Valerie Bertinelli, 29, quite literally grew up in front of TV audiences as the effusive Barbara Cooper on CBS' sitcom, "One Day at a Time," which aired 1975-84.
Since "One Day" left the airwaves, Bertinelli has starred in numerous TV movies, including "Rockabye" and "Pancho Barnes," and the miniseries, "I'll Take Manhattan."
The actress returns to series television this week as a witty private detective in the new CBS sitcom, "Sydney." It premieres Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on KCBS. Bertinelli also is co-executive producer of the series.
In her private life, Bertinelli has been married for the past nine years to heavy metal guitarist Edward Van Halen, 34, of the rock group Van Halen. The actress talked to Susan King about "Sydney" and her life with Van Halen over two cups of cappuccino ("caffeine is my only vice I have now") at an Italian deli on Beverly Boulevard.
How did the series come about?
I had been looking for a series since we finished "One Day at a Time." I wanted to find a good comedy to do and another part to play because I had played the same character for nine years.
I love this show so much. I have never loved playing a character more than I love playing this one. It took me five years to find her.
What makes her so special?
She's really on the ball. She's so unlike Barbara Cooper. She's like me in every way, only more witty. I always wanted to have a wonderful sense of humor and Michael (Michael Wilson, creator and co-executive producer) has given it to me in this character. I love playing her because I always wanted to be this wonderfully gregarious kind of outgoing kind of a woman.
You've been given a real killer of a time slot. In fact, three series-"Peaceable Kingdom," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Grand Slam"--have failed at the same slot this season.
I would just love to get a decent share of the audience-that's all I am really asking for. I don't want to beat the other shows ("Growing Pains" and "Unsolved Mysteries"). I mean I do, but I don't. It would be nice if all three of the shows can stay on.
It comes down to being scary. I know I have an audience out there, but you never know what they're going to want to see you in.
You're executive producer of the series, along with Wilson and Jack Grossbart. What are your responsibilities in that role?
It's like a group effort. Michael does most of the creative stuff, and Jack does most of the editing stuff. I kind of have a hand in both of them. It's just not my opinion that matters, it's also up to Jack and Michael too.
I do feel a responsibility to the show because I love it so much. When you've taken so long to find something you really love doing, you don't want to see it go away real fast. I think the show is more important to me because I am having a good time, not because I am executive producer or whatever.
You said it took you five years to find the perfect series. Did you ever get discouraged?
Yes, because I was thinking, "My God, here I am almost 30, and I still don't have this show." All of a sudden, almost 30 doesn't seem too scary since I am two months away from it.
It's hard to believe you're almost 30.
I still get carded when I go places. Ed still gets carded. Neither one of us drinks, but we still go to clubs with friends, and you still have to give them your ID. Yet, one of our buddies who is 20 doesn't.
Were you able to have a normal teen-age life when you were on "One Day at a Time"?
I really did have a normal life. Every so often, I catch someone staring at me on the street or they'll come up to me. I'll say, "Why are you staring at me?" They'll say, "Aren't you so and so?" I forget sometimes that I happen to be on TV a lot. I have this kind of a family and husband--we don't really talk about the celebrity part of the business. It's not a big part of our lives, so when all of a sudden someone comes up to us, it snaps you back into reality.
Ed and I don't go out much. We go to the movies or the beach and stay with my parents for the weekend, and that's about it, so we don't get pegged much.
Will anonymity be more difficult once "Sydney" premieres.
I have been shopping at the same market for nine years on Ventura Boulevard. Usually I can go there and have no problem. In fact, all the checkers know me. But after "I'll Take Manhattan" was on, I couldn't go through the market. The checkers were great, but the people who don't see me there all the time were following me through the market. So it's really weird. I'm not crazy about that. I like going to the market and taking my time.
You've been married for nine years-an oddity in this town. What's the secret to your successful marriage?
I think it can be this simple-we love each other a lot, and we communicate well. That gets us through some of the hard times. But we haven't had that many-we're lucky.