Steven Eckholdt, a costar of both versions, tells how he made the sudden leap from ''It's Like You Know...''

By Josh Wolk
February 28, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Unemployment didn’t last long for Steven Eckholdt once his sitcom ”It’s Like You Know…” was canceled last December. Thirty-six hours after his final taping, he was on a flight to Miami to begin shooting the new CBS romantic comedy ”Grapevine,” which premieres Monday night at 8:30.

Of course, there wasn’t just jet lag to get over, there was also mood lag: While the wise-ass characters in ”It’s Like” rolled their eyes at emotion, the ”Grapevine” single thirtysomethings get all moony-eyed at the thought of love. ”’Grapevine’ has a kinder, gentler approach to romance,” says Eckholdt. ”[‘It’s Like’] definitely had a much more cynical view, which lended itself to being set in Los Angeles, where relationships don’t outlast the milk.”

This is actually ”Grapevine”’s second life; it originally ran for six weeks in the summer of 1992 before being canceled, and was notable for being one of the first shows to have characters talk directly to the camera to explain their feelings. Now that breaking the fourth wall on TV is as common as a nutty neighbor (see ”Once and Again,” ”Malcolm in the Middle”), CBS decided to resurrect the formerly ahead of its time comedy.

Eckholdt is the only lead to return to ”Grapevine” (although some of the other original stars pop up in guest roles), but he is playing a different part: In 1992 he was Thumper, a young sportscaster, but now he plays Thumper’s older restaurateur brother. ”When they actually tell you that you’re too old to play the younger brother, that gives you a sense of mortality,” says Eckholdt, 39. ”But I was just glad to be a part of it in any way I could be.” See? Not a trace of cynicism.