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The Busiest Alley in Town

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I am in the most exciting time in my life,” Kirstie Alley says with enthusiasm.

It’s also one of her busiest. Not only does the two-time Emmy Award-winner have a new TV flick, “Radiant City,” premiering Sunday night on ABC, but the former “Cheers” regular also is producing and starring in another ABC film. And she’s in negotiations with networks and studios about returning to series TV. With a family, Alley explains, the sitcom is a “perfect medium” for her.

Alley, 41, is sitting in the lotus position on the sofa of her antique-filled living room in her expansive Encino home--Al Jolson’s former estate--which she shares with hubby Parker Stevenson, 3 1/2-year-old son True, 18-month-old daughter Lily and about 40 animals, including dogs, cats, birds and ring-tailed lemurs.

Alley and Stevenson also have a house in Maine, which has been their main residence for the past four years, and a ranch in Oregon, where, Alley says, she has a “slew” of horses.

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Making a movie on location, Alley acknowledges, is quite an ordeal. “‘We are like the Beverly Hillbillies,” she says, laughing. “We are like the road show because we take a dog and a cat and usually a bird and two kids and two nannies and an assistant, 80 toys and 30 comforters.”

Comforters?

“I have a big bugaboo with beds,” explains Alley, who has dyed her hair a brassy Courtney Love blond for the filming of the ABC movie “An Urban Legend.” “Everyone makes fun of me. But everybody loves my beds. I have the coziest beds in the world. So when I travel like that I have to take all of this bedding for everyone. So by the time we show up, it takes four days to unpack. We set up home everywhere, which is fun if you do it once a year, but it’s not fun if you do it all year. It’s an adventure if you do it once a year.”

Alley and her road show traveled to Toronto last year to shoot “Radiant City,” a nostalgic comedy-drama set in the late 1950s about a family trying to pursue the American dream while living in a low-income Brooklyn housing project called Radiant City. Alley’s Gloria, though, is sick and tired of their scrape-for-every-penny existence and wants a better life for herself, her postal worker husband (Clancy Brown) and their two kids.

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“Radiant City” reunites Alley with Robert Allan Ackerman, who directed her to an Emmy two years ago in the TV movie “David’s Mother” for CBS.

In the case of “Radiant City,” Alley saw the script by Lewis Colick and went “crazy” for it.

“The script has been around for a while,” she says. “It was being kicked around and [was] almost set up as a feature several times. When I first worked with Bob on ‘David’s Mother,’ we made a little plan that whenever we ran across a script that is having a rough time being made as a feature and we love it and it’s sort of a little slice of life, let’s set it up.”

ABC, she says, found the project unique because, unlike most TV movies these days, it was a “wonderful, uplifting story.” After ABC gave the production the green light, Alley says, “we knew that we would have the freedom to make the movie that it was and not have it end with her being hit by a car or something.”

Gloria, she adds, “is definitely not the mother I had. Gloria is the mother I think I sort of envisioned when I was a kid. The mother I had [Alley’s mother died in 1981] was very progressive. My mother would have fit much better in the 1990s than she fit in the late ‘50s. This woman had those elements of strength (as my mother did), but is Donna Reed and a hipper version of June Cleaver.”

And someone very into her husband and “taking care of her man and her family. But I think she was a very dreamy person, into the glamour of probably movie magazines--Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. You can tell she had that element to her. She really understood life and the dynamics of life and wanted something for her family and wanted something for herself that was fulfilling.”

Alley says Gloria was even a “role model character when I read the script. No matter what time period it is or what year it is, I always look up to people who have dreams, are working and are very tenacious about making those dreams come true.”

She feels the same way about her character in “Urban Legend,” which Ackerman also is directing. “That’s a story we both saw,” she says. “It was this wonderful story I really loved and it didn’t have a prayer to be done as a [feature]. It’s about a waitress in San Pedro who is sort of a dreamer, and she gets in an accident and she becomes a paraplegic. It’s mostly a love story. It’s very quirky and very funny.”

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Though she appeared in the features “Look Who’s Talking Now,” “It Takes Two” and “Village of the Damned” after “Cheers” closed its doors in May, 1993, Alley has discovered that the meatiest roles for women today are on the small screen.

“I equate TV today to be a very similar opportunity [for actresses] as the opportunities in films in the 1940s,” she says.

“Obviously, these personal, slice-of-life, character-driven stories are made every day as features, but ‘Forrest Gump’ would not have been ‘Foresta Gump.’ It would never have been made even if Michelle Pfeiffer or Julia Roberts wanted to make it. The features industry is driven by men now and the TV industry is driven by women.”

“Radiant City” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC.


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