new series with the resurrection and swift death of a fan favorite is a fitting tribute to the '90s version and the classic episode in which the villainous Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross) returned from the dead.

But in another sense, the second death of Sydney Andrews signals how different this series is from the one that aired on Fox from 1992 to 1999. Camp has given way to noir, soap has morphed into mystery, and acting and dialogue have become more sophisticated while alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity and even murder remain among the permanent residents of the fictitious 4616 Melrose Place.

"What was so important to us about Sydney's death in the first 10 minutes is that it means anything could happen," Slavkin said. "And that appeals to us as well as it saying that this is our own thing. It will feel nostalgic, but it's not the old 'Melrose.' "

All of this probably sounds like a major spoiler for a show. It would be if the CW hadn't decided to embrace and promote the murder mystery, featuring Sydney's death in trailers and talking about it openly with journalists. To be sure, Sydney's death in the same pool where others have drowned (Brooke), http://catfights have ensued (Sydney and her sister, Jane), and Amanda (Heather Locklear) seduced (fill in the blank with any male character on the show) is only the beginning. There are 12 years of back story to tell in the form of flashbacks -- and, yes, it involves another returning fan favorite, the devilish Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro).

"It was too hard to introduce the show [to advertisers] and not include the murder mystery because I think that's what's going to get people hooked right away," CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff said. "Oh, my God, there's a dead body and all of these people are suspects. My hope is that it's as big a question as 'Who shot J.R.?' "

Or, at the very least, who is "Gossip Girl"? -- the question at the heart of the CW's first hit. The series about Manhattan socialite teens helped the 3-year-old CW identify young women as its niche audience and paved the way for more shows about wealthy young people and their problems. Although the rich Palm Beach life depicted in "Privileged" failed last season, the remake of "Beverly Hills, 90210" worked out after several stops and starts. The CW was up 77% among 18-to-34-year-old women on Monday nights and up 26% on Tuesday nights, as compared to last season, according to Nielsen Media.

"Last season, we really honed our brand and began to generate some serious momentum," Ostroff said. "Heading into next season, we're looking to build on the momentum."

In addition to "Melrose Place," which premieres Sept. 8 at 9 p.m., the CW also will launch "The Beautiful Life" about models living in the same building in New York. The CW had planned to launch "Melrose Place" since it decided to remake "90210" last year, and CBS Television Studios, which produces the dramas and is part of the CW's corporate family, owns the rights to Aaron Spelling's shows.

Of course, Ostroff knows who killed Sydney Andrews, and she and the producers promise the crime will be solved around the first half of the season. The first episodes will focus more on the seven main characters, their relationships to one another and to their landlady, Sydney, in support of the theme that no one is exactly who they seem.

"A lot of the characters have two sides to them, and that will be revealed early on in the series, but then there are the people that are left, and there's no telling for sure they'll remain the person that we see them as now," Swimmer said.

Aspiring filmmaker Jonah Miller (Michael Rady) and his girlfriend, Riley Richmond (Jessica Lucas), a first-grade teacher, appear to be the most centered and stable. Ella Simms (Katie Cassidy), a hotshot (bisexual?) publicist, lives with medical student Lauren Yung (Stephanie Jacobsen), who can't afford her tuition. Auggie Kirkpatrick (Colin Egglesfield) is a sous chef at Coal, the A-list hangout where they all socialize. Violet Foster (Ashlee Simpson-Wentz) has just arrived in Los Angeles and has the unfortunate task of discovering Sydney's body. David Breck (Shaun Sipos), Mancini's illegitimate son, lives large and has big secrets, and is the cop's prime suspect in Sydney's slaying.

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