Hard to believe though it may be, Emmy-winning producer David E. Kelley ("The Practice" and "Ally McBeal") could learn a thing or two from Pamela Anderson Lee on how to make really good bad television.
ABC recently canceled Kelley's new series, "Snoops," an hour starring Gina Gershon, Paula Marshall, Danny Nucci and Paula Jai Parker that promised "a fun look at a sexy ensemble of unconventional private eyes in Los Angeles."
But it never really delivered.
And a lot of critics, normally huge fans of Kelley's, couldn't help noticing that "Snoops" looked a lot like the syndicated series "V.I.P."--which stars Lee as a small-town girl who becomes the accidental figurehead of an elite bodyguard agency operating in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.
A show that does put out.
When it made its debut last season, it was the No. 1 new hourlong drama in first-run syndication.
Mixing over-the-top action, hot colors, tantalizing wardrobe choices and an unabashedly come-on, come-all sense of humor, "V.I.P." lives on.
Where did Kelley go wrong?
Maybe he needed less brains, more humor.
Or perhaps simply more Pamela.
Knock her if you will, but Lee--both the star and an executive producer of "V.I.P."--knows her way around a venue like "V.I.P."
"I swear the only people watching 'Snoops' 1/8were 3/8 the people working on this show," says Lee, taking time to talk during production in Los Angeles the other day.
Granted, "Snoops" had to survive in the world of network, not syndicated, television. But it also wasn't willing to go to the intentionally dumb-dumb extremes that make "V.I.P." one of TV's most guilty pleasures.
And thanks, to a large degree, must go to Lee--the beyond-buxom star who has been on the cover of Playboy magazine more than any other woman in its history (eight times), got her big TV break as the "Tool Time" girl on ABC's "Home Improvement," went on to be the center of attention for five years on "Baywatch" and has had a personal life that has kept tabloids busy, busy, busy.
Lee, who is semi-dressed at best on and off screen most of the time, isn't ashamed to describe her show as campy.
"Some of the producers don't like the word 'campy.' They're like: 'It's wacky. It's not campy.' And I'm like, 'It's campy!' "
Truly, she knows of what she speaks. As Vallery Irons--the woman who runs (in name only) Vallery Irons Protection--Anderson Lee wiggles and jiggles her way through each show like an overblown Barbie dressed to impress some G.I. Joe on shore leave.
Consistently clueless but good for business, Val leaves the real shooting, fighting and detonations to her partners, Nikki Franco (Natalie Romano), Tasha Dexter (Molly Culver) and Quick Williams (Shaun Baker).
Communicating in a pop-culture tongue that only a Valley Girl could understand, Val is pretty much your stereotypical bubble-headed blond.
"She thinks dressing up for a ball is wearing pink spandex and the highest shoes she can find, and the higher the hair, the closer you are to God--that kind of thing," says the woman who plays her, though she prefers to think of her mostly as "a little off" and "very optimistic about everything."
But don't confuse Val with Pamela, says Lee, a mother of two who, on this recent afternoon, is playing with her 20-month-old son, Dylan.
"You can't play a dumb blond if you are a dumb blond, you know what I mean?" she says, segueing into a conversation about the business of putting the show together, selling it and keeping it on the air.
"I want to be more involved in a lot of different things," she says. "From concept to creation, I was very heavily involved. I work 18-hour days sometimes as an actress. And being a mom and a wife also, I'm trying so hard to figure out a way that I can be more involved."
America, however, let's be fair, isn't tuning in to "V.I.P." or visiting her Web site (http://www.pamelaandersonlee.com)--which gets about 8 million hits a month--because people are interested in Lee's business smarts.
This is about sex, as is most of Lee's career and notoriety.
Besides her Playboy appearances (Hugh Hefner was one of this season's many high-profile guests), the actress also became famous for a videotape of her private X-rated sexcapades with on-again, off-again husband-rocker Tommy Lee.
The topic clearly still embarrasses and bothers the star.
"I think we're kind of past that," says Lee, calling it old news. She also doesn't like to talk about her barely noticeable breast reduction or the nastiness that led to her filing for divorce when, early last year, her husband was arrested and jailed for spousal abuse.
"There were certain things that were happening that were just out of our control, and subconsciously they start playing on you a little bit, and now we know our family is most important, we know that we love each other, we know that we're going to be together forever, we know that we're going to try and make it work the best we can.
"We're young now," says the 32-year-old Lee, "and we both have very hectic, busy lives, and one day we'll be old sitting around enjoying what we've created for ourselves and our kids, and it'll all be worth it."
* "V.I.P." airs Sundays at 5 p.m. and repeats Saturdays at 12:30 a.m. on KTTV-TV.