The show that started out as a lame copy of producer Darren Star’s Beverly Hills 90210 became the hottest primetime soap on U.S. television in the 1990s. Who would have thought? Certainly not those who watched the first episodes where nothing happened, except the introduction of a hopelessly dull cast. Grant Show was the token sex symbol, Andrew Shue the token nice guy and Doug Savant the token gay neighbor. Thomas Calabro and Josie Bissett played a married couple.
Thank God Heather Locklear came back from Dynasty hell to show everyone how it’s supposed to be done.
Set in a West Hollywood apartment building
Let’s start from the beginning. The show was set in a West Hollywood apartment building populated only by young, affluent, sexy people – they were certainly not superrich as in the soaps of the 1980s but they were doctors and ad executives. The writers may initially not have known what to do with these people, but things were about to change. The storylines became hotter and so did the sex. With the new decade, wine moguls and oil barons may have fallen out of fashion but the sex never did. On Melrose Place, everyone seemed to be having a lot of it and usually just about with everyone else – at one point, it dawned on Show and Locklear’s characters that they had had sex with more or less all the other tenants, including each other… The only one who rarely got laid was Savant’s poor character. The network wouldn’t show a gay guy having sex like normal people; even kissing was strictly verboten.
When Locklear joined the cast, playing the ruthless businesswoman Amanda Woodward, she brought a whole bag of intrigues. She started competing with Allison (Courtney Thorne-Smith) who worked at the same ad agency and Amanda would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. It was as if Calabro’s character, Michael Mancini, took a cue from her as he went through a complete transformation at the same time. The friendly doctor and good husband became a lying bastard who cheated on his wife and then got angry and vengeful when she threw him out of the house. He was a wonderfully wicked character and the writers saved their best and nastiest lines for him and Amanda.
Boosting ratings with violence
Many characters moved in and out of the apartments. Jack Wagner was fun as another doctor who became Michael’s arch-enemy and Amanda’s lover (they separated for a while when he tried to kill her, but who’s counting scores?). The show turned to violence as a way of boosting ratings with the arrival of Kimberley (Marcia Cross), a deranged woman who wouldn’t allow Michael to end his affair with her. One of her most twisted schemes included planting a bomb in Melrose Place that almost wiped out the apartments. This was Darren Star’s creation at its most outrageous. Older viewers probably thought Dallas did these things better in the old days, but the young audience was mesmerized.
The last seasons saw most of the original cast members leave. The new gang wasn’t much fun and the stories became significantly less interesting. As the 1990s drew to a close, so did a show that had been bold enough not to consider primetime soaps a thing of the past. All the concept needed was a slight tune-up and it would be ready for the next generation.
Melrose Place 1992-1999:U.S. Made for TV. 227 episodes. Color. Created by Darren Star. Theme: Tim Truman. Cast: Heather Locklear (Amanda Woodward, 93-99), Thomas Calabro (Michael Mancini), Josie Bissett (Jane Mancini, 92-97, 98-99), Andrew Shue (92-98), Grant Show (92-97), Courtney Thorne-Smith (92-97), Doug Savant (92-97), Jack Wagner (94-99), Daphne Zuniga (92-96), Laura Leighton (93-97), Marcia Cross (92-97), Rob Estes (96-99), Lisa Rinna (96-98), Kelly Rutherford (96-99), Kristin Davis (95-96), Brooke Langton (96-98), Jamie Luner (97-99), Alyssa Milano (97-98), Linden Ashby (97-98).
Trivia: Followed by a spin-off series, Models, Inc. (1994-1995) and re-launched again in 2009-2010, with a partly new cast, for a younger generation.
Quote: “Count your friends, Michael… Oops, done already?” (Locklear to Calabro)