Two months into its run, The CW's ratings-challenged (but creatively-smoking) Melrose Place reboot is about to undergo a major renovation. For starters, Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Colin Egglesfield have been let go (they last air in January), and the Who Killed Sydney? mystery is being wrapped up in December. Then, in addition to Heather Locklear's Amanda, several new characters will be introduced and the show will take on a lighter, more fun vibe. Here, in an exclusive interview, exec producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer explain why they're fixing a series that many felt was not broken and what's ahead for Melrose Place
What was behind the decision to let Ashlee and Colin go?
TODD SLAVKIN: Well, we always knew that this murder mystery would end in episode 12. And we always knew that [Ashlee's] character of Violet would be instrumental in that as a suspect, and [Colin's character of] Augie as well. And once that murder mystery was solved, she would go on her way. That was the original plan going into the development of the show.
So it was always the plan for Ashlee to leave after episode 12?
SLAVKIN: Yes. Because we felt that once the murder mystery was resolved, the tone of the show was going to shift into a much more fun, romantic, sexy upbeat kind of show, and [her] character would move on.
Same thing with Colin?
SLAVKIN: Colin was always meant to be the ultimate suspect. And his brooding alcoholic [character] tonally didn't fit the paradigm moving into post-murder mystery Melrose Place.
Is it fair to say that if either of those characters clicked you would've found a way to keep them?
SLAVKIN: Well, you never know when you go along. But in the end, we felt like it was right decision.
DARREN SWIMMER: The nature of soaps is that as things progress along, the story takes on a life of its own and the characters come and go in relation to that.
How did Ashlee and Colin take the news?
SLAVKIN: They're total professionals and they took it like professionals. When you go into a show you never know what's going to evolve and what the possibilities are. But because they knew ahead of time [that leaving was a possibility], it wasn't a complete shock.
People are going to look at these changes and assume it's a direct result of the show's disappointing ratings.
SLAVKIN: Well, I understand that perspective. None of us foresaw the ratings; there's nothing we can do about that. All we can do is write and produce the best show we know how. It's fine to speculate, but in the end there was always a plan.
What about Laura Leighton and Thomas Calabro? Are they leaving, too?
SLAVKIN: Thomas is very much a part of the fabric of this show. Many storylines are ahead for him. You'll get to see him interact with his old friend Amanda Woodward as well as all the characters on our show. With Laura, we would never close the door officially. She did her part in the murder mystery. We love her. We think she is gorgeous and a great actress and would love to have her be involved in the future, but there is no plan at the moment.
Can you elaborate on the tonal shift?
SLAVKIN: Now that the characters are no longer suspects, they can have a great time, they can focus on their careers, they can get into bed with each other without having this ominous cloud hanging over the building. But this is still Melrose Place. There's still going to be intrigue on the show.
Do you think viewers were turned off by the dark nature of the show?
SWIMMER: Who knows why the ratings aren't better? I think for us, it's just a matter of moving on in the direction we [always] wanted to go.
Some people might wonder why you're fixing what's not broken. Personally, I love the show.
SLAVKIN: Which we understand and I totally get that. I think our feeling is that TV shows need to evolve. Mike, you're a fan of Smallville. You've watched that show and you've seen the evolution in that show. Characters come and go. This being much more of a soap opera, we feel that it's heated up more rapidly, where characters come and go and have arcs and move on. There will be new characters coming in.
Tell me about those new characters.
SLAVKIN: There's a doctor, a new resident at the hospital who is irreverent and funny and will mix it up and move into the building. He will be a roommate of one of the characters and interact with Lauren. He's a guy that, even though he's a doctor, he doesn't take life very seriously. Medicine can be very fun as well as serious to him and he ends up lightening up Lauren. We think this guy's a lot of fun and is going to mix it up in a great way with the rest of the cast.
Has the role been cast?
SLAVKIN: Not yet.
Any other new characters?
SWIMMER: We have [Heather Locklear's] new love interest played by Billy Campbell. He has a three-episode arc. He plays basically a billionaire version of Jonah. He's the equivalent of a Mark Cuban. Again, a lot of fun, funny, irreverent, and is someone who can actually make Amanda Woodward smile.
How long do you have Heather for?
SLAVKIN: A long time. She's in every episode moving forward. She's a major focus [of the show]. She has a hidden agenda that will become not so hidden as the episodes move along. She's not just the boss of Ella [Katie Cassidy].
Does Heather still have it?
SLAVKIN: Absolutely. Not only is she so fun as Amanda, but she's such an amazing, hysterical woman. Her return is going to be a big moment on Melrose Place.