Facebook Twitter

`HOTEL MALIBU’ IS SMART, FUNNY AND ROMANTIC

SHARE `HOTEL MALIBU’ IS SMART, FUNNY AND ROMANTIC

Do you miss "Homefront?" Do you long for the days when "Knots Landing" was good?

Are you still cursing the Southern California earthquake that brought "Second Chances" to an untimely end by destroying that show's studios?If so, CBS has good news for you. The folks behind all those shows - Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick - are back again with another smart, funny, prime-time serial.

"Hotel Malibu" debuts Thursday at 9 p.m. on Ch. 5 - the same time slot occupied by both "Knots" and "Second Chances."

Lest you be put off by the title - or the rather smarmy promos CBS has been running - this is not a "Melrose Place" clone. "Malibu" is full of characters who come across as believable despite some rather unusual circumstances.

And we wouldn't expect anything less from creator/executive producer/writers Latham Lechowick, the husband-and-wife team behind those other shows.

Lechowick describes "Hotel Malibu" as "an American `Upstairs, Downstairs.' " The plots revolve around the upper-class owners and managers of the hotel, and the lower-class hotel staff.

Which is not to say that this is stuffy, PBS-type fare.

"We have very carefully chosen the words American `Upstairs, Downstairs' because (that) is completely different in sensibility from a European or a British `Upstairs, Downstairs,' " Lechowick said. "In America, we expect to be able to go up from downstairs, and sometimes slide down from upstairs. And that's not true in Britain or on the Continent."

In Thursday's premiere, we meet the hotel's owners, the Mayfields. Matriarch Ellie (Joanna Cassidy), still mourning the death of her husband, has allowed control of the hotel to pass to her unscrupulous son, Jack (John Dye) - who is plotting to sell off the establishment so he can come into his inheritance rather early.

Returning to California is independent young daughter Stephanie "Stevie" (Cheryl Pollack), who quickly becomes convinced that the hotel isn't as bad off as her brother insists.

On the "Downstairs" side, there's the handsome young bartender (Harry O'Reilly of "Homefront"), who's trying to work his way through college; and Nancy (Romy Walthall), the woman from Harry's past who's a lot of trouble - and whose relationship with Harry isn't what it seems.

And a couple of characters and actors transferred from "Second Chances" - Melinda (Jennifer Lopez), the beautiful young Mexican-American who wants to make it on her own; and her over-protective father, Sal (Pepe Serna).

The pair were lifted almost intact from "Second Chances" at the suggestion of then-CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky.

"He said, `We don't see a father-daughter relationship like that anywhere on television. Is there any way that we can let them reprise their roles on a summer series?' " Lechowick said. "And we had the same affection for the characters and the actors that he did, so we said yes."

Fans of Latham and Lechowick's previous shows will find a lot of familiar things about "Hotel Malibu" - seemingly unrelated but ultimately intertwined plots, quick cuts from one scene to the next, bright, likable characters; attractive actors, romance and humor. "I think if you put it all together - all the few hundred hours of our work - I'd say we do romantic comedy," Lechowick said. "We always use humor. We consider ourselves not drama or comedy writers, but storytellers."

Thursday's premiere includes a humorous plot line surrounding the untimely - and slightly scandalous - death of government official. There's even a joke that "Knots Landing" fans will appreciate.

"It's a way of saying hello," Lechowick said. "It's and inside joke, but a lot of viewers will remember that."

"Hotel Malibu" is a six-episode summer series that, ratings willing, could become a midseason show. But viewers needn't worry that they'll be left hanging if the series doesn't continue.

"The six summer hours will be self-contained and will come to an enormously satisfying conclusion," Lechowick said.

"The prognosis is a 45 share (of the audience) and a pick-up for 72 episodes," he quipped.

We can only hope.