John Stamos returns to network TV -- The ''Full House'' star sheds his Uncle Jesse persona to play a hotshot New York City PR whiz in ''Jake in Progress''

By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated January 24, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

John Stamos is sandwiched between two hot blondes, their eye shadow smoky and their décolletage shimmery. (Before you ask, neither is an Olsen twin.) One of them is waving a liquor bottle and yelling to the other, who’s barely wearing a fuchsia satin halter dress, ”Should he feel like he’s about to be tag-teamed?”

A paparazzi dream come true? Nope, just a visit to the set of Stamos’ upcoming sitcom, Jake in Progress. The title character — a trying-to-reform player — finds his two lady loves (Amy Laughlin and Ed‘s Julie Bowen) in a hotel suite bonding over a karaoke machine instead of, alas, him. Still, Stamos hasn’t quite given up on Jake’s fantasy that the blondes are a little interested in his well-documented good looks. He asks the director, ”Should they be singing to me on the way out?”

”No,” the director says with an apologetic shrug. ”I think they’ve forgotten about you by then.”

Stamos is hoping TV audiences’ memories are a little more forgiving. As rocker Blackie on General Hospital and rockin’ Uncle Jesse on Full House, there was no actor in the ’80s who seemed better positioned to inherit the Fonz’s leather jacket — and his TV success. Stamos possessed a likable, slightly bad-boy, but wowie he’s hot! on-screen presence that made him one of the most popular TV poster boys of the decade. But like Henry Winkler in his post-Fonz days, stardom didn’t immediately follow. What did follow: mostly forgettable movie and TV work (including ABC’s short-lived crime caper Thieves in 2001). Aside from a few decently received roles on Broadway — How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Cabaret, among others — Stamos was most recently famous for his six-year marriage to supermodel Rebecca Romijn, which ended in 2004.

Now on Jake, the 41-year-old returns to the medium and the network that made him a bona fide pinup. Ten years after Full House signed off, he plays a guy that Jesse could have been?if he’d been the Olsen twins’ publicist instead of their uncle. ”I don’t want to be one of those guys who don’t ever mention Full House,” he says. ”But Jake, to me, is the best television I’ve ever done. It’s the most comfortable I’ve been.”

The show’s premiere (scheduled for March) could also mark a turning point for ABC’s comedy slate in the way Desperate Housewives and Lost did for its drama lineup. As all the networks struggle to find fresh approaches to comedy, Jake, which follows a hotshot New York City PR whiz who’s trying to shed his lothario ways, is ABC’s first attempt at a single-camera, laugh-track-free sitcom in three years. And it also represents a huge break from the type of comedy the network is known for — bumbling hubbies with impossibly gorgeous wives and precocious kids. ”The sitcom is in dire need of a makeover,” says Stamos. ”And I think this show, without alienating too many people, does that.”

Jake is, in fact, so different from the rest of ABC’s comedy lineup that execs are even considering running it two episodes at a time because the network currently doesn’t have a compatible half hour with which to pair it. ”We really liked the idea of doing almost a little romantic-comedy movie every week,” says Stephanie Leifer, ABC’s senior VP of comedy programming. ”It feels like the kind of half hour that fans of shows like Desperate Housewives or Lost would want to watch.”