That shaking underneath Hollywood tonight is not from a quake, but from the force unleashed by the return of a TV powerhouse no less than William Shatner reprising his role as Capt. James T. Kirk or Larry Hagman taking over "Dallas" again. Amanda Woodward -- that is, Heather Locklear -- is back on "Melrose Place," and her arrival couldn't be better timed.
The first time Amanda appeared at the West Hollywood apartment complex of twentysomething troublemakers and bed-hoppers, Aaron Spelling's show wasn't living up to its "Beverly Hills, 90210" spinoff hype. Now, 10 years after Fox's hit "Melrose" went off the air, the CW finds itself in a similar predicament -- lackluster ratings, despite abundant promotion, the presence of four of the former series' stars (Locklear makes five), and a choice time slot behind the new "90210."
It's unfair that everything seems to be riding on Amanda's pad-less shoulders again. "Melrose Place" is averaging just 1.9 million viewers, and more worrisome, only 700,000 of them are in the target demographic of 18-to-34-year-old women. So far, the CW has only committed to 18 episodes.
Locklear knows her debut was not designed to coincide with the network's new creative direction that required firing cast members Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Colin Egglesfield. Seeking a lighter tone, the series will abandon its more sinister story lines to focus at the business at hand: hookups, fancy parties, and career and relationship woes.
"Absolutely, this is on my mind, but hopefully my going there will bring some attention and make people watch because it's not just about watching Amanda, it's about bringing awareness to the show," said Locklear.
"It's not a teenage show," said Locklear, who joins the series in the 10th episode. "It just needs to get the attention of people and for people to get hooked because that's what the original 'Melrose Place' was about."
Co-creators Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer had always wished Locklear, whose portrayal of a sexy, no-nonsense "Melrose" diva became emblematic of '90s pop culture, would join the cast. That's why they named the publicity firm where Ella (Katie Cassidy) works "WPK," hoping someday Amanda Woodward would be revealed as the W.
"Before I saw the pilot they had asked me and I thought, 'It's a whole new network, new writers, how do I fit in?' " Locklear said. "I wasn't sure we were supposed to be messing with this. I saw the pilot and I wasn't sure, still. But then I saw the second episode and I thought, 'This is really fun, the clothes are great and now they're starting to get into some story lines.' And I went, 'I'm in. If I'm not the one who killed Sydney, I'm in."
Ah, the double-edged sword that is Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton) hangs over the series until the 12th episode, when police solve her murder. Amanda did not kill Sydney -- let's get that out of the way -- but their characters, said Slavkin, are connected in the ominous ways that have always bound the beautiful, conniving residents of the famous address.
Sydney's death has been complicated to handle creatively. Bringing back from the dead a series favorite only to have her murdered in the first 10 minutes intrigued viewers of the original. But viewers who missed the original and were not invested in the character found the noir flashbacks of her relationships to the new characters jarring.
"The question for us became: Should we have taken 12 episodes to slowly unravel the murder mystery?" said CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff. "Initially, I thought it was a very clever idea because, by focusing on a different suspect each week, you really got to know each of the characters more intricately. But then what wound up happening is that it became harder to go to other types of stories."
Slavkin and Swimmer had always intended for Sydney's murderer to be caught this season, but abandoning the noir element means saying goodbye to Leighton -- at least, for now.
"We're not ruling her out in terms of the life span of the show," Slavkin said. "Even though the actress isn't there, the ghost of Sydney is still out there."
This shift doesn't mean "Melrose Place" will turn into the Happiest Place on Earth.
"We wound up in a place that was darker than we originally thought and we wanted to make this course correction and this was the opportune time to do it," Ostroff said. "Not to say that the show won't still have story lines that are intense and not to say that the show won't have controversial arcs for the characters."
Apparently, only certain kinds of inner conflicts are welcome in the new "Melrose" world order, which is why recovering/self-defense murderer Auggie (Egglesfield) and emotionally disturbed Violet (Simpson-Wentz) are gone, Ostroff said. Violet's story line, the producers said, was meant to end when the murder was solved. But firing Egglesfield was the network's decision "and was very difficult for us," Slavkin said.