The year was 1992. Beverly Hills, 90210 had emerged as a breakout hit for Fox. Eager to capitalize on its ratings momentum, the network approached 90210 creator Darren Star about keeping young audiences engaged by spinning off the high school drama into a new series.
Darren Star (Creator) Fox was thinking about doing a spin-off that was a college show. But the 90210 kids will have to go to college someday! They can’t stay in high school forever. I had wanted to do a show about twentysomethings in Los Angeles. I convinced them this could be a spin-off but we would have to be clever. I had to combine these two disparate worlds that really did not have much in common.
Grant Show (Jake Hanson, 1992-97) I did three episodes of 90210 [as Kelly’s love interest] with the intention of using that as a springboard for Melrose. We knew Fox would give it a really big shot.
Courtney Thorne-Smith (Alison Parker, 1992-97) I was auditioning for Partners, Aaron Spelling’s medical show. It was a brutal audition process, and I didn’t get it. Aaron took me aside and said, ”Doll, I’m going to work with you.” The next morning I woke up and there was a stack of scripts on my doorstep, all from Spelling, and on top of them was the one for Melrose Place.
Amdrew Shue (Billy Campbell, 1992-98) I had only been in Los Angeles for about five months. Aaron called me to his house for an audition. There was valet parking. When I drove into his humongous parking area, there were 30 cars. When I walked out, there was only one — my 1982 Mazda.
Josie Bissett (Jane Mancini, 1992-99) I had three offers at one time. One was for a [different] Fox show, one was to play Robert De Niro’s daughter, and Melrose Place. I was trying to decide whether my career should go into a feature direction. But I loved Jane. Prior to my wanting to be an actress, I always wanted to be a fashion designer like Jane. It felt like the most natural fit.
Doug Savant (Matt Fielding, 1992-97) The role of Matt was exceptional because he was gay, and there were none on TV. It was a bigger deal than I allowed myself to consider. I only realized that when I refused to come out as a straight man in the press. People thought if I were willing to play a gay character, I must be gay. I would say to people, ”You won’t ask Andrew and Grant that if they’re playing straight [characters], it means they’re straight, right?”
After 13 episodes, Melrose started to flounder in the ratings and Star began to run out of stories for hum-drum characters like aerobics instructor Rhonda (Vanessa A. Williams) and struggling actress Sandy (Amy Locane). He decided to shake up the cast and add three dynamic females — Jo, Sydney, and Kimberly — and a magnificent bitch named Amanda who would steer the drama in a new direction…a crazy, nonsensical, absolutely delicious direction.
Star The show had a bumpy ride in the first season. We were really hamstrung by the association with 90210, and I was making the mistake of telling stories too much in that earnest mode that wasn’t fun — certainly not for characters in their 20s.
Daphne Zuniga (Jo Reynolds, 1992-96) When I got that call to do Melrose, I was thinking, if I do TV, will this seem not like a good thing [when I want] to do films again? It was a time when people were doing either movies or TV, so I wasn’t sure. I had done Vision Quest and The Sure Thing, and there really was no crossover at that time.
Laura Leighton (Sydney Andrews, 1993-97) This was my first job where I was playing a character rather than serving a meal. I had done a couple of commercials but I really hadn’t worked, so they had me come in three or four times because they were trying to make sure I could hack it. It was for two episodes as Jane’s irresponsible, bad-girl sister who smoked.
Thorne-Smith We did great at first, and then not so great, and it didn’t get great again until Heather came on. That’s when the show really took off. She brought a lot of life to it. The show had been about eight kids trying to make it. When Heather came in, the show became this soap about crazy things happening — love triangles, relationships, drama!
Heather Locklear (Amanda Woodward, 1993-99) I had watched some of the episodes and thought how much I would have loved to be on the show but I thought I was too old. I was 30, and they were twentysomethings! Then I got the phone call to meet Aaron, and he pitched this role of my playing a businesswoman who runs an ad agency. I didn’t know I’d be moving into the apartment building or buying it. Amanda was just developed as a strong character, so I put it in my head that these people were incompetent.
Star No one could play a bitch better than Heather. She gave me permission to go off the deep end.
Marcia Cross (Dr. Kimberly Shaw, 1992-97) I did one episode, and then they asked me to do another episode, and then another. It went on like that for a long time. Finally at one point, I got a call from my agent wanting to know if I could [do more episodes], and I was like, ”What do you mean, I’m dying tomorrow!” I was driving off the cliff or something with Michael Mancini [played by Thomas Calabro, who declined to participate in EW’s story and photo shoot]. But he said, ”No, they want to bring you back to life.” Okay, great!
Locklear I was only supposed to do four episodes, so my manager negotiated me as a special guest star. Then it became 13, which turned into a two-year deal that I would renew all the time, but I stayed a special guest star. I got ribbing from the cast like, ”Oh, really? When is she moving out of the building?”
By the end of season 1, Amanda had purchased the Melrose Place complex, and the crazy really began in earnest. Star let his freak flag fly by keeping viewers in suspense (and stitches) with tales involving baby stealing, bombings, and boyfriends coming back from the dead.
Star We did 32 episodes that first season, so we had a lot of time to work out the kinks. It wasn’t until around 23 or 24 that I felt like I was able to embrace the soap aspect. That was the guiding principle: Let’s just try to do anything to keep the viewers hooked and entertained.
Bissett It was at its most popular when it went over the top.
Zuniga All that stuff with the baby! I gave birth, and then Kimberly starts to help me, then kidnaps the baby, then I get the baby back, and then it’s kidnapped again, then Kimberly breast-feeds my baby. All I did was scream at people.
Bissett Jane almost married Richard Hart [Patrick Muldoon]. Then I killed him … At least I thought I did. We put him in the trunk; we were out with our shovels and flashlights. And we dug a hole; we put him in it. And then his hand pops out of the ground.
Show I was shot at Shooters and was blown up in a boat. I did have many brushes with death.
Cross I had a crazy scar on my head. I wore a double wig. I breast-fed Jo’s baby, blew up the apartment building. I did everything you can imagine, and every time I would say, ”Are you kidding me? I can’t do this!” But I did it all.
Locklear I thought it was funny that when the apartment exploded there was a cell phone in my boot that I could use to call for help. We all survived and then moved back in there, as if there was no other place we could live. We all hated each other, but we still mingled at the pool. Somebody move already!
Leighton Crazy was Sydney’s normal. I wore miniskirts with white patent-leather go-go boots and my hair in a flip. I remember some blackmail experience with Amanda where I was in a Japanese kimono with chopsticks in my hair. I was crushing on Michael, so I broke into their apartment, tried on Jane’s wedding dress, Jane and I fought, and I ended up in the pool — which makes perfect sense. I was also a stripper for a while.
Shue I really didn’t [get to] enjoy the fun, campy stuff until year 2 or 3, when I turned into evil Billy and married Brooke [Kristin Davis]. I do recall being more on the straight side, serving as the emotional core. Though there was that whole stalker story line where Billy went up to Seattle to beat up Keith [William R. Moses].
Melrose lasted seven seasons on Fox, and served as a springboard for the cast’s and creator’s careers.
Star It cracked open the whole idea of doing nighttime soaps for TV. People weren’t doing them. The thought of any kind of continuing story line was seen as cheapening the process. Closed-ended stories were the mantra.
Thorne-Smith I got the call from David E. Kelley to do Ally McBeal; it came really quickly after Melrose. That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Show It was the seminal job of my career. There is BMP — Before Melrose Place — and AMP. To this day I’m still working because of that show.
Zuniga I just feel so fortunate that I got to be on a show that made a lot of people happy.
Shue I got to meet Yitzhak Rabin [at a private event hosted by David Geffen]. I was the only TV person among film actors like Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss. Security comes over and says, ”Mrs. Rabin would like to meet you.” I go over, and Yitzhak says, ”I remember you on TV, but I don’t remember this.” I had a goatee, and he was touching my chin! I remember Dreyfuss looking at Streisand like, ”Who is this guy?” Ah, the power of TV.
Leighton My life went from 0 to 60 because of this hugely popular show. I was on the covers of magazines and I was able to buy my first car with air-conditioning.
Locklear I got Spin City from that. And all the perks that came with celebrity! Getting into movies, packed restaurants where miraculously two spots would be available. I’d think, ”Who did we just kick out?” And getting the front-of-line spots at Disneyland.
Bissett It gave me a name in TV. I am living in Seattle and raising my kid there, but I am able to continue working. Without Melrose, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now.
Savant I did receive a lot of business cards from men! And it wasn’t until the bitter end of the show when both of us were out of relationships that I noticed Laura. It was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. [The two married in 1998.]
Cross It gave me a job at a time when I was really going through something very painful. [Cross’ longtime partner Richard Jordan died of a brain tumor in 1993.] That’s the reason I was crazy on the show. I was feeling crazy. It was a wonderful place to let it all out.
Update: The Melrose Place Cast
In the years since he left Melrose, Shue, 45, has cofounded the nonprofit organization Do Some-thing and now works on the social-networking website CafeMom, which he cofounded.
The 44-year-old actress currently plays Ashley Marin on ABC Family’s hit teen soap Pretty Little Liars.
Thorne-Smith, 44, went on to star on Ally McBeal and According to Jim, and now recurs as Lyndsey McElroy, Jon Cryer’s girlfriend, on CBS’ Two and a Half Men.
Show, 50, has continued to work regularly in TV, on shows like Swingtown, Private Practice, and Big Love. He’ll next star on Marc Cherry’s new dramedy, Devious Maids, for Lifetime.
The 50-year-old actress, who just wrapped an eight-year run as Bree Walker on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, is focusing on her children and her charity work.
Bissett, 42, plays Kathleen on the ABC Family drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
After leaving the complex, Zuniga, 49, recurred on series including American Dreams, starred on ABC Family’s Beautiful People, and played Victoria Davis for five seasons on The CW’s One Tree Hill.
Like his two-time costar Cross, the 48-year-old Savant recently ended an eight-year run on Desperate Housewives, where he played put-upon husband Tom Scavo.
The beloved blonde went on to join Michael J. Fox on Spin City and later reprised her role as Amanda on The CW’s short-lived Melrose Place reboot. Locklear, 51, is currently shooting Scary Movie 5.