9 p.m. Tuesday on The CW, WZRB-47 (cable channel 13)
In the seven seasons Heather Locklear spent on "Melrose Place," the vintage-1990s Fox soap opera, she was synonymous with ruthlessness, deviousness and hemlines that rose as high as prime-time television would allow.
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So when she returned to a resuscitated version of "Melrose Place" that began this fall on the CW network, Locklear considered making a few demands. Starting with her skirts.
"They're short," Locklear said in a telephone interview, "and I keep wanting to say, 'Shorter,' but I have to work into that, because I think wardrobe might be mortified."
It has been nearly 17 years since Locklear, 48, first wriggled her way into the tantalizing garb of Amanda Woodward, the coldblooded - or, depending on your perspective, determined - advertising executive who imbued the original "Melrose Place" with a sense of backstabbing, hair-pulling purpose.
Locklear knows that not every strategy from her old playbook will work on the new show, which she joins tonight. She's now an unlikely elder stateswoman in a cast of mostly 20-somethings - not to mention a mom - and what was risque in her heyday is now tame by even network television standards. But as she did the first time around, she approaches the over-the-top melodrama with a healthy dose of irony.
"I really was winking at the audience," she said. "As I stood there watching everything going around me, I tried to go: 'This is crazy. I'm normal."'
Long before she landed in the bedroom-hopping hothouse of "Melrose Place," Locklear had made herself a favorite of that show's prolific executive producer, Aaron Spelling. In 1981, she was cast as the feather-haired schemer Sammy Jo on Spelling's ABC series "Dynasty," a stint that overlapped with her co-starring role on his ABC cop drama "T.J. Hooker." ("And once you did one of his shows," Locklear said, "you had to do 'Love Boat,' you had to do 'Fantasy Island,"' other Spelling guilty pleasures - which she did.)
In 1993 Spelling turned to Locklear again when the original "Melrose Place," a much-hyped spinoff of "Beverly Hills, 90210," got off to a slow start in the ratings. "You could hear the crickets," Locklear said. "It was very boring. It was all nice people, and, really, there are some bad people in the world."
As Amanda, Locklear compensated and then some: She seduced several of the show's male characters, helped orchestrate the buyout of the advertising agency where she worked and drove its ex-president to suicide, overcame lymphoma and was revealed to have faked her own death. The 1999 series finale seemed to suggest that Amanda and a paramour (played by Jack Wagner) were killed in an explosion - then showed the two walking blissfully on a beach.
"Maybe they always thought, 'Oh, we'll do a spinoff,"' Locklear said.
Sure enough, when the "Smallville" producers Darren Swimmer and Todd Slavkin were approached by CW to restart "Melrose Place," they said their approach would mostly emphasize a new cast of characters - with one exception.
"Heather Locklear is so synonymous with the franchise," Slavkin said. "Amanda Woodward is the one character we felt could be folded in, in a much bigger way, to make the show more accessible."
In her initial conversations with the producers Locklear was not convinced. "I thought, Is that a good idea?" she said. "Has it been long enough and does anyone care anymore? It was hard to see what they were really going to do."
But after the new show had its debut on Sept. 8, and Locklear saw how it integrated other "Melrose Place" veterans like Thomas Calabro (who plays the conniving Dr. Michael Mancini) and Laura Leighton (who portrays the husband-stealing, one-time mental patient Sydney Andrews), she had a change of heart. So Amanda Woodward will return from her desert island hideout, having dumped the boyfriend she left there. ("You can't stay on one thing for too long," Locklear said. "Yawn.")
Remade for the 21st century, Amanda Woodward is now a partner in a publicity firm, and both mentor and tormentor to a young underling played by Katie Cassidy. (The producers say they optimistically named the firm WPK Public Relations in their pilot, in case that W eventually stood for Woodward.)
Though Locklear's return to "Melrose Place" is a reminder of an era when her pinup posters adorned locker rooms and garages from coast to coast, it is not without its downside. For one, it raises the question of whether she has been permanently pigeonholed as Amanda Woodward. Since the first series ended, she has worked steadily on shows from "Scrubs" to "Hannah Montana," most often playing self-assured sexpots.
Locklear said the time she spent on "Melrose Place" had helped propel her to other kinds of work, like a three-season run on the comedy "Spin City," in which she played the campaign manager for the mayor's ill-fated senatorial bid. "There's a window where it's so good that people want you for different things," she said. "And then there's a window when it's too long, and that's when you get typecast."
Her step back into the spotlight also means she will face increased scrutiny for her personal life, which at times has been as convoluted as entire seasons of "Melrose Place." In the past two years she divorced the rock musician Richie Sambora, her second husband and the father of her 12-year-old daughter, Ava; sought treatment for anxiety and depression at a rehabilitation facility; and pleaded no contest to a reckless driving charge that stemmed from a DUI arrest.
Locklear declined to discuss these matters but said that these details about her would turn up whether or not she had a starring role on a network series.
"There's that whole Internet thing," Locklear said. "You can't help but be scrutinized, so I might as well be doing something while I'm being scrutinized. People can talk about whatever they want, but this is what's happening now. I don't look back."