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''Melrose Place'': Show to watch

The ”Beverly Hills, 90210” spin-off features an re-vamped cast, including Heather Locklear

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When the cast of Melrose Place returned to work last month, they found fancy new trailers awaiting them on the Santa Clarita lot. ”That was Heather Locklear’s doing,” says Andrew Shue, referring with a teasing laugh to his costar’s clout. No, Locklear didn’t order them, but the improved trailers — not to mention the reassembled cast — wouldn’t be there without her.

Before Locklear’s sly Amanda arrived on Melrose to form a torrid love triangle with Shue’s Billy and his roommate, Alison (Courtney Thorne-Smith), the Beverly Hills, 90210 spin-off was in serious danger of spinning out. Ratings had dived to the deep end, one actress (Amy Locane) had been sent down the drain, and another, Vanessa Williams, was flailing. (Even executive producer Aaron Spelling admits Williams’ ”story lines sucked. We didn’t know what to do with her.” The new season finds her exiled to another zip code.)

The late-season addition of ”special guest star” Locklear, however, was like a splash of cold water in the faces of the hapless writers, who responded by pouring on more sex and soap, to the Nielsens’ approval. ”I knew I couldn’t lose,” says the 31-year-old Locklear. ”If the show did well, I could say it was all me, yuk yuk yuk. But if it got canceled, I could say, ‘Please, this show was on the way out!”’

On the way out, in fact, is the scandalous triangle (note to Melrose writers: Are you sure about this?). Other forms of romantic geometry might replace it as Amanda continues to chart lust’s path, battling Daphne Zuniga’s Jo for the rakish Jake, played by the charming Grant Show. Doug Savant, who was nearly invisible as Matt, the resident gay, is supposed to get more screen time, but the show hasn’t yet specified how.

It may be the once-bland married couple Jane and Michael (Josie Bissett and Thomas Calabro) who’ll tempt viewers to flip over from Home Improvement. Michael, who started showing his true colors in the middle of last season, becomes a sex-obsessed jerk, creating a bitter divorce war with Jane. Even better, says Bissett, ”there will be another triangle” — something Melrose fans desire acutely.