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Fall TV Preview 1997: Thursday

”Veronica’s Closet,” ”Nothing Sacred,” and ”Friends” are some of the shows we examined

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VERONICA’S CLOSET
NBC, 9:30-10 PM
STARTS SEPT. 25

”Let’s go, people,” bellows Kirstie Alley during a rehearsal for NBC’s Veronica’s Closet. ”I have a birthday party to go to!” Costar Kathy Najimy’s baby is toted off the set by a nanny as Najimy and Alley take their places on a sofa. A man in headphones says, ”Ready,” but in the few seconds of silence before ”Action,” Alley breaks character and — apparently seized by some impish muse blurts out an unscripted claim: ”I have a d–k!”

Alley finds great humor in male genitalia (remember her 1991 Emmy acceptance speech, in which she thanked husband Parker Stevenson for giving her ”the big one”?), so nothing new there. No, the Big News is that Kirstie Alley, 42, is back in a series. And not only is she back — after a self-imposed four-year hiatus from sitcoms since Cheers closed its doors — she’s back in the fall show that’s most likely to succeed. ”And why shouldn’t we?” Alley asked at a recent press conference. ”Have you seen the other shows?”

Veronica’s Closet does have the best pedigree. Alley’s got the hottest of writing teams (Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman); a pilot directed by sitcom guru James Burrows (one of the brains behind Cheers); a Must See NBC time slot to die for (right between Seinfeld and ER); and a stellar supporting cast, including Najimy (late of the Sister Act films and still the voice of Peggy Hill on Fox’s King of the Hill), Wallace Langham (who also plans to continue in his role as head writer on The Larry Sanders Show), Daryl ”Chill” Mitchell (The John Larroquette Show), and MTV hunk-turned-actor Dan Cortese. And of course, there’s Alley — a woman so comically gifted she once fell in love with a pig on Cheers and made us weep with both sympathy and laughter.

Here, she plays Veronica, the aging model/mogul behind a lingerie mail-order business who, in her day, graced the cover of her catalog, Veronica’s Closet (yes, Victoria’s Secret is already in a tizzy over the similarities). Her fancy, foofed-up Manhattan offices stand in contrast to the proprietor’s considerable but crumbling ego. In the pilot, her philandering husband (a recurring character played by Christopher McDonald) gets caught; Veronica suffers public humiliation; and the stage, says Alley, is set for ”this woman who’s pursuing true love.”

It’s hard to hate Veronica because she’s beautiful (too many cracks in the porcelain), and it’s the same with Alley, whose own good looks are offset by a ribald sense of humor and a fondness for the F-word. She’s a made-for-TV Courtney Love. ”She’s not one of those actory types who have to talk about motivation for five hours,” says Najimy. ”Just do it, be funny, and go home.” The question is, what took Alley so long to score her own show? ”Jimmy Burrows said to me, ‘Kirstie, a new show is never going to be like Cheers,’ and I bought that for a few years,” Alley says, sitting in her trailer. ”Then I said to him: ‘Maybe you’re right. It’s going to be better than Cheers.’ Why can’t it? Otherwise, why don’t I just slit my throat?”

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