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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Did Heather Locklear Save Melrose Place?

For this edition of Tube Talk Thursday, I thought it would be fun to keep up with the soap opera theme, given that yesterday I rambled on about the train wreck that was the 41st Annual Daytime Emmy Awards.  At least with this entry you can be assured that I've done my homework, checked the facts, and made sure that the information holds up.

And in this edition, we're going to be looking at a prime time soap opera that aired for seven seasons that was almost pulled off the air after a few episodes.  But when FOX took a gamble, and hired someone who had previous experience on nighttime soap operas to play a key role in the program, it breathed new life into the show.  By the time the show's second season debuted, the show became one of the biggest pop culture obsessions of the 1990s.  Many people attribute this jump in popularity to this starlet joining the show midway through the first season.  Some might even say that she saved the show from the axe. 

The question that we're going to ask ourselves is...did she really have that much impact on the show, or were there other factors behind it?

Regardless, as someone who admittedly used to watch this show in his teenage years (consider it my embarrassing guilty pleasure, if you will), I'm going to have some fun with this one.

First of all, let's discuss the show.

Have any of you heard of the program called "Melrose Place"?  I'm not talking about the 2009 remake of the show (we'll talk a little about that show at the end of this blog).  I mean the show that debuted during the summer of 1992 with this kick-ass theme song.  Seriously, it's probably one of the most memorable theme songs of the 1990s.  Have a listen to it.  We'll talk later.

Anyway, the original cast of the 1992 version of "Melrose Place" consisted of eight young urban residents of Los Angeles, each seeking their own dreams and goals.  They all lived together at 4616 Melrose Place, a classic Spanish style apartment complex with a pool in the courtyard and eight apartments conveniently located around said pool. 

The original cast members were (clockwise starting at top left) - Josie Bissett (Jane), Thomas Calabro (Michael), Andrew Shue (Billy), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Alison), Amy Locane (Sandy), Grant Show (Jake), Doug Savant (Matt), and Vanessa A. Williams (Rhonda).

The creator of the show was Darren Star, and when "Melrose Place" first debuted, it was meant to be a spin-off of another show that Star created, "Beverly Hills 90210".  Jake made an appearance in the final two episodes of the show's second season where he began an affair with Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), and Jake and Kelly's relationship carried over into "Melrose Place", where Jake and Kelly found that they just weren't that into each other, paving the way for Kelly to go back to her own show to map out her plan to steal Dylan away from Brenda.

But once Kelly went back to Beverly Hills, "Melrose Place" sort of hit a brick wall at first.  The shows were more episodic than anything, and almost always had a nice little conclusion with a nice pretty bow on top.  It would have been great had "Melrose Place" been a sitcom, but as a prime time drama, it was tanking.  Producers did attempt to shake up the cast a little bit by hiring Daphne Zuniga (Jo) to join the cast after Amy Locane left the series, but the show still struggled to find an audience.  Still, Darren Star was not willing to give up on his show without a fight.  He just needed to find the right character.  Someone who could shake things up in the seemingly perfect apartment complex.  Someone who could cause a lot of drama between people.  Someone who wasn't afraid to get whatever she wanted no matter who she tossed to the wolves in the process.

That's when Heather Locklear joined the cast of "Melrose Place".

Heather certainly was no stranger to prime time television.  She did after all star in two television drama series at the same time.

(Those two shows were "T.J. Hooker" and "Dynasty", just in case you were wondering.)

So, Heather Locklear certainly had experience.  But could she step into the miniskirts and high heeled shoes that her character had to wear in almost every single scene? 

You bet she could!

Heather took on the role of the sultry, sexy, and powerful Amanda Woodward.  Amanda was an up and coming advertising executive for D&D Advertising, and when she was first introduced on "Melrose Place", she became Alison's boss, and the two formed a near instantaneous friendship.  However, one thing you need to know about Amanda Woodward is that she almost always puts business first, and friendship towards the bottom of her priorities list.  So if you were hoping for a kumbaya moment between Alison and Amanda, you'd be mistaken.

Truth be told, the friendship between Amanda and Alison was almost doomed from the start after Amanda set her sights on Alison's roommate Billy - whom Alison had developed personal feelings towards.  But after Billy decided to make a go of a relationship with Amanda, Alison moved on with a man she had previously had an affair with.  Needless to say, Amanda's self-centered attitude drove Billy away, and Alison was having second thoughts about staying in her relationship, and the two decided to try and start up a relationship themselves.  It made sense.  After all, they did live together as platonic roommates for almost a whole year.  But with Billy's decision to stay with Alison, it caused Amanda's malicious side to come out in a huge way.

She purposely goaded Alison by insulting her work, forcing her to stay after hours to complete her assignments, and purposely berated her at every chance she got.  Amanda even ended up getting pregnant by Billy while they were together, but lost the baby after suffering a miscarriage.

But just when Alison and Billy believed that they were free from interference from Amanda, Amanda proved that she had the last laugh when she announced that she had a big surprise.  With help from her father, Amanda purchased 4616 Melrose Place, and that she would become the new landlady of the property effective immediately. 

Amanda Woodward was there to stay.  And beginning with season two, Heather Locklear was added to the opening credits with a "Special Guest Star" billing - a billing that would last until the end of the series in May 1999.

So, what sorts of mischief did Amanda get herself into over the next six years?  Well, rather than write out entire paragraphs, here's a bullet point list, complete with some video clips and links whenever necessary.

- She helped Jane find a powerful divorce attorney to take Michael to the cleaners.
- Accidentally burned down Jake's motorcycle shop.
- Successfully stole Jake away from Jo.
- Turns on Jake after Jake records a conversation that Jake had with Amanda's father where he admitted to embezzlement.
- Sleeps with Billy after Billy temporarily calls off his relationship with Alison, and when Billy tells Amanda that he wants to stay with Alison, Amanda removes Alison from a huge advertising account.
- Supported Jo in her trial when Jo killed her boyfriend in self-defense (hey, Amanda did have her nice moments!)
- Has a deep seeded hatred for her mother, Hilary Michaels (Linda Gray), and takes her frustrations out on the models who work for Hilary's modelling agency.

(NOTE:  The Hilary/Amanda storyline kicks off the short-lived series "Models Inc.", which ran from 1994-1995 on FOX.)

- Makes Alison's life a living hell at D&D.
- Has to deal with the fact that her father's crimes would later get him killed.
- Launches a coup d'etat of D&D by using Dr. Peter Burns (Jack Wagner) and a team of doctors to purchase the entire building.  Amanda fires the president of D&D Advertising, and the next day, he hangs himself in Amanda's office.
- Is diagnosed with cancer midway through season three.
- Is double-crossed by Peter when he slips Amanda medication laced with marijuana, causing her to be let go from D&D.
- Is again double-crossed by Alison, who submits her own entry for an advertising contest (and wins), and promptly takes over Amanda's job as president.

- Is nearly blown to smithereens when Kimberly Shaw (Marcia Cross) blows up the entire building in an effort to destroy her enemies.

- Brooke discovers that Amanda faked her death in Miami, Florida and uses this information to blackmail her.
- Amanda's ex-husband Jack (Antonio Sabato Jr.) comes to Los Angeles and tries to kill Amanda, but Amanda overtakes him and pulls the plug on his ventilator.
- Amanda then gets involved with Jack's brother, Bobby (John Enos III), but the relationship doesn't last.
- Amanda begins using Billy to further her career, which causes Alison to quit D&D once and for all.
- After Peter is arrested for murder, Amanda marries him to keep from testifying against him, only for Amanda to learn that Peter has changed his name because he was accused of killing his first wife.
- When Craig Field (David Charvet) is successful in getting Amanda ousted from D&D Advertising, Amanda starts up her own agency, which essentially puts Craig out of business.
- Amanda is kidnapped and put through a harrowing ordeal where she almost died.
- Amanda has been hiding a secret herself - she was responsible for the death of the ex-boyfriend of her best friend, Eve Cleary (Rena Sofer) by pushing him off the bleachers of their high school to his death.  Eve took the blame and served twenty years in prison while Amanda got to live her life.

- When Peter dumped Eve for Amanda, Eve went crazy and tried to kill both Amanda and Peter on a couple of occasions. 

Wow...what a life, huh?  No wonder the show was considered a soap opera!  Some of the plotlines were so unbelievable, but yet "Melrose Place" seemed to make them work despite the occasional inaccuracy or inconsistency.

Of course, those people who watched the show during the entire seven season run know what happened at the end.  An explosion took place, and everybody assumed that Amanda and Peter were killed in the blast.  What really happened was that with help from Michael (whom Peter and Amanda paid a million dollars to keep their identity a secret), Peter and Amanda faked their deaths and they lived on a secluded island together happily ever after...

...well, that is until ten years later when The CW's reboot of "Melrose Place" started airing, and Amanda Woodward returned to 4616 Melrose Place - without Peter.  I never watched the reboot, so I don't know what the reason behind the break-up was.  But I do know that like the previous season of "Melrose Place", Heather Locklear was brought onto the show to once again save it from cancellation.  Unfortunately, despite good reviews for Heather's performance, and despite the fact that fans responded positively to her addition, the second series of "Melrose Place" was cancelled in May 2010.

So, I suppose this leads to the final question of the day.  Did Heather Locklear save "Melrose Place" from cancellation the first time?

My argument is that she was one key element in keeping the show on the air.  She certainly did create a character that was unlike any other character on television at that time, and she is considered to be one of the more popular characters on the show.

But I would argue that she is just one part.  Other things that I think saved the show were...

- The introduction of Sydney (Laura Leighton).  Without going into too much detail, Sydney was probably even more complex than Amanda.  At times you hated her, but at other times, you rooted for her.
- Kimberly's descent into madness.  Let's face it.  When Kimberly was the other woman in Jane and Michael's marriage disaster, she was kind of boring.  After the car crash which caused her to have brain surgery, she became a lot more evil (and fun as a result of it).
- The move from Wednesday nights to Monday nights.  Monday was considered to be a slow night in prime time television, and FOX's decision to move the show to Monday nights was a great move.  Mind you, the show sometimes competed with Monday Night Football, but the show purposely aired boring shows during this period so that they could show the most explosive storylines during February and May Sweeps.  Smart move.
- The decision to have storylines lasting several episodes instead of just one.  This was probably what kept people watching.  I would argue that the only other show that had more brilliant cliffhangers was "Dallas".

So, my final thoughts are...yes, Heather Locklear did breathe new life into a stale show...but she was just one part of that recipe. 

Regardless, it was a fun ride over seven years.

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