More than the TV characters seem to 'live' at 'Melrose Place'

April 24, 1994|By Los Angeles Daily News

Amid the mindless banter and frivolity, disc jockeys Kevin Ryder and Bean Baxter of Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM try to set aside a few minutes each Thursday morning to pontificate about the more pressing matters of the world.

Sydney -- Cunning vixen or ne- glected child? Michael -- See: swine. Alison -- Gawd, that incessant whining. Jane -- Why'd she cut her hair, anyway?

That's Fox Broadcasting Co.'s "Melrose Place," a Wednesday night Yuppie-angst soap opera that really needs no introduction -- thanks, in part, to the hordes of magazine covers, the "Entertainment Tonight" features, the L'Oreal hair-care ads and Cindy Crawford's exclusive "Melrose Place" interview for MTV.

The buzz on "Melrose Place" is everywhere.

"Other shows that are more popular, like 'Home Improvement,' don't get the whole office talking," says Mr. Baxter, who, along with Mr. Ryder and three unpaid correspondents, gives a weekly update on the show.

The weekly ratings provide a key clue, as well. An average 14 million people now tune into the show.

Fortunately, creator Darren Star put an end to open-and-close story lines -- like Billy's dating a single mother and Jo's abusive ex-husband's wanting to get back together -- by making the stories sexier, if not downright outrageous. To top it off, he brought in nighttime drama diva Heather Locklear to give it that extra sheen.

"When Heather came on, she brought a level to the [Amanda] character, a deviousness to the character that wasn't necessarily there at the beginning," Mr. Star says. "When we saw it happening, we took the ball and ran with it. She'll stay guest star as long as we can have her."

Tales in the show's second season now extend over several weeks. Viewers won't know until the May 18 season finale whether Alison -- grappling with those torrid memories of abuse at the hands of a family member -- will remain a virgin while waiting to marry Billy. Then there's the question of whether Sydney -- part-time Mayflower madam -- will keep her hooks in Michael after blackmailing him with details of a fatal drunk-driving accident.

And how 'bout that baby Jo is carrying by the guy she killed and Jane's attempt to stay in the fashion business using money from ex-husband Michael, who just happens to be married to sister Sydney?

"As we kind of pushed storytelling into the direction of more sex, it started to strike a chord," says Mr. Star, who also co-writes the show. "People in their 20s wanted to see about their own generation, but it was concerning itself with issues . . . not taking itself too seriously.

"While I believe we still have kind of a bedrock of reality to these characters, I think the situations get rather outrageous. That combination has really clicked."

Apparently so. Everyone's talking about the series, including an unlikely core of computer users who sign on each month to Internet, a worldwide collection of networks.

By accessing a computer bulletin board called "," anyone can put in their two cents worth. Here's a sample:

* "Michael tells Sydney it was OK for her to continue running the prostitution ring? Because he wants the money? No, he's far too clever for that. He wants Sydney to get busted."

* "Billy should leave Alison for Heather Locklear. She is much better looking and is going to take him a lot further."

* "Hi. I have just started to watch MP since last March here in Tokyo, Japan. In the last episode here, Keith was trying to rape Alison and Amanda has started to court Jake, letting him drive her Porsche."

This endless chatter about the show has caught actors like Thomas Calabro (yes, that's the actor who plays p-i-g Michael, ex-husband of Jane, love prisoner of Sydney) a bit off guard. This 35-year-old actor is afraid that viewers will -- heaven forbid -- take his work seriously.

Please don't, he begs.

"I've been working professionally since I was 22 and suddenly things changed overnight," says Mr. Calabro. "This is gravy."

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