Fans gather for season's final shot of scandal 'MELROSE MANIA'

May 18, 1994|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Contributing Writer

On a good Wednesday night, as many as 20 people will be at Kathy Hornig's Catonsville apartment to watch "Melrose Place."

Once an old Victorian mansion, the apartment building has been converted into 11 apartments with an informal atmosphere much like the famed Spanish-style apartment building where Melrose characters Billy and Alison live. The front door to the Hornig apartment is unlocked, and people are constantly popping in to sit for a while on Ms. Hornig's red, velvet couch to share some gossip and a cup of coffee. Unlike Melrose, though, there's no pool to gather around. But there is a sprawling front porch and large yard with a volleyball net. Ms. Hornig, a 25-year-old publications manager, refers to the building as "The Commune."

Tonight, the Melrose Place "double" will be the site of a big "Melrose Place" party to celebrate the season finale of Fox's popular nighttime drama/soap opera for twentysomethings.

Sitting in her apartment with friends Julie Bauer and Jennifer Wardrop, Ms. Hornig explained why Melrose Place has become a Wednesday night social event.

"The show just lends itself to group watching," Ms. Hornig says. "It's so bad, it's good. It's high camp."

"It's good female bonding," Ms. Wardrop says.

"It has everything -- sex, prostitution, drug abuse, infidelity, homosexuality, sibling rivalry. . . . It's escapism," Ms. Bauer says. Jokingly, she adds: "We all lead such stressful lives. We need this."

Indeed, the show has evolved from an uneven, poorly rated, some said boring, spinoff of another Fox Wednesday night show "Beverly Hills, 90210" -- to one of the hottest programs on TV for its target market.

An average of 14 million viewers tune in each week to follow the complicated, highly emotional lives of Melrose Place's residents. Guide recently called the two leading female characters, Alison and Amanda, "the hottest cats ever to scratch and snarl," comparing the two to Krystle and Alexis, the lead female antagonists on "Dynasty."

Of course, the countless magazine covers, television features and MTV profiles have also boosted the show's popularity with ** the much-sought-after 18- to 34-year-old demographic group. The show is even mentioned in the recent Generation X film "Reality Bites," when Winona Ryder's character tells a friend, quite seriously, " 'Melrose Place' is a really good show."

The women's guests at tonight's Melrose party are expected to come dressed as their favorite characters. Some will come as the show's stars, others as some of the more obscure characters: jilted lovers, such as Alison's ex-boyfriend Keith, who killed himself; Reed, Jo's ex-boyfriend, whom she killed and whose baby she's carrying; or even Matt's purely platonic wife Katya, who left Melrose Place to return to Russia.

Also planned at Ms. Hornig's affair will be a "Pin the Scar on Kimberly Contest" (referring to the episode when Kimberly came back from the dead with an ugly scar on her head), Melrose trivia games (How many jobs has Jake held? What was Jo's big secret when she came on the show?) and, of course, "shooters," in honor of the Melrose gang's favorite bar and hangout.

While Ms. Hornig and her friends gather in spirit and body, other Melrose Place fans commune on the Internet. (To reach other computer-literate Melrose viewers, contact alt.tv.melrose-place.) Melrose Place bulletin board chatter comes from as far away as Germany and New Zealand. Other tidbits include rankings of the top male and female babes, arguments on the latest plot developments and even a Bad Melrose Place Poetry contest.

The buzz is that actor Thomas Calabro, a k a Dr. Michael Mancini, occasionally signs on to see what's going on. There's also a good number of "spoilers," those who reveal plots of upcoming episodes, including tonight's finale. A group of viewers from Canada saw the show early and are telling all to those who just can't wait to know what will happen tonight when the show airs here.

Ms. Hornig and her friends are among those who can wait to find out what will happen tonight. The group has been gathering around the television for almost three years.

At first, though, it looked like "Melrose Place" might not even survive. "There were no antagonists, no sex," Ms. Hornig says.

"Everybody had perfect relationships. It was boring," Ms. Wardrop says.

The group agreed that once the show got hot and sexy, it was a lot more interesting. "The show really kicked off when Heather Locklear [who plays Amanda] came on the show," Ms. Wardrop says.

While the women sit around the living room, comparing their favorite episodes and their favorite Melrose men (it's definitely Jake) and making catty remarks about Jane's hair (referred to as the "Dutch Boy look"), Rick Hornig, Kathy's husband, prefers to stay out of the conversation and hide out in the kitchen.

"Guys think it questions their manhood, if they say they like the show," Ms. Bauer says.

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