Hitmaker Darren Star takes his foxy formula East for CBS' new 'Central Park West'

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Treachery! Intrigue! Hairdos! For Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place creator Darren Star, that old formula is, like, been there, written that. Yet here he is again — this time in New York — staging warfare between bosses and employees, spritzing the air with sex, and calling the result Central Park West. Star is on his own now, after absorbing the value of dramatic wretched excess from Aaron Spelling for five years. And for added challenge, he’s doing his thing for CBS, for Pete’s sake, the third-place network that thinks Cabot Cove is a pretty groovy zip code.

CPW (as New Yorkers sometimes call the avenue) is set in the glossy-glammy-gimme world of Vanity Fair-y magazines, starring Mariel Hemingway as an I-may-be-from-Seattle-but- I’m-no-cuppa-weak-joe editorial boss lady, newly running a happening lifestyle mag called Communiqué. Whether the show blossoms like Melrose or shrivels like anorectic Models Inc. depends in part on whether CBS can pull in the younger, Friendsier audience it now so desperately desires. And whether at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays the rest of the country isn’t watching ABC’s top 10-rated Grace Under Fire.

”I don’t mind the scheduling,” Star insists, counting on Fox’s 8 p.m. scheduling of Beverly Hills, 90210 to feed a compatible viewership of those who remember to flip channels. ”90210 was opposite Cheers, and Melrose Place was opposite Home Improvement. I think it’s a smart idea.”

Most of Star’s smarts are now busy plotting crises involving a JFK Jr.-ish prosecutor (Scottish actor John Barrowman), his decadent, bad-seed sister (Twin Peaks‘ Mädchen Amick), their socialite mother (Lauren Hutton) and her husband, the mag’s sharky publisher (Angels in America‘s Ron Leibman), a treacherous fashion editor (Models Inc.‘s one redeeming virtue, Kylie Travis, a third-episode addition to CPW), a tough-girl newspaper reporter (Melissa Errico, recently on Broadway in My Fair Lady), and a slimy boy stockbroker (Extreme‘s Justin Lazard).

But CBS programming chief Les Moonves may have a tad more agita about the gamble. ”We’re looking for a hipper and newer look,” he says. ”And things that are relatable.” (Oh, sure, we magazine writers totally relate to the CPW planet, where bratty heiresses dressed in thousand-dollar outfits pen magazine columns when not scheming to seduce their boss’ husband by taking him out for a nighttime view of the city skyline in a private helicopter.)

”We’re trying to capture a compelling kind of New York freneticism. We’re not going to be seeing babynappings,” explains Star, dissing Melrose‘s clueless Jo, who demonstrates the kind of laid-back California thinking that simply won’t go over well in 10023. And what about the New York freneticism rumored to be taking place on the set, where Star X can’t abide Star Y, and Star Z is driving everyone nuts? ”Me, personally, I don’t endorse any of that,” insists Hemingway. ”If people are arrogant and think they’re fabulous, I just don’t buy it.” Wonder how long she’ll be editing a happening lifestyle magazine with an out-of-town attitude like that.