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If we ran TV

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In the ever-changing world of TV, three things are certain: a cranky Andy Rooney. A shirtless thug on Cops. And a lame sitcom every other half hour on NBC’s Thursday night.

Wait, we forgot a few others: Yasmine Bleeth movies-of-the-week. Murders being diagnosed. Angels being touched.

Let’s just say that if we were running the joint, things would be a lot different. We’re talking cool sitcoms from Ben Stiller. A ban on generic series titles. A Star Trek franchise that we can actually live long and prosper with. And most important, we’d have Heather Locklear on every network. No, make that every show. Wanna know what else we’d do? Well, turn the page already.

Step 1: Hire Heather Locklear!

Heather Locklear is as gorgeous and talented as actresses come — and we’re not just saying that because she’s sitting inches away from us and keeps touching our leg.

In the 18 years since she’s graced TV screens — starting as Dynasty’s trashy backstabber Sammy Jo Dean, then as T.J. Hooker’s rookie sidekick, then as bitch-on-heels Amanda Woodward on Fox’s recently shuttered Melrose Place — Locklear has been making TV a better, more profitable place. Which is why it’s completely surreal to hear the following words come out of her mouth: ”I was worried that I was going to be unemployed this year,” says Locklear, who, sadly, gives her hand a temporary reprieve from our thigh. ”So when my manager called and said that Spin City was interested, all I could think of was, ‘Oh my gosh, a really good show is interested in [having] me come in and audition?”

Oh, please — what really good show wouldn’t be interested in landing the likes of Locklear? Just think of all the delicious possibilities: Locklear as a hellcat rival on Ally McBeal? Check. Locklear as a butt-kicking mentor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Uh-huh. Locklear as a self-analytical vixen on Sex and the City? Dy-no-mite! And let’s not even get into the Emmy potential of Touched by a Heather. (Did we happen to mention how exquisite she is at touching?)

The funny thing is, the people behind Spin City never really expected to lure lifelong California girl Locklear to join their New York City-based sitcom. They knew they wanted to add a strong female sparring partner for Michael J. Fox’s feisty deputy mayor Mike Flaherty. They knew they needed a big name to stabilize ratings while forging into their fourth time slot in as many years (not to mention their consistently neck-and-neck battles with NBC competitor Just Shoot Me). But they were so pessimistic about the possibility of actually seducing Locklear that the offer was floated last June almost purely as a professional courtesy. ”In TV, a lot of times you have the person you really want and the person you end up with,” explains Spin exec producer David Rosenthal. ”You almost never get the real deal.”

So you can imagine the glee when Michael J. Fox and Co. heard that ”the real deal” actually took them up on their offer and was ready to move east with hubby/rocker Richie Sambora and their 2-year-old daughter, Ava Elizabeth.

“She’s like a shot of adrenaline,” enthuses DreamWorks TV honcho Dan McDermott, who was a programming executive at Fox when Locklear joined a then-languishing Melrose in 1993. “I’ve seen firsthand the value of bringing her into a show. It’s astronomical.” Her ratings history definitely backs him up: The first year Locklear took up residence on Melrose she helped boost viewership by an astonishing 33 percent. “She has a tremendously loyal audience,” affirms Locklear’s longtime mentor/boss Aaron Spelling. “The fan mail we had to answer almost broke us, for God’s sake.” And while it may be too early to gauge any direct ratings effect on Spin, her presence — as campaign manager Caitlin Moore — has certainly generated the buzz that the series’ producers were clearly craving.

So what accounts for the national epidemic of Locklear l’amour? Could it be the flaxen hair, the blue eyes, or the bodacious curves? No — although those are certainly important factors. Could it be that slightly wild-child vibe she exudes (remember, she was once married to Motley Crue exhibitionist and Pamela Anderson boy-toy Tommy Lee)? No siree. How about the unforgettable way she hurled that billy club at a criminal during the opening credits of T.J. Hooker? Nah, but you’re getting closer. “I think there’s an honesty to Heather that comes across on screen,” says Rosenthal. “That’s what makes her a star — you can’t help but feel that she’s someone you know and trust, even when one of her characters is stabbing some poor louse in the back.”

People also love Locklear because she’s willing to take risks. After Melrose Place, she could have easily turned her talent to some other ratings-deficient drama in need of a serious injection of femme fatale (e.g., as a Mrs. Robinson to one of those blossoming Felicity studs, or as a scheming neurosurgeon on Chicago Hope), but instead she opted — at age 38, no less — to try her well-manicured hand at something new, something even Spelling never (intentionally) offered her: comedy. “It’s so damn funny, but so intimidating,” says Locklear of her new surroundings. “At the first read-through, each person was hysterical. And I’m like, ‘Ooh — I’m probably not going to be that funny.'” But Michael J. Fox, for one, never doubted her ability to adapt. “You’re not a successful actor in the television business for as many years as she has been because you suck,” he points out. Spelling puts it more succinctly: “Heather can do anything. She learns fast.”

Hollywood people love Locklear because she never throws one of those David Caruso-y, “I’m the star here” hissy fits. “Heather’s reputation as a nice person preceded her,” says Spin City costar Richard Kind. “But considering that she’s from L.A., it’s shocking how nice she is.” Kind pauses, then adds lasciviously, “But she hasn’t even been to my dressing room, dammit!” And Fox couldn’t be more pleased at the way Locklear has meshed with the cast. “We warned her that there’s a level of obscene belligerence that good-naturedly goes on on our set,” he says. “But she made it very clear that she’s been married to rock stars and how is [costar] Alan Ruck going to offend her? [That’s when] we knew we could carry on the way we did before.” Oh, and one more thing: “She’s so nice that it’s one of those things where if someone has a problem with her, then that person’s an idiot.”

And although we’re not exactly talking about Meryl Streep here, the weird thing is even journalists and critics can’t help but love Locklear (“[she’s] vampy and charismatic as ever,” raved one scribe about her Spin debut; “one of the best casting coups of the new season” said another). Part of her media-friendly appeal stems from the fact that when you find yourself, for example, chatting with her on her dressing-room couch, she’s not afraid to tell silly, self-deprecating tales. Whether it’s a humorous account of a long-ago stint on Battle of the Network Stars, a good-natured back-and-forth about her most high-profile film to date, The Return of Swamp Thing, or even a light-hearted revisiting of her age-old confusion with that other blond, TV-acting Heather — Heather Thomas (a.k.a. the more well-endowed star of the 1981-86 series The Fall Guy). “I still get it all the time,” laughs Locklear, touching our thigh one final time. “It really didn’t help that I guest-starred on The Fall Guy and she guest-starred on T.J. Hooker.” And without any prompting, she’ll tell you about a meeting she once took with director Oliver Stone, during which she got the distinct impression that he was looking for something more, ahem, Thomas’ size. He said, “I thought you were, you know, bigger.”

But of course, in the ways that truly matter, Spin City’s Heather — that is to say, our Heather — is bigger. In fact, she’s so big that it’s hard to tie her down to any one project for long. “Currently we have her under contract for a year, but she can stay with the show as long as she wants to,” says DreamWorks’ McDermott. And since her character is heading up the stumblebum mayor’s bid to win the senato-rial election (which would take place in November 2000), the door is indeed wide open for an extended engagement. So will Locklear keep Spin-ing after her debut season ends? “I really have no idea” is all she’ll say, citing a question mark about whether she wants to settle down in New York City, and expressing continued reservations about performing in front of a — yikes! — live studio audience. But no matter how long her Spin City stint lasts, her time on the show has already made one hardcore segment of her fan base completely ecstatic. Says Locklear: “My parents are so happy to watch a show where I’m not making out with everybody.” (Additional reporting by Shawna Malcom)

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