Happy Birthday, 'Melrose Place'! Reminiscing with Thomas Calabro (Dr. Michael Mancini) 20 years after the series premiere

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A few days ago, I had the opportunity to chat with one of television’s all-time best baddies, Thomas Calabro, who portrayed Dr. Michael Mancini on “Melrose Place” from 1992 ‘til 1999. In honor of the iconic primetime soap’s 20th anniversary (July 8, 1992), we discussed everything from the show’s key to success (“Special Guest Star” Heather Locklear) and lasting appeal to his favorite scenes and take on why the 2009 reboot didn’t succeed.

Roll tape…

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since the "Melrose Place" pilot aired?
[Laughs] It seems like a lifetime ago.

Do you remember watching the pilot? Were you with friends, family, cast members?

I think I had a lobster boil at my place, the apartment on Hayworth in West Hollywood. That’s how it went down.

Were you worried about the show launching in summertime,

or were you confident after you taped the pilot?
No. At that time in my career, I never even thought in business terms. I was an artist from New York who just did the best job he could with his part and just trusted everything would sort itself out.

Are you surprised by how well the series has held up over the years?
No. When you’re doing something like that, you just do the best you can and let the chips fall where they may. I didn’t think I was making frickin’ television history. Not by a long shot.

At what point did you know you had a hit on your hands?
I don’t even think we were a hit by the beginning of the second season. We got picked up, and it seemed like it was really begrudgingly so. We changed the tone of the show. We went from a regular drama -- which was sort of a spin-off of “90210” -- and we changed it into a soap opera. Bringing Heather Locklear onboard as Amanda Woodward changed the tone. She’s what made the show a hit.

Are you proud of the fact that you were the only original cast member to remain on the series for the entire seven-season run?
Am I particularly proud of it? I don’t know. It’s no big deal to me, but it was nice. Money’s nice. [laughs]

Who was your favorite co-star to work with?
They all had great qualities, but I really loved working with Jack Wagner (Dr. Peter Burns) and Laura Leighton (Sydney Andrews) in that bloody office doing all kinds of shenanigans. That combo of personalities and characters was my favorite. It was really a joy to go to work for every single episode.

Do you have a favorite episode, or is there a particular scene you especially enjoyed?
There was a scene when I’ve served Kimberly her divorce papers. I’m walking down the hospital hallway, and she calls me on it, and I just act so cruelly. It’s not even funny. I laugh in her face as she crumbles on the floor, and then I tell her to pull it together. Then there’s the scene when I go into the strip bar. Sydney’s stripping, and she recognizes me and runs out back. I follow her with the garter she threw into the crowd during her act. I remember, in an impromptu moment, I stuck it on her head like a bandana and pointed at her and laughed. [laughs]

How did you feel about the writers turning Michael into one of TV’s greatest villains? He started out as Jane’s nice, loving husband.
It’s definitely more fun to play a villain than a victim. As an actor, it gave me great latitude. I often had fun with what I had to do because I knew the repercussions were non-existent.

If you stumble upon a rerun, do you change the channel or sit down and watch it?
Well, I don’t actively avoid it. I don’t think I’ve ever flipped through the channels and said, “Oh, there’s "Melrose Place," let me watch it.” Sometimes I maybe want to figure out what episode it is.

Do you let your teenage kids watch the show?
I generally don’t censor my children especially with regards to sex, which I think is just overly protected against in this culture. They watch anything they want now.

You guest-starred on the 2009 "Melrose Place" reboot. What were your motivations?
Well, it was nice to have work, but I really liked that the executive producers said that they didn’t want to do “Melrose Place” all over again. That wouldn’t have been interesting to me.

Why do you think that version didn’t work?
It was very dark. It’s more an artistic choice than anything, I guess.

If Michael hadn’t appeared on the reboot, what do you think he’d be up to now? Would he be dead, perhaps in jail?
No, he was much too clever for that. He’d be like one of those guys who has stolen millions and millions and millions of dollars from other people’s pensions and somehow avoided jail.

Would he still be on the lam with Amanda and Peter?
No. I think Mike’s a loner. Mike plays by his own rules, and he’s always gonna end up alone.

Alone, still working at Wilshire Memorial?
He’d be at Wilshire Memorial and be with his 18th wife. [laughs]

A few months ago, you appeared on “Glee” as Puck’s dad. How did that come about, and would you consider reprising that role?
Yes. The rehearsal only took an hour, and then I booked it the next day. And, I’ve been told that I’ll be back next season. Unfortunately, my scene got cut down to like three lines or something, but it’s a lovely show. Mark Salling (Puck) is a lovely actor, and we had fun working together.

Finally, what’s your take on the reemergence of the primetime soap? “Dallas” is back, and everyone is raving about “Revenge.”
It’s cyclical. Shows like "Melrose Place" are in vogue for a while, and then they go out of vogue … and then they jump the shark. [laughs]

Talking to Thomas made me miss watching Dr. Michael Mancini wreak havoc on the small screen alongside Amanda Woodward and their crazy “Melrose Place” cohorts. If you’re craving some lying, cheating, betrayal, and murder as much as me, make sure to pick up the seventh (and final) season of "Melrose Place," coming to DVD July 31.

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