'Melrose Place' Is a Really Good Show

Ever since Heather Locklear came on board, Aaron Spelling's nighttime soap is heating up TV

The cast of 'Melrose Place.' Credit: Getty Images

Dear Mom and Pop,

Found a way cool place to live in L.A.! My landlord, Amanda, seems like kind of a bitch, but she's a total older babe — she must be 30 or something. Everyone else here's in their 20s, just like me. There's this beautiful blonde, Jane, who's divorced from this complete doctor dick named Michael. Now I hear Michael's married to Jane's sister Sydney, a redhead who's a major slut but unbelievably cute. Then there's a brunette photographer called Jo who's cool and also real easy on the eyes. I guess Jo offed some dude who got her pregnant, but she seems sorta classy anyway.

Then there's this adorable blond thing named Alison who works with Amanda in advertising. Unfortunately, she's with this sappy jock named Billy who's supposed to be a writer. Sometimes Billy hangs with Jake, who's muy macho but kinda mysterious. I can't tell what the hell Jake does for a living, but I'm pretty sure he does Amanda, if you catch my drift. Oh, yeah, then there's this ultranice guy named Matt who's a social worker - all I know is he's been, like, superfriendly to me! I hear things used to be real quiet and boring here last season - I mean, last year - but now shit happens ALL the time. People fight a helluva lot, but you can't beat the rent or the chicks And, hey, it's even got a pool. Now THIS is why I moved to California! Oh, by the way, could you please send some money right away? I have two auditions next week!

When Winona Ryder earnestly expresses that brave critical opinion in the Generation X-rated film Reality Bites, a certain smug element of the film's audiences tends to, well, laugh. Heather Locklear — the veteran TV diva who plays femme fatale Amanda Woodward to the hilt on Melrose Place — appreciates the kind words anyway. "Yeah, I have heard all about that, and though I haven't actually seen the movie, I'm absolutely sure that Winona meant exactly what she said," Locklear says with a warm, and thus distinctly un-Amandalike, laugh. "Thanks, Winona. And I must say I really have to agree with you there. Melrose Place is a really good show."

Locklear's colleague Andrew Shue — the handsome 27-year-old actor who stars as sensitive hunk Billy Campbell on the show — confronted this potentially embarrassing bite of reality only last night. This morning, Shue is lounging poolside and grabbing a quick bowl of cereal while watching his Melrose cast mates Grant Show (who plays Jake Hanson) and Daphne Zuniga (who plays Jo Beth Reynolds) finish off a sensitive little scene filmed on the courtyard set of Melrose Place, in a huge soundstage deep in California's earthquake-ravaged San Fernando Valley. After checking the pool's temperature, Shue confesses to having skipped last night's Melrose Place. That's a shame, since the episode was a real MP-palooza in which Jo goes to jail for killing her drug-dealing boy toy, Reed, and Billy and his beloved Alison finally commit to getting hitched. Instead, Shue — who's now getting ready to jump into the famed Melrose pool for a scene in which Billy chats with Alison, then gracefully towels off while arguing with fellow stud Jake — opted to attend a special screening of the generationally correct Ben Stiller film.

"When Winona Ryder says Melrose is a really good show and everybody laughed," Shue says, "I was just sitting there in the theater trying to hide my face in my hands."

Across the pool near the catering table, Show can be heard attempting to communicate to a crew member his character's subtle motivation for the upcoming scene. "He fucked my girlfriend, man," Show yells in tones of mock outrage. "Can you believe Billy fucked my girlfriend?" Shue, meanwhile, appears to be in a far more forgiving mood this morning. Perhaps toiling on air as a junior editor for Escapade magazine has lent the actor a degree of journalistic perspective regarding last night's brush with Reality. "It was actually sort of cool, I guess," Shue says diplomatically and a bit tentatively. "I'm pretty sure that the audience were laughing with us. I'd certainly like to think so."

Gallantly, Shue even offers a few good words of mutual admiration for Reality Bites. "I thought it was a really good movie," he says. "And I think it should do well with the twentysomethings."

He should know. After debuting in 1992 with a troubled first season that at times rivaled that of the 1962 New York Mets, Melrose Place made a few key trades. The show acquired a journeywoman heavy hitter in the lovely form of Locklear and wisely swapped bothersome Issues and Morals for infinitely more palatable Sex and Villains, emerging as a big winner, particularly with that attractive twentysomething demographic. In its increasingly soapy Heather Era, the Melrose team is looking like an unbeatable new dynasty, having won TV land's hotly contested generational sweepstakes of 1992, a season that saw Young America offered an absurdly full slate of post-adolescent programming. The Heights took the big fall; 2000 Malibu Road was justifiably condemned; The Class of '96 dropped out; and The Round Table found itself quickly put away in permanent storage. Sure, a few original residents may have been sent packing — Rhonda and Sandy, we hardly knew ye — but Melrose Place lives on and can proudly claim a recent ratings boost and no rent hike.

The most significant factor was clearly the arrival late last season of Special Guest Star for Life Locklear, an experienced TV babe well known for an oeuvre that includes high-profile hits such as Dynasty and T.J. Hooker. The nighttime-drama queen has helped Melrose Place change from a slow-paced, angst-ridden wannabe younger sibling to thirtysomething into something infinitely more down, dirty and viewer friendly.

Faster than a speeding rock video, the series now jams in so much story line between station breaks that if you blink, you're bound to miss a significant relationship. The residents of Melrose Place date with a vengeance, and sometimes they even date vengefully. Call Melrose the discount Dynasty. Call it a "celebration of delayed adolescence," as Grant Show does. Hell, if it makes you happy, you can call it a middle-class Dallas that just happens to be set in an entirely different city.

Like its lead-in, Beverly Hills, 90210 (from which it was not so gracefully spun off), Melrose Place was created by 32-year-old writer-producer Darren Star under the knowing auspices of Mr. Television himself. No, not Milton Berle, Aaron Spelling. "I'm not sure you would call Melrose Place some of my finest hours," says Spelling, who is said to have produced approximately 2,642.5 hours of TV programming, including Dynasty, The Colbys, Charlie's Angels, The Mod Squad, Family, And the Band Played On and Fantasy Island. "But I'd have to say that they're definitely some of my most fun hours."

"On Melrose we debuted with a bang, then we lost a lot of viewers," says Star. That's when the real banging began. "In the beginning," he says, "our stories were structured like the early 90210 shows, with everybody learning moral lessons about life each show. But we discovered adults have absolutely no interest in watching other adults go through that sort of thing. They don't believe it. Now we try to write the shows as fun, trashy and compelling as we can. It's a delicate balance."

Melrose Place has been finding that profitable balance with some regularity since the coming of the evil Amanda. (Locklear herself greatly prefers the adjective misunderstood. "Amanda's not that bad," she says. "Her heart does beat on occasion, but then it just stops.") Assorted misunderstood guys and gals started coming out of the woodwork. Almost overnight all the endless courtyard bonding ceased, and the cat fighting began. Michael Mancini (Thomas Calabro) took a doctorly turn toward the dark side and began dumping endlessly on his soon to be ex-wife, Jane (Josie Bissett), and sleeping with her younger sibling, Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton), TV's sexiest Little Sister From Hell. Soon, psychotic love interests became all the rage, and story lines were ripped from the day-before-yesterday's headlines, such as the "Don't ask, don't tell, don't kiss on camera" relationship between a naval officer and Melrose's resident gay character and social conscience, Matt Fielding (Doug Savant), and sister Syd's service for a Heidilike Hollywood madam.

"Someone somewhere realized the show needed some bad guys badly," says Leighton, "and some of us got very lucky." Asked about his character's transformation from overworked intern to Dr. Jekyll, Calabro says: The whole thing evolved nicely. I guess what happened was that the writers were getting to know all of us." He pauses to consider what he has just said. "I'm never going to live that down." According to Calabro, Melrose Place in no way seeks to encourage men in the audience to sleep with their wives' sisters. "What we're saying is, don't do it," says Calabro. "We're your outlet. We've done it, so you don't have to." While bravely facing down ABC's monolithic Home Improvement each week, Melrose Place has slowly but surely turned into one of television's most consistent guilty pleasures. Aaron Spelling reports that a series of Melrose Place books is selling well in Europe, and Star reluctantly passes on a rumor that Woody Allen — who gave permission to use the Manhattan video box on one episode — is supposedly a fan. "Maybe Melrose Place is the thinking person's nighttime soap," says Daphne Zuniga, her tongue only partially in cheek. "You could say we're also equal-opportunity beefcake and cheesecake. If you like blondes, we've got blondes. You happen to want brunettes, we've got brunettes. And if you feel like a redhead, boy, do we have a redhead for you. We've got girls; we've got guys, too. We've got it all here at Melrose Place."

And so it's come to pass that without the benefit of a titular ZIP code or much critical praise, Melrose Place has turned into a seductive address for Fox-y individuals 18 to 34. Watched — often, sociologists should note, in packs — by audiences who are at least a full 60 minutes older than when they watch Beverly Hills, 90210, the show is currently creating scattered reports of Melrose-mania. When they venture out in public, the cast members are often begged to reveal future plot twists. And the ever industrious Spelling is now spinning off another series from Melrose Place — the promisingly titled Models Inc., starring former Dallas star Linda Gray as Amanda's long-lost mother.

Yet, a nagging, big question remains: What does it all mean? Does the rise of Melrose Place say anything about the Zeitgeist of the '90s? And what lasting message does this show ultimately impart to its audience?

Asked to address these issues while unwinding in his trailer before shooting one more tense scene with Locklear, Show flashes a look that mixes shock and disgust. After a long pause, he finally speaks: "Do they pay you a lot of money to make you ask a question like that?"

***

"This really is kind of pitiful around here, isn't it?" says Heather Locklear, and right she is. It's Valentine's Day on the set of Melrose Place — a group of soundstages set above an industrial park with killer mountain views — and, tragically, nothing too scandalous is happening. On this most romantic of days, in this televised hotbed of lust, betrayal and passion, everyone is … working. The reason is that this is hell week at Melrose Place, since the show is in "double-ups," filming two episodes — "Love, Mancini Style" and "Otherwise Engaged" — at once. This requires military planning and long hours of work for the cast and crew. Today, there's a large floral arrangement in the production office, but it's for use in an upcoming wedding scene. Whose wedding is difficult to say. "Sometimes, it can be hard to keep track of things like that around here," says Courtney Thorne-Smith, who plays the rising ad exec Alison. The schedule has been made even more difficult by the nearby Northridge earthquake. Giant metal poles prop up the cracked soundstages. It's a testament to how hard the cast members work that when the initial quake hit at 4:31 a.m., Leighton was already driving on the 101 freeway on her way to work.

Such dedication doesn't go unrewarded, and Valentine's Day is not completely forgotten here. According to Locklear — who's divorced from her husband of seven years, Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee — the script supervisor Merry Lowry-Donner did bring the cast candy and cards, and there's a big Valentine's Day cake served at the end of the day.

Shue and Thorne-Smith, who dated last season but have since broken up, filmed a scene together early this morning. But Melrose Place's only current real-life couple — Show and Leighton — are separated today. Leighton is on location up north in Oxnard, shooting a beach-house scene with Calabro, while Show is here to film a sexy confrontation with Locklear at the faux D&D advertising office. When it's pointed out to Show that by passing his days with Amanda and his nights with Sydney, he's living the ultimate fantasy of some male Melrose-heads, the amiable actor laughs gleefully and says, "Yeah, I have a monopoly on all the bitches."

In truth, the dirty secret behind the scenes at Melrose Place appears to be that everyone gets along frighteningly well. The biggest fight on the Melrose set is the one that breaks out between a few cast members — all of them female — over who first gets to see the new issue of Playboy that features nude photos of Shannen Doherty.

"There are no big egos here," says Calabro, a 35-year-old former New York theater actor who also appeared in the short-lived Dream Street. "I've probably got the worst attitude of everybody here, and even I'm OK, I think."

"It's a total lovefest up there," says Star, with a slight sense of astonishment. So how does he explain the relative lack of problems compared with the famously tense 90210 set? "Melrose Place has a cast of really professional, mature, hard-working actors who really care about their craft," Star says. "Not to say that 90210 doesn't. The difference is that for most of the cast of this show, it's not their first brush with press attention. This isn't their first time at bat, so to speak."

Sitting in Alison and Billy's living room, Thorne-Smith — whose credits include the films Lucas and Summer School and a memorable turn as a Laker Girl on L.A. Law — offers a similar explanation for the domestic calm. "On the Golden Globes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus said she was glad just to have a job, and she had a point," the actress says. "I think we all get it. Most of us have had some highs, then hit some lows when our agent wouldn't call back. You know, it's a job, so be grateful, go buy a house, and every time you sit in it, think, 'My job got me this house.' Then go right back to work."

Just then, the phone call that Thorne-Smith has been waiting for all day comes in; it's from her landscaper. While she rushes off to take it, the inquiring mind has a chance to rifle through the apartment. In Billy and Alison's library, there's a Paris Review, selected works by Judith Krantz and Steve Allen and, most intriguingly, a book called Planning for Pregnancy: Birth and Beyond. Unfortunately, when Thorne-Smith returns, she thwarts any such attempts at investigative reporting. "Oh, those books are just all the leftovers," she says. "The cast stole all the good books last season."

According to Thorne-Smith, dating her on-air love interest didn't make things seem surreal. "No, it was really helpful," she says. "Andrew and I were both dealing with so much, and it was such a scary time. We were attracted to each other, and there was no sense of it being weird. I mean, last year we were here 14, 15 hours a day, so there was no personal life. There was Melrose Place, and there was sleeping. It was hard to connect with friends outside of here, Andrew just understood, which was great."

Shue, a former soccer star at Dartmouth and the younger brother of actress Elisabeth (Cocktail, Soapdish), got his first big acting job as Billy on Melrose after the pilot had already started shooting and another actor was let go. "I auditioned on Saturday and was working Monday," he says, kicking back in the Escapade office. Shue — who's now trying to put some of the considerable attention he's receiving to good use with his Do Something! organization, which promotes youth service — has made Billy a wildly popular character. Although some male viewers may claim Billy never recovered his manhood after wimping out on a bungee-jumping episode in the first season, he remains the ladies' choice, perhaps because of the Aldaesque sensitivity Shue brings to variations on the line "I missed you, Alison" in nearly every episode. Recently, news that Shue was taking a trip back to Zimbabwe — where he'd taught math and played professional soccer — created nationwide panic that he was quitting the show. Still, he says, "it's not like it was for the 90210 gang. If we go shopping in a mall, believe me, we can do our shopping. Nobody's going to get crushed."

Still, the exposure has changed everyone's public relations. Zuniga, whose past credits include The Sure Thing and Spaceballs, as well as a stint as one of Star's UCLA apartment mates, says: "It's made a huge difference. Before, when I was walking around, I'd get a lot of double takes and people asking me if I went to school with them. Now they stop and give me — or Jo — advice. I guess people are coming out of the closet and admitting they watch the show."

One subject fans routinely ask about is if the actors are like their characters. Josie Bissett — a decidedly ungrungy model turned actress from Seattle — would like the world to know she's not nearly so put-upon as the Joblike Jane Mancini. "I tell you, I'm really ready for a little revenge," says Bissett as she gamely takes a break in the hospital set where her fictional ex-husband works. Bissett says she gets lots of fan mail lauding Jane for "never dicking people around." But Bissett does admit to occasionally feeling a little TV sibling rivalry for her pal Leighton. "I really love Laura, but, yeah, sometimes I do get jealous of her," Bissett says. "I mean, she has the best part of anybody. And I do get tired of playing a victim all the time on the show. I mean, enough already. People call for me on the street and tell me everything that I'm doing wrong. In real life, I learn from my mistakes, and Jane is just not learning. But look out, because she will very soon."

"Josie is just as sweet as Jane," says Leighton. "But she makes much better choices in her life." (In real life she's married to actor Rob Estes, who appeared on Melrose as Michael's friend Sam, who carried a torch for Jane.) Another character who is getting empowered lately is Matt. Played by the amiable Doug Savant, Matt has actually had something of a social life this season. Today, however, Savant gets visibly upset discussing the fact that the media have recently outed him, so to speak, by revealing that he's the married father of two children. "I've gone out of my way to keep my personal life private because of the nature of my character," he says. "There are other straight actors who have played gay characters and then shouted their straightness to the media at every chance. I think that's disgraceful. I have the responsibility to play the common humanity that crosses boundaries of sexuality." In a recent episode, Matt got to express that common humanity by KO-ing the not-so-good Dr. Mancini following a homophobic joke.

At the same time, Savant is thrilled to do much of anything on the air after a first season that saw Matt acting primarily as in-house cheerleader for Rhonda, the now-departed aerobics instructor played by actress Vanessa Williams. "I had nothing to do," he says. "I'd just go, 'Yes, Rhonda,' or 'Good, Rhonda,' or 'Go get 'em, Rhonda.' " So when Rhonda left the show, Savant was justifiably worried. "I was like 'Help me, Rhonda."

Savant wasn't the only frustrated guy around. Show — whose brief role as a love interest for Jennie Garth on a few episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 made him the pivotman for the slightly wobbly Melrose spinoff — says: "We were a bunch of saps the first season. The episode would be like 'Jake goes back and gets his diploma.' I mean, who gives a shit? There was no tension. No conflict." So was Show ever worried that Melrose Place might not make it? "Actually, the minute I walked on the set and saw that they'd built a real pool in here," he says, "I had the feeling we'd be around for a while. Forget about actors, man; pools aren't cheap." The real problem, of course, was that for much of the first season, the pool was one of the deepest characters on the show. "I just remember begging for something to play," says Show with a grimace. "Anything." These days, he has got lots more to do, including playing love scenes with the woman who has brought the show so much attention.

Before getting down to the hard work of filming one of those very scenes, Heather Locklear sits in her non-divalike trailer — "I had a bigger one on T.J. Hooker," she says, "but I'm not complaining" — and watches a bit of The Jerry Springer Show. Sadly there's nothing remotely tabloid worthy going on inside the private retreat of this petite beauty who once emoted alongside the great Shatner himself. Last night, however, Locklear was the lead story on Inside Edition. "Yesterday morning," she says, "I was driving to work half-asleep, listening to Howard Stern when I hear this ad for Inside Edition announcing, 'Tonight, Heather Locklear's private videos' or something. So now I'm getting sorta nervous, thinking, 'Who the hell sold them my home videos?' So I watch, and it turns out to be this totally complimentary piece about how I came in and saved both Dynasty and Melrose during the second season. Unfortunately, they failed to mention that Joan Collins also came on that season, which might have had something to do with it, too."

Locklear, who's 32, values her role as the elder statesperson of the apartment complex. "On all my other shows," she says, "I was always the youngest, so I was the low man on the totem pole. This feels great. I guess if I were 70 or 80, then I might wish I were still playing 20." Thus far, age has lent certain privileges. "I once said that part of my deal here was that I'd never have to get in the pool, because I'm over 30," she says smiling. "Now they say they want to see an over-30 body in a bathing suit, which is sweet, I guess." The role of Amanda — originally a four-part guest spot — has won Locklear a new generation of long-distance admirers. "My other shows were geared to an older audience," she says. "The younger population had no idea who I was. Now all of a sudden I get stopped by elementary-school, high-school kids all the time. I like being the older woman. I mean, someone like Andrew must have been like 5 when I first started on TV."

Still, the good-natured Locklear blends in effortlessly on the set with her lesser-known colleagues. She can even be seen whistling wolfishly — and one imagines, ironically — at the legs of one unglamorous male crew member, who calls the Special Guest Star an "old horn dog" in return. Despite lots of recent drama onscreen and off, Locklear seems almost serene. Though she has removed most of her personal effects from her trailer since the Northridge quake, a lovely antique dictionary — a gift from Tommy Lee, whom she divorced amid rumors of his infidelity — remains. The most recent word she looked up was gassy, she says enigmatically. "The last year of my life has been a little like Melrose Place," she says. "Actually, it's been a learning period and a decision-making period and a very good one. Professionally and even personally, it's been uphill. I feel like I'm making positive moves."

Locklear reports that she and her fellow Melrose heavies haven't felt that their nefarious characters were carrying over into their personal lives — "although I did see Laura hooking on Hollywood Boulevard the other night," she says.

Like Locklear, Leighton insists with a smile that her character is more misunderstood than malevolent. Formerly a performer with a vaguely Up With Peopletype group called Young Americans, Leighton is described by Show as "the complete opposite of Syd — incredibly nice with this great, goofy side to her." Yet a few days later, while tucked away in a booth of the Shooters bar on the set — one of Syd's more conventional work spaces — Leighton sweetly speaks up on behalf of her wonderfully psychotic but oddly clean-cut creation. She's back from location filming Syd and Michael's wedding ceremony. "It was a lovely affair," she says.

"Everybody has the potential to be bitchy, you know," says Leighton when asked about Sydney. "The way I see it, Syd's not bad. She has her reasons, too. And who knows how she's going to evolve as a person? But I have to admit that right now, I'm just lucky that I have one of those great roles where I get paid well to be incredibly obnoxious."

Sitting pretty in her trailer, Locklear expresses a similar sentiment. "I enjoy playing Amanda's cattiness," she says, "probably because the truth is that I'm not like that at all in my own life. I'm more of a woman's woman, I guess. You know, as a rule I don't tend to back-stab my woman friends like Amanda might."

Just then, Grant Show strolls by Locklear's trailer. He's asked to explain what Jake sees in Amanda, apart from the obvious. "Oh, I'd say that the obvious is a real big part of it," says the actor, who left what he calls "the emasculating gig" of playing Officer Rick Hyde on Ryan's Hope to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. "Even though Amanda's got more money than most of the chicks he's gone with, she's still just white trash like he is."

Locklear laughs and says, "I feel like we're on The Newlywed Game here."

Yesterday, Amanda and Jake's games took the form of a heated love scene atop Amanda's office desk. "These love scenes are really choreographed," says Locklear. "They have to be, especially when you have all the stuff from the desk flying around. We did three takes. One time a pencil hit me on the head, and I had to pretend like it was turning me on."

"So how's your chin today?" Show asks her.

"My chin's still bumpy because we shot late in the day, and Grant's beard was hurting me," Locklear says helpfully. "These are the sort of hazards we face on Melrose Place. Remember, kids, this is serious business."

***

Not all the serious business of Melrose Place is conducted on the soundstages. Both Darren Star and Aaron Spelling work mostly back in Los Angeles, much closer to the actual Melrose Place — a tiny side street full of expensive antique stores.

On a Friday morning, Star is at a casting session in the Melrose production offices. This is a significantly less glamorous-looking environment than, say, the D&D office on the show. "I only wish I worked at a place that looked like D&D," says Star with a chuckle. He and his associates have assembled to see just a tiny fraction of the actors competing for three roles — Alison's mother, a male model who's a one-episode love interest for Jo and a lawyer to read the will of Jane and Sydney's grandmother. Piles of actors' head shots sit in baskets outside. The hopefuls run the gamut from an actor who played Jacob in a radio play called The Story of Hanukah to a distinguished actress who lists her impressive Shakespearean work.

Everyone in the casting session is unfailingly polite and complimentary with the clearly nervous thespians, at least while they're still in the room. Recognizing one longhaired actor who has been this way before, a casting director asks him where he has been lately. "I've been down South shooting this David Lynch-kinda feature with Phyllis Diller, Morris Day, Tina Louise, La Wanda Page and Larry Linville," he says straight faced.

Star clearly knows what he's looking for — which actress isn't "nearly cornfed enough" and what actor "may be too old" to play the lawyer. A screenwriter whose credits were Doin' Time on Planet Earth, which starred Adam West, and If Looks Could Kill, with Richard Grieco, Star smartly opted to make the transition to television, where the writer-producer is king. Later in the day, his solid instincts are also on display at an editing session. In a few quick hours, Star — who concentrates on Melrose Place these days — has overseen a substantial overhaul of the show, rearranging the episode's four acts and cutting out lots of superfluous material. Through it all, as he fields phone calls — including one concerning a Melrose actress who wants line changes — Star and the others in the editing room make repeated references to what He would want and what He will say when He sees the cut.

He in this instance is not God but rather the closest television equivalent: the famously successful Spelling, whose past TV credits start with Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater and never seem to stop. Intriguing memorabilia of his shows, including Luke Perry figurines and a bottle of Beverly Hills, 90210 shampoo, dot the Spelling Entertainment offices. But the single best symbol of Spelling's accomplishments is proudly on display in his own impressive office. "This is the greatest thing I own," says Spelling. It's a remarkable personalized pinball machine he received during the last holiday season as a gift from his wife, Candy. The state-of-the-art machine is jam-packed with images and messages from the stars of his various series. Blink when Charlie's Angels appear and you're facing down the 90210 gang. "When you hit Dynasty, you get a scene of Joan Collins and Linda Evans fighting," Spelling says, "and by pushing this, you can choose who wins." Here's the definitive answer to the question of what to get the man who has everything, as well as quite possibly the only pinball machine anywhere that says, "Happy Hanukah, Honey." (Actually, there is one more back at the Spelling estate.)

Spelling goes out of his way to give most of the credit for the success of Melrose Place to Star. "They're really Darren's characters," he says, "they're his ideas." And Spelling — who says daughter Tori (who plays Donna on 90210) and son Randy help keep him in touch with what's going on in the youth culture — believes those ideas are probably right for the relatively unglitzy '90s. "I think the time was right for a show that's not all glamour, a show that says, 'Jeepers, how are we going to pay the rent?"

Still, during the darker days of the first season, Spelling realized the show was too soft and needed some surge of nastiness. "Darren and I met one day, and I remember saying, Why don't we just go for it?" The reasons are nothing new. "It's like what I said about Joan Collins: The snake always has the best lines. And if you don't believe me, go back and see how much dialogue Adam and Eve got," According to Spelling, having Amanda purchase the Melrose apartment building and move in was a key decision: "It's like an old line from a play — it must be Noel Coward — "That puts the cat among the pigeons, doesn't it?" It also allows the cat to show up at the pigeons' doors almost weekly to collect the rent.

Seeing as the show is conveniently set in a rental apartment complex, Melrose Place has a built-in ability to shift characters in and out of the action, and both Spelling and Star see how this could help lead to a long future for the series. Who knows, maybe in about another 40 or so years, a somewhat mellowed Amanda could convert the place into the Melrose Place Retirement Community. "You know," Spelling says, warning to the idea, "that could work."