Adulterous affairs, suicide, blackmail… the overheated days of summer are here, “Melrose Place”-style. The prime-time soap kicks off its seventh season tonight on Fox: an unusual move for a season premiere considering that it’s July, and September or October is when networks usually trot out their shows. Getting a jump on the competition is a smart move for a struggling show like “Melrose,” says Steve Sternberg, an ad buyer at TN Media: “‘Melrose Place’ can end up with a lot more viewers in the fall by doing this.”
It’s no secret that the once-hot show is in a tailspin. Last season it placed 65th overall in the Nielsen ratings, averaging 10.2 million viewers, down 12% from the previous year. That’s a far cry from the numbers “Melrose” earned in its prime as a top 20 show. (The ’94 season finale reached 19.3 million people.) In a bid to regain a larger audience, the series is planning a mid-season makeover: On Sept. 14, five regulars leave (including charter “Melrose” resident Andrew Shue), and one former cast member returns (Josie Bissett reprises her Jane Mancini role). “In the fall there will be a younger, hipper show,” says executive producer Charles Pratt Jr., “more like the original ‘Melrose’ was when it first came on the air.”
Despite Pratt’s optimism, the July experiment is still a risk, with overall summer ratings for the networks even lower than usual; the latest blow was last month’s report that cable viewership actually beat out viewership of the major networks for the first time ever. Fox’s hope is that tonight’s episode, which features Kyle (Rob Estes) trying to stop an impromptu wedding between Amanda (Heather Locklear) and Rory (Anthony Tyler Quinn), can reverse the losing streak.